For Yale women, a time for celebration and a call to action

Since September, women across Yale have been examining their history at one of America’s oldest universities. They’ve been celebrating unsung trailblazers, adding materials to Sterling Library’s History of Coeducation, and recording their remembrances. As Women’s History Month gets underway, Yale women are continuing the fight to advance gender equality through the 50WomenAtYale150 initiative, a year-long commemoration of 50 years of coeducation and 150 years of the first women students at Yale. The initiative runs through November 2020.

March may be Women’s History Month nationally, but at Yale, 2019–2020 is a full year of examining the history of women at the university — and the impact of women in all of the professions,” said Linda Koch Lorimer ’77 J.D., retired vice president of Yale and a former Yale trustee who co-chairs the 50WomenAtYale150 steering committee. “I hope men and women take advantage of the dozens of events and exhibitions that will continue through the autumn and check the website regularly for updates.”

Students and alumni alike are eager to examine the history of women at Yale, said Dr. Eve Rice ’73 B.A., a physician and current Yale trustee who chaired the 50th Anniversary Committee and co-chairs the steering committee with Lorimer.

That history has become more important,” Rice said. “It’s part of the era we are living in.”

When she and Lorimer first introduced the idea of 50WomenAtYale150 to deans, heads of cultural institutions, and alumni and student leaders, and invited them to participate, the response was immediate and enthusiastic, Rice said.

This was something people wanted to do,” she said. “They all feel they have been working for issues of equity and inclusion, and gender has always been an important aspect of that. People want to talk about women.”

The co-chairs have encouraged broad creative license, inviting Yale schools and groups to honor women and explore women’s history at Yale in any way they see fit. It’s worked. The initiative includes every school, organization, and cultural institution at Yale, and has inspired concerts, exhibitions, college teas, conferences, lectures, and films examining women’s role and fight for equal recognition.

A sampling of 50WomenAtYale150 events in the coming months:

  • The Yale Film Study Center has an upcoming tribute to pioneering lesbian filmmaker Barbara Hammer on March 26.
  • A play with an all-women cast, “Testmatch,” opens at Yale Repertory Theater on April 24. Written by Kate Attwell ’13 M.F.A. and directed by Margot Bordelon ’13 M.F.A., it explores sports, gender politics, and colonialism.
  • On April 26, the Yale Glee Club and Yale Camerata will feature the world premiere of a major new work by Yale School of Music alumna and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Julia Wolfe ’86 M.M.
  • In August, a first-of-its-kind exhibit is opening at Yale University Art Gallery called On the Basis of Art: 150 Years of Women at Yale, which will feature the work of nearly 80 artist-graduates, including that of Josephine Miles Lewis, the first student of any sex to be awarded a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Yale, in 1891.

The 50WomenAtYale150 initiative culminates in November with a “grand finale” featuring a number of notable Yale women speakers at Yale’s new Schwarzman Center, which opens in September.

The moment will serve as not only as an opportunity for reflection and celebration, but a call to action, said Rice.

Yale women are now spread across disciplines and professions,” she said. “They are taking a serious look at what work is left to be done to make the world a better place, and they want to be part of that conversation.”

Events, stories, videos, background, and a historical timeline of women’s milestones at Yale can be found at the 50WomenAtYale150 website.

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