Yale: A Short History

Residential Colleges and Coeducation

"Student-Faculty Table," the College Plan, as seen by Robert C. Osborn, B.A. 19x8; in Seventy-five: a Study of a Generation in Transition, 1953

While the student body was diversifying, the College kept growing, from fewer than 220 in 1800 to almost 500 in 7860 to some 1,200 in 1899 and more than 3,000 by the 1920s. Under the stress of such numbers, first the requirement of dining in Commons had broken down, then the adequacy of the dormitory housing, then the unity of the College, and finally even the class loyalties. In a far-sighted effort to restore the old intimacies and sense of community, in the late 1920s a devoted and philanthropic graduate, Edward S. Harkness, B.A. 1897, made possible at both Harvard and Yale the building of smaller collegiate units, each to take in representatives from the Faculty, and members of the three upper classes - and each to have its own Master, its own dining hall, library, activities and athletics. Yale's first seven residential colleges opened their doors in 1933 (Their names commemorated famous Yale places and figures: Davenport, Pierson, Branford, Saybrook, Jonathan Edwards, Trumbull, Calhoun.) with Berkeley (1934), Timothy Dwight (1935) and Silliman (1940) soon added. After World War II the rush into higher education filled dining halls and dormitories almost to suffocation; but in 1958-62 came the purchase of the old high school lots by John Hay Whitney, B.A. 1926, and the gift from the Old Dominion Foundation, created by Paul Mellon, B.A. 1929, for the building of two new colleges, Ezra Stiles and S.F.B. Morse.

So still, despite the pressures of the day, Yale's residential colleges strove to "revive amid the intellectual advantages of a great modern university the social advantages of the smaller Yale College of earlier generations." In 1962, in an effort to improve living conditions for the Freshmen, a Faculty Committee recommended that all Freshmen, though still residents on the Old Campus, should be affiliated with a college and share in its fellowship and activities. This benefited the but perhaps not the overcrowding. And in that same fateful faculty discussion of 1962 was involved a further Committee recommendation that women be admitted to the Freshman year. President Griswold allowed that $55 million would have to be found first. His successor, Kingman Brewster, Jr. agreed. But the national fashion, student pressures, and the fear of losing prime admissions candidates to Harvard (with its Radcliffe) would prompt President Brewster (1963-77) to explore moving Vassar to Prospect Street as a "coordinate college." When this fell through, in 1968-69 there came intense agitation by the undergraduates - culminating in "Co-ed Week," during which hundreds of women from nearby colleges spent a week at Yale - and the Corporation voted to make Yale College coeducational. No one came forward with the $55 million. Yet since that quick shift women have been admitted in small but ever increasing numbers; and the overcrowding has only partially been alleviated by a tendency among some of both sexes to live in the town. So after 268 years the intensely masculine tradition of Yale College was abandoned; but the collegiate ideals remain, in imperfect realization.

Back to Resources on Yale History

Contents | The Beginnings | Church and State | The Government of the Faculty | Teaching and Great Teachers | Course of Study
The College System | The Breed of Students | Residential Colleges-and Coeducation | The Making of the University | Recent Developments
Yale's Graduates and the Nation | Rectors and Presidents | Books about Yale | Factual and Statistical Data