Letters to the Editor

Yale College’s first women

We welcome readers’ letters, which should be e-mailed to yam@yale.edu; mailed to Letters Editor, Yale Alumni Magazine, PO Box 1905, New Haven, CT 06509-1905; or faxed to (203) 432-0651. Due to the volume of correspondence, we are unable to respond to or publish all mail received. Letters accepted for publication are subject to editing. Priority is given to letters of fewer than 300 words.

Your mention of Vassar’s possibly relocating to New Haven brought back vivid memories of that time (“The Women Who Changed Yale College,” September/October). I can recall a Wall Street rumor that IBM was salivating over the possible acquisition of the entire Vassar campus as a site for their new corporate headquarters.

When the merger collapsed, a newspaper headline summed it up: “Yale’s a Nice Place to Visit, But We Wouldn’t Want to Live There.”

Jim Andrews ’60
Port Royal, SC

 

Even though I arrived in the fall of 1983, I was regularly reminded by older professors, male alums, or ongoing institutions/traditions/wording in Glee Club songs that the campus was once “all male.” Fortunately, I never heard that from my male contemporaries!

Rachel Monfredo ’87
Pittsford, NY

 

I read your articles on coeducation with fascination. My father (’34) and my brother (’64) were Yale alumni, so when Yale College announced in 1969 that it would accept women as freshman and transfer students, my father urged me to apply to transfer. I did not apply for a variety of reasons, not least the feeling that I would face hostility if I went to Yale. Reading the article showed me that at least the women who responded to your questions overcame the obstacles and benefited greatly from their Yale education, but also reminded me that no one should have to endure what some of these women describe.

In 1974, I came to Yale as a graduate student. I was the only woman in my ancient history seminar, which was taught by a visiting professor from Cornell, a former track runner who liked to praise the strength of Greek warriors. In class there was a constant undercurrent of remarks about the place of women in the world of work, with an implication that women should just stay home. But I had visited the Grove Street Cemetery and noticed the family plots with the small, sad headstones of two or even three children in the same family who all died during the same week, undoubtedly from an epidemic, and realized that before the availability of modern medical treatments like antibiotics and vaccines, women needed to bear many children in order to ensure that some would survive to adulthood.

So the next time the subject of women’s work came up in the seminar, I made the point that since the population could now maintain itself with a low birth rate and the need for physical strength was no longer a factor in most jobs, there was no reason why women should not work alongside men in every job and profession. To his credit, the professor complimented me on my reasoning and stopped needling me about working. He even gave me tips about running when he saw me doing laps in the gym, though not before blowing past me on the track to prove that he could still run faster than a woman half his age.

Deborah Shapiro ’75Grd
New York, NY

 

I entered Yale as a freshman in September 1972 and graduated with the Class of ’75. While at Yale, I really was happy to be a pioneer. I was one of the first female freshmen in the newly coeducated Yale Glee Club. I was a member of the New Blue, at that time the only female a cappella group. We were not allowed into Mory’s then, so we sang Monday nights at Naples Pizza. By 1974, we were allowed into Mory’s, and I became one of the first female members.

Since graduation, I have been a board member of the Yale Alumni Association and president of Yale Chicago. I’ve also joined the Yale Alumni Chorus for several trips and performances. My career has taken me from Yale to Northwestern University Law School, to a law firm partnership, to being general counsel at several international companies, to becoming COO of two law firms and of the Aon Corporation global law department. I founded and chaired the Illinois Task Force on Gender Bias in the Courts. I now consult on law department and law firm profitability, and retention of diverse talent.

I loved Yale, and I have always appreciated what it taught me about life, leadership, and women’s equality.

Audrey Rubin ’75
Chicago, IL

 

I greatly enjoyed your series of articles on the 50th anniversary of women undergrads at Yale. Although I was highly disturbed to read of the rape committed by the male student—I never thought such criminal activity occurred—I think it was the right thing for you to show that Yale male students could reach that depraved and loathsome level in their insecurity about women peers.

I was the sole junior male transfer student accepted in September 1969, when women matriculated. Like many of the women, I felt like an outsider. While I had few women friends and never a date, I had a life-changing experience with a group of women.

As an engineering and applied science student with virtually no women in my classes, I tried to branch out with my electives. Naïvely, I signed up for a seminar, Women and Psychology, without a clue as to what I was getting into. The class consisted of ten women, most of whom were militant lesbian feminists, one gay man, and me, a heterosexual male. The instructors were three women grad students, two of whom were militant lesbians. I soon found out what I was up against. As the only heterosexual male, I immediately became the target representing every male chauvinist offense in human history. Fight as I might to defend myself and men generally, I was inevitably crushed by the power and rectitude of their combined forces.

However, I began to notice in my other classes that their complaints about the chauvinism and bias of Yale students and faculty were true. For example, I had never noticed in my classes that when a male student said something wrong or even dumb, it would slide by unnoticed, but if a woman said anything—even if it was brilliant—she was immediately attacked on all sides. Out of that battering experience in the seminar, I became a feminist and have remained one in the 50 years since. So I owe an expression of gratitude to those women who set me on a different, more righteous course, although I never expressed my appreciation at the time.

Randall McCathren ’71
Nashville, TN

 

Thank you for an excellent look at women at Yale College! I was particularly struck by Sam Chauncey’s description of what he and Elga Wasserman were looking for in the first class of women: “We were looking for a human being that we thought could take some punishment. . . . We were worried that we were going to have problems—of an individual not being able to handle it, or being attacked, or any number of scenarios.”

What a stark contrast with many of today’s students—who don’t seem to have (or even understand the need for) the type of resilience, strength of character, self-confidence, and tolerance for differing viewpoints that past students, such as these pioneering women, brought to Yale.

Terry Tegnazian ’77JD
Los Angeles, CA

 

When I was expecting my second child in 1968, Yale gave me $500 to form the Yale University Women’s Organization (YUWO). I was a faculty wife and former employee who felt that we were missing out on the many benefits of being a part of Yale. The founding of YUWO happened hard on the heels of Betty Friedan’s book on feminism, and she came to New Haven to attend and speak at our first large membership meeting. Other speakers that year were Lillian Hellman, Margaret Mead, Robert Penn Warren, and several other faculty members. Katherine Angell and Mary Louise Brewster opened their homes for our meetings; we had the support of President Kingman Brewster and the university secretary. In retrospect, I can see that the time was right for the admission of women, and I think YUWO helped make it happen.

Barbara F. Schutz
Chapel Hill, NC

 

Women at Yale arrived too late for me. On Hammonasset Beach during freshman week in 1951, I surveyed the Class of 1955 sitting in the sun and thought, “Maybe I’ve made a mistake.” 

Ed Rossmann ’55
Aurora, NY

 

Excellent issue about the advent of women at Yale College! I have a small footnote. There were women undergraduates at Yale before 1969, albeit only a few. The wives of undergraduates were allowed to take classes, and one, Eren Hofstadter Givan, was in my section when I was a TA for Louis Martz’s Age of Milton class. Compared to my other, male-only, section, the atmosphere in that class was much more congenial and much less competitive. Make of that what you will.

Leo Braudy ’67PhD
Los Angeles, CA

 

Memories of Marie Borroff

I can’t remember any article from my more than 50 years of receiving the Yale Alumni Magazine that touched me so deeply as your beautiful tribute to Marie Borroff (“What She Was Born to Do,” September/October). It is especially appealing right now to be reminded of what the best scholars and teachers, such as Marie Borroff, add to all of our lives.

Andrew Stewart ’65
Santa Fe, NM

 

The fact that Marie Borroff was a gifted and dedicated teacher, scholar, and translator is well known to those of us who studied with her. As for me, besides taking her History of the English Language grad course in 1977—and benefiting from her steadying smile when, after a sleepless night, I stared at her sheet of questions during my departmental oral exams, and the Anglo-Saxon and Middle English passages waiting for my translation initially seemed like runes—I prize most of all her personal kindness and thoughtfulness at a difficult time in my life.

Knowing that I was a married grad student in English with a small child, she hired me to fact-check two of the chapters in what became her 1979 book, Language and the Poet. (I didn’t find many errors at all, but I realized she was, unlike Marianne Moore, no expert in MLB when she misinterpreted a line of Moore’s to mean that the great Yankee catcher Elston Howard was in fact a pitcher.) 

But her most memorable gift to me occurred when she discovered my marriage was in trouble and my economic situation dismal. She contacted me one day and asked whether I would be interested in teaching two courses of advanced senior English at Wilbur Cross High School. The teacher had fallen ill and would need to be replaced for the remaining eight months of the school year, so the principal had asked her to recommend a grad student. Professor Borroff told me the assignment involved teaching only the first two periods a day; I could be home by 10:30 a.m., and the salary was excellent. I applied and got the job, which enabled me to pay my bills and have time to finish my dissertation. The marriage broke up, but I’ll never forget her help.

For me, Marie Borroff and my equally wonderful dissertation adviser, the late Louis Martz, were Yale.

Peter D’Epiro ’81PhD
Ridgewood, NJ

 

As a graduate student and instructor in the Yale English department in the 1960s, I knew Marie Borroff first as an admired professor and then as a treasured friend and neighbor. After all these decades, I still remember how honored I felt when she asked me to help her construct an index for one of her books. She had not only a superb mind and a delightful sense of humor but also a rare steadiness and assurance . . . a quiet “centeredness” that I find inspiring even at this distance of time. Thank you for bringing together so many eloquent voices celebrating her remarkable life.

Dorothy Sipe Mull ’64PhD
Irvine, CA

 

The Montague lawsuit

As a Yale alumnus, I am troubled that the university has not disclosed the terms of the settlement of the lawsuit of former basketball captain Jack Montague over his expulsion (Campus Clips, September/October) or even acknowledged that the matter was resolved or commented in any way. Regardless of the merits of the parties’ positions in the litigation, or what may have occurred between Mr. Montague and the alleged victim, this affair was a stain on the history of the institution. A healing process is urgently needed and, in my view, the Yale community must understand the rationale and terms of the university’s resolution of its dispute with Mr. Montague, as an essential part of that healing process—particularly given the high-profile circumstances and widespread media coverage surrounding his expulsion. Please help this community to move forward not by burying this sad incident and the terms under which it was resolved but by providing the tools that will help us appreciate how its resolution will serve the university’s mission and values. 

Kenneth A. Margolis ’77
Chappaqua, NY

 

As we noted in our September/October issue, the New Haven Register reported that the lawsuit was settled out of court. Details of out-of-court settlements are often not disclosed. In this case, the only public statement came from Montague’s lawyer, who said that the parties had “resolved the case to their mutual satisfaction.” The university had no comment.—Eds.

 

More on preventing falls

As a certified trainer of Fall Stop Move Strong, a nationally recognized fall prevention program, I read with great interest the article about the study done by Julie Womack ’94MSN, ’08PhD, associate professor of nursing, on illicit substance abuse, alcoholism, and polypharmacy as risk factors associated with falls (“Boomers at Risk,” September/October). I would like to add that in another study, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has identified four risk factors that have a high association with falls: a previous fall, use of four or more prescription medications, reduced muscle strength and gait impairment, specifically a bent posture and poor stride length.

Patients would do well to tell their doctors about all the medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, they take, as well as any substance abuse. Physicians should inform patients of drug interactions and side effects that may cause lightheadedness and dizziness which could lead to a fall. Doses of prescription medications may need to be adjusted. Health-care providers can also play an important role in preventing falls by referring patients to physical therapy and recommending fall-prevention exercise classes which include targeted exercises to build muscle strength and balance training.

Gale Lichter ’74
New York, NY

 

Celebrating Helen Davie

Thank you for remembering Helen Davie, the magazine’s longtime class notes editor (From the Editor, July/August). I was one of those class secretaries she nurtured, mentored, and on at least one occasion bailed out. I was among those who supported her nomination for the Yale Medal and consider it one of our best choices. We must remember—celebrate even—those who toil every day in ways mostly small, without whom Yale could not succeed and prosper.

Glenn E. Murphy Jr. ’71
Arlington, MA

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