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Women's History Month: Admissions and Residences

Before women were admitted to the University as degree-earning students in 1969, their role evolved from sister college neighbors to party mates to a key part of the Critical Languages Program.

As their strength increased despite an all-malecampus atmosphere and vocal conservative alumni, the women lived together at the Graduate College and at Pyne Hall before being integrated into the coeducational residential college system.
Orange and White: The Beginning of Evelyn College

In 1887, Joshua Hall McIlvaine, Class of 1837 and a former University professor, founded the University's sister college called the Evelyn College for Women, which graduated the first class of women in 1893.

While the University granted Evelyn students full access to the University’s libraries and museum, it also imposed many regulations on them, such as a strict schedule and a formal dress code.

“The girls couldn’t come in town with smiles on their faces —they had no liberties at all,” Irving Mershon, a Princeton resident, told the Princeton Packet about Evelyn students, according to the book“Transforming the Tiger" by Catherine Keyser '01.

University students would stand outside Evelyn College and shout, “Eva, Eva, l-y-n, Eva, Eva, let me in!”,according to thePrinceton Companion published in 1978.

One of the Evelyn students also noted that a police force was employed around the clock to protect the college from the University’s men, according to an Oct. 21, 1969 article in The Daily Princetonian. At the time, the men outnumbered women by a 50:1 ratio.


According to a paper entitled“Coeducation at Princeton,” many University men married Evelyn women.

The college finally closed in 1897 due to decreasing enrollment and increasing debt,according to “A History of Evelyn College" by E.P. Healy.

‘Critters’ Charm the President: Women in the Critical Languages Program

In 1963, five undergraduate women were admitted to the Critical Languages Program at the University, a program funded by the Ford Foundation to nurture and develop students who would later become experts in the critical languages —Chinese, Russian, Turkish, Persian, Japanese and Arabic —in the United States.

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Peter Cohen ’70said he thought the University admitted those five women as a public relations move to compete with its Ivy League counterparts and in order to avoid an appearance of "seeming backward" about coeducation.

While many people expressed excitement and happiness at the arrival of the "Critters," as the women of the Critical Languages Program were called,Cohen said thatthe ratio of men to women created an artificial environment.

Melanie Pytlowany-Kordiuk ’70said that the men that she hung out with were not hostile, and that the experience was "a great adventure."

“I was very interested in attending the classes and seeing what resources were available and meeting the other young ladies that were there," Pytlowany-Kordiuk said of her enrollment at the University.“I know there were some [men] that were really curious about us, like about what sort of creatures we were and you know, what we were doing there and that sort of thing.”

However, some men had questionable intentions, Cohen said, noting that the mentality on campus was,“wow, we have sex objects near and close to us.”

Susan Craig ’70 said that when the University decided to become coeducational, the administration told the "critters" to return to their home schools.

“We invited President Goheen to come to dinner at the Graduate College thinking that we could charm him by cooking him a wonderful dinner and so we could convince him that we were worth keeping around [for our senior year],” she said.

Craig said that she decided to run for —and ultimately won —the office of secretary in the Undergraduate Assembly in order to try to stay at the University.

The University decided to admit nine of the critical language students to the undergraduate student body. Two of the students chose not to apply.

The Critical Languages Program ended in 1972 due to dwindling funding from the Ford Foundation, according toa June 19, 1971, ‘Prince’articleabout the history of the program.

Importing Women for Dates

On big football weekends, women from colleges like Vassar College and Bryn Mawr College would pile into buses and trains to socialize with the men at the University, Cohen said.

“It was a superficial culture of, ‘Here comes this girl who you either knew or you were fixed up with through a friend, who you were going to go with to these social events, dance with and hopefully develop some kind of closeness to,’ ” Cohen said.

There was a lot of activism and discussion on campus concerning the treatment of these so-called "imports," Sally Frank ’80, who eventually successfully sued all-male eating clubs to admit women, said.

“There’d be a woman crying who had, you know, been unfairly treated by a man as an import, and she’d come running into the women’s dormitory,” Margery Hite ’73said.

She added that women from the first few coeducational classes at the University would be a refuge for the "imports" who occasionally felt they had been sexually assaulted or pressured into doing things they were not comfortable with.

“We were always concerned about the treatment of imports and what happens to an import if she doesn’t want to spend the night with one of the men from a club and figure out how to be helpful in that regard,” Frank said.

The practice of "importing" ceased as more female undergraduates were admitted to the University in the seventies and eighties.

Coed Week: An experiment

The University hosted an Undergraduate Assembly-sponsored “Coed Week" from Feb. 9-14 in 1969,in which 800 out of 2,500 female applicants were allowed to live at and attend a week of activities at the University.

Cohen, one of the organizers of Coed Week, said the organizers capitalized on the fact that the University wanted to look like it was moving forward on the issue of coeducation.With the support of the student body, the organizers pushed the idea through to administrators.

Cots were brought into rooms and flowered toilet paper was put into the bathrooms that the male students had vacated for the women during the course of the week, according to aFeb. 22, 1969,‘Prince’ article.

Cohen said that while he was nervous about the possibility of problems like unwanted sexual activity, the week was like a giant party.

“You were getting to meet women in a more casual [environment] than kind of the pressurized, 'this is a weekend and let's see how far we can get ... in our intimacy',” Cohen said.

The men set off the fire alarms one night during Coed Week so that they could see the women in their nightgowns, according to “Transforming the Tiger," a book by Catherine Keyser ’01.

Judith-Ann Corrente ’70, a critical language program member, called the weekend "weird."

"It was like a long weekend, where all of the men’s dates came,” she said.

We Want Girls: The decisions leading to the first coeducational classes

Students held several rallies fighting for coeducation throughout the 1950s, at which the men would scream, “We want girls!”,according to an Oct. 7, 1994 article inthe ‘Prince’about 25years of coeducation.

Seventy-five percent of faculty and 83 percent of students polled said coeducation would make Princeton more appealing to male applicants,according to the Patterson Report, which was written by a committee of the same name that was set up to investigate the desirability and feasibility of coeducation.

Arthur Horton ’42 annotated the Patterson Report with comments against coeducation.

“Excuse me while I vomit,” he wrote on the report.

The main alumni complaints regarding coeducation involved claims that it would be expensive, that women were a distraction and that the University would strain its relationship with alumni,according to a Nov. 20, 1968, article inthe ‘Prince’.

“There were a lot of conservative alumni who thought that Princeton was the best damn place on earth and it should only be the way it was when they were here, which is when it was for men,” Cohen said.

Cohen said the University chose to admit women to stay competitive with universities like Harvard and Yale.

"A Princeton which persisted in denying admission to women applicants probably could not long maintain a strong position of leadership in the nation," the Board of Trustees declared in its Jan. 13, 1969, news conference when it made the official announcement admitting female undergraduates.

Office of Admission personnel printed out two sets of letters to the women applicants, according to a April 2, 1969,‘Prince’article. Oneset informed the women of whether they had been admitted, and the other said the University was not accepting women that year.

“The problem was that they [the University administrators] didn’t think very strategically," Corrente said. "The decision to admit women was more reactive than strategic."

Corrente, who served on the Coeducation Admissions Committee, said working on the committee was strange, especially when officers would be impressed by potential candidates like a model who sent in pictures of herself.

The University received 784 applications from women, of which 190 were offered admission, according to ablogfrom Mudd Manuscript Library about the women of the Class of 1970. Around 150 women matriculated, joining the 3,258 men on campus.

The arrival of the ‘coeds’

Sara Sill ’73 said it seemed that there was a spotlight on the new undergraduate women, who were known as "coeds" for a significant period of time.

“There was a lot of press, there were special assemblies, there was a special welcome speech, they gave us all flowers – which all seemed like a fuss to me at the time,” she said.

Hite said that she didn’t think that she would have applied if it hadn’t been for the first class of women, a feeling that was expressed by a number of women.

“I remember saying to my mother —and now I laugh about it —that I wanted to go to Princeton to be a pioneer,” Marsha Rosenthal ’74said.

Hite said that for the first year and a half, there were not enough women to blend in and being singled out as a woman became tiring.She added that things like the women’s new dresses were often spotted and called out by men on campus.

“You did feel like you were on display all the time,” Hite said.

Michael Buchman ’73 said that while those who were opposed to women's matriculation politically were in the minority, some students were still sexist and spoke about women in disrespectful ways.

During their first year at the University, all coeds lived in Pyne Hall.

Cynthia Chase ’75said that in Pyne Hall, there were women on some floors and men on the other floors, some of whom partook in late night interactions and conversations.

“The atmosphere was good," she said. "It was friendly and cheerful."

However, she noted that the atmosphere was still largely like that of a men’s school due to their style of humor and the interactions between male students.

Marsha Levy-Warren ’73 said there was no common space for interaction between women students within Pyne Hall, which led to a lack of camaraderie among the female students.

“This led to a feeling of being somewhat isolated and marginalized on campus,” she said.

Hite said that because Pyne Hall was the only place where women lived, there were men around a lot.She recalled a panty raid that was carried out on Pyne Hall, when there was a bunch of young men chanting in the courtyards that they were going to come into the women’s rooms and steal some underwear, which one of the girls eventually threw out of the window for them.

Hite also said that women suffered retaliation from male students who were unhappy about the institutional changes. One example included messages left in the laundry rooms in Pyne Hall.

“Coeds are just guys who have worked their balls off,” one of the messages read, Hite said.

An inclusive community

As more women entered the University, they expanded to live in different parts of campus.

Rosenthal said the ratio of women to men was higher at Princeton Inn College—now called Forbes College —and Wilson College than it was in the dorms up-campus, due to structural issues like restroom location and the administration's decision to concentrate women in the same areas on campus.

“Instead of being 10:1 or so or more, there were more women proportionately at Princeton Inn, and that meant that in the dining hall, in the lounge areas and so forth, it wasn’t as overwhelmingly male as it was in some of the up-campus areas,” she said.

Sue Perles ’75 said that very few women lived in Holder Hall, which is where she lived during her freshman year. She said that only two out of the 20 hall entryways were marked for use by women.

Frank said that during her time at Princeton in the late 70s, women resided in all of the dorms.

“It went pretty smoothly, and of course, there were the unofficial co-ed rooms," she said. "Obviously, not as far as Housing Services was concerned, but there certainly were co-ed rooms."

This article is the first in a four-part Women's History Month feature series. Check back tomorrow for a look at women and academics at the University.