Robert K. Durkee ’69 is the Vice President and Secretary of the University, but in May of 1967, he was the Daily Princetonian news writer who broke the story that then-President Robert Goheen thought “coeducation was inevitable” at the all-male University.
As the news writer covering Nassau Hall, Durkee met regularly with Goheen to discuss campus issues.
Sitting in front of a wall of letters, awards, and photos in Nassau Hall, Durkee told the ‘Prince’ earlier this month that Goheen hadn’t planned on announcing his views on coeducation so soon. When they met on a late spring day in 1967, coeducation was one of several things on Durkee’s list of discussion points, along with the experiences of black students on campus, and a speech planned for that evening by Alabama governor George Wallace. During the meeting, Goheen said that “coeducation was inevitable,” and that the only questions that remained were when, how, and on what scale.
“I think he had gotten to the point where he was pretty comfortable,” said Durkee. “He was answering my questions thoughtfully and honestly, but I don’t think he [intended] that this is where he was going to make the announcement.”
Durkee said that while student opinion steadily shifted in favor of coeducation, Goheen’s claim about the inevitability of coeducation was a “bombshell.”
Durkee said that since he interviewed Goheen in the chaos of reading week, Goheen was probably under the impression that the story wouldn’t be published until the fall semester, after Goheen had met with the Board of Trustees.
“Once the story came out, President Goheen was trying to do some damage control since the story came out a little earlier than he had intended,” Durkee said.
In response to student opinion and Goheen’s now-public support, the trustees decided to commission a year-long study on the desirability and feasibility of coeducation, which led to the first admission of women to the University in the fall of 1969.
To this day, Durkee has the notes from that May 11 meeting with president Goheen, a memento of one of the most historic stories ever to appear in The Daily Princetonian.
“It was an electric moment,” Durkee said.
In a previous version of this article, the referenced date of Governor George Wallace’s speech was misrepresented. The ‘Prince’ regrets the error.