Mara Lavitt

This year, Yale celebrated the 50th anniversary of coeducation at Yale College and the 150th anniversary of female students at the university. As part of the yearlong commemoration — 50WomenAtYale150 — many student arts organizations stepped forward to help celebrate coeducation at Yale. Many groups, including those at the Yale University Art Gallery, had also programmed events for the 2020-21 academic year. But because of COVID-19 and related bans on large-group gatherings, it is unclear which events will still happen. 

Linda Lorimer LAW ’77, a chair of the celebration’s steering committee in charge of organizing the yearlong celebration, said that their goal was “not to impress some theme from on high, but rather to have organizations organically bubble up what seems to be authentic for them.” 

Mara Lavitt

One manifestation of this approach was the Yale Symphony Orchestra’s dedication of their entire season to showcasing works by female composers. Their season opener, for example, featured music by Florence Price, one of the first African American women to be commissioned by a major symphony orchestra. YSO conductor William Boughton told the News that he felt the 50th anniversary of coeducation at Yale college was a perfect opportunity to challenge the domination of classical music by white males.

The YSO’s November 2019 concert “From Darkness to Light” featured a piece called “Disillusioned Dreamer” by Hannah Kendall, an African American female composer currently pursuing her doctorate of musical arts at Columbia University. The ensemble would have hosted a campuswide “Contemporary Music Festival Showcasing Women Composers” in late March.

The Yale Film Center’s series of free film screenings highlighted films by female directors. The center’s 2019-20 season marked the series’ sixth year and the first time it was ever centered around a specific theme. “Treasures from the Yale Film Archive,” as the recurring series is titled, showed work ranging from a film by famed animator Mary Ellen Bute DRA ’26 to “End of the Art World” by Alexis Krasilovsky ’71, which featured artists Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns. 

Film Study Center Director Michael Kerbel described these alumnae — who made films as Yale students before the existence of the University’s film and media studies program — as pioneers at Yale. Among other questions, the series sought to ask whether there exists a “female gaze” as a counter to the much-discussed “male gaze” of film directorship’s staunchly male past.

The Yale University Art Gallery, like the YSO and Yale Film Center, plans to launch an exhibition commemorating female artists at Yale. The exhibit, titled “Women Artists at Yale,” is scheduled to open on Aug. 28, 2020. It is unclear whether the exhibition will open at a later date or not at all.

The first two women to attend Yale matriculated into the University’s School of Fine Arts in 1869.

Annie Radillo |