Excerpt from Yale Needs Women by Anne Gardiner Perkins, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Yale Needs Women

How the First Group of Girls Rewrote the Rules of an Ivy League Giant

by Anne Gardiner Perkins

Yale Needs Women by Anne Gardiner Perkins X
Yale Needs Women by Anne Gardiner Perkins
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2019, 400 pages

    Paperback:
    Jul 2021, 400 pages

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Print Excerpt


I went back to the archives again and pored through box after box of documents. I read hundreds of old newspaper stories and compiled thousands of pages of notes. For me, though, the real gift of this book has been the remarkable women I came to know in writing it, the first women undergraduates at Yale.  This is their story. I am honored to be the one to tell it.

Anne Gardiner Perkins
Boston, 2019

ONE
268 Years of Men

The women came to Yale in buses, peering out the large glass windows at the men who had gathered on the sidewalk below to await their arrival.  The girls from Vassar College wore brightly colored dresses and skirts cut up above the knee. Their hair shone from being combed and recombed on the two-­hour drive from Poughkeepsie to New Haven. The guys from Yale had dressed up as well: button-­down shirts, narrow ties, and sports jackets.  The men's faces were clean-­shaven, and their hair was trimmed neatly above the ears. It was Saturday night, November 1967, and the Yale men were ready for women.

Yale was still an all-­men's college back then, and one of the only ways to find a girlfriend was to frequent the mixers that brought in busloads of women each weekend from elite women's colleges like Vassar and Smith. On Saturday nights, the buses rolled into Yale at 8:00 p.m., each with their cargo of fifty girls. At midnight, the girls returned from whence they came. In the four hours in between, the Yale men sought to make their match. Guys who had girlfriends already would show up at the Saturday football games with their girls on their arms and then appear with them afterward in the dining hall or a local restaurant. But for the rest of the week, Yale undergraduates lived their days in a single-­sex world.

To picture Yale as it was at the time, imagine a village of men. From Monday through Friday, students attended their men-­only classes, ate meals in their men-­only dining hall, took part in their men-­only extracurricular pursuits, and then retired to their men-­only dorms. Yale admitted scatterings of women graduate and professional students in 1967, but Yale College, the heart of the university, remained staunchly all male.  The ranks of faculty and administrators who ran the school were nearly all men as well. If you were to peek through the door at any department meeting, the professors seated around the table would invariably be "white men in tweeds and casually expensive shoes," as one of Yale's rare black professors observed. Yale was an odd place, at least to a modern eye, but since its founding in 1701, Yale had always been a place for men.

Yale was the oldest men's club in the nation—­older than the Kiwanis, the Elks, and the Boy Scouts; older than New York's Union Club and San Francisco's Bohemian Club; and older than Princeton and Dartmouth and the dozens of other U.S. colleges that also banned women from applying in 1967. Only two colleges in America were older than Yale: William and Mary, which went coed in 1919 for financial reasons, and Harvard, where Radcliffe women had been attending classes since 1943. Yale never had a sister school. On the weekends, though, for a brief span of hours, a fissure opened up in that men-­only world.  The buses from Vassar and Connecticut College, from Smith and Mount Holyoke, pulled up at the curb, and the Yale guys began vying with one another for the best of the imported women.  The evening always began with such promise.

The bus doors swung apart. The women clicked open their compacts to check their lipstick one last time and then descended one by one into the crowd of men below, wondering what the night would bring. Girl after girl stepped down off the bus, smiled, and filed past the group of college boys standing outside. They passed through the stone archway of one of Yale's twelve residential colleges and then into the wood-­paneled common room where more Yale men waited. The men had been drinking already, clustered in groups around kegs of cheap beer brought in for the event, bracing themselves for the night to come.

Excerpted from Yale Needs Women: How the First Group of Girls Rewrote the Rules of an Ivy League Giant by Anne Gardiner Perkins. © 2019 by Anne Gardiner Perkins. Used with permission of the publisher, Sourcebooks. All rights reserved.

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