Comment on this article
Yale’s “First Women Class”
Nicholas L. Smith ’79 was intrigued by “The
Pioneers,” our September/October article about the first women who earned Yale
PhDs. He sent the Yale Alumni Magazine a photograph that intrigued us
even more. “After I read the magazine’s article,” he wrote, “the rarity of
photos of Yale women students surprised me. That is when I dug through my
collection of memorabilia to find this picture.… It is an old photo from
an estate in Connecticut, with a statement on the back of the photo that this
was Yale’s ‘first women class.’” Smith, a connoisseur of Yale history, bought
the photo out of curiosity when he saw it offered for sale online some time
ago. Unfortunately, no names are on the photo, and there is no other
information associated with it.
The women in the picture do not appear to be the same
women featured in the article, and they weren’t familiar to Judith Schiff, our
Old Yale columnist and Yale’s chief research archivist. They might be other
women who were admitted with the first group of 20 female graduate students, or
women who took classes in the music or art school, which were both
coeducational from the start; or the phrase “first women class” might refer to
something else entirely.
Nicholas Smith is donating his photo to Yale. We
invite all readers to donate their educated guesses. Send them to email@example.com or Yale Alumni Magazine, P.O. Box 1905, New Haven, CT 06509-1905.
I read with interest Kathrin Day Lassila’s From the
Editor column about her mother, Jean Lassila ’61PhD, and her experience as a
graduate student in chemistry at Yale (“Family Chemistry,” September/October). I entered the Yale PhD program in 1962, the year after Lassila’s mother
received her PhD. Yale chemistry was a male bastion when I entered. My memory
is that we had no women in our entering chemistry class of about 40 students.
My first wife was a graduate of Mount Holyoke College
(1963), and one of her classmates at Holyoke was Paula Yurkanis Bruice. I
remember talking with Paula during my first year as a graduate student at Yale
and her last year at Holyoke about graduate study at Yale. She wanted to study
physical organic chemistry at Harvard, but she was told that Harvard did not
take women. Hence she applied to Yale, and she was invited by the department
for an interview. I recently contacted Paula to refresh my memories on this
interview and she wrote:
I went for my interview on Saturday morning. Almost
immediately into the interview, I was asked if I had any questions. I recall
asking about the equipment. Answer: “Young lady, if you are fortunate enough to
be admitted to Yale, you will find that we have all the equipment you need. Do
you have any more questions?”
So I asked the only other thing I could think of.
“Can I see the labs?” Answer: “Of course.” He opened a drawer of his desk,
brought out a floor plan, showed it to me and said, “These are the labs. Any
Now I knew what to ask. “Do you take women?” Answer:
“Every once in a while a woman comes along whose credentials are such that it
would be an embarrassment for us not to admit her. But it would never happen
more than once a year and, when accepted, we would hope that she would have the
good sense not to come.”
That was the end of the interview. I was so upset
that instead of spending the weekend at Yale as I had planned, I jumped on the
next bus back to Holyoke. When I got to my dorm, there was a letter of
acceptance from Yale, delivered while I had been away. Who would accept someone
before an interview? Was the only purpose of the interview to tell me not to
come to Yale?
Paula went on to obtain her PhD from the University
of Virginia and subsequently has had a distinguished career at the University
of California–Santa Barbara, while raising three children. She is the author of
one of the leading undergraduate textbooks, Organic Chemistry, now in
its sixth edition.
My mother didn’t experience Dr. Bruice’s ordeal, but
her adviser, William von Eggers Doering, may have been more open than most. He
had at least one female graduate student at his first faculty post, at Columbia.—KDL
Your article brought back strong recollections of my
own experiences seeking my LLB at Yale Law School. Three months after I started
there in 1955, I met and fell in love with my husband-to-be, then in his third
year at the medical school. We married in June, and by September, I
unexpectedly found myself pregnant.
I took the maximum number of courses during my second
year in order to have more time in my third year to devote to my baby. I recall
volunteering to be the first to deliver my term paper in Bayless Manning’s
class, for fear that an earlier-than-expected labor would interfere with my
obligation to present the paper orally. Shortly thereafter I walked to the
delivery room at Yale–New Haven Hospital with an armload of law books so that I
would not waste a moment preparing for the forthcoming final exams.
One day in my third year, my baby sitter called to
say she could not come that morning. Rather than miss my class, I wheeled my
sleeping son into the law school, thinking I could park his carriage in the
hall at the back door, so I could hear him if he awakened. But he did awaken,
and I did not hear him. As I exited the room at class end, I found my baby in
the arms of my idol, Professor Thomas Emerson [’28, ’31LLB]. I have never
forgotten that moment or his kindness.
Sure it was hard, but harder still was getting my
first legal job, in Baltimore, in 1958, where all the law firms were racially
and religiously segregated, and all excluded women. However, I was hired as an
assistant general counsel of the old Department of Health, Education, and
Welfare, handling Social Security litigation and, later, writing regulations
for the new Medicare program. Subsequently, I became an assistant attorney
general of Maryland, assigned to the University of Maryland, and finally spent
28 exhilarating years as vice president and general counsel of Johns Hopkins
My wife Connie and I enjoyed reading your
presentation of the stories of early PhD females at Yale (“The Pioneers,”
September/October) and Kathrin Day Lassila’s editorial. We understand that
Connie was the first female to get a degree in engineering at Yale. She was
accepted as Consuelo W. Minnich in spring 1951 after graduating from the
University of Illinois in civil engineering, and she arrived in class that
autumn as Consuelo M. Hauser, after our marriage on September 2. Since C comes
before R, she received her Master of Engineering diploma a few seconds before I
Connie had a fruitful career as a professional
engineer, working for municipalities, consultants, and aerospace, and
partnering with me in Hauser Laboratories. She raised three delightful and
capable daughters, of whom two are engineers, and a son who is now teaching
music education at Concordia University.
You ended your editorial with a funny. We have one
too. Her diploma says, “The president and fellows of Yale University have
conferred on Consuelo Minnich Hauser the degree of Master of Engineering and
have admitted him to all its rights and privileges.… ”
It hangs proudly on the walls of our home office.
Your otherwise charming editorial in the
September/October issue contains the following distressing (to me) sentence:
“Although I can’t tell you what her paper, ‘Direct Observation of Ketene
Intermediates in Photochemical Reactions,’ means, it has become part of the
intellectual architecture of her area.” It is good to point out that one’s
mother did important work, but what does the first phrase do except either to
call attention (unnecessarily) to the author’s lack of training in chemistry
or—more likely—propagate the great sin that ignorance of science is a virtue.
I’m probably not the only college graduate who’s
forgotten parts of his or her liberal education, but I agree wholeheartedly
that laypeople need to understand science. So I’ve brushed up, with the help of
my mother’s fellow chemistry student at Yale, Ron Magid ’64PhD. Ketenes are a
class of chemicals so unstable that at the time they were rarely observed; my
mother succeeded in keeping one alive in the lab for 12 hours. They’re now used
in many commercial processes.—KDL
I was doing undergraduate chemical research in my
senior year at Yale (1961–62) when I first met Jean Lassila. My impression then
was of an austere, intimidating, and impressive woman, with whom I chose my
words very carefully lest I appear to be a dunce.
I went off to graduate school at Caltech, and by 1965
I was an assistant professor at Northwestern. In 1968, I was invited to give a
colloquium at Iowa State [where Lassila was a researcher], and I met her again
with pleasure. Far from being austere and intimidating, she was still
impressive, but very friendly. I was very much aware that she was sorely
underplaced at Iowa State, and I wondered whether it was by choice. I never considered
raising the subject. Her textbooks followed, and we occasionally crossed paths
again. The scary Yale postdoc was a wonderful colleague.
It was in part due to the impressions I came away
with after that visit to Iowa, contemplating how one of the world’s smartest
women (so she seemed to me) was in that position, that I set about at
Northwestern to encourage women to embrace a full career without sacrificing
having a family. In the ’70s and ’80s, I had the largest female proportion of
graduate students in chemistry at Northwestern.
I graduated almost 20 women out of my 50 PhDs, all of
whom continue to have full careers in chemistry or related areas. (One is
retired.) All but five also had children. The first, a Mount Holyoke product,
graduated in 1972. She had three sons and continues to accomplish remarkable
things as a professor at Rhode Island College. At my retirement, in 2010, she
gave a talk about her career (at my request), and I learned some of the
uncomfortable things that happened to her as a female graduate student from
1968 to 1972. The professor never knows the full story. My wife and one
daughter also are chemistry PhDs, and both have had excellent careers with
numerous publications. The world has changed.
The Gift of “Green Fields”
A few days after Bart Giamatti died in 1989, our
class secretary circulated his essay “The Green Fields of the Mind” to his
classmates in Yale ’60. I am not sure whether I had seen this piece before, and
I surely had no idea of how Bart had come to write it (“The Story of ‘Green
Fields of the Mind,’” September/October). I was quite struck by the essay,
receiving it as I did so soon after Bart’s passing. My wife, Ann, then dying of
lung cancer, also lingered over the essay and returned to it several times. A
few weeks later she was gone, and I asked the minister presiding at her
memorial service to read excerpts from the essay on that rainy November day in
Birmingham, Michigan. Bart’s essay matched the end-of-season mood of the
morning while also providing a certain amount of comfort, especially for me.
The Key Ingredient
Your recipe for the Yale cocktail (“Liquid Lux et
Veritas,” September/October), calls for Crème Yvette. I live in Portland,
Oregon, a fairly sophisticated place, and cannot locate this liqueur after an
online search. Would you help me with this, perhaps in giving me another name
this cordial goes by, or what I might substitute?
Crème Yvette only recently became available in the
United States. Some mixologists suggest that another liqueur, Crème de
Violette, is a reasonable substitute. —Eds.
More on Singapore
The sustained hectoring of Singapore by democracy
purists (Letters, September/October) is not justified by empirical reality.
During the past years tens of thousands of social and political blogs have
emerged in Singapore, many of them including sustained political commentary
frequently critical of the PAP (People’s Action Party) government. I have lived
in Singapore and taught at both what was then Nanyang University and the
National University of Singapore. I travel frequently to Singapore and will
return this winter to conduct research and continue publishing on Singapore.
Singapore’s policy of political openness began more than two decades ago. There
are many other autonomous input mechanisms, including honest balloting and vote
Singapore is one of the very few postwar states built
on meritocracy, fiscal discipline, an unwavering anti-corruption policy,
private sector growth, and development policies that preclude a permanent and
growing underclass. It also has been on a sustained democratic path for more
than two decades; witness the May 2011 elections where the opposition garnered
39.86 percent of the popular vote.
For 20 years after gaining its independence in 1965,
Singapore stressed inculcating a mentality of survivalism, discipline, and each
citizen contributing according to his or her ability. There was no room for
slackers in an island state bereft of most natural resources except for human
resources, location, and the only deepwater port in the region. The Communist
threat was real, and Singapore became a prototype of how to build and prosper,
which includes an anti-corruption program starting at the political top through
the entire political system. A basic right to economic security and opportunity
has been accompanied by progressive democratization of the island state’s
political system. Few Pacific Rim countries provide the political pluralism and
security that Singapore offers today.
There is no better location in Southeast Asia for
Yale to have a presence than Singapore.
Clothes and Assimilation
If, like most fashions, what we see now worn at Yale
has such a personal look, it is, inevitably, not without aspects of the
uniform, but far more liberated than what was worn in my day (“A Guide to
Student Style,” September/October). Coming to Yale from overseas and having
attended “progressive” or “creative” schools, I was saucer-eyed at the monotony
and conformity of college attire. If the money was on hand, J. Press and Chipp
dressed you; if not, one strove for their look.
My look was different. My parents sent clothing from
England, most notably a toggle coat. Shirts were either readily washable in the
college sink, red Aertex knits, or, when need be, hideously transparent,
hellishly hot, white “drip-dries.” Supposedly they never needed pressing, but
their wearer looked put through the wringer.
Though I was kindly treated by my professors, the
more esthetic among them blanched upon witnessing my lamentable wardrobe. One
of them was particularly distressed by a more or less iridescent, or changeant,
raincoat, to which I was inordinately attached. He found such flamboyance
insufferable and characterized that beloved coat of many colors as my “Jewish
raincoat.” This designation was certainly true for the wearer and probably its
manufacturer too, but by his so identifying such non-Ivy covering, I learned a
lot from, but also about, my teacher. Any deviation from the uniform was an
unacceptable accent upon the unassimilable—or, worse yet, the wearer’s possible
independence from wanting, or needing, to belong.
After attending my first Yale reunion, I was
disappointed to see absolutely no people of color in any of the photos featured
in your Reunion Notes pages (July/August). Yes, people of color do attend
reunions, and yes, they also donate to Yale. If it is important to Yale to
encourage greater attendance at reunions, engender ongoing connections with
Yale, and increase fund-raising, it would be wise to consider including at
least a few of these photos in the magazine.
The mistake was not Yale’s but ours: the Yale
Alumni Magazine is published by a separate, alumni-based nonprofit. But it
is important to us to represent Yale and its alumni accurately. We blew it this
time, and we regret it.—Eds.
Saint Raphael and Yale
I read with interest that Yale–New Haven Hospital
intends to purchase or otherwise acquire the Hospital of Saint Raphael in New
Haven, which is affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church (“Campus Clips,” July/August).
Having learned that some Roman Catholic hospitals require their secular
purchasers to follow Roman Catholic practices and teaching in matters of
fertility and abortion, my concern is whether Yale–New Haven’s acquisition of
Saint Raphael will be contingent on an agreement by Yale or Yale–New Haven to
withhold or refuse abortions and/or counsel about and dissemination of
contraceptive devices and practices. In short, my question is this: will
patients at Saint Raphael, after acquisition, receive the same medical care and
advice and have the same availability of abortion and contraception as are
lawful in Connecticut and are open to patients at Yale–New Haven Hospital? I
very much hope so.
Robert Hutchison, a spokesman for Yale–New Haven
Hospital (which is separate from Yale University, although Yale doctors
practice there and Yale officials sit on its board), says that “on the Saint
Raphael Campus, caregivers will follow the Catholic Ethical and Religious
Directives in the delivery of clinical services on that campus.” Those directives
forbid abortion and the promotion of contraception. Hutchison adds that “all employees—including
new employees transitioning with the acquisition—will have access to insurance
coverage of birth control and family planning services.”—Eds.
A Window on History
I well remember Calhoun College’s stained glass
windows, one of which had a small view of black field hands picking cotton (Old
Yale, July/August). This part of the window was “accidentally” broken by one of
the college’s black students when he was moving furniture into, or out of,
Calhoun’s dining hall for a weekend mixer some time between 1968 and 1972. You
can break a window (or change a college name), but it doesn’t change history.
In our article about A. Bartlett Giamatti’s baseball
essay “The Green Fields of the Mind” (Sporting Life, September/October), we
misspelled the name of Roberto González Echevarría, the Sterling Professor of
Hispanic and Comparative Literature. We regret the error.