Keep the Damned Women Out

Professor Nancy Weiss Malkiel was on campus in November to talk about her new book, Keep the Damned Women Out: The Struggle for Coeducation.

Connie Royster ’72: An enthusiastic audience filled the wood paneled room at the top of William L. Harkness Hall on November 17, 2016, for a conversation, book reading and book signing with author Nancy Weiss Malkiel, Professor Emeritus of History at Princeton University, whose recently published book bears the provocative title, Keep the Damned Women Out: The Struggle for Coeducation. (Princeton University Press, 2016)

The book’s title was taken from a quote by a Dartmouth alumnus, but was undoubtedly spoken by alums at all the Ivies that went coed about the same time.

Nancy Weiss Malkiel’s book is a deep look at the history which led to coeducation in the late 1960s, just as that tumultuous decade was ending. According to Professor Malkiel, the book examines why “a number of very traditional, very conservative, highly prestigious colleges and universities in the United States and the United Kingdom decided to go coed, seemingly all at once, in a remarkably brief span of time.”

Coeducation was met with fierce resistance. As one alumnus put it in a letter to his alma mater, "Keep the damned women out." Focusing on the complexities of institutional decision making, this book tells the story of this momentous era in higher education revealing how coeducation was achieved not by organized efforts of women activists, but through strategic decisions made by powerful men. Nancy Weiss Malkiel told the audience that there was nothing “high-minded about the decision” in terms of offering “educational opportunities to women.” It was about “what women could do for previously all-male institutions,” about “improving the educational experience of the men,” and about maintaining a first-rate applicant pool of men.

Professor Malkiel talked about the many challenges of planning for the arrival of women on all-male campuses, and the successes and failures. She said that at Yale there had been a plan to house all the women in Trumbull College, but there was backlash from that. Then, there was talk of housing them in Jonathan Edwards. They also considered moving all the women to an off-site location, such as a nearby hotel. Finally, with pressure from the male students, Yale decided to make women as much a part of campus life as possible, even though the ratio of men to women was something like 8:1, and 4.5:1 for freshman.

The intergenerational audience included current female and male students, all of whom asked excellent questions. The program was co-sponsored in part by the Yale Program in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, the Yale Women Faculty Forum, and the Yale College Dean’s Office.

Connie Royster is a member of the class of 1972, the second class of women to graduate from Yale College

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