One way or another, men and women would keep going to classes together, even without being able to study side by side in the library…


Massachusetts Hall, at Harvard University. Photograph by Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz.

From The New York Review of Books:

One way or another, men and women would keep going to classes together at Harvard, as they had for decades, even without being able to study side by side in the library until 1967. The heart of Malkiel’s story takes place at Yale and Princeton. (She also touches on the rocky arrival of coeducation at Dartmouth. The book’s title comes from a letter sent by a Dartmouth alumnus to the board of trustees while coeducation was being debated: “For God’s sake, for Dartmouth’s sake and for everyone’s sake, keep the damned women out.”) Unlike Harvard and Radcliffe, Princeton and Yale didn’t have thirty years to ponder the question. Both Presidents Goheen and Brewster regarded the matter as urgent, with the time for finding a pathway to coeducation to be measured in months, not years.

In the fall of 1967, Goheen and his provost (and eventual successor), William G. Bowen, set up a faculty committee to study the question. Part of the committee’s mission was to interview Princeton faculty members who had experience with coeducation. As Malkiel describes the questions they considered, what comes through is ignorance laced with panic:

What difference did having men and women in the classroom make in terms of class participation? Was there any validity to the “oft-repeated assertion that bright girls ‘play dumb’” in classes with men? Did coeducation increase the level of men’s participation so that they would avoid appearing dumb in front of the women? Was “a greater variety of approaches and viewpoints” voiced in coeducational classes? How did the presence of students of both sexes affect student preparation, instructor preparation, and the quality of teaching? Were men reluctant to enroll in, or attracted to, classes with substantial numbers of women? And what of women’s inclinations with respect to classes with substantial numbers of men? Were women more demanding than men of time in office hours?

In other words, was life as we know it about to change, and for the worse? Some important members of the Princeton administration thought so. Arthur J. Horton, the university’s director of development and a 1942 graduate, did everything he could to stem the tide, writing to the head of the faculty committee: “I’m not against females, not against the idea of higher education for them, not against their role in the country. I just don’t see why we feel we should necessarily concern ourselves with educating a few of them” at what he called “the very real risk of spoiling the esprit” that made Princeton Princeton.

Other obstacles came in the form of alumni and current students—young men who, after all, had made the explicit and increasingly countercultural choice to attend a single-sex college.

“How Smart Women Got the Chance”, Linda Greenhouse, The New York Review of Books