Neehaar Gandhi

As Yale prepares to celebrate 50 years of coeducation in the college, the Yale Daily News is looking back as well, to nearly half a century of women on the paper’s masthead and business team.

The first mention of women on the News’ masthead was with the 1972 Managing Board, when Lise Goldberg ’73 served as a finance manager, Dixie Terrell Wilhite ’73 served as the photography editor and Mally Cox ’73 was a chief staff writer. Seven years after coeducation in 1969, Amy Oshinsky ’77 was elected the first female publisher of the News. A few years later, Anne Gardiner Perkins ’81 became the paper’s first female editor in chief. Since then, both the News’ masthead and cohort of reporters have included scores of women, some of whom have moved onto careers in journalism while others have taken their talents to nonprofits or the corporate world. But while these women have long since scattered from the ivy-covered walls of Yale, many of them still emphasize the spirit of camaraderie that they found at the News.

Despite the national attention she attracted as the first female editor in chief, Perkins highlighted her love of reporting alongside her classmates, several of whom have gone on to prestigious positions in journalism. Leslie Eaton ’80 and Louise Kennedy ’80, former News editors whom Perkins named as mentors, reported for papers like the New York Times, Boston Globe and Wall Street Journal.

“I think the most important thing to recognize is that often the focus is on the person with the title, and here, that’s me, but that person would never have gotten there without the efforts and support and the help of many other people,” Perkins told the News.

In an interview with the News, Perkins credited Eaton and Kennedy with giving her the President’s beat. During her sophomore reporting year, she broke the story that the new Provost Abraham Goldstein had spent $67,000 in University money on renovations for his house, which led to his resignation shortly after. According to Perkins, the story gave her “a certain level of prominence,” and after elections the following year, she had become the News’ first female editor in chief in its 111-year history.

Other bids for editor in chief before Perkins’ attempt proved unsuccessful — according to Kennedy, while she had submitted her name for editor in chief the year prior to Perkins’ election, her bid for the position ultimately failed. When asked about her experience as a woman in the News, Kennedy cited this situation in particular, calling the News a “very male environment.” She later heard from a fellow staffer that though he thought Kennedy was qualified, he did not think that the News was ready for a female editor in chief.

One year later, that changed.

Other News alumnae also spoke about sexism in their reporting years. Oshinsky, the first female publisher, described the skepticism of a male upperclassman when he learned two first-year girls — Oshinsky included — would be managing the business side of the News’ now defunct summer weekly. University of Chicago law professor and former arts editor Mary Anne Case ’79 also mentioned the “staggering sexism” she witnessed during her own round of elections. According to Case, while the female candidates for editor in chief were intensely scrutinized for flaws, the male candidates’ own shortcomings were apparently largely ignored.

But Kennedy added that Yale’s environment at the time prepared her for a career in the largely male world of professional journalism.

“I wouldn’t have called myself a feminist then, I was like if you just work really hard and do a really good job, you’ll get what you deserve,” Kennedy told the News. “And Yale taught me that that’s not always true. That was a good lesson to learn, I’m glad I learned it then rather than in
my 40s.”

While Elizabeth Elston Devereaux ’81, an arts editor on Perkins’s managing board, did not mention specific instances of sexism at the News, she spoke to the culture of Yale overall:

“At the time I did feel like [the campus] was pretty integrated, but as I look back, I can see that it was still not a level playing field,” Devereaux said. ‘It wasn’t uncommon to meet returning alums who would sheepishly tell you that they thought women on campus were dates from other schools, because that had been their experience.”

Specifically, Devereaux recalled a class where a professor would always use the example of a woman in the kitchen and a man at work.

However, several alumnae were quick to qualify that despite some instances of sexism, their time at the News was mostly colored by welcoming mentors and significant opportunities for investigative pieces. Case recalled a chance to interview then-Connecticut Governor Ella T. Grasso after she had written only a few stories, and Oshinsky recalled how her experiences on the business team prepared her for her future in the financial services industry.

“It was a wonderful learning experience,” Oshinsky said. “It was great preparation for my career in the corporate world because as publisher, you’re essentially running an independent business at the age of 19, and I interacted with classmates, vendors, we had employees, alumni … in many of those situations, I was often the only female, and that was just a terrific learning experience on the business side.”

When Oshinsky first joined the business team — then called the “Oldest College Daily” Foundation or OCD — fellow members gave her a tie decorated with the OCD logo, as they had never had a woman as publisher before. However, Oshinsky added that the mostly-male team soon adjusted to having women among them, and before she left her position, she received a necklace instead of the cuff links that were traditionally given as goodbye gifts.

Case also elaborated on the skills she honed as part of the News — much of the writing she does as a current UChicago law professor, she said, resembles her work as a reporter, where she critiqued theatre shows throughout Yale and New Haven.

Michelle Perro ’78 first explored the News as a first year on the advertising team. Perro and her then boyfriend would interact with small businesses around New Haven and try to drum up ad revenue for the paper. Her experience as a woman at Yale and at the News, Perro noted, was less impacted by her gender than it was by the climate of the mid-seventies.

In addition to the advertising team, Perro spent her first year on the basketball team and as a rower. While she did not necessarily experience discrimination in most aspects of her life at Yale, she felt clearly marginalized as a female athlete at the time. In addition to having far less access to athletic resources than her male counterparts, Perro hit a dead end while trying to find a student job at a sports facility. The job — an undemanding calibration of the chlorine in a pool — was reserved for male athletes only, she was told.

The seventies were also a time of economic stress for the Elm City. When making the rounds to New Haven small businesses, Perro recalled, some business owners felt that the idea of giving money to a Yale-affiliated publication was ridiculous.

“We didn’t get like a rip-roaring positive experience as we went to try and get ads for the Yalie Daily,” Perro said. “I have to tell you, it was a lot of ‘you gotta be kidding, give Yale money?’”

After graduating, some News alumnae have moved onto successful careers in reporting, while others have taken jobs in medicine, law or business. Devereaux, driven by her love of writing at the News, eventually became a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly. After writing for the New Haven Register, Kennedy worked for the Boston Globe for 22 years, eventually moving onto radio journalism at WBUR and later to a writing job at Boston University.

Despite the often fast-paced nature of a career in journalism, some alumnae, who have taken that particular path, noted the powerful draw of the profession.

“It’s like an infection or something, the ink gets in your blood, and you have to keep going back,” Kennedy told the News.

Currently, the 49-person Yale Daily News managing board of 2020 includes 28 women.

Helena Lyng-Olsen | helena.lyng-olsen@yale.edu

John Besche | john.besche@yale.edu 

Valerie Pavilonis | valerie.pavilonis@yale.edu