Princeton professor documents the movement that ended single-sex education at elite schools

Historians in the News
tags: education, Coeducation

Men and women together in class is as much a part of college life today as final exams and grade-point averages.

Half a century ago, that wasn't the case at many elite colleges.

Nancy Weiss Malkiel, professor emerita of history at Princeton University, documents the movement that ended single-sex education and the social changes it brought about in Keep the Damned Women Out: The Struggle for Coeducation (Princeton University Press; $35).

The book - the title makes reference to a disgruntled alumnus at Dartmouth - tracks "an amazing process of institutional change," says Malkiel, of Princeton, a professor and administrator at the university since 1969.

Once Princeton, Yale, Harvard, Dartmouth, Vassar - also Cambridge and Oxford - became coeducational institutions, they often were slow to adapt.

At Yale, for example, the women's field hockey team initially had to practice on a parking lot. When a Yale woman asked a professor about offering a course on women's history, he said, "That would be like teaching the history of dogs."

At her Princeton office, Malkiel, a graduate of Smith, discussed her book and how its publication comes at a time when the United States could elect its first female president.

How much of a role did the civil rights movement, antiwar protests, and the women's movement play in the move toward coeducation?

The world in which young people were growing up in the late 1960s looked completely different than what it had looked at the beginning of the 1960s. If you were protesting - men and women together - the Vietnam War, if you were working side by side to register blacks to vote in Mississippi, the notion that you would not also go to school together was hard to accept. ...

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