Westport Museum welcomes Yale’s first women

WESTPORT — Connie Royster grew up around Yale University. Her grandfather was a chef for Skull and Bones, a secret society at Yale, and other parents cooked for fraternities and other places on campus.

But although she had attended functions on campus since childhood and grew up in New Haven, as a student in the 1960s, she never imagined she would be a student there. Yale was essentially closed to women until 1969, when the first female undergraduate students were admitted and 575 started this fall.

Royster was among them, transferring to Yale her sophomore year from Wheaton College, an all-girls school at the time.

“When I came to Yale, I was ready to take it on,” Royster said. at a lecture at the Westport Museum for History and Culture on this first category of women.

Yale had a quota on the number of women it would accept on its first rotation, which meant that 13% of the student body was female, said Anne Perkins, author of “Yale needs womenalso a focal point of Thursday’s conference.

Andrea DaRif, was at Staples High School when the announcement was made that Yale would accept women, but it was unclear until very late in the application process whether high school students would be accepted under this first cohort or transfers only.

“I immediately rushed into my application and crossed my fingers,” DaRif said at the conference. “I had the chance to enter”

Both women recalled what it was like to be among a small group on a male-dominated campus, which was especially evident when DaRif and her three roommates signed up for classes one of the first days.

“We walked up to sign up and saw a sea of ​​guys and said, ‘OK, that’s what we got ourselves into,’ and off we went,” she said.

But Yale was going through a bigger transition around this time about who is a Yale student. He began to abandon the prep school feeding system he used, accepting more students of color and public school students, making this Class of 1969 even more diverse. Even so, Royster was only one of eight black women in the entire sophomore class and there were even fewer Latino or Asian students, Perkins said.

“My male classmates were just as nervous as I was sometimes,” DaRif said. “It was a different environment. If they came from a rural high school, Yale was like the moon.

Both said they felt supported at Yale, attributing some of that to the arts programs they were in, which they said tended to be more accepting in general and already had a history of women in the world. graduate program. Extra-curricular activities are also offered to women.

The experience also instilled more confidence in them and opened doors after graduation.

“I wasn’t afraid to speak my mind and express myself because that’s what I’ve been doing since I was 18,” DaRif said, adding that being the only woman to feature in a boardroom of 100 men was more intimidating than any council. room she entered later in life.

Their time outside the classroom, however, had its own battles, as they and others, especially Elga Wasserman, Special Assistant to the President for Women’s Education, fought for the things female students needed. on the campus. This included security, expanding access to health, including contraceptives and gynecological care, and even allowing more women to come.

“She was the strongest woman we knew,” Royster said of Wasserman, adding that there were no female heads of universities or deans when they started.

DaRif recalled how one of his friends and teammates, Lawrie Mifflin, basically started the field hockey program at Yale. She had been a standout player in high school and sought to join the Yale field hockey team, but was told there were none, or any organized sports for women.

“She said, ‘Well, that’s not acceptable. How can we start one? Said DaRif.

Mifflin then went to the athletic director and eventually recruited the team himself to show there was interest. With a team assembled, she returned to the office and asked for a schedule, but officials said they didn’t know what to do. Mifflin then spent the summer contacting schools to see if they would play them, working out the schedule.

Upon their return, they were able to have a club team before having a university team in place of DaRif’s final year. They also managed to get the university to provide them with uniforms and equipment, as they would for the men’s teams, but it was not without embarrassment, DaRif said.

The team had played in t-shirts they had all bought at the co-op and cut-off jeans. But when a photo emerged of the Princeton team – their next opponents – in cute school-colored kilts, Yale officials called another Connecticut school to borrow their powder blue kilts for the game.

“At first we said we weren’t going to wear them because they’re not Yale blue,” DaRif recalled, adding that the university bought them kilts the following year.

Royster said students stood up for many things at Yale, including civil rights and an end to the Vietnam War.

The May Day protests about Bobby Seale and the Black Panther trials, classes were canceled and the campus closed. Even the national guard was called. Royster helped organize a performance so people could express themselves through art.

“It was a lesson in good citizenship on the pitch,” Royster said.

Perkins said Royster’s roommate and other Yale women were also influential in Women v. Connecticut which struck down Connecticut’s abortion ban before Roe v. Wade.

Their progress and civic engagement are particularly poignant now, some 50 years later, after Roe’s recent overthrow.

“We had so much hope,” DaRif said. “We felt we were at the forefront of proving that we should have equal rights, equal protection under the law. We felt that we had succeeded in proving to people that we weren’t just second-class citizens.

When DaRif and Royster started college, women were still not allowed to have credit cards in their names. They needed husbands, she said.

“The progress we’ve made over the past 50 years was very encouraging and felt like a punch in the gut,” DaRif said.

Royster said he felt like he had stepped back in time, but the struggle continued.

“It’s already been seen but we have to fight,” she said. “We have no choice.”

Royster said there are few people who have experienced what they did, and so those bonds formed at Yale are among the most important relationships of his life. She still has a monthly Zoom meeting with her classmates from 1972.

She even went to a women’s march with some of them.

“We’re getting older, but we can still march and protest and we still have to,” Royster said.

About Bobby F. Lopez

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