Faculty Wives and the Push for Coeducation at Princeton University

Coeducation brought female students to Princeton, but it didn’t bring the first women. There have always been women connected with the institution. Nonetheless, coeducation did change the lives of the women who were already here. Esther Edwards Burr, Sarah Pierpont Edwards, and Isabella McCosh, wives of three Princeton presidents from earlier centuries, have all received historians’ attention as individuals, but the ways in which faculty wives as a group shaped and reshaped Princeton has not been fully explored. As Princeton celebrates its 50th anniversary year of undergraduate coeducation, it is worth looking back at some of the women who pushed hardest to end male-only hegemony: the ones who married the men who taught on Princeton’s campus.

Princeton held its centennial Commencement in 1847. To celebrate, women in town–probably faculty wives–hosted a reception. Samuel Reeves of the Class of 1837 described it in the New York Observer (July 3, 1847): “The accomplished ladies of the Faculty gave a Levee in the evening…The ladies received the throng of invited guests with elegance and grace, while the entertainment of the evening was of unusual richness, displaying the taste and refinement of those under whose direction this splendid affair was arranged and conducted.” (Menu for reception given in honor of the centennial Commencement of the College of New Jersey (Princeton), June 30, 1847. Historical Subject Files (AC109), Box 307, Folder 11.)

It can be hard to uncover many of their names even now, as records are often found filed among their husbands’ papers in the University Archives or otherwise obscured by their scattered presence across diverse collections. The women who lived in town because of their husbands’ teaching careers at Princeton University did not always find the institution itself particularly welcoming to them, but they formed their own communities and found ways to pursue their own passions despite an environment they often described as outright hostile. Ultimately, Princeton University’s first regularly enrolled female student came from their ranks. Continue reading

This Week in Princeton History for March 4-10

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, competing protests take place on Nassau Street, dormitory phones get voicemail, and more.

March 4, 1965—Competing groups of students, faculty, families, and other locals march in Palmer Square, one group to protest escalation of America’s military intervention in Vietnam and the other to support it. The group supporting military intervention ends their demonstration by laying down their protest signs and singing “Old Nassau,” while opponents gather signatures for a petition asking for an end to the bombing.

Image from the Daily Princetonian.

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This Week in Princeton History for February 11-17

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, African American women express their views of campus, police are on the lookout for stolen silverware, and more.

February 11, 1994—A group of students responds to an editorial cartoon with pleas for greater thoughtfulness about the use of imagery and language on campus, saying the cartoon’s portrayal of Cornel West *80 played to a variety of offensive stereotypes. Discussions continue throughout the week.

A follow up set of editorial cartoons from the Daily Princetonian.

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This Week in Princeton History for January 7-13

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the Princetonian criticizes the grading system, the Texas governor gives an on-campus club the designation “Texas Embassy in New Jersey,” and more.

January 9, 1975—Princeton students are featured in the NBC documentary special The Changing Role of Women and Men. Architecture majors Lisa F. Lee ’76 and Robert C. Vuyosevich ’76 talk about how academic competition led to the breakup of their romance, which NBC says is one of the consequences of women entering fields previously dominated by men. Lee says she had other ideas, but they “were cut from the show.”

January 10, 1906—James Robb Church (Class of 1888) is awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for deeds of valor in the Spanish American War.

January 11, 1877—The Princetonian editorializes that the grading system needs to change, because ranking students against one another and capping every class average at 85 unfairly penalizes good students. “A class of blockheads would make as good a showing as a class of admirable Crichtons.”

Sample page from the Registrar’s grade book, 1877. Note what appears to be the class ranking in red. Office of the Registrar Records (AC116), Box 15.

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This Week in Princeton History for November 26-December 2

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, graduates react to the possible admission of female undergraduates, a dean’s comments in a local newspaper arouse concern, and more.

November 26, 1968—The Princeton Alumni Weekly prints several letters responding to the Patterson Report, which has concluded that Princeton would benefit from admitting female undergraduates. Logan McKee ’48 writes, “Mixing, ‘integrating’ and polluting seem to be the trend of the times, so it is natural that the mixers would want to homogenize Princeton. Of course this is just the next natural step in the pollution process. Long ago they removed the Presbyterian religious bias, the prep-school, the fraternity and the white race preference, and the School’s independence from government grants—so why not remove its last distinction, that of being a men’s college? Then Princeton can be as ‘democratic’ and just as friendly, folksy and mediocre as any outstate A. & M. institution.”

November 28, 1989—The Dean of the Graduate School’s comments in the Trenton Times alarm graduate students, including his assertion that “I think that a graduate student ought to be here to study 120 percent. I worry very, very much that a graduate student has so much time available to worry about a social life.”

Editorial cartoon from the Daily Princetonian. This cartoon refers to later claims the dean made that graduate students should not be offered housing after their second year of study.

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“Studying Is Fine, but Living Has Been Another Problem”: Mary Procter *71 and Coeducation at Princeton

Earlier this year, I began telling the story of the female graduate students who paved the way for undergraduate coeducation at Princeton University starting in 1961. This blog continues that story with a focus on Mary Procter *71 (often misspelled as Mary Proctor *71) and her unusually influential role while a Princeton graduate student.

Procter got then-Provost William Bowen’s attention with a 1968 letter to the Daily Princetonian that took campus men to task for their treatment of the few undergraduate women who were in Princeton classrooms at the time as exchange students in the Critical Languages Program. Procter made vague reference to the fact that the band had referred to these women as “cunning linguists” and made other crude jokes about them during the halftime show at the Princeton-Harvard game. Anonymously signing her letter as simply “Female Graduate Student,” Procter had written, “I had always thought that men’s universities produced men, lusty and bawdy if you will, but not sniggering sickly creatures, obsessed with double meanings which suggest that they are not interested in girls so much as lollipops or bits of mashed potato.” Procter later said she wrote in to the Prince because she was “furious” and felt “Princeton does not deserve to be coed.”

Jackie Johnson *70, Katie Marshall *69, and Mary Procter *71. Photo from the Princeton Alumni Weekly, May 13, 1969.

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This Week in Princeton History for March 12-18

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Women Oriented Women are leaving stickers around campus to increase awareness of lesbianism, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter asks professors for advice, and more.

March 12, 1969—About 500 disgruntled alumni calling themselves Alumni Committee to Involve Ourselves Now (ACTION) announce a campaign to attempt to overturn the Board of Trustees’ decision to make Princeton coeducational.

Although a significant number of alumni opposed coeducation, not all were on the same page. Henry Lyttleton Savage of the Class of 1915 sent this postcard to ACTION, saying, “The Charter gives no support to any who oppose co-education. Its allusions are to ‘students’ and ‘youth.’ Those terms cover any change to co-education.” Alumni Association Records (AC048), Box 20.

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This Week in Princeton History for January 15-21

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, students and guests attend the first art lecture, the Board of Trustees ends gender-based admissions quotas, and more.

January 15, 1877—Professor Edward Delano Lindsey gives the first lecture of a course in Art in the newly established Department of Art and Archaeology. The Nassau Literary Magazine observes, “Even the ladies were represented and proved by their attention and expressive countenances their appreciation of both lecturer and subject.”

January 16, 1813—Students successfully petition the faculty “to be allowed this day as a holy day [sic], for the purpose of spending it in the amusement of sleighing.”

January 19, 1974—The Board of Trustees votes to end an admissions policy that enforces quotas on the number of women who may be admitted to Princeton University, a policy originally intended to prevent a decline in the number of men admitted after the advent of coeducation.

This photo of a Princeton University classroom ca. 1975 was labeled “Coed classroom.” If you look closely, you will find a woman in this class (out of focus toward the left). Though Princeton began admitting women to all degree programs in 1969, it was some time before it felt fully coeducational to students, in part due to quotas that kept the ratio of men to women high. Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box MP150, Image No. 4013.

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“The Future Princeton Is Whatever Emerges from the Battle Now Joined”: The Concerned Alumni of Princeton, 1972-1986

By Mario Garcia ’18

In the aftermath of various social movements that transformed the United States throughout the 1960s, the late 1960s and early 1970s served as its own transformative era for Princeton University: with the introduction of undergraduate coeducation, increased enrollment of racial minorities, and formation of the first recognized student group for gay rights (Gay Alliance of Princeton (GAP)), the community began to expand in a way that challenged historical notions of who belonged at Princeton. In opposition to such momentous changes, a particularly vocal group called the Concerned Alumni of Princeton (CAP) arose in 1972 with the goal of influencing an administration that they thought—by moving the student body in a direction that had neglected many alumni’s vision of what it meant to be a Princetonian—had led the University to its decline. CAP hoped to vocalize alumni dissent to the administration’s actions through the publication of Prospect, a magazine that the organization would periodically send to alumni. Reflecting CAP’s disapproval of Princeton’s efforts to alter its demographic makeup, Prospect would often reify structural sexism, racism, and homophobia. As CAP founder T. Harding Jones ’72 declared to the student body in the Daily Princetonian:

alumni are concerned, upset, enraged, sickened, or doubtful about some or all of the following: admissions policy, coeducation, athletics, radicals on campus, the Gay Alliance of Princeton, the refusal to allow alumni trustee candidates to speak out on the issues, the abolishment of almost all rules, the oneness of mind of the Board of Trustees and their apparent failure to act independently of President Bowen, the Alumni Council’s ties with the administration rather than its existence as an independent entity, the Alumni Weekly, and the failure of the administration to take the leadership in the moral and spiritual development of undergraduates.

As reflected in a Prospect article detailing the organization’s main objectives published on April 11, 1977, many members of CAP judged that the administration lacked “an understanding of and respect for what it has meant to be a Princeton scholar and a Princeton gentleman”: they believed that administration had lost sight of who made Princeton a world-class institution and had ignored those alumni who had retained this understanding and respect.

Summer 1981 cover of Prospect. Princeton University Publications Collection (AC364), Box 16.

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This Week in Princeton History for March 27-April 2

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, eastern colleges convene to discuss the future of African Americans, a new invention draws interest, and more.

March 27, 1972—A petition to end coeducation is circulating among undergraduates, the Daily Princetonian reports, quoting one student: “I think college should be an ivory tower, and adding girls isn’t necessary.”

March 28, 1871—After one student is diagnosed with smallpox, panic on campus and among parents of current students prompts College of New Jersey (Princeton) president James McCosh to end the term two weeks early. He sends the students home.

March 30, 1967—150 delegates representing 65 Eastern colleges convene at Princeton University for the first conference of its kind to discuss “The Future of the Negro Undergraduate.”

Robert F. Goheen (center) with student attendees of “The Future of the Negro Undergraduate” conference, March 30, 1967. Office of the President Records (AC193), Box 456, Folder 7.

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