Princeton mom's 'find a husband' letter generates passionate reactions

Some students are outraged by a letter to the editor from a Princeton University mom suggesting that female students should find a husband before they graduate.

A letter from a Princeton University mom suggesting female students "find a husband on campus" has sparked outrage and debate online, crashing the Daily Princetonian's website.

Some called the letter offensive, embarrassing, crazy and anti-feminist.

Princeton alum 'find a husband' letter': A screencapture of Susan Patton’s Facebook page. The Princeton alumna wrote "what you really need to know that nobody is telling you" aimed at Princeton’s female students.

In fact, the letter has received such a high volume of feedback since it was published on the student newspaper site Friday that the paper announced Monday it will be publishing a special section later this week dedicated only to responses.

Titled, "Advice for the young women of Princeton: the daughters I never had," the letter by Susan A. Patton, Princeton alum and the mother of two Princeton students (both boys; one current, one former), advises female Princeton students to find a suitable husband from the Ivy League university's male student population as quickly as possible.

Patton, who graduated in 1977 and belonged to the fifth class of women to graduate from Princeton, now runs her own business in New York as a human resources consultant.

"Forget about having it all, or not having it all, leaning in or leaning out — here’s what you really need to know that nobody is telling you," Patton wrote, referencing Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg's recent feminist manifesto. "For most of you, the cornerstone of your future and happiness will be inextricably linked to the man you marry, and you will never again have this concentration of men who are worthy of you … Find a husband on campus before you graduate."

Patton then goes on to explain why she thinks young Princeton women would benefit by snagging a husband from their own university.

"Smart women can't (shouldn't) marry men who aren't at least their intellectual equal," Patton says. "As Princeton women, we have almost priced ourselves out of the market. Simply put, there is a very limited population of men who are as smart or smarter than we are. And I say again — you will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you. Of course, once you graduate, you will meet men who are your intellectual equal — just not that many of them."

At one point in her letter, Patton suggests that time is running out for female students as they "become older than the incoming freshman class."

  Princeton alum 'Find a husband" letter: Susan Patton’s letter to the editor.

The Daily Princetonian published a response from Jill Dolan, director of the school's program in gender and sexuality studies, criticizing Patton's letter.

"Her rhetoric encourages current Princeton students toward a version of higher education that was popular in the 1950s which assumed — to everyone’s detriment — that female students enrolled only to find husbands — that is, for an Mrs. degree," Dolan wrote.

Dolan wrote that Patton could have used the opportunity to talk to students about work-life balance — but instead, she suggests "Princeton women consider their four years of higher education as a competition ground for finding a husband." 

"She assumes that all Princeton undergraduate women want to marry men; that they want to marry at all; and that they don’t have different priorities for how to organize their professional and personal lives," Dolan wrote.

Patton told MSN News that she was stunned by the reaction her letter had generated.

"I was not expecting it at all," she said. "It was just a few words of advice I wanted to share with young women on my alma mater's campus," she said. "I felt all of the advice being given was about building careers and that's not enough – women keep postponing marriage and then find it difficult to find a husband in their early thirties."

Patton added, "The window of opportunity for men to marry and have children is endless, but for women it's not. Somebody needs to tell these girls to pursue it and pursue it with a focus."

Patton said that she had been receiving emails from young people studying in universities all over the world who were thanking her for opening up a dialogue on marriage.

"They were afraid to talk about it," she said. "Now they have a starting point. I am delighted."

Patton, who is now divorced, told New York Magazine that her husband had not been a Princetonian, adding that she now wished she had married one.

"He went to a school of almost no name recognition … A school that nobody has respect for, including him, really."

Luc Cohen, editor-in-chief of the Daily Princetonian, said that when the paper decided to run the letter, "we did predict that it would be a huge conversation-starter both on campus and off."

"It's a conversation that we're interested in continuing," Cohen said. "We believe it is our role as a news organization to start conversation, and this letter has certainly done that."

Jordan Bai, a senior at University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Ind., told MSN News that although she didn't agree with Patton's views, a lot of her classmates do.

"We have this thing called 'ring by spring' — girls feel this pressure to be engaged by spring of senior year by the time they graduate," Bai said. "A lot of people are finishing their thesis or looking for jobs, but there are some who come to Notre Dame with the purpose of finding a mate with the same economic background or wavelength."

One of Bai's friends has already succumbed to the pressure.

"Although I can really appreciate the security of graduating with a husband, I don't think we should feel pressured to get married because our four years are up," Bai said. "There may be someone suited for me who's not a Notre Dame student."

Ruth Scodel, who studied classical philology at Harvard University and now works at the University of Michigan, posted a similar comment on the Daily Princetonian's Facebook page:

"Most Princeton women will want to marry men. But most of them are not ready to marry; they are too young," Scodel wrote. "And most of them will be continuing in environments where they will still be surrounded by interesting prospects. We just have to hope that they don't all marry other students in their graduate programs or other investment bankers."


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