Very Inbred

Helen McCarthy

  • ‘Keep the Damned Women Out’: The Struggle for Coeducation by Nancy Weiss Malkiel
    Princeton, 646 pp, £22.95, May 2018, ISBN 978 0 691 18111 0

At some point in the mid-1960s, large numbers of ambitious young men in Britain and North America lost their enthusiasm for elite, male-only colleges. The prospect of spending three or four years in an exclusively masculine environment had diminishing appeal. The absence of women felt ‘unnatural’, ‘unhealthy’, and increasingly at odds with the social and professional worlds in which the sexes now mixed relatively freely. Many students at Harvard, Princeton and Yale, or at the men’s colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, held this view. One freshman wrote of the ‘social illness’ he believed to result from intermittent and strained contact with girls. These young men wanted the kudos of a top degree, but they also wanted, as one Harvard student put it, ‘to normally sit down and talk with a bunch of girls as I can with a bunch of boys’.

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