50th anniversary of undergraduate co-education at Johns Hopkins

Thank you, Barbara [Benton Hill, Class of 1974], for that introduction, and your commitment to Hopkins—a family tradition following the legacy of your father George Benton, who enriched this university as dean and vice president of the arts and sciences faculty. It is wonderful to be here with you all to celebrate this milestone: the 50th anniversary of co-education at Hopkins.

Nearly 50 years ago, at the Class of 1974 Commencement, 485 graduates crossed the stage before Gilman Hall.

For the first time in the nearly 100 years since Hopkins had been established, 50 women were among them.

Until that point, women could not pursue an undergraduate education here at Hopkins, a particular failing given that our medical school had admitted women at its founding in 1893 and our graduate classes welcomed women with faculty sponsors in 1907.

But that barrier finally fell with this class. As Cynthia Young shared on behalf of the graduating women at Commencement, you were the instruments of change.

Change that my predecessor Steven Muller knew would transform the institution. As Mindy Farber has recounted, President Muller made that clear one day that spring when he unexpectedly strode up to her while she was deep in thought (no doubt savoring the last days of her time as a Hopkins undergrad) and invited her to his office (now mine) in Garland Hall.

Mindy, you’ll tell me if this is right, but you agreed to follow him, albeit with a hint of trepidation.

Once you entered his office and saw stacks of letters piled high, that “hint” became an alarm.

Scores of alumni organized a mass letter-writing campaign vilifying Steve for allowing the university to succumb to the currents of radicalism believed to be infecting American higher education. The list of grievances ran long: allowing student protest, affording a platform to radical speakers, and adopting changes that shattered traditions and practices long venerated at the university, such as the refusal to admit women into the undergraduate class.

As Steve turned to you, you feared his ire. As one of the first group of beneficiaries of the university’s decision to go co-ed four years prior, would Steve lash out at you for the highly orchestrated campaign being waged against him?

Instead, Steve let out a warm laugh. “This” he said, “is what you call alumni engagement—and take it from me, any alumni engagement is good.” And then, reflecting on the stacks of letters arrayed in his office, he impishly observed: “You know, you women have managed to shake this campus up.”

And shake things up you did.

Your admission into the Class of 1974 was a major milestone. And, indeed, I think that any objective commentator, then (or even today), would have regarded your presence in lecture halls and seminar rooms—places that previously stood as bastions of male-only privilege—as a more than sufficient contribution to the cause of gender and racial equality cascading throughout the country.

But you didn’t rest with simply being here.

You were insistent on ensuring that the university recognized that you belonged. That this university was yours.

And so, applying, being admitted, and then showing up in your freshmen year was just the start of the campaign you waged over your four years to usher the university to a better place.

You insisted on workable bathrooms for women instead of accepting hastily converted men’s bathrooms with urinals still standing and mirrors six feet tall.

You overturned outdated policies like the need for chaperones to use the gym.

You organized our first female sports team—our women’s soccer squad (which by the way, was undefeated and made it to the NCAA finals in 2022).

And you initiated the fight for greater gender diversity in our faculty, a fight that has ensured more than 40 percent of Krieger School of Arts and Sciences professors today are female. But even when you graduated, you did not rest.

With the same determination and energy that defined your time at Hopkins, you shattered one barrier after another to women’s full rights to equality.

You entered the professions. You became academics. You led national nonprofits. And through your example, your courage, you opened pathways to dazzling achievement for generations of women at Hopkins who could scarcely imagine a time when women were not here as a matter of course.

As a result, 3,000 women are among our undergraduates. Nearly 60 percent of this year’s graduating class are women.

For years, women have constituted more than 50% of the entering class of the Krieger School. And last year, another barrier fell when the Whiting School of Engineering, for the first time ever, enrolled a first-year class that was, wait for it, 50% female.

None of this achievement, truly none of it, would have been possible but for your decision to join, and then insist upon, full participation in the Class of 1974.

I would like to think that that is exactly why Steve summoned Mindy to his office that day. He wanted to revel with her in the truly historic moment that he, she, and all of you were living in. I am betting that Steve knew exactly what was being unleashed—and tonight, we celebrate that with bursting pride, rapturous joy, and unbounded gratitude.

Thank you, and I hope you enjoy your weekend together and with us. Now, I’m excited to introduce a video showing your impact on Hopkins and the world.