Summary and book reviews of Yale Needs Women by Anne Gardiner Perkins

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 6, 2021, 400 pages

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Book Summary

"If Yale was going to keep its standing as one of the top two or three colleges in the nation, the availability of women was an amenity it could no longer do without."

In the summer of 1969, from big cities to small towns, young women across the country sent in applications to Yale University for the first time. The Ivy League institution dedicated to graduating "one thousand male leaders" each year had finally decided to open its doors to the nation's top female students. The landmark decision was a huge step forward for women's equality in education.

Or was it?

The experience the first undergraduate women found when they stepped onto Yale's imposing campus was not the same one their male peers enjoyed. Isolated from one another, singled out as oddities and sexual objects, and barred from many of the privileges an elite education was supposed to offer, many of the first girls found themselves immersed in an overwhelmingly male culture they were unprepared to face. Yale Needs Women is the story of how these young women fought against the backward-leaning traditions of a centuries-old institution and created the opportunities that would carry them into the future. Anne Gardiner Perkins's unflinching account of a group of young women striving for change is an inspiring story of strength, resilience, and courage that continues to resonate today.

PROLOGUE

When I was fifty-­two years old, I decided that the time had come to get my PhD. Better late than never.  The idea was not entirely new. My best friend, Hazel, and I had met in our twenties, when we were both history graduate students, and I had considered getting a doctorate then. But while Hazel went on to get her PhD, I had felt pulled to different work, and after getting my master's, I'd gotten a job teaching in an urban high school.  Thirty years later, I was still in education, now working on policies and programs for Massachusetts's public colleges and universities. I wanted to strengthen my thinking about the issues I worked on, and I knew that UMass Boston had a well-­regarded higher education program. Once again, the doctorate beckoned.

So I began. Monday through Thursday, I worked at my job on Beacon Hill. Fridays, I went to class at UMass Boston.  Weekends, I studied. My husband, Rick, did all the cooking and—­let's be ...

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 ...
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Reviews

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The rich stories of the women are wound nicely together around the events that were happening at the time, including the Black Panther trial and Vietnam War protests (Kara M). I think this book is a must-read for those interested in the evolution of university coeducation, as well as women's rights. We must study history, not ignore or destroy it, in order to learn how to better ourselves for the future (Liz B)...continued

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Media Reviews

New York Times
A lively and engaging account of the college’s first class of female students.

The Washington Post
Perkins has delivered an engaging and surprising story that illustrates the challenges college women have confronted across the country.

Booklist
Perkins (Yale class of 1981) does not sugarcoat history, the 360-degree approach she takes makes Yale Needs Women an engaging, entertaining, thoughtful work of popular history.

Library Journal (starred review)
This stunning, engaging work highlights the strength and courage of women who fought for their future against centuries of patriarchy. Perfect for readers interested in seeing how far women have come-and how far they still have yet to go.

Publishers Weekly
Perkins succeeds admirably in restoring these women's fascinating voices and weaving in the larger historical context. This is a valuable contribution to the history of higher education, women, and the postwar U.S.

Author Blurb Nathalia Holt, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Rise of the Rocket Girls
Yale Needs Women breaks through the male stronghold that once defined the Ivy League and delivers the powerful history of a group of young women bold enough to reshape undergraduate education. Perkins’ richly detailed narrative is a reminder that gender equity has never come easily, but instead is borne from the exertions of those who precede us. You must read this book: not only to understand our past but to glean critical insight into the future of our academic institutions.

Author Blurb Edward B. Fiske, bestselling author of Fiske Guide to Colleges
Anne Gardiner Perkins weaves a tale of courage in the face of arrogance, frustration giving way to hard-won triumphs, and the redeeming power of shared visions and friendships. Perkins makes the story of these early and unwitting feminist pioneers come alive against the backdrop of the contemporaneous civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1970s, and offers observations that remain eerily relevant on U.S. campuses today.

Author Blurb Janet L. Yellen, Distinguished Fellow, Brookings Institution
Yale Needs Women is a riveting and uplifting account of the experiences of Yale's early women coeds-first admitted in 1969. It reveals the multiple barriers faced by these pioneers, as it chronicles their brave efforts to overcome them. Thanks to these champions of women's rights, with similar efforts across the country, opportunities for women have improved. The fight is not over. This inspiring book is a 'must read' for everyone.

Author Blurb Lynn Povich, author of The Good Girls Revolt
In her compelling account of the tumultuous early years, Anne Gardiner Perkins tells how these young women met the challenge with courage and tenacity and forever changed Yale and its chauvinistic motto of graduating 1,000 male leaders every year.

Author Blurb Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University
Anne Gardiner Perkins has written an enjoyable and lively history...a comprehensive view of the many social and political changes that faced the young college women of this era...Yale Needs Women is an important addition to feminist history.

Reader Reviews

Molly B. (Longmont, CO)

Appreciation for The Inside Story
As a woman who entered Yale in its 4th year of coeducation, I am most likely biased in my appreciation for this book. But even readers who have nothing to do with Yale might value this inside story of a venerable institution, terribly homogeneous, ...   Read More

Sandra H. (St. Cloud, MN)

Second Class citizens
Fascinating book.

Patricia E. (Sugarcreek, OH)

Great Nonfiction
In the fall of 1969 I entered a small Midwestern co-ed college as a freshman. Many of the accounts in this book match my memories. It was a transitional time not only for me but for the entire American culture. Author Anne Gardiner Perkins captures ...   Read More

Elizabeth T. (Salem, MA)

A Glimpse of My Past -- sort of
I loved this book from beginning to end, partly because I had just graduated from college when Yale opened its doors to women. I visited Yale in the bad old days when we Smithies piled onto the bus each weekend to see our beaux in New Haven. I was ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The First Coed Colleges in the U.S.

Black and white photo of women at Oberlin College in the 1850sIn Yale Needs Women, author Anne Gardiner Perkins explores the circumstances surrounding Yale University's decision to go coed in 1969, and the experiences of its first female students. Yale's change in policy was hardly revolutionary, as some colleges and universities in the U.S. had been coed since the 19th century.

Oberlin College in Ohio was the first higher learning institution to admit women in the United States. The college opened in 1833, permitted Blacks to apply in 1835, and became coed in 1837 with the admission of four female students. Three of the four graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1841. The fourth, Mary Kellogg, had to drop out because she could no longer afford the tuition, but later returned to finish after she was...

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