First Girls Event – Oct. 22, 2017
The “First Girls” were 13 young women who entered Stuyvesant as either a sophomore or freshman in September 1969. On Sunday, October 22, 2017 the Stuyvesant High School Alumni Association (SHSAA) arranged a panel event to honor this group of pioneers and share the stories of women at Stuyvesant in the Bruno Walter Auditorium at the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts. “The First Girls” discussed their experiences as the first class of women to enter Stuyvesant — a handful of girls amongst over two thousand boys. Afterwards, “The Younger Sisters,” comprised of later female graduates of Stuyvesant spanning multiple generations and industries, discussed how being a woman at Stuyvesant impacted their lives and careers.
The event included remarks by Principal Eric Contreras and Assistant Principal, Jennifer Suri, giving their perspective on issues impacting Stuyvesant’s girls: past, present, and future. In the audience were current Stuyvesant students and alumni spanning the decades, including the men from the Class of 1972, who graciously welcomed the pioneering “First Girls” 48 years ago. These men were the first boys at Stuyvesant to be classmates with girls just as brilliant as them. The event was conceived and coordinated by SHSAA Board member Hal Diamond ’78 and directed by his wife, Susan Tenney, an accomplished director/choreographer.
In speaking with Hal Diamond, he said, “The event was born out of a coincidence. I was helping to coordinate the 45th reunion for the Class of 1972 with Class Marshal, Michael Hartig ’72, and discovered that this was the class with the “First Girls”. I immediately came to the conclusion that we needed a celebration honoring these remarkable pioneers. I had the great pleasure of meeting three of the women before the event, and taking part in numerous emails and calls with all of them. I gained enormous respect for their courage and accomplishments and wanted to share their stories and experiences with a wider audience of alumni and current students.” One of the “First Girls” pointed out that she thought the event was important, as she thought it would help inspire us to continue the fight against sexism and other societal biases.
The First Girls Panel featured nine of the thirteen First Women who entered Stuyvesant as either a Sophomore or Freshman in September 1969. Also in attendance was Alice de Rivera Haines, an honorary 2013 Stuyvesant graduate. It was Alice’s lawsuit against the Board of Education in 1969 that repealed Stuyvesant’s sex restriction and opened the school up to females for the first time in its 65-year history. Alice ultimately did not attend Stuyvesant; her family moved upstate that same summer partially to protect her from possibly being the only female in a school of thousands of boys. It was not made known to her family that more females would be attending. The process for other girls to attend that first year was not well-advertised and deliberately difficult. Parents whose daughters had gained admissions to Bronx Science had to write to Stuyvesant and the Board of Education to request a transfer. The family received a letter back warning them of the lack of facilities for females – there were not even any girls’ bathrooms. However, if the parents still insisted that their daughters attend, those students were granted reluctant admissions into Stuyvesant.
Eve Berman ’72, whose older brother and younger sister also went to Stuyvesant, talked about showing up on that first day expecting to see hundreds of other female classmates. Instead, a faculty member came to whisk her and the other eleven girls past the hundreds of curious male eyes into the girls’ own homeroom, which was previously the guidance office. The girls all spoke with laughter when they remembered the “girls’ bathroom” on the third floor, which was originally a boy’s bathroom that had been hastily repurposed for the girls. The urinals were boarded up and the old “boys” sign in front of the door was covered up by a makeshift “girls” sign. Several commented that the first month of school was a difficult adjustment. For the first time, many of them were the only female in their classes, but they were grateful for the experience of going to Stuyvesant. Laren Herman Lynn ’72 said that Stuyvesant taught her perseverance and made her stronger. Many of the women later became doctors, lawyers, and engineers, and said that the experience of going to Stuyvesant made them ready for the challenges they would face in these competitive, male-dominated fields.
This theme of Stuyvesant preparing its graduates for the other challenges ahead was also echoed by speakers on the second panel. Lisa A. Bing ’77, who founded her own strategy consulting firm, said that she learned “resilience, fortitude and confidence” from Stuyvesant. Dr. Tani Sanghvi ’85 said Stuyvesant prepared her so well for everything that came after. As a graduate of Amherst and Tufts’ School of Medicine, Tani was often the only non-white student in the room but she said the experience of going to Stuyvesant taught her the ability to adapt to differences quickly. Many of the panelists agreed that their competitive, intense years at Stuyvesant gave them the confidence to take on other challenges later in life. Mimi C. Lee, MD and PhD ’87 poignantly discussed the challenges women face to balance career-building and having a family. At Stuyvesant, “you make your own way,” said Diana Tsao ’00, and it didn’t matter whether you were a female or a minority, it was a meritocracy based on intelligence and hard work. That mentality and conviction carried many of these women throughout their careers in business, law, medicine and a variety of other challenging industries and helped them to succeed despite multiple hurdles.
For more information on the event and panelists, please visit the Event page on our website. To make sure you don’t miss future great events like this one, make sure you follow Stuyvesant High School Alumni Association on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn) and our website.
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