Biography and History

In the changing social climate of the 1960s, a time when society's political and social status quo was being questioned by a younger and well-educated generation, universities faced many challenges. Equal opportunities for women in the workplace and in academia was one of the issues at stake. Age-old barriers that had kept women from participating in some of America's premier institutions of higher learning were being reexamined. By the beginning of 1969 Columbia, Dartmouth, Yale, and Princeton were the only remaining members of the Ivy League whose doors had not been officially opened to women.

In its competition with other universities, Princeton's “old boy” image was becoming an increasing obstacle to attracting good students. By the mid-1960s a dwindling number of students applying to Princeton turned out to be first-class both academically and extracurricularly. And of those accepted by the University the best decided to go somewhere else. In December 1966 Yale University and the all-female Vassar College announced their intention to study the possibility of a merger. This constituted a serious threat for Princeton. In March 1966 a subcommittee of the Faculty Committee on Undergraduate Life had already recommended coeducation as one of the remedies for what the committee termed the University's “unhealthful social climate.” Women were not entirely unknown to Princeton. At the end of the previous century Princeton was associated, although not legally connected, with the short-lived Evelyn College (1887-1897). As graduate students, women had been attending Princeton since 1961. In 1963 the Critical Languages Program was introduced to the University, which enabled up to 30 male and female undergraduates from other colleges to spend one year in Princeton. Following Yale's lead, an affiliation with the all-female Sarah Lawrence College was informally explored, but on June 2, 1967 President Robert F. Goheen (1957-1972) announced that the two institutions had “agreed that the unique identity and role of Sarah Lawrence would not be aided by their following the Vassar route.” Only twelve days later he announced that the Board of Trustees had authorized a study of the “advisability and feasibility of enlarging the University's role in the education of women.”

Prior to the decision of the Trustees, Goheen had expressed his views in an interview with The Daily Princetonian about the inevitability of moving towards coeducation. On May 26, 1967 he wrote a letter about the subject to Gardner Patterson, professor of economics and international affairs and a former director of the Woodrow Wilson School. He included the Princetonian article and noted that it “embarrassed” him somewhat, as it appeared before the Trustees could debate the question. However, Goheen thought he could “secure” an official authorization to make a serious, systematic study of the options. He hoped that Patterson would be willing to conduct a study of “the educational and financial implications of the various possible ways Princeton might try to move into coeducation.” Patterson, who was in Geneva at the time, replied that he agreed with Goheen's views, would be happy to conduct the research, and his “heart would be in it, too.” When, just as Goheen had hoped, the Trustees authorized the study in June, Patterson was appointed Committee chair. Other members of the Committee included Edward Sullivan, Dean of the College, John Moran '51, general manager of planning, plant and properties, Arthur Horton '42, director of development, and faculty members Thomas Carver, Michael Danielson, E.D.H. Johnson '34, and Thomas Scanlon '63. David Kershaw, director of graduate admissions at the Woodrow Wilson School served as staff assistant, while Patterson asked George Berry, special assistant to Goheen, to personally assist the committee. Provost William Bowen and William Lippincott '41, Executive Director of the Alumni Council, were added at a later stage to the Committee.

The Committee's final report, submitted to the Trustees in July 1968, and in Princeton circles known as the “Patterson Report,” was made public in September when it appeared as a special edition of the Princeton Alumni Weekly. Backed by 34 statistical tables, the report concluded that coeducation would benefit Princeton socially, intellectually, and culturally. The Committee recommended increasing the present number of undergraduates with an additional 1,000 female students “as quickly as funds can be raised to accomplish it.” The advantages of coeducation were deemed lost if the ratio of men to women was more than three to one. The report included a minority statement by Arthur Horton '42, who disagreed with the conclusions reached. Throughout the year he had voiced the concerns of many conservative alumni who did not support the admission of women to their Alma Mater. Horton's chief fear was the negative implications for traditional fund raising among alumni, a worry shared by many within the University.

In January 1969 the Trustees voted 24-8 in favor of the Patterson recommendations. Following this significant affirmation, an Ad-Hoc Committee of Faculty-Administrators and Students, headed by President Goheen, was appointed by the Trustees to consider how Princeton could best implement the decision to educate undergraduate women. Their report, which examined coordinate versus coeducational patterns using five models, recommended full academic and social integration and a fixed ratio of men and women. In April the Trustees voted to admit 90 female freshmen and 40 transfers in September and to increase numbers gradually over the years to at least 1,000 women. When the time of admission came the numbers had already increased. During the first weekend after Labor Day in 1969, 171 women arrived in Princeton as candidates for bachelor's degrees, among them 101 out of 921 members of the freshman Class of 1973. In his concluding remarks at the 1973 Commencement President Bowen declared, “The women among us have now added their gifts of fallibility to our own, and I think we are a far better university - and a far richer community of people - for them.”

Source: From the finding aid for AC184

  • Committee on the Education of Women at Princeton Records. 1955-1969 (inclusive), 1967-1969 (bulk).

    Call Number: AC184

    The Committee on the Education of Women at Princeton Records contain the working papers and correspondence of Gardner Patterson, Committee Chair, and his assistants. In June 1967 the Board of Trustees charged the Committee with the study of "the advisability and feasibility" of enlarging the University's role in the education of women. The final report, "The Education of Women at Princeton," was submitted to the Trustees in July 1968. Adopting the recommendation of the Committee, they voted in favor of coeducation the following January and appointed an Ad-Hoc Committee to advise on how to implement their decision. The collection contains some papers Patterson received as a member of this Ad-Hoc Committee, and drafts of its final report, "The Education of Undergraduate Women at Princeton: An Examination of Coordinate Versus Coeducational Patterns."