the archivist August 7, 2020
Virginia Blaisdel

Yale Needs Women: How the First Group of Girls Rewrote the Rules of an Ivy League Giant
Ann Gardiner Perkins
Sourcebooks, 2019

Writing for an academic audience (such as in a dissertation) is totally different from how stories are told in popular non-fiction, so it is rare when an author can turn academic research into a compelling, readable book that non-specialists will enjoy. Anne Gardiner Perkins has done it here.

This is the eye-opening story of how change happens at the cultural and institutional levels, as well as the personal. I really hope this book won’t simply be labeled “feminist” and buried on the women’s studies shelf, because, while it is a great resource for that field, it is also useful to anyone interested in how societies undergo rapid (and, it turns out, not-so-rapid) changes over “flashpoint” issues.

It would be easy to chalk up the admission of Yale’s first co-ed class (at the very late date, even by Ivy League standards, of 1969) as a triumph, a win for women’s rights. Yet opening the door and actually making the women a real part of the university community turned out to be two different things. It took years to make adequate physical and metaphoric space for everyone, and even now, while half of Yale’s students are female, only 26 percent of its tenured professors are. In tracing these developments, Gardiner profiles a fascinating group of women, many of whom went on to greater things after their tumultuous university experiences.

Those who lived through the 60s will enjoy this look back at the good and bad aspects of the time, and those who have grown up since then will learn a lot about the factors that shape our present-day world and its issues.


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