Event at The Bookworm to focus on women in higher education

Martha and Kent Petrie, Yale University class of '72, at a football game.
Special to the Daily

“Yale Besieged by Female Applicants,” the New York Times read on November 24, 1968, just four days after the prestigious university announced that it was going coeducational. It was a big move for Yale University that had ripple effects far outside its walls.

Join author Anne Gardiner Perkins, Yale class of ’81, at The Bookworm in Edwards on Thursday for an exciting panel surrounding her new book, “Yale Needs Women.” Panelists include locals Sandy Ferguson Fuller, class of ’73, Sally Austen, class of ’74 and Kent Petrie class of ’72.

When Perkins set out to write a book, writing about her alma mater wasn’t the goal.

“I was curious about this huge shift in US higher education that led to coeducation,” Perkins said. “I really wanted to answer the question of what it was like to be a woman in a historically all male college, and I really wanted to do this by telling the stories of individual women who experienced it.”

One of these women was Fuller, who entered Yale as a freshman in the first female class at the school. She never dreamed of going to Yale, even though she was a legacy student.

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“My father was class of ’44, but the Ivy’s didn’t accept women, so they weren’t even on my radar when I was applying,” Fuller said. “When they announced that they would be going co-ed, a family friend in admissions suggested I applied, so I did.”

Within a month, she was accepted and on her way to the Ivy League school, as part of the female class that made up 13% of the total student body. Some undergraduates and alumni were not so thrilled about the integration. But Kent Petrie remembers it fondly.

“Students were generally excited about the change,” Petrie said. “There was quite a buzz around campus. It was refreshing and enlightening to have women at our table at dinner, in a study group for class or as fellow deacons at the Yale Interfaith Chapel. The first women admitted to Yale were really smart and talented and challenged us all.”

Despite all the buzz, coeducation was not the only buzz sweeping over campus, as Sally Austen recalls. She remembers the National Guard camping out on the Green, protests about the war in Vietnam and Apartheid, union strikes, and much more.

“It was politically so vibrant,” she said.

“We were in the middle of some of the most challenging days in the twentieth century. Our status as women was secondary to the change we were making.”

According to Perkins, change is ongoing at the Ivy level.

“Yale is not an aberration in terms of the treatment of women in colleges or in the country as a whole. Only 3% of lawyers in the US are women. Even UC Berkley, that has been co-ed for years, only has women in 6% of its faculty positions. It’s not about attendance, it’s about leadership. Yale just gives us one way to look at that.”

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