In 1969, 575 women walked through Phelps Gate as the first female undergraduates to attend Yale. On Saturday night, many of those same women, along with other community members, returned to Old Campus to celebrate that historic event.
The weekend-long celebration, “50 Fest: Celebrating a Half-Century of Coeducation in Yale College,” featured a soiree for alumni, students and faculty members. The program is one in a yearlong series of events designed to commemorate the confluence of two historic anniversaries in Yale’s history — the 50th anniversary of women attending Yale College and the 150th anniversary of women attending the University. Over the weekend, attendees gathered under a large, white tent decorated with vibrant lights and colorful balloons.
“I was so inspired meeting and hearing the stories of our alumnae who paved the way for coeducation in Yale College, and I was so happy seeing all the students who came to honor them on Saturday night,” Yale College Dean Marvin Chun wrote in an email to the News. “What stands out so vividly in my mind, as we think about coeducation, was how Yale College students — past and present — could interact with and learn from one another face to face. I can’t imagine a better way to mark the start of this historic year.”
The night was filled with dancing to pop hits of the ’70s — a celebration that transcended time as the multigenerational crowd burst with energy as the DJ played “September” by Earth, Wind and Fire.
As the nostalgic melodies streamed in the background, Jeanne Devine ’72 reminisced her experience as a woman in the first coeducational class.
“When we were students here, everything was possible,” Devine said.
Devine emphasized the first class of women at Yale were “pioneers,” but not “superwomen,” referencing a 1979 New York Times article which cited male classmates calling members of the inaugural female class “superwomen” and “freaks.” She said that their goal was “to succeed” and demand academic equality.
Attendees Maggie Rogow ’72 and Michael Bales ’71, a married couple of 53 years, met at Yale during the early years of coeducation. They were both philosophy majors and in the Glee Club. Having been a Yale student during the years of both all-male education and coeducation, Bales said that the male students he knew were accepting of the women at Yale.
Rogow noted that there were exclusive clubs and traditions at Yale that were not initially welcoming toward women and said she was disappointed in the “lack of athletics.”
Rogow and Bales highlighted that Yale coeducation “happened in the context of other social movements, such as the women’s liberation movement and the Black Panther Trials.” In this sense, both women and men at Yale rallied together as change-makers in the larger social movements around them, the couple said.
Still, Virginia Tyson ’73 and Barbara Deinhardt ’73, who were classmates both in high school and at Yale, expressed less positive sentiments. Deinhardt explained that, at the time, there were groups who were still upset about coeducation.
“Every day felt like we didn’t belong,” Tyson added.
Carol Troyen ’71 and her husband reflected on their time at Yale when there were “fewer spaces for women” in the residential colleges. Troyen found that by sharing experiences during her college years, she was able to connect with other women who “felt the same way,” she said.
After watching several a cappella groups perform this weekend, the couple said“Yale looks very different now.” But the couple agreed that the white male-dominated social scenes created by the presence of fraternities are a “setback” to Yale.
Current students of all genders interviewed by the News were eager to attend the celebration and speak about gender at Yale.
One student, Jesica Springer ’22, stressed that the celebration underscored just how recently Yale College transitioned into coeducation, especially in the scope of its history. Springer also noted that coeducation did not stop social spaces from being “extremely male-dominant,” even today.
Lil Wenker ’22 also said that Yale needs “better and more equal allocation of funds” for female-dominant student groups.
“With less history comes less funding, less generational privilege and fewer alumni networks,” Wenker said.
Onyx Brunner ’20, who attended the event with his friends, acknowledged that it was “wonderful that Yale is holding a celebratory event.”
When asked whether there was work to be done to bolster equality and inclusivity, Brunner stated that there is “always more the administration can do to make sure everybody is on an equal playing field — [between] men, women and nonbinary people.”
When Yale opened its doors to women in 1969, its male to female ratio was 7:1, according to the 50WomenAtYale150 website. The male to female ratio of the class of 2023 is 1:1.
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