Published online November 30, 2016
Many thanks for printing the interview about women coming to Princeton in the Oct. 5 issue. A few comments:
1) In my years at Princeton (1948-52), I had only one woman in the classroom — a language drill instructor. I wonder if she was the only woman on the faculty? (I hope not; there are many who believe women make better language teachers than men.)
2) I’m not quite sure it’s correct to list Harvard along with Yale and Princeton as similarly laggard in the education of women. Since World War II (I think), Harvard classes were fully coeducational with Radcliffe. On the other hand, one did get the sense back then that Harvard was always careful to insist that Radcliffe was No. 2. In 1957, I attended the graduation of Deborah Pickman, who 10 days later would become my wife. It was held in Sanders Theatre, where it wouldn’t get in the way of the Real Commencement, which was of course a much grander all-day affair held in the Yard, for men only. Still, when I arrived at Harvard as a grad student in ’56, the women were all over. A pleasantly new surprise; since I had no sisters and had been educated in all-boys schools, followed by a few years in the all-male Navy, this was my first experience with coeducation, and one of the results was my wedding 10 months after arriving in Cambridge.
2) Though the interview didn’t mention it, let’s remember that there were a few women students before they were officially admitted in ’69. These were the critical-language students who had come to Princeton to do advanced work in languages less available elsewhere. Perhaps they were the real pioneers, and I’m sure Malkiel’s book gives them full credit. My family lived in Princeton from ’62-’66, where I was teaching in the history department. We knew one of the Critters, as the critical-language students were known, and she showed up to baby-sit one evening so Deborah and I could go out. My daughter, then 6 or 7 years old, met her at the door, and asked her what she did. “I’m a student,” was the response, to which my daughter replied, “I thought only boys could be students!” Deborah, with her Radcliffe background, was understandably horrified (a New Englander, she’d always looked on our years in New Jersey as a kind of exile). The Critter in question (a Vassar graduate) went on to become a high-powered political scientist of China.
3) Though I’ve no idea how true this is, a few years after we’d left Princeton (to return to New England), one of my Princeton history colleagues told me of going to a faculty meeting in Nassau Hall where one of the admission officers spoke, proving statistically that even under the most extreme circumstances, women could never make up more than 27.5 percent of the student body. A reminder of that book, How to Lie with Statistics, I suppose.
4) Some 15 or so years ago, one of my colleagues here at Middlebury, who was a Smith graduate, invited Deborah and me to join her for a talk by Jill Ker Conway, then president of Smith. Conway gave an impassioned defense of single-sex education, and she was such a powerful speaker that I came out of the session convinced that all the rest of us had made a dire mistake in embracing coeducation. (I’ve since heard some convincing arguments for single-sex education in boys’ schools, but that’s another issue, of course.)