WEST HARTFORD — The New York Times called them “superwomen.” In September of 1969, Yale enrolled its first women undergraduates, and the competition to be one of those young women pioneers was so intense that only the most brilliant and talented girls got in. Among those first female students at Yale were four graduates of West Hartford public schools, Carol Duchow from Hall High School, and Ann Goodman, Kay Hill, and Nancy Weinstein from Conard High School.
“People often don’t realize how recently coeducation came to some of America’s most prestigious colleges,” said historian Anne Gardiner Perkins, author of “Yale Needs Women: How the First Group of Girls Rewrote the Rules at an Ivy League Giant.” “But up until fifty years ago many of our top-ranked schools turned women applicants away. West Hartford can be proud to know that four of its own were among the young women students who broke the gender barrier at Yale.”
Hall High School’s Carol Duchow began at Yale in 1969 as one of the 230 freshmen women enrolled that first year. Yale had not allowed women applicants when Anne Goodman, Kay Hill, and Nancy Weinstein graduated from Conard High School, so these students transferred to Yale once it went coed in 1969. Hill and Weinstein both transferred to Yale in 1969 as two of the first 151women sophomores. Hill spent her freshman year at Wellesley College, while Weinstein began college at Smith. Goodman arrived at Yale in 1969 as one of the first 194 women juniors after attending Skidmore for her first two years of college.
“These first women students, most of them just teenagers, did not have it easy,” said Perkins. “They were outnumbered seven-to-one because of the gender quota Yale put in place and barred from many of the privileges their male classmates took for granted. At the time, discrimination against women on college campuses was perfectly legal.”
Yale had been all male for 268 years when those first women undergraduates arrived, but it was not alone in turning away female applicants before then. The list of U.S. colleges that banned women undergraduates before 1969 includes Amherst, Boston College, Bowdoin, Brown, Carnegie Mellon, Claremont McKenna, Colgate, Columbia, Dartmouth, Davidson, Duke, Fordham, Hamilton, Harvard, Haverford, Holy Cross, Johns Hopkins, Kenyon, Lafayette, Lehigh, Notre Dame, Penn, Princeton, Rutgers, Sewanee, Trinity, Tufts, Tulane, Union, UVA, Washington and Lee, Wesleyan, West Point and the other military academies, Williams, and Yale. “A few of these, like Harvard and Brown, had created sister schools that kept the women nearby without putting them on equal terms with men,” Perkins explained, “but none admitted women to the same college that the men attended.”
Yale’s announcement that it was going coed and Princeton’s two months later finally broke the coeducation taboo in America’s top colleges. By 1973, the vast majority of elite all-male campuses had admitted women students too. “Equality did not come with the flip of an admissions switch,” Perkins emphasizes. “Yet despite the hardships those first women undergraduates faced, they each helped push Yale closer to equality. I wrote ‘Yale Needs Women’ because I was determined that their stories would not be lost to history.”
Author Anne Perkins will be speaking about “Yale Needs Women” at the Cheshire Public Library in Cheshire, Connecticut on Sept. 9 at 6:30 p.m. Bethany resident Connie Royster, one of the first women undergraduates at Yale, will be joining Perkins for this discussion. Royster is one of five Yale students whose stories form the central narrative of Yale Needs Women.