Reimagining Alumni Relations Made YaleWomen Possible

“The reimagination of alumni relations made YaleWomen possible.”

A conversation with three remarkable Yale women volunteers.

Maureen Doran ’71 MSN, Nancy Stratford ’77, and Ellen McGinnis ’82 have all achieved a notable trifecta in Yale alum relations: they’re all founding members of YaleWomen, they’ve all served (or are serving) as chair of the Association of Yale Alumni (AYA) Board of Governors, and they’re all recipients of the Yale Medal.  Jennifer Madar ’88 recently sat down for a conversation with these inspiring women to learn more about them; their service to the alum community; and their thoughts on the past, present, and future as Yale approaches the 50th anniversary of undergraduate coeducation and the 150th anniversary of Graduate & Professional Schools coeducation.  Here are some of the key takeaways and excerpts from their conversation.


Planting the seed

YaleWomen’s founding was in many ways inspired by a conference that the AYA hosted in 2004 entitled “Yale Women in a Changing World.”  Approximately 300 women alums attended this very well-received conference. 

Nancy:  There were women who had never come back [to Yale] for an event, but they came back for this because they wanted to connect with other Yale women. And one woman who had come back for events in the past said this was one of the best she’d ever been to.

Another milestone was the launch of a new AYA strategic plan in 2008.  Developed under Ellen’s leadership, the new plan’s objective was “to build communities of Yale alumni across all lines – school affiliation, geographic area, interest and identity groups – and engage more effectively in service to Yale.”

Maureen:  Having women in leadership positions has really given AYA has given a different point of view. We’ve really added to and enriched the alumni experience.

Also significant was AYA’s hosting of the Celebrating Yale Women: 40 Years in Yale College, 140 Years at Yale conference in 2010.


Listening and learning

The 2004 conference, 2008 strategic plan, and 2010 conference were followed by listening sessions in New Haven, New York City, and Washington, DC.  Led by Ellen and Nancy, these listening sessions confirmed that women alums had a strong interest in connecting with one another.   They also identified specific areas of interest for women alums:  social, career, lifelong learning, community service, and philanthropy.

Maureen: I really want to thank Ellen and Nancy for their persistence, both in terms of thinking and execution.

Ellen:  Whenever we would ask, people said, yes, they wanted [a Shared Interest/Identity Group for women alums].  People wanted it, we wanted it, and we felt we could make a difference for the University and the world [by starting YaleWomen].

The next step was a retreat in 2011 that led to the development of YaleWomen’s strategic plan and incorporation as a 501(c)(3).


Overcoming skepticism

YaleWomen’s founding was not without its detractors.  Yale was initially quite leery about the prospect of a Shared Interest Group for women alums.

Maureen:  There was definitely a concern early on that YaleWomen would turn into … a small group of people who were focused exclusively on themselves.

Ellen: [The administration] also thought that [YaleWomen] would dilute interest in already established Yale groups.

In fact, YaleWomen had the opposite effect, bringing in alums who had not been engaged or felt welcomed by other Yale groups, including alums from the Graduate & Professional Schools.


Making it happen

YaleWomen was founded while Ellen was chair of the Board of Governors and Nancy was chair of the Alumni Fund. 

Ellen: [The founding of YaleWomen] was really all about timing.  We came in at a point where there was a really strong relationship between alumni leaders [Nancy and me].”

It was also founded at a time when Yale was starting to put more emphasis on inclusiveness and outreach, including to the Graduate & Professional Schools, and shifting its focus from how Yale wanted to connect with alums to how alums wanted to connect with Yale.

Ellen:  The reimagination of alumni relationships made YaleWomen possible.


Looking back . . .

2019 marks the 50th anniversary of undergraduate coeducation and the 150th anniversary of graduate coeducation at Yale.  The university-led 50 Women at Yale 150 celebration will start in the fall of 2019 with a reunion of the women who matriculated together as undergraduates in 1969.  It will conclude in the fall of 2020 with a convocation of all women alums, undergraduate, graduate, and professional.  There’ll be a wealth of programming in between, and Ellen is playing an active role as one of the chairs of the Events Beyond New Haven committee.

Ellen: Right now, we’re focusing on the reunion in the fall of 2019, and we’re also working on   getting the word out [about 50 Women at Yale 150].  We know that people will engage once we get the word out.


. . . and looking forward

What does the future hold for YaleWomen and, more generally, women alums?  Programming that is timely, topical, and relevant to all women alums, regardless of their Yale and life experiences.

Nancy: Great work is happening at the chapter level, where we continue to develop and provide a range of programming to appeal to the many diverse interests of Yale women.

One thread that will run through all of YaleWomen’s programming going forward is “putting parity into practice.”


Getting involved

Maureen, Nancy, and Ellen have blazed the trail for the next generation of women volunteer leaders, but they’re the first to acknowledge that there’s still a lot to be done.  Please join us in thanking Maureen, Nancy, and Ellen for their efforts on behalf of the alum community!  And please join us in our ongoing efforts to support and celebrate women alums!

Learn more about YaleWomen at

Learn more about the upcoming celebration of women at Yale at


About Maureen, Nancy, Ellen, and Jennifer

Maureen Doran ‘71 MSN was chair of the AYA Board of Governors from 2000 to 2002 and a founding member of YaleWomen.  She is a 2005 recipient of the Yale Medal.

Nancy Stratford ‘77 is the current chair of the AYA Board of Governors and a founding member of YaleWomen.  She was vice chair of YaleWomen in its first year and is a founding and current chapter head of YaleWomenNYC.  She is a 2012 recipient of the Yale Medal. 

Ellen McGinnis ‘82 was chair of the AYA Board of Governors from 2008 to 2010 and chair of YaleWomen from its founding in 2011 to 2014.  She is a 2012 recipient of the Yale Medal.

Jennifer Madar ‘88 is the current vice chair of YaleWomen and a member of the AYA Board of Governors.

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