A Timeline of YDS Women’s History

1907 – Lottie Genevieve Bishop and Ethel Zivley Rather are the first women to register for YDS classes, according to the 1922 centennial catalogue. Both are Yale students from other departments. The number of Yale women attending YDS classes while pursuing other degrees increases into the 1920s. 

1932 – The Yale Corporation approves recommendation of the Educational Policy Committee to admit women to the Bachelor of Divinity degree program. Four women enroll in the Fall. 

1934 – Esther Brown graduates after two years in the B.D. program, having transferred to YDS from Colgate-Rochester Theological Seminary. 

1935 – Bernice Buehler and Thelma Diener are the first to complete the full B.D. program. 

1945 – Rena Weller Karefa-Smart graduates as first black woman to earn B.D. at YDS. 

1950 – Caroline Chen, of Nanking, China, is the first Asian woman to graduate. 

1953 – Ana Ines Braulio, of Puerto Rico, is the first Latina graduate. 

1953 – The Batchelder Report details achievements and stresses that women experience at YDS. It says women at YDS have scored above average academically in the 20 years since enrollment officially began. 

1957 – Porter Hall is built to house YDS women, ending 25 years of a lack of campus residency. 

1965 – Iris Cully is hired as associate professor of religious education. 

1971 – Joan Forsberg ’53 B.D. is hired as YDS registrar and advocate for women students. She helps start the YDS Women’s Center. 

1971 – Margaret Farley ’70 M.Phil., ’73 Ph.D. is the first woman hired for a tenure-track faculty position. She becomes full professor of social ethics in 1984. 

1973 – A Women’s Inter-seminary Conference is hosted by YDS, drawing women from seminaries across much of the US. 

1974 – Women’s enrollment at YDS nears 40 percent of the student body; a 10-percent quota practice had been dropped by the 1960s. 

1974 – Letty Russell is hired in theology. She becomes full professor in 1985. 

1975 – Lee McGee Street ’69 M.A.R. is one of the first women to be ordained in the Episcopal Church. 

1981 – Phyllis Trible is first woman to give the Beecher Lectures as the only featured speaker. Her theme: “Texts of Terror: Unpreached Stories of Faith.” 

1982 – A Jubilee Celebration marks 50 years of women at YDS. 

1989 – M. Shawn Copeland is hired as the first African-American woman on the fulltime faculty. 

1991 – Eleanor Scott Meyers ’77 M.A.R. is named president of Pacific School of Religion. 

1992 – Kathy Turner ’69 M.Div. becomes president of the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE). 

1995 – Margot Fassler becomes director of the Yale Institute of Sacred Music. 

1996 – Margaret Farley and other YDS women are leaders in the Foundation for the Preservation of the Sterling Divinity Quadrangle, endeavoring to save the Prospect Street location of the YDS campus. 

2000 – Adela Yarbro Collins is first woman tenured in New Testament on YDS faculty. Since then, other women named to the tenured faculty include Teresa Berger, Jennifer Herdt, Serene Jones, Joyce Mercer, Mary Clark Moschella, Laura Nasrallah, Sally Promey, Carolyn Sharp, Chloë Starr, Kathryn Tanner, Leonora Tubbs Tisdale, Emilie Townes, and Tisa Wenger. 

2001 – Rebecca Chopp is named dean of YDS. 

2001 – The Women’s Initiative: Gender, Faith, and Responses to HIV/AIDS in Africa is established by YDS women faculty and YDS students from Africa, partnering with the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians. 

2005 – Sharon Watkins ’84 M.Div. becomes General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). 

2007 – An M.A.R. in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies in Religion is inaugurated, succeeding a degree concentration in feminist studies first offered in the early 1990s. 

2008 – Emilie Townes is the first African-American woman to be on the tenured YDS faculty and the first to be academic dean. 

2008 – Serene Jones ’85 M.Div., ’91 Ph.D. is named president of Union Theological Seminary in New York.

2019 – The ratio of tenured faculty women at YDS reaches 50 percent.