In 1963, the University created a Critical Languages program that allowed students from other colleges, including women, to become visiting students at Princeton for a year or two to study such languages as Chinese, Japanese, Russian and Arabic. These were the first women to take undergraduate coursse on campus. although all of them lived in a rooming house off campus. Coeducation at Princeton was the subject of press speculation.
By the mid-1960s there was serious discussion among the University’s senior leadership about whether Princeton should admit women undergraduates. In a May 1967 interview with the Daily Princetonian, President Robert F. Goheen said that, in his view, it was “inevitable that, at some point in the future, Princeton is going to move into the education of women.” The only questions, he said, were those of strategy, priority and timing.
The question of timing and strategy included whether to aim for 1,000–1,200 “ladies” in residence in five years (what he called a crash effort), or to expand much more slowly by taking over local boarding houses and gradually expanding over a ten-year period. Either way, he said, Princeton would go into coeducation without reducing the number of male students.
President Goheen seemed to be leaning more toward “coordinate” education, a model under which a separate women’s college (e.g., Sarah Lawrence) might be persuaded to relocate to the University’s lands just across Lake Carnegie (along the lines of discussion that was taking place at Yale about a merger with Vassar), but he acknowledged that campus sentiment was moving toward full coeducation.
Note: The Prince reporter was Bob Durkee '67 and he has preserved his notes from the interview.
In June 1967 President Goheen obtained trustee approval for a comprehensive study of the desirability and feasibility of undergraduate coeducation. That study, under the leadership of Economics Professor Gardner Patterson, recommended 1,000–1,200 women on campus within the next decade. The major constraint was housing for this number of additional students, a need first met by converting the University-owned Princeton Inn hotel into a residential college (now Forbes College), and then through a gift from Laurence Rockefeller ’32 that enabled the construction of Spelman Hall.
In January 1969, as anticipated, the trustees, by a vote of 24–8, approved coeducation “in principle” but approved no specific plan and set no date. In April the trustees voted to admit women undergraduates beginning that fall, and by four years later there were 1,000 women undergraduates on campus.
In the fall of 1969 the University enrolled 101 female first-year students and a total of 70 female transfer students, most of whom entered as sophomores and juniors. But nine of the transfer students were women who studied at Princeton in 1968–69 under the Critical Languages program.
1970: First Graduating Class
The University required enrollment for at least two years to receive a Princeton degree. By remaining the additional year, the nine women in the Critical Languages program met that requirement and were able to graduate in the Class of 1970 as Princeton’s first undergraduate alumnae.
Source: Robert K. Durkee '69, former VP and Secretary of the University