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The Great Bathtub Fiasco
Q&A with Henry (“Sam”) Chauncey Jr. ’57

Sam Chauncey '57, who comes from an old Yale family—an ancestor, Nathaniel Chauncey, was the first recipient of a Yale diploma—worked in Yale administration for 25 years, including as dean of students, director of admissions, and secretary of the university. During the debates over and transition to coeducation in the college, he was serving as assistant to President Kingman Brewster '41.

Y: What were the motives for Yale College going coed?

C: There wasn’t any one motive. First of all, in the beginning, Kingman was clearly opposed to coeducation. He had developed a plan for coordinate education with Vassar. Vassar was going to become a coordinate college—they were going to sell their campus to IBM, and they were going to come down and occupy what is now part of the Divinity School and some adjacent land. That moved slowly forward right up to the culmination—when the Vassar board rather unexpectedly turned it down.


“For public high school graduates, coeducation is something you don’t even think about.”

Then there was a momentum. Something was going to happen that involved bringing women to Yale. A man named Lanny Davis ['67, '70LLB], who was the chairman of the [Yale Daily] News, beat the drums day in and day out and, in a wonderfully positive way, harassed the hell out of us. Avi Soifer ['69, '72MUS, '72JD), also, was very much a leader. He was the head of a group that sponsored a week when a group of women came from Vassar, Smith, Connecticut [College]—everywhere—as a demonstration project.

Secondly, the dominoes began falling. We knew from talking to [Princeton president] Bill Bowen and the people there that Princeton was going to go coed.

Y: Did male students who supported coeducation do so on principle or out of self-interest?

C: I think you have to say that no one of those was the answer. There were a number of students who believed that this was an equity question—call it civil rights, if you will. How many, I can’t tell you. On the other extreme, there were a number of Yale students who were adamantly opposed to it. Many of them sort of said, “I have a contract with Yale. I’m paying my tuition, room, and board because I was told this was a single-sex college. I want my money back”—or “I’m going to sue,” or something. In between was everything from the student who just wanted a date to everything else.

But here’s the factor you have to remember the most. The class of, let’s say, about '67 or '68, was probably a majority from private boarding schools and a minority from public high schools. The classes from that point on became overwhelmingly from public schools—totally used to going to school with women. I would guess that the older the undergraduate male was, the likelier he was to be opposed to coeducation, or to have the wrong reason for it. But you’re beginning to get a very substantial number of public high school male graduates at Yale for whom coeducation is something you don’t even think about.

Y: Did you support coeducation from the start?

C: Yes, I really did believe in it. From the sublime to the ridiculous: I had five sisters!—all the way up to the equity question. My father founded the Educational Testing Service on the principle of meritocracy. And I could never understand how you could not see the point that a woman was entitled to the same opportunities that a man was. Coeducation was the best thing I ever was involved in at Yale.


“If we were training leaders, how could we exclude 50 percent of the population?”

One of the roles I had was to try to persuade Kingman of two things. One was a big issue, and one was a parochial issue. The big issue was that, if we believed we were an institution which was training leaders in this country—and you can argue whether Yale’s job was to bring just leaders, or all kinds of different people—but if you thought that, how could we exclude 50 percent of the population? That was number one.

The second part was that he lived in fear and trembling that he would die by the alumni sword, because of the desire of Yale alumni to have their sons admitted. And I remember looking him in the eye one day—we stayed up for hours and we went sailing and talked about this—and I said, “Kingman, I will make you a bet that the wrath of a Yale graduate whose daughter is turned down will be twice as bad as the wrath of a Yale graduate whose son is turned down.” He said, “Do you really believe that?” And I said, “Don’t you forget that every graduate”—not every one, but pro rata—“has a daughter for every son. Fathers adore their daughters, and [laughing] they sort of put up with their sons.”

This turned out to be totally true. I’ll never forget when we turned down the daughter of a particular Yale alumnus—we had taken his son—and I remember him storming into my office and saying, “God damn it, I don’t care about Andy. But how the hell could you have turned down this beautiful girl!”

But when we were still debating coeducation, I remember a Yale alumnus—a guy in the Class of 1948 or '49—saying to me, “Sam, this is stupid. We want our sons to get a good education. You know full well that they’ll be just sitting there gawking at those girls.” There was, in this country, a belief that it was not possible for men and women to be friends, to be intellectual colleagues, to be working together—that every time a man and a woman came together, sex was the object. The generation that had to make this decision for the most part belonged to that group. I’m not saying they were evil people or bad people. They just hadn’t focused yet. I had the advantage that I started work at Yale when I was 21. I was still pretty young and I was of a different generation—almost the only one in the administration.

But Kingman was a wonderful man, because if he didn’t agree with you, he really let you hammer him. He didn’t get irritated, as long as you were intellectually honest and you were bringing forth good ideas. He came around.

Y: How did the transition go?

C: Once Kingman acquiesced, we had an enormous number of practical problems, such as where were the women going to be housed. We originally proposed that they all go into Trumbull College and the Trumbull men be dispersed elsewhere. And that [laughs] was a stupid idea, and we quickly learned that it was a stupid idea. We ended up by putting the women who were admitted as freshmen for the full four years into Vanderbilt, and the upper-class women in entryways—exclusively women’s entryways—in the [residential] colleges.


“The women who worked at Yale in administrative positions were vehemently opposed to coeducation.”

My responsibility was the administrative side of things—seeing to it we got the admissions program done, seeing to it that such buildings as had to be adjusted, were. Seeing to the silly but terribly important things: there were buildings that had no women’s rooms in them. Elga [Wasserman, chair of the planning committee on coeducation] was focusing more on the academic. She and I did the whole admission together—the two of us—with the admissions office providing the paperwork. Because we were late, and they were working at the end of their process for the men, the regular staff didn’t get involved the first year. I remember vividly that when Elga and I were talking about the first class of women, we thought that we ought to be looking for people who exemplified a certain toughness, because we knew that coming to Yale wasn’t going to be easy.

In the course of coeducating Yale there were a lot of people who were against it and who made the women’s life quite difficult. There were faculty members who insisted on—you know, there might be two women in a class of 30, and he would sit there and ask questions and the men would answer them, and then he'd say: “All right. I suppose we have to get the women’s point of view.” Things like that were happening all the time. This is what Elga and I spent an enormous amount of time trying to deal with or prevent. There was also one category of people, who were vehemently opposed to coeducation, that we never even thought of. Those were the women who worked at Yale in administrative positions: college masters' assistants, reference librarians, dining hall personnel. The male students, for the younger group of those women, had become boyfriends. And for the older group of women, they had become surrogate sons. These women were furious. There was a reference librarian who just looked at me and said, “I won’t talk to any of those girls.” I think we moved her to a different type of work. We never anticipated the opposition of this rather large group of permanent civil servants.

Thanks to my five sisters, I made one of the most hilarious mistakes of all. I had a seminar with them, and I said, “Tell me all the things I should be thinking about.” One of the things they said was “Women love to take baths. Be sure there are some bathtubs.” Vanderbilt had no bathtubs. So I had 47 showers taken out and 47 bathtubs with showers put in. And the women were not here a week before a very angry delegation of them appeared in my office and said, “[If] the men have showers, the women have showers!” They wanted the showers back, on the basis that if men had to do x, women had to do x. There was to be no difference. So there are 47 bathtubs somewhere in the nether regions of Yale.  the end






“On the Advisability and Feasibility of Women at Yale”


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