Princeton Essay

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I followed a practice of scheduling an appointment every few months with President Robert Goheen ’40 *48.

My last such appointment of the year was on Thursday, May 11.

Not only was my high school coeducational, but the overwhelming majority of the top students in my class had been women.

Under the circumstances, I was pleased to discover that there seemed to be some interest among the University’s senior leadership in at least thinking about whether Princeton should admit women undergraduates.

Following that trustee vote, I wrote my last article about coeducation, saying that “after 18 months of study, survey and soul-searching,” the trustees had encountered the inevitability of coeducation by adopting a new principle — “but no girls.” But my headline said “Coeds could attend Princeton in ’69,” and I suggested that the administration was likely to bring a recommendation for implementation to the April trustee meeting.

“With a little luck,” I wrote, there could be “a significant number of girls — not just a token sampling” on campus next fall.There was also discussion among students, but other issues got more attention (for example, how late women could stay in the dorms), and student views about coeducation seemed mixed.Some students were in favor, some opposed, but most were prepared to accept that it was not going to happen, and certainly not during our time on campus.That day I had a breaking-news item to discuss: I wanted to know if he was planning to attend a speech on campus that night by Alabama Gov. President Goheen eloquently defended the right of a speaker to speak and be heard, as well as the right of others to engage in peaceful protest and dissent, but then said that because of prior commitments he was not planning to attend. My notes from that interview show that the Wallace speech was the third of my three topics for that day.I began the interview by asking President Goheen how he felt the University was doing in its efforts to increase the number of black students at Princeton and how he felt about their experiences on campus.What happened at the June meeting was that the trustees did agree to a comprehensive study of the desirability and feasibility of undergraduate coeducation.A year later, the trustees received an interim report from a committee chaired by economics professor Gardner Patterson that recommended having 1,000 to 1,200 women on campus within the next decade.Some suggested he thought the had finished publishing for the year, but the paper always published through reading period (not always to the academic advantage of its reporters and editors! It is possible that he had become comfortable with our periodic conversations and said more than he intended to say.But it is also possible that he made a strategic decision to do exactly what he did.Editor’s note: Fifty years ago this spring, Princeton embraced undergraduate coeducation, announcing on April 20, 1969, that letters were being mailed to 130 young women invited to join the incoming freshman class.(Offers soon were made to transfer students, as well.) WPRB greeted the news with a stirring rendition of the “Hallelujah” chorus.


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