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“Keep the Damned Women Out”: The Struggle for Coeducation

reviewed by Anna Krol & Lisa Jean Moore - March 02, 2017

coverTitle: “Keep the Damned Women Out”: The Struggle for Coeducation
Author(s): Nancy Weiss Malkiel
Publisher: Princeton University Press, Princeton
ISBN: 0691172994, Pages: 672, Year: 2016
Search for book at Amazon.com

Today university management is all about the yield. How many selectivity-11 undergraduate students can we enroll? How many external grants can we expect for overhead funds? Finally, how many top-tier, peer-reviewed publications will our junior faculty produce? Across the country and over the pond, presidents, provosts, deans, and faculty members sit in conference rooms and discuss strategies on managing their university's brand by reviewing Excel spreadsheets or listening to expert consultants. Aspirational peer institutions feel compelled to remind administrators, staff, and faculty members of healthy competition within the educational marketplace. As political theorist Wendy Brown argues, ratings and rankings are used to sustain a university’s reputation, stimulate enrollment, and garner grant awards. Deeply entwined in the neoliberal monetization of all social activities, “[f]inancialized human capital is, literally, credit-obsessed, worried about its ratings or rankings in every field of existence: school, sports, health, physique, Facebook likes, Twitter followers, and so on” (Kinnucan, 2015). Indeed, marketing techniques abound in departmental and school-wide retreats. These efforts are disguised through progressive-speak like internationalization or research partnership with corporate and global leaders. It is all part of the neoliberal air we breathe at educational institutions located in the global North.

“Keep the Damned Women Out”: The Struggle for Coeducation, Nancy Weiss Malkiel's remarkable book, illustrates how this historical preoccupation with prestige, status, and competition ushered in tremendous social change within higher education. Her extensive, intimate, and institutional-level investigation reveals the radical shift in admissions policies leading to coeducation in British and American elite universities from 1969 to 1974. Her meticulous historiography includes extensive marshaling of archival evidence and personal accounts from her involvement with institutional leaders during this time. Averaging approximately 77 footnotes per chapter, Malkiel sifts through an impressive array of documents. These include alumni magazines, history books, institutional archives, institutional memos, manuscripts, news articles, oral history transcripts, reports, and scholarly journals. Meanwhile, reproductions of archived university photos breathe life into the faculty members, alumni, and students who were involved in the processes of coeducation at Ivy League, Seven Sister, and Oxbridge universities. Malkiel's methodology verges on autoethnographic given her involvement as a Princeton dean in the midst of the era under examination. The author holds an advantageous vantage point where she can access special archives reserved for faculty members. Malkiel also has first-hand knowledge of the processes that were occurring during this period. She is Professor Emeritus of History at Princeton University where she previously moved through the ranks of assistant, associate, and full professor from 1969 to 1982. Formerly Dean of the College at Princeton from 1987-2011, Malkiel is also an alumna and past trustee of Smith College. She earned her doctorate from Harvard in 1970.


A cursory glance suggests that “Keep the Damned Women Out” is about establishing the historical timeline of pre-, mid-, and post-coeducation in the wake of sociocultural turning points demanded by the civil rights and women's movement. However, Malkiel’s investigation is significantly more nuanced. The author convincingly argues that coeducation was successfully and quickly instituted over a period of five years primarily as a result of nascent market forces. The book forcefully makes the case that the loss of talent argument made by university administrators stimulated massive educational change (e.g., undergraduate men preferred to be in a coeducational environment and would seek out these types of post-secondary campuses). Simply put, women were admitted to elite institutions because overwhelmingly white male college presidents were concerned about attracting the best and brightest male undergraduate students.


This shift toward women’s admission, or rather the ingenious deployment of women in the classroom to encourage presumably heterosexual males to enroll, was not met with universal enthusiasm. Perhaps indicating generational differences between younger undergraduates and older alumni, trustees were deeply concerned about the cultural capital granted by their degrees being potentially jeopardized with the addition of women who could possibly dilute their school’s elite status. One Yale alumnus in a 1966 edition of the alumni magazine said that,


[t[here is a glory to tradition . . . And gentlemenlet’s face itcharming as women arethey get to be a drag if you are forced to associate with them each and every day. Think of the poor student who has a steady datehe wants to concentrate on the basic principles of thermodynamics, but she keeps trying to gossip about the idiotic trivia all women try to impose on men. (p. 63)


Certain men used women as bait, while others argued that women degraded the power elite. Furthermore, Malkiel shows that despite wanting female students, universities were woefully underprepared for the structural, social, emotional, and cultural changes necessary to successfully enroll women as equal citizens of the university. As is often the case with such blatant forms of objectification, women’s subjectivity was not considered and they reported atrocious experiences due to this omission. For example, there were no women’s toilets available. As a result, they were deemed unable to participate in sporting events before Title IX. The last of the Ivy Leagues to admit women (in 1972), a male-exclusive Alma Mater song called The Men of Dartmouth continued to be chanted for an additional 16 years after the college went coeducational. Women testified to horrific acts of intimidation and aggression from their male counterparts and administrators alike. Reports ranged from being physically tormented by hurled objects, being intruded upon by angry mobs of jeering fraternity brothers, and even being the victims of a passive-aggressive carelessness of institutional leaders who had the power to intervene. However, these leaders instead “enjoyed spending time at rowdy fraternity parties” (p. 483).


Malkiel demonstrates how repetitive interventions of schools’ intransigent bureaucracies continuously stopped the coeducation effort in its tracks through cunningly misogynistic administrative-speak. The stubborn bureaucracy’s extensive and excessive reliance on protocols made it exceedingly difficult (in many cases, it was seemingly impossible) to achieve coeducation in schools. One example of administratively imposed obstacles to coeducation is the 1961 Bunting-Pusey exchange, which Malkiel unpacks at length in the book's first chapter. This was named after Mary Ingraham Bunting and Nathan Marsh Pusey, presidents of Radcliffe and Harvard colleges respectively. The goal of the exchange was to successfully merge Radcliffe and Harvard, but was repeatedly delayed by Harvard leadership. From the persistent presidential denial of community requests to discuss the merger to Harvard's initial acceptance of Radcliffe students on the conditions of acquiring Radcliffe tuition money, the determining factors of integrating the colleges were anything but revolutionary. Not to mention, Harvard’s earnings were lower at the time due to wartime distraction. This frames the initial exchange as a ruse for restoring lost revenue. Due to these issues, the exchange was not finalized until 1999.


Some of the hallmarks of contemporary women’s studies are absent from the book. It does not include any intersectional analysis. For example, there are only passing references to class and race. This occurs despite the fact that the book is clearly a case study of the reproduction of whiteness. Furthermore, the volume includes very few accounts from former students themselves, favoring an approach that relies on top-down history. This lack of a broader storytelling frame can leave one thinking about the sort of revelations in-depth interviews might have added to the account (e.g., with women activists, students, and faculty members). It also leaves us wondering if this strategy is perhaps intended to appeal to still-existent aristocratic educational leaders.  


“Keep the Damned Women Out” is a diligently researched book and a crucial framing of the history of coeducation. It also foretells the financialization of colleges we experience today and adds a valuable dimension to chronicles of higher education.



1. A term to refer to students who are deemed most scholastically competitive by college admissions metrics.


Kinnucan, M. (2015, July). A conversation with Wendy Brown. Prodigal. Retrieved from http://www.prodigallitmag.com/michael-kinnucan-wendy-brown

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: March 02, 2017
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21852, Date Accessed: 5/25/2022 3:12:38 AM

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About the Author
  • Anna Krol
    Purchase College, State University of New York
    E-mail Author
    ANNA KROL, a graduate of Purchase College, State University of New York, presented her senior thesis “Blood For Thought: Contemporary Contextualization of Menstruation” at the 2015 Natural Science Symposium at Purchase College and the 2015 Annual Menstrual Research Conference in Boston.
  • Lisa Moore
    Purchase College, State University of New York
    E-mail Author
    LISA JEAN MOOREL is a professor of sociology and gender studies at Purchase College, State University of New York. Her books include Sperm Counts: Overcome by Man’s Most Precious Fluid (NYUP 2007), Catch and Release: Horseshoe Crabs, Global Warming, Biomedicine (NYUP 2017) and with Monica Casper Missing Bodies: The Politics of Visibility (NYUP 2009).
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