Memory makes us human. Our ability to call up, shape, and communicate an image of the past ensures our sense of self in the present. Memory fosters community, where the lives we live make sense. Memory supports our dreams for the future. Without memory, our selves, our communities, and our dreams get lost. With it, we dare to create anew.
We have created Women at Yale: A Tour in order to remember some of the history of women at Yale. This history did not begin with the co-education of Yale College forty years ago, although we celebrate that milestone now. The history of women at Yale is centuries long. It has left a variety of physical traces, ranging from inscriptions on plaques, designs in stained glass, and marks on stone walls, to buildings, gardens, libraries, paintings, and sculptor Maya Lin’s great “Women’s Table” fountain on the Rose Walk. It also has left legends about words that were spoken in these places. My favorite is the question that was asked when the graduate women’s residential dormitory Helen Hadley Hall co-educated: “Who will do the dishes in the kitchens on the mens’ floors?”
But most importantly, it has given us the opportunity to renew the presence of the past by using these traces as a mechanism of memory. To remember women at Yale is to invoke the sweep of historical change commanded by a three-hundred year old institution. It is to recognize that women at Yale have been a sign and a vehicle of many of these changes, beyond the literal fact of their presence. It is to see that many of these changes were necessary, even inevitable. And finally, it is to understand that the university’s charge of increasing inclusion, expanding opportunity, and better understanding the human good, begun so long ago by the men and women of Yale and brought to a higher prospect by co-education in 1969, remains unfinished work.
Professor of American Studies and of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies
Women Faculty Forum Co-Chair
Faculty Adviser for Women at Yale: A Tour