Yale Needs Women
How the First Group of Girls Rewrote the Rules of an Ivy League Giant
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WINNER OF THE 2020 CONNECTICUT BOOK AWARD FOR NONFICTION AND NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS FOR BOOK CLUBS IN 2021 BY BOOKBROWSE
"Perkins makes the story of these early and unwitting feminist pioneers come alive against the backdrop of the contemporaneous civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1970s, and offers observations that remain eerily relevant on U.S. campuses today."--Edward B. Fiske, bestselling author of Fiske Guide to Colleges
"If Yale was going to keep its standing as one of the top two or three colleges in the nation, the availability of women was an amenity it could no longer do without."
In the winter of 1969, from big cities to small towns, young women across the country sent in applications to Yale University for the first time. The Ivy League institution dedicated to graduating "one thousand male leaders" each year had finally decided to open its doors to the nation's top female students. The landmark decision was a huge step forward for women's equality in education.
Or was it?
The experience the first undergraduate women found when they stepped onto Yale's imposing campus was not the same one their male peers enjoyed. Isolated from one another, singled out as oddities and sexual objects, and barred from many of the privileges an elite education was supposed to offer, many of the first girls found themselves immersed in an overwhelmingly male culture they were unprepared to face. Yale Needs Women is the story of how these young women fought against the backward-leaning traditions of a centuries-old institution and created the opportunities that would carry them into the future. Anne Gardiner Perkins's unflinching account of a group of young women striving for change is an inspiring story of strength, resilience, and courage that continues to resonate today.
Sourcebooks, 9781492687740, 384pp.
Publication Date: September 10, 2019
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
1. After screening for academic strength, Sam Chauncey and Elga Wasserman looked for toughness when selecting Yale’s first women undergraduates. “There was no point in taking a timid woman and putting her in this environment,” said Chauncey, “because it could crush you.” Do you think they were right to consider a student’s toughness? As a high school senior, would you have met this standard?
3. Yale Needs Women focuses in particular on the experiences of five women students—Shirley Daniels, Kit McClure, Lawrie Mifflin, Connie Royster, and Betty Spahn. With which of these five did you identify most closely? Why? Was there another character with which you connected more strongly?
4. Yale may have gone coed in 1969, yet women—whether student, administrator, or professor—were still barred from many of the traditional paths to influence and power, both at Yale and beyond. Can you provide some examples? How did women create power in other ways?
5. What parallels do you see between the experiences and activism of black and white women students at Yale? What are the differences?
6. Yale Needs Women includes a center section of photographs. Choose one and discuss how you first responded to it. What drew you to this photo in particular? What questions, if any, do you still have about it?
7. Yale’s first women undergraduates sometimes found themselves the only woman in a classroom full of men. Were you ever the only person of your gender in the room? How did it affect how you behaved? How others behaved towards you? Compare this to a situation in which your gender was in the majority.
8. Yale Needs Women chronicles some of the sexual assault and harassment suffered by Yale’s women students. How has this situation improved for women college students since 1969? How has it remained the same?