Biography and History

On January 11, 1969, the Board of Trustees of Princeton University voted to admit women as candidates for undergraduate degrees. The first 171 women matriculated in the fall of 1969; the first undergraduate degrees were awarded to six women at the June 1970 Commencement ceremonies. Prior to this, there were very few women students at Princeton. In 1966-67, for example, there were 15 women spending their junior year at Princeton as part of a four-year-old program in critical languages and 34 women studying in the graduate school.

The Trustees' decision to admit substantial numbers of undergraduate women marked the beginning of a period of extraordinary and rapid change for the University. In the twenty years between 1969 and 1989, the number of women increased to almost 40% of the undergraduate and more than 30% of the graduate students. Women were added to the faculty, the senior administration and the Board of Trustees; a program in Women's Studies and a Women's Center were created. Overall, women became an active participant in all aspects of life at the university.

The Steering Committee, with Joan S. Girgus, Professor of Psychology, serving as chair, Associate Provost Janet Holmgren McKay serving as vice-chair, and Jane Y. Sharaf, of the Pew Science Program serving as secretary, included the senior officers of the University (or their designees), faculty members, undergraduates, graduate students, and other administrators with a special interest in coeducation. The committee met nine times between November 1988 and June 1990 and had two subcommittees-one to evaluate requests for funding (the President provided the committee with a fund of $35,000) and the other to plan and coordinate publicity.

In the course of its meetings and discussions, the Steering Committee developed a number of interlocking goals: First, to encourage as many members of the Princeton community as possible to think about issues pertaining to coeducation and the changing lives of women and men. Second, to make those issues part of an ongoing agenda for the University, so that their consideration would not cease with the conclusion of the 18-month commemoration period. Third, to focus primarily on coeducation and gender issues for the future, without ignoring the past. Fourth, to include questions relating to coeducation beyond Princeton-throughout American society and in other societies as well. And, fifth, to encourage events and projects focused on issues that concern and affect both men and women as well as on issues primarily of concern to women.

The Steering Committee provided funding and publicity for a total of 40 lectures, seminars, conferences, workshops, panel discussions, films, and performances between February 1989 and June 1990. In the Spring of 1990, an exhibition in Firestone Library's Main Gallery, entitled “Gender in the Academy: Women and Learning from Plato to Princeton,” was unveiled. The exhibition was curated and the catalogue written by Professors Natalie Zemon Davis and Anthony Grafton of the History Department. Five symposia on “Gender and Education,” each of which had two distinguished scholars who lectured on a topic and then engaged in a dialogue with each other and the audience.

The Alumni Council and the Board of Trustees also took a special interest in the 20th Anniversary and planned programs that focused on issues of coeducation. The Alumni Council sponsored a number of programs, among them a faculty panel which was presented on Alumni Day entitled “When Harry Met Sally at Princeton: How Men and Women Together Have Changed and Are Changing Princeton.”

The Board of Trustees adopted a special resolution commemorating their momentous decision of 1969 and organized a special program for their January 1990 meeting to which all emeriti and former women Trustees were invited. This program featured a panel of senior women faculty members talking about future challenges for Princeton related to coeducation, with particular focus on faculty, curriculum, graduate students, and undergraduates.

Joan Girgus, Chair, submitted a final report of the Steering Committee's activities to President Shapiro, the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, members of the President's Council who were not on the Steering Committee, and to the Steering Committee itself.

Source: From the finding aid for AC182

  • Steering Committee for the 20th Anniversary of Coeducation Records. 1988-1990 (inclusive).

    Call Number: AC182

    In the Fall of 1998, President Harold T. Shapiro, recognizing that many groups, individuals, and organizations were interested in planning events and projects related to the 20th anniversary of undergraduate coeducation, appointed a Steering Committee to coordinate and help support these activities. These records document the planning, implementation, and assessment of the actions of the Steering Committee.