Celebrating the Trailblazers of Coeducation

September 23, 2019

Fifty years ago this fall, 575 women began their Yale College careers—and became the first female undergraduates at this university. This past weekend, Yale hosted many of these alumnae from the Classes of 1971, 1972, and 1973 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of a tremendous Yale milestone.

Marta and I had the privilege of meeting many of these remarkable individuals for the first time; others are old friends. In panels and informal discussions, they shared their experiences of “being the first.” We heard that, in many ways, the university was not fully prepared for their arrival. At the time, they were not always made to feel welcome.

Yet despite the challenges they faced, the first female students in Yale College made history on this campus—and they changed our university forever. They also changed the world. Today, they are leaders in business, journalism, science, law, and many other fields. They inspire us with their dedication to live out Yale’s mission—“to improve the world today and for future generations.”

The legacy of these trailblazing women inspires us at Yale. Now, there will be a physical reminder on our campus of their courage and determination. On Saturday, we dedicated a commemorative stone on Old Campus. You can watch a video of the ceremony (above), which included remarks from me and the poet Elizabeth Alexander ’84, president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and former longtime Yale faculty member.

Throughout this academic year, we will celebrate and learn more about the history of women at Yale as part of the 50WomenAtYale150 commemoration. (Visit the 50th commemorative anniversary page to learn more.) Many events will be open to the entire community. For example, a fascinating exhibit, “When the Walls Came Tumbling Down: Coeducation in Yale College,” is on view in Sterling Memorial Library through October 18. I hope you will join us for as many of these special gatherings as you can.

The first women of Yale College added immeasurably to the university when they arrived in 1969. Ever since, they have made outstanding contributions to their professions and their communities. As I said this weekend, “Women were—and women are—essential to fulfilling Yale’s mission.” As we celebrate the legacy of coeducation, we look ahead with excitement to the next generation of trailblazers who will carry forward Yale’s mission and transform our world.