ILLUSTRATION: TOMASZ WALENTA

Students had their chance to talk back last month to Susan Patton ’77, whose letter to the editor of The Daily Princetonian famously urged Princeton women to “find a husband before you graduate.”

Patton spoke on “Advice from a Princeton Mom” at Whig Hall April 18, but the real sparks flew during the question-and-answer session that followed. Patton shot back confident, sometimes-harsh answers to a buzzing audience of nearly 200 students, whom she prodded at one point to ask harder questions. 

“People have said to me, ‘Oh well, love just happens.’ No, it doesn’t,” Patton said. 

Her remarks drew frequent laughter, but students seemed unsatisfied with her answers, and several argued until the microphone was taken away from them. 

A number of young women criticized what they saw as elitism and anti-feminism in Patton’s advice. Others wanted to know how the hypothetical husband search was supposed to work, saying that many college men did not even want to date and were not mature enough to imagine marrying.

“Can you acknowledge that maybe if a girl here is single, it’s not because she is actively choosing to reject all the ‘wonderful, wonderful’ men?” one student said, to the crowd’s laughter and expressions of assent. Patton admitted that some would have more trouble than others finding a suitable partner, but that they could improve their chances by starting to look early. 

One of the few men who spoke asked if Patton could generalize her comments to include his gender, since men also would be searching for spouses after college. Patton insisted that she did not give men advice because she was not one.

A lively exchange began when Patton was asked if she believed that graduating from Princeton was an advantage to men but a “burden” to women. She emphatically said yes, and the young woman who raised the question struggled to articulate her disagreement. 

“We’re women of Princeton,” the ­student argued. “I don’t understand why once we graduate that becomes a burden; I don’t think it does become a ­burden ... .”

Yet Patton was unwavering. “Honestly, where do you think you’re going to find men as smart as this, once you get out into the real world?” she challenged. 

At the end of the hour-long discussion, moderator Cara Eckholm ’14 asked whether Patton’s ideas had changed at all after having spoken with current students. “No,” Patton replied. “They’ve been reinforced.”