They Became Leaders and Helped Yale Become a Leader

Anne Gardiner Perkins ’81, is the author of Yale Needs Women: How the First Group of Girls Rewrote the Rules of an Ivy League Giant (Sourcebooks, 2019). At Yale, she was elected the first woman editor-in-chief of the Yale Daily News and won the Porter Prize in history. She is a Rhodes scholar and holds a PhD in higher education from the University of Massachusetts and a master’s in public administration from Harvard. Yale Needs Women, her first book, grew out of her doctoral dissertation on the same subject

Q: What drew you to the topic of the first women at Yale—first, for your dissertation, and later, for this book?

I had been working at the time as the Associate Commissioner for the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, and I had gone back to get my doctorate. I took a required history course, and I said, “well, I’m just going to write my final paper on the first women at Yale, because it’s embarrassing that I know nothing about them.”  

And so, I started researching the paper. And I was just shocked that the histories that had been written to date relied almost exclusively on male voices. Once I started interviewing these first women, they were so remarkable and so inspiring that I just felt like it would be a crime if their story wasn’t told.

Q: Did your research change how you think about Yale? Were there any revelations?

I had always had this fuzzy idea that Yale admitting women had something to do with the women’s movement, an acknowledgement that women should have the same opportunities as men. Then I find that--at least among top administration officials and trustees--Yale’s decision to admit women had much more to do with attracting the top men, who wanted to go to a school with women on campus, than it did with treating women equally. And that really shocked me.

Plus, I hadn’t realized there was such a strict quota system. That first year, only 13% of the undergraduate class was women. That was jaw-dropping. 

Q: As you think about what these women accomplished in these first years, what stands out?

I was blown away by how much these first women accomplished, and how many institutional practices they challenged—from activism around pushing Yale to end its quota system, to bringing in women’s studies courses, to starting women’s singing groups and athletic teams, to hosting women’s liberation conferences and sponsoring on-campus women’s rights groups.

They became leaders and helped Yale become a leader. The woman studies courses they snuck in as college seminars were among the earliest such courses in the country. Female graduate students coined the term ‘sexual harassment’ in 1972. They were on the cutting edge of the women’s movement, which should be acknowledged and celebrated.

Q: You were Class of ’81. What was the difference between your experience and that of first-wave women?

By the time I got to Yale, the percentage of women students was approaching 40%. We were no longer an extreme minority.  The first year, women comprised only 13%. This meant they were always in the spotlight, “never allowed to screw up” as one woman put it. But on the other hand, they were also invisible and kept out of so many things.   

During my time, women were moving into the positions of leadership. We had the first female head of the Yale marching band. The first woman head of the Yale Political Union. Where women might have been included in these groups only in the margins, they were now leading them.

Q: Thinking about the time period since the first women were admitted, where has Yale made progress?  And where does it need to improve?

Yale has made progress in terms of the composition of its student body.  That’s a remarkable change over 50 years. Now women are at equal standing in terms of admissions. And it’s wonderful to see the plethora of student organizations that support women, and that women run. 

There needs to be a commitment at the top levels of Yale leadership to diversify leadership in the top levels of its faculty and its administration. Yale’s tenured faculty is still just 27 percent women.* That’s too low. Furthermore, the presidency has never been held by a woman. I think it’s symbolically important to acknowledge that a woman is equally qualified to be president of Yale as a man.  

And finally, as at campuses across the country, for many Yale women the cost of attaining a college degree includes sexual harassment or assault. That’s not acceptable.  

Q: Last word: how do you sum up your perspectives on first-wave women?

I feel incredible admiration for them.  At the same time, I feel sad that they had to experience some of what they experienced. For instance, I get emails from them saying, “I hadn’t realized that other women were lonely, too.” As the mother of a daughter, it’s painful to hear that these young women were so lonely. But they still graduated at the same rate as men, and did better academically than men, and found ways to succeed in a very challenging environment. So I have nothing but admiration for them.

I love talking to younger women about this, because they are invariably inspired by it. These stories remind them of how powerful that women their age can be. Those first women students walked into Yale College, an institution that had been a bastion of maleness for 268 years, and made their mark on it.

*Editor’s note: Read the Yale Women Faculty Forum’s annual report (https://wff.yale.edu/sites/default/files/files/Annual%20Report%202018-2019.pdf) for more statistics about the current status of women at Yale.

— Laura Teller ’77 is on the YaleWomen Governing Council

 

 


Side by Side: Two Different Aspects of Women at Yale

 

On March 1st, YaleWomen Connecticut met at Sterling Memorial Library for a tour of the student-curated exhibit, conducted by the two seniors whose research is showcased. Their projects both pertain to the history of women at Yale.  Mariana Melin-Corcoran ’20, looked into women at the School of Architecture, while Valentina Connell ’20, focused on housing policy and residential life from 1969 to the present.

Melin-Corcoran, an Architecture major, featured two early female Architecture students: Estelle Margolis ’55 (deceased) and Leona Nalle ’56.  The day of the visit happened to be the first anniversary of Margolis’s death.  Nalle was able to join the group for the event.  She said that to be at Yale in the 50s seemed “perfectly normal,” not history-making, remembering the "wonderful" boys who were her classmates as “my brothers.”  There were three women in her year, when she arrived in 1951, although a couple years earlier there had been only one.  Melin-Corcoran says that this year in her undergraduate major women outnumber men.  Her portion of the exhibit concluded with Maya Lin’s Women’s Table.

 

(Sketch of Maya Lin's Women's Table; In photo, from left to right: Valentina Connell ’20 and Mariana Melin-Corcoran ’20)

Connell, recognizing how integral on-campus housing is to the community of Yale College, chose to examine this component of the co-education process.  Her display began with the parietal rules of the 1950s and 60s, when the debate over their potential abolition merged with the question of whether to allow women in the dorms as students and not merely guests.  The admission of Yale’s first female undergraduates resulted in dorm overcrowding, as the school was unwilling to reduce the male population.  The outnumbered women were alternately segregated together or isolated among the men, depending on the year and residential college.  Housing policy continued to change over the next fifty years, with mixed-gender suites codified college-wide only in 2011, and bedrooms in 2017.  Discussions in the 2010s were more about the hegemony of housing by binary gender based on heteronormative assumptions, and less about the necessity of installing mirrors for female first years in Vanderbilt.

(YaleWomen Connecticut attendees)

 

 

Lisa Beth “LB” Friedman Savitz ’88 is on the YaleWomen Governing Council, is a Delegate At-Large to the YAA Assembly, and is on the YAA of Greenwich Board of Directors, of which she is a past president, among other Yale volunteer roles.  Photo credits: LB Savitz.

 

 


What It Means to be a Woman Leader Today

On Sunday, February 23rd, hundreds of participants and speakers gathered at the Omni Hotel in New Haven for the 12th Annual Women’s Empowerment Leadership Conference hosted by the Women’s Leadership Initiative at Yale (WLI). This tradition comes during a special time in Yale’s history.

This year marks the 50th year of coeducation at Yale College and the 150th anniversary of female students at Yale University. From a time when admitting female students was discussed as an obstacle to the opportunities for men, a conference room full of inspiring professionals and students stood in stark contrast to what had been not so long ago. More than 200 participants from the tri-state area gathered in New Haven in a discussion that focused on the  issues facing women in today’s workplace.  There were nine panels with nearly forty speakers representing government, activism, media, entrepreneurship, finance, medicine, and more. The conference also provided opportunities for networking and professional LinkedIn headshots.

This year’s panelists were joined by two high profile keynote addresses. Susan Salgado is a consultant and speaker whose expertise lies at the intersection of organizational culture and customer experience. She is a contributor for Inc. Magazine and has been named one of Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business. Patti Solis Doyle is a partner at the Brunswick Group and advises clients on intersectional issues within business, politics, and society. She is a CNN political commentator and has more than twenty  years of work in public service and politics, including serving as the campaign manager for Hillary Clinton from January 2007 to February 2008, the first Hispanic woman to lead a presidential campaign. The conference concluded with an address by Amy Jin, a leadership coach and co-creator of Straighten Your Crown podcast. 

The Women’s Empowerment Leadership Conference is entirely student  organized and run. This year, it was led  by co-directors Angela Lin ’20 and Oasis Zhen ’21. Joining them was a committee of 13 students who organized panels, moderated the discussions, and helped with the many logistical challenges associated with a conference of this size. Leaving this year’s conference, there was a tremendous amount of momentum for the future. “The mission of the conference is one that is always relevant and current, and such is reflected through many third-time participants who continue to find meaning and encouragement, and for us organizers, this is exactly what motivates us to keep going,” said Zhen. Lin added, “I think one of the most rewarding experiences in regards to this conference is witnessing how much people care about this event, and how much they are willing to invest in it.” Some of the participants come back year and year again, and this event has truly turned into the flagship event of the Women’s Leadership Initiative at Yale.

WLI  was founded fourteen years ago by five undergraduate women. Since then the scope and influence of the organization have only grown. This year, over 40 undergraduate students have taken part as active organizers and content producers. They have produced and hosted   professional development workshops, recruiting events, socials, a gala, a mentorship program and a speaker series.  Avery Arena ’21, president of WLI, explained the significance of having a group like WLI on campus: “Even as we are seeing so many important advances being made by women across the world, it is becoming ever important to recognize the history of how we got where we are today and develop a vision for where we want to be in the future. WLI and this conference are an important part of bringing education about the importance of these topics to campus and beyond, and I can’t wait to see how these conversations will continue as we go forward with the planning for future events.” WLI members are already beginning the planning process for next year’s Women’s Empowerment Leadership Conference-- follow them on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/yalewli/) to get notified when tickets go on sale! See the conference program book here https://yalewliconference.weebly.com/uploads/1/2/9/0/129079077/wliconference2020program_final.pdf

Avery Arena ’21, President; Angela Lin ’20, Conference co-director; and Oasis Zhen ’21 Conference co-director



In Conversation with Nancy Marx Better ’84, 2019 Recipient of the Yale Medal

(Image courtesy of YAA)

On November 21st, Yale President Peter Salovey ’86 PhD and Yale Alumni Association (YAA) Chair Nancy Stratford ’77 presented the 2019 Yale Medal, YAA’s highest honor, to five recipients during a ceremony in the Lanman Center of Payne Whitney Gymnasium. The first to receive her Medal was Nancy Marx Better ’84. Lisa Beth "LB" Friedman Savitz ’88 sat down with Nancy on October 31st to discuss this honor as well as her long service to Yale and to education in their shared community of Greenwich, CT.

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In Conversation with Caroline H. Van ’79, 2019 Recipient of the Yale Medal

 

Image courtesy of YAA

Recently, YaleWomen Council Member Akosua Barthwell Evans ’90 JD interviewed Caroline H. Van ’79 — whom she met several years ago when she was a delegate to the Yale Alumni Association (YAA) Assembly and Ms. Van was an officer of the YAA Board of Governors — about her entire “Yale life cycle.” 

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From Privilege to Activism: Sophie Ascheim ’22 Wins Oscar and Fights for Menstrual Equity

Can you change the world in 26 minutes? Sophie Ascheim ’22 did just that, by co-executive producing an Oscar-winning film: “Period. End of Sentence.” This short documentary, less than a half-hour in length, has nevertheless brought global attention to menstrual inequity – the inaccessibility of clean menstrual supplies for many women and girls. The film’s message, though, is one of hope and empowerment. As women in a poor Indian village use a machine to make clean menstrual pads, which they then sell, they decrease the stigma around menstruation and increase their opportunities for income, education, and greater participation in family and civic life.

 

PERIOD-image.jpg

Above: Sophie Ascheim ’22 talks about her activism with Joellyn Gray ’81 MBA at a YaleWomen Connecticut event in November. After viewing Sophie’s Oscar-winning documentary, “Period. End of Sentence,” and participating in a Q&A with her, attendees packed kits of menstrual supplies that were donated to a New Haven agency. The event was co-sponsored by 1stGenYale, the Yale Alumni Nonprofit Alliance (YANA) New England chapter, the Yale School of Nursing Alumni Association, and the Yale School of Public Health Alumni Association.

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Support the Yale College Council (YCC) Womxn's Stipend Program!

Throughout the history of Yale College Council, womxn in government have been combatting challenges that disproportionately affect women and gender minorities. For example, it was womxn who were responsible for the installment of a sexual wellness machine in Bass Library as well as for ensuring the accessibility of the LiveSafe app, which offers resources to sexual misconduct victims. 

However, low-income students, particularly those who seek to serve at the highest echelons of student government, often come up against financial barriers that can strongly inhibit their ability to pursue leadership opportunities and fully meet their YCC responsibilities. In order to make YCC a more accessible space, we hope to implement a stipend program to support students while they serve on YCC. 

If you would like to support this stipend program and make YCC a more powerful incubator for student leaders, please email the Womxn's Affinity Network chair, Aliesa Bahri ’22, at aliesa.bahri@yale.edu. Thank you so much for your consideration!



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