PRINCETON generations

Ideas and Strategies from the Office of Gift Planning at Princeton University

Opening Doors: Women of the Class of 1973 — Members of the 1746 Society — Reflect on Their Groundbreaking Time at the University 

Clockwise from top left: Carol Obertubbesing, Margie Gengler Smith, Gail Finney, Sara Sill

Fifty years ago, Princeton marked a milestone at the commencement ceremony for the class of 1973 — it graduated the first cohort of women to spend all four undergraduate years at the University. 

Before and after graduating, these remarkable women went on to take their place in the grand tradition of Princeton alums. They changed the University and blazed a trail for the thousands of women who’ve since passed through FitzRandolph Gate.

We asked the 20 women of ’73 who are members of the 1746 Society to recall their experience as students and trailblazers. We’re pleased to share a sampling of their responses. Given the profound impact Princeton has made on their lives, all four have committed to supporting the University now and in the future as members of the 1746 Society. “Princeton — its academic life and its people — has made an indelible mark on my life,” said Carol Obertubbesing ’73. “I am grateful to all of the people who have touched my life in so many ways.” 

What made you decide to attend Princeton in 1969, the historic year when Princeton first admitted women as undergraduate students? 

“I was a nationally ranked junior tennis player and wanted to attend a strong academic school with a year-round tennis facility. My father [Herbert Gengler ’31] suggested Princeton, and I was attracted by the chance to be a pioneer. At the time, Jadwin Gymnasium was brand new and exemplified Princeton’s dedication to providing first-class athletic facilities to its students. So, I was able to pursue my love of learning and my desire to compete athletically at the highest level.” — Margie Gengler Smith ’73

“I came to Princeton because I wanted a coed university with international students, a strong and varied curriculum, an open-stack library, and an inspirational campus. I welcomed the challenge of being in the first coed freshman class at Princeton, although that turned out to be much harder than I expected. In the end, the challenge made me a better and stronger person.” — Carol Obertubbesing 

Who made the biggest impression on you as a student?

“I remember marveling at how masterfully archeology professor David Coffin ’40 *54, taught the somewhat esoteric class, “Renaissance Gardens and Spatial Planning.” It was a truly academic experience connecting poetry, literature, history, social sciences, art, architecture and gardening. And he extracted some worthy observation on the subject from every member of his precept, which ranged from a lowly undergrad to the most advanced grad students.” — Sara Sill ’73

“I liked how my Princeton education was entirely devoted to turning me into a research mathematician. There were relatively few requirements beyond solving an important mathematical problem and writing it up well. I thought that was great because I was itching to get to work on a thesis, having already spent four years in three different graduate programs.” — Jean Taylor *73

Jean Taylor

What was your favorite spot on campus and why?

“My favorite spot was the library of Princeton Inn College (now Forbes). It was a comfortable and welcoming room, and I spent countless hours there. For Albert Sonnenfeld *58’s magnificent course on the European novel, I read all of Thomas Mann’s voluminous “The Magic Mountain” in two days, curled up in this library. The memory of that intensive reading experience remains with me always.” — Gail Finney ’73 

“Prospect Garden was where I could always find inner peace and a sense that I could make it through whatever I was coping with at the time. My husband, Mike [Epstein ’71] and I were married in the garden and every time we visited campus, we took a walk through there. After Mike’s memorial service at Colonial Club in 2011, I walked through the garden and a gentle breeze came through. I could still feel his spirit.” — Carol Obertubbesing

How did your Princeton experience help you in your life?

“Having a Princeton Ph.D. is like having a gold star on my forehead. People automatically take me seriously. I also had a wonderful thesis topic, which was to prove things about a special case of soap-film geometry with only triple junctions but no points where triple junctions come together. Then I figured out, in the summer of 1972 (after I had left Princeton) the basic idea of how to extend my mathematics to treat all soap films and soap-bubble clusters. This discovery got me renown outside of math departments — I was even a guest host of a “3-2-1-Contact” episode and a ‘cover girl’ for a mathematics magazine for students.” — Jean Taylor 

“Because I became an academic, my Princeton experience was decisive for my career. The superb literature instructors I had there ignited my passion for the subject and served as retrospective models after I became a professor of comparative literature and German, a position I held (first at Harvard and then at UC Davis) for 40 years.” — Gail Finney 

What prompted you to include Princeton in your estate plans and become a member of the 1746 Society?

“I am grateful to Princeton for opening my world to new ideas and possibilities, for the enduring friendships it fostered, pride for being part of such a prestigious institution, and a wish to continue the chain of appreciation and connection with future generations of students.” — Sara Sill 

“I have included Princeton in my estate plans because I want to help future students receive the outstanding education that I did. I feel immense gratitude to this institution and believe in paying it forward.” — Gail Finney

“Princeton is in my estate plans because it has been the defining experience of my life. It was there that I began to discover my identity as a woman, where I learned the complexity of any given topic and then of life, where I became part of a very diverse “family” and where I met many of the people who enriched my life in so many ways. Through alumni activities, both where I live and on campus, my ties to Princeton have strengthened and in 2020, I received the University’s Award for Service to Princeton.” — Carol Obertubbesing

— Sean C. Downey

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This entry was posted on December 13, 2023 in FALL 2023.

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