March is Women's History Month, and this year marks the 75th anniversary of coeducation at the world-renowned Bronx High School of Science. Only eight years after opening in 1938, Bronx Science's founding principal, Morris Meister, successfully campaigned for the admission of female students.
Bronx Science was a generation ahead of many of the nation's other elite high schools and undergraduate colleges, including Yale, Princeton and Harvard, in admitting female students, and in recognizing that they could achieve at the highest levels in the STEM disciplines.
New York City's two other venerable science and math high schools, Manhattan's Stuyvesant, founded in 1904, and Brooklyn Tech, founded in 1922, involuntarily admitted female students in 1969 and 1970, respectively.
In January 1969, a 13-year-old Brooklyn resident, Alice de Rivera, and her parents, sued Stuyvesant and the NYC Board of Education for not allowing her to sit the school's entrance exam.
Ms. De Rivera's mother was quoted, in a contemporaneous New York Times article, that her daughter's "only alternative" to Stuyvesant, a 20-minute subway ride from their brownstone Cobble Hill neighborhood, was Bronx Science, an impossible 90-minute trip.
In May 1969, the NYC Board of Education conceded defeat in Manhattan Supreme Court, and demolished the illegal gender walls that kept brilliant female teenagers from attending Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Tech.
In September 1969, Yale and Princeton admitted the first young women as undergraduates, and over the next several years, many other outstanding colleges, private and public, also became coeducational.
Alice de Rivera's landmark Civil Rights victory also facilitated the admission of female students into other illustrious, all-male American public high schools, including Chicago's Lane Tech ('71), Boston Latin ('72), Baltimore's City College High School ('80), and Philadelphia's Central High School ('83 after seven years of litigation).
Fourthly, the historic lawsuit by Dr. Alice de Rivera Haines, a medical doctor currently practicing in Maine, immediately abolished an unconstitutional "two-boys-for-one-girl" admissions quota at Bronx Science.
My graduating class in 1967 had 580 males and just 280 females. But entering classes beginning in September 1970, composed of roughly 860 students, were equally divided between males and females.
In 1996, in celebration of 50 years of coeducation at Bronx Science, Claudia Goldin, an alumna ('63) and first woman tenured professor of economics at Harvard, provided irrefutable evidence, at a sparsely-attended lecture in Manhattan, of this abhorrent gender quota between 1946 and 1969.
Bronx Science's approximately 25,000 alumnae include:
1940s: Dr. Naomi Amir, a graduate of NYU Medical School, and pioneering pediatric neurologist in Israel.
1950s: Myriam Sarachik, distinguished professor of physics at the City College of New York; June Ellenoff O'Neill, former head of the Congressional Budget Office; Joan Straumanis, former president of Antioch College; and Congresswoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., who just retired as the chairwoman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.
1960s: Dr. Barbara Stoll, former dean of the University of Texas Medical School at Houston; Rose-Marie Bravo, former CEO of Burberry; Janet Mertz, a pathbreaking biochemist and molecular biologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Ellen Kaden, the former chief legal officer at CBS and Campbell Soup.
1970s: Esther Hu, professor of astronomy at the University of Hawaii; Wanda Austin, former president of the University of Southern California and CEO of The Aerospace Company; Dora Irizarry, the former chief judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York; and Dr. Judy Yee, the chairwoman of radiology at Montefiore Hospital and professor at Albert Einstein Medical School (both in the Bronx).
1980s: Lisa Su, president and CEO of Advanced Micro Devices, a world leader in semiconductor manufacturing; Jill Bargonetti, professor and cancer researcher at the City University of New York; and Min Jin Lee, novelist and former lawyer.
Another Bronx Science alumna from the 1980s, Dr. Hayley Altman-Gans, of Stanford University Medical School, is one of the experts on the independent advisory panel, appointed by the FDA, which has evaluated the safety and efficacy of the COVID vaccines.
In post-World War II America, Bronx Science graduated more women who became physicians than any other high school, and they spearheaded the phenomenal rise of women in the nation's medical schools.
In 1950, there were 5,000 male and 600 female medical students.
In 1970, there were 7,600 males and 700 females.
In 1990, as a direct result of the academic gender barriers shattered by Dr. Alice de Rivera Haines, there were 10,000 men and 5,000 women in the nation's medical schools.
In 2019, there were 47,000 female and 46,000 male medical students.
Finally, Joe Biden should award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Morris Meister, Bronx Science's principal between 1938 and 1958, and to Dr. Alice de Rivera Haines, for their visionary – and linked – advancement of world-class coeducation, in both the STEM disciplines and humanities, in New York City and across the country.