Behind the Women at Yale Tour: An Interview with Alice Moore

YaleWomen’s Stephanie Yu Lim ’00 interviews Alice Moore ’04 MFA , ’15 PhD, the woman who, in conjunction with the Yale Women Faculty Forum and with the sponsorship of Nancy Alexander ’79, ’84 MBA and Phillip Bernstein ’79, created Women at Yale: A Tour in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the coeducation of Yale College and the 140th anniversary of the coeducation of the Graduate & Professional Schools.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for the tour?

The tour was the brainchild of Professor Laura Wexler and the Yale Women Faculty Forum. Laura knew my previous work on gender and iconography at Yale and I was very excited when she asked me to take over the project. With the generous sponsorship of Nancy Alexander and Phillip Bernstein—both Yale College class of 1979—we were able to produce a pamphlet, a website, and a podcast!

Q: What does the tour mean to you?

When I came to Yale as a graduate student in the School of Drama and then in American Studies, I knew nothing about the University’s long history with female students. Knowing more about women’s history on campus is empowering—to me as a woman and scholar, to other women, and to the entire University community. The men of Yale College fought and marched for coeducation throughout the 1960s. It is vital for the health and growth of the community to remember that women and men worked together toward gender equity.

Q: Why should a Women’s Tour matter at Yale?

It’s easy to believe, as many do, that female students first came to Yale via the School of Nursing. But long before that professional school opened in 1923, the School of Fine Arts admitted women in 1869, the first female PhDs received diplomas in 1894, and one woman argued her way into the all-male Law School in 1885. The history of women at Yale is complex and intricately tied into the history of the University. 

Q: Is there a part of the tour you love most?  If so, what part and why?

When I gave this tour for a group of YaleWomen Connecticut alums in July, I kept exclaiming: Oh, I really love this story! Indeed, every story I unearthed became dear to me. But I found the many stories told by and about Elga Wasserman truly inspiring. As Special Assistant to President Brewster on the Education of Women, she guided Yale College’s transition into coeducation with an impressive amount of no-nonsense practicality, skill, and dry humor. Hers is a biographical gem waiting to be written.

Q: What did you learn and how did your perspective of Yale change after putting together this tour?  

Women are everywhere at Yale! You just have to know where and how to look. Even though Yale was originally made by and for men—and most of the iconography and naming at Yale reflects this history—women can be found in every nook and cranny. When I look across from Old Campus to the New Haven Green now, I imagine the first commencement in 1719 (after the College moved from Old Saybrook to New Haven) and the story of the women’s voices raised in song from the next room. I wouldn’t know that if I hadn’t read the footnotes of the history books!

Q: Did you uncover any interesting or surprising facts while doing your research?  

I still love to walk into the quiet spot to the right of Vanderbilt Hall (as you face the Hall from the inside of Old Campus) and rediscover the cornerstone for the School of the Fine Arts high up on the side of Street Hall. Although the cornerstone says nothing about how this school was the first to welcome female students, when I see it, I imagine the Silliman sisters entering the building for their first class and I know: women are always part of the story. We just have to work to bring them back into visibility.

Alice’s scholarly work centers on questions of memory, public history, and representation in performance, visual culture, and the built environment. Alice earned her PhD in American Studies at Yale, MFA in Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism from the Yale School of Drama, and BA in Theatre and German Literature from Wesleyan University.  

—Stephanie Yu Lim ’00, Chair, YaleWomen Communications Content Committee

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