Yale Archives and Manuscripts

As celebrations for the 50th Anniversary Commemorative Weekend draw near, the University is preparing to unveil a commemorative stone honoring the coeducation of Yale College starting on Thursday.

The commemorative stone, which will be featured at Phelps Gate, is one of a number of initiatives organized by the 50WomenatYale150 Steering Committee, which includes the 50th anniversary committee and a plethora of other campus partners. All projects — including oral, written history works and exhibits at both Sterling Memorial Library and the Yale University Art Gallery — serve to acknowledge the 50th anniversary of women at Yale College and the 150th anniversary of female students at Yale University.

“There were 268 years of Yale being an all-male institution, and something changed radically, even though I realize for today’s students, it seems like a very long time ago,” said Eve Rice ’73, current Yale trustee and chair of the 50th anniversary committee. “We wanted two things, both to remember when it happened and also to remember something else which people have a lot of trouble wrapping their minds around. It wasn’t one class that “coeducated” Yale. It was three classes, and the stone states that very explicitly.”

Although many incorrectly assume that women from the Class of 1971 arrived before their fellow alumnae from the Classes of 1972 and 1973, upon Yale’s coeducation in 1969, women from the three classes all simultaneously entered the College, Rice said. The stone seeks to emphasize that shared beginning, symbolically placed at Phelps Gate — a spot where most first years initially enter Yale and where many seniors exit upon graduating.

Poet and Yale professor Elizabeth Alexander ’84 and University President Peter Salovey will both speak at Saturday’s unveiling ceremony, scheduled to run from 5:15 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. The stone at Phelps will compliment a plaque that already exists in Jonathan Edwards College.

The inspiration for the commemorative stone comes from a similar piece that sits at the entrance to Oxford’s Jesus College and acknowledges the women who matriculated into Jesus College in 1974. Rice, whose daughter was in Jesus College, saw the entryway stone as a simple, yet powerful way to actively remember that past and introduced the idea to the 50WomenatYale150 Steering Committee and the 50th anniversary committee.

Both committees soon embraced the stone idea. In a short time, Salovey, former Vice-President for New Haven and State Affairs and Campus Development Bruce Alexander ’65 and Vice-President for Facilities and Campus Development John Bollier supported the project. University Printer John Gambell led the stone design process, while MacArthur Fellow Nicholas Benson engraved the stone at the John Stevens Shop, which has also produced engravings for the World War II and Martin Luther King Jr. memorials in Washington, D.C.

As with many initiatives that will be featured this weekend and throughout the year, both Rice and Linda Lorimer LAW ’77 — the former Yale trustee who co-chairs the Steering Committee with Rice — stressed the University-wide nature of the celebration. In fact, the 50WomenatYale150 website lists 34 campus partners ranging from Sterling Memorial Library to the Yale College Council and the Mory’s Association.

“It’s not only been organizations, museums and schools contributing,” Lorimer said, citing help from the Yale shuttle buses and Yale Facilities. “Administrative offices have wanted to do their part as well.”

In conjunction with the commemorative stone, the Steering Committee is also spearheading a history project to detail the oral and written histories of Yale’s coeducation.

“[The history of coeducation at Yale] got to be told in a certain way, but if you actually look at it, people tended to go back to the same ten people time after time after time,” Rice said. “So it ended up being Yale’s history according to ten people, not according to the 575 women who came. We wanted to broaden that narrative.”

While the committee is still in the middle of recording the voices and stories of women at Yale, there are 60 oral histories on file as of now and 45 have yet to be filmed. Depending on their level of comfort on film or on paper, individuals have the option to perform an oral interview, write an account or do both. Ultimately, Rice observed an enthusiastic uptake in the number of women interested in contributing toward the history.

Rice added that the Office of Public Affairs and Communications funded the oral history project as well as provided logistical support such as camera crews and scheduling. Former ABC News producer Kyle Gibson ’78 pioneered this project and served as executive producer, conducting the bulk of the interviews.

Recently, the written history project released its first volume — which only went to the three classes of ’71, ’72 and ’73. The entire compilation will eventually be accessible in Sterling.

In addition to the oral and written histories created specifically for the 50WomenAtYale150 celebration, Michael Lotstein, the University Archivist for Manuscripts and Archives at Yale, spearheaded an initiative to create a library subject guide regarding the history of women at Yale. The subject guide, which will be accessible through Yale’s online library database, “brings together resources so someone searching for material has a really good foundation [for where to start],” according to Rice.

“This is not a year solely of celebration,” Lorimer said. “It’s a year of reflection and taking a look at the serious parts of our history. That’s why the library guide might seem like not that big a deal, but there’s never been any consolidated effort to really bring together the history of women at Yale … That’s an exciting project that we hope will be a lasting legacy of this year for future scholars but also for future students doing papers and whatnot to take advantage of.”

The Yale University Art Gallery launches its Women Artists at Yale exhibit on Aug. 28, 2020. The exhibition will run through Jan. 10, 2021.

William McCormack | william.mccormack@yale.edu

Margaret Hedeman | margaret.hedeman@yale.edu