Reading guide for Yale Needs Women by Anne Gardiner Perkins

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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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    Sep 2019, 400 pages

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. Up until the late 1960s and early 1970s, many top colleges banned women students. Cultural and family values also affected women's college choice. How were your own college decisions impacted by your gender? Do you view that situation differently now than you did at the time?
  2. After screening for academic strength, Sam Chauncey and Elga Wasserman looked for toughness when selecting Yale's first women undergraduates. "There was no point in taking a timid woman and putting her in this environment," said Chauncey, "because it could crush you." [p. 48] Do you think they were right to consider a student's toughness? As a high school senior, would you have met this standard?
  3. Yale Needs Women focuses in particular on the experiences of five women students—Shirley Daniels, Kit McClure, Lawrie Mifflin, Connie Royster, and Betty Spahn. With which of these five did you identify most closely? Why? Was there another character with which you connected more strongly?
  4. Yale may have gone coed in 1969, yet women—whether student, administrator, or professor—were still barred from many of the traditional paths to influence and power, both at Yale and beyond. Can you provide some examples? How did women create power in other ways?
  5. What parallels do you see between the experiences and activism of black and white women students at Yale? What are the differences?
  6. Yale Needs Women includes a center section of photographs. Choose one and discuss how you first responded to it. What drew you to this photo in particular? What questions, if any, do you still have about it?
  7. "I was out of my mind frightened. It wasn't so much Yale as coming to a white college," says one of the black women freshmen. [p. 68] Describe a situation in which you were in an extreme minority because of your race. How did it affect how you behaved? How others behaved towards you? Compare this to a situation in which your race was in the majority.
  8. Yale's first women undergraduates sometimes found themselves the only woman in a classroom full of men. Were you ever the only person of your gender in the room? How did it affect how you behaved? How others behaved towards you? Compare this to a situation in which your gender was in the majority.
  9. Yale Needs Women chronicles some of the sexual assault and harassment suffered by Yale's women students. How has this situation improved for women college students since 1969? How has it remained the same?
  10. Change at Yale and other campuses in this era occurred because of the efforts of multiple individuals and groups. Which do you think were most important to improving the lot of women at Yale in this era? What or whom do you think was the greatest impediment to change?
  11. "Changes in social structures require a social movement," says feminist Naomi Weisstein at the Free Women Conference at Yale in 1970. [p. 129] Do you agree with her? What examples of social movements do you see today? Do you consider yourself part of any of them?


Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Sourcebooks. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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