History of Women at Princeton University

Written by Vanessa Snowden ’04

For much of its history, Princeton University had the reputation of being an “old-boys’ school.” Starting in the fall of 1969, Princeton became co-educational, and eight women transfer students graduated in June 1970, with slightly greater numbers graduating in the two subsequent years. Women who matriculated as freshmen in 1969 graduated in the Class of 1973, the first undergraduate class that included women for all four undergraduate years. However, the first steps towards co-education came as early as 1887, with the founding of Evelyn College. From its inception, this women’s institution was associated with Princeton University, and it was hoped that the link would be similar to the Radcliffe and Harvard University relationship. Unfortunately, Evelyn College closed in 1897, due to financial problems and a lack of support from Princeton.

For the next half-century, women instead made their presence known in unofficial positions. Wives and daughters of Princeton faculty and administrators succeeded in exerting significant influence on campus life as advocates for students as well as assistants in research. Isabella Guthrie McCosh, wife of James McCosh, the 11th president of Princeton, was deeply involved in protecting the health and welfare of Princeton students. As a result of her unflagging dedication, the campus infirmary was built and named in her honor.

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“Reminiscences of Mrs. McCosh,” June 1935. Auxiliary to the Isabella McCosh Infirmary Records (AC175), Box 2.

Women were also important forces in the academic world. Margaret Farrand Thorp, wife of English professor, Willard Thorp, often assisted with her husband’s research while simultaneously producing her own independent work. Fittingly, she wrote a book entitled Female Persuasion: Six Strong-Minded Women, which was published in 1949. Speaking of her lot as a female at Princeton, Thorp once quipped, “We who practice the pleasant profession of faculty wife are often amused by Princeton University’s apparent hostility to the feminine sex. Hostility is probably too strong a word. The situation is, rather, that for the University, the feminine sex does not exist.” (See William K. Selden, Women of Princeton, p. 33.)
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She Roars. We Record.

By: Q Miceli ’12

A year ago, after the introductory slideshow at the She Roars Conference for female Princeton graduates and students, various audience members asked President Shirley Tilghman if there was a museum or other exhibit documenting the history of women at Princeton. I remember President Tilghman directing the conference participants to Mudd Library if they were interested in learning more about the history of coeducation at Princeton. Mudd has featured an exhibit this year called “She Flourishes: Chapters in the History of Princeton Women,” However, Wikipedia articles about Princeton women created using University archives resources would enhance the online accessibility of this information, while ensuring its reliability.

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Enter the idea of hosting another Wikipedia Edit-a-thon at Mudd, this time on the theme of Women at Princeton. Wikimedia Community Fellow Sarah Stierch’s recent interview on CBC Radio 2, in which she discussed the Wikipedia gender gap and the fates of articles about women in academia, inspired me to organize this even to highlight the contributions women have made to Princeton as an institution and to help close the Wikipedia gender gap.

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With help from members of the Wikimedia of NYC chapter, new Wikipedia editors teamed up with experienced Wikipedians in order to research and create articles for the history of women at Princeton, Coeducation at Princeton, and a few notable faculty and staff members. By the end of the day, we had drafts of articles in a few different users’ sandboxes on Wikipedia and an article on coeducation that is ready for expansion.

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Sophomore Anna Kornfeld Simpson wins a gold star for using the most books in the reference room while researching women engineers at Princeton!

By the numbers, we had:
*Total participants: 15
*Princeton students: 4
*Usernames created: 5

Article Creations
*Coeducation at Princeton University
*Karin Trainer
*History of Women at Princeton University
*Margot Canaday

Article Expansions
*Elaine Pagels
*Evelyn College for Women
*Addition of the first editrix of The Daily Princetonian, Anne C. Mackay-Smith ’80 and the first woman business manager, Judy E. Piper ’76

Wikimedia Commons Category
*http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Women_at_Princeton_editathon

We invite you to keep the momentum going by checking the meetup page, choosing a topic, and contributing your time and article-writing talent.

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