Husband-hunting advice from Princeton alum triggers outrage, humor

A Princeton alum advised female students to find their husbands while at school because 'you will never again be surrounded by this concentration' of smart men. Reaction was not positive.

Daniel Hulshizer/AP/File
Jarrett Walters, shown here graduating from Princeton University in 2004, might be a real catch.

When a Princeton alum wrote to the university newspaper Friday advising Princeton women to “find a husband on campus before you graduate,” she triggered a deluge of replies – a few supportive, many critical, at least one humorous.

Reaction was so strong that The Daily Princetonian’s website crashed after getting 2,000 views, according to a report in the Princetonian. The Princetonian’s editor-in-chief, Luc Cohen, says the paper will publish a special section later this week dedicated to responses to the letter.

The writer who stirred up this storm, Susan A. Patton, was president of the Princeton class of 1977. One of her sons is a Princeton graduate and the other attends the school now. Ms. Patton told Maureen O’Connor of New York magazine that she runs her own business as a human resources consultant and executive coach. “I’m astounded by the extreme reaction…. I just thought this was some good advice from a Jewish mother,” Patton said. 

The proud Princeton alum says she wrote her letter – subtitled “Advice for the young women of Princeton” after attending a presentation at the university on the issue of work-life balance. The gathering featured a conversation between university President Shirley Tilghman and Wilson School professor Anne-Marie Slaughter, whose article in the Atlantic, “Why Women Can’t Have it All,” attracted wide attention.

Patton, just divorced after 27 years of marriage, wrote that, “It’s amazing how forgiving men can be about a woman’s lack of erudition, if she is exceptionally pretty. Smart women can’t (shouldn’t) marry men who aren’t at least their intellectual equal. 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.”

In a followup interview with New York magazine, Patton said her former husband “went to a school of almost no name recognition” and that put a strain on their marriage.

Most reaction to the letter was critical, although one person who commented on the Princetonian website said, “Patton is not only intelligent, she is a true friend of women. Don’t be cynical, understand what she is trying to say.”

Princeton President Tilghman was less approving. “Princeton is an educational institution. It’s not a marriage bureau,” she told the Princetonian. “The purpose of a Princeton education is not to find a spouse; the purpose is to prepare yourself for a meaningful life.”

The Princetonian quoted Professor Slaughter as saying Patton’s letter “takes us firmly backward.”

Alyssa Rosenberg, writing on the Think Progress blog, said she thought the Princetonian published the letter because it would bring heavy web traffic. “The decision to publish Patton’s letter was a demonstration that college newspapers aren’t just a place to learn the basics of reporting and opinion writing: they’re glomming on to the business realities of online publishing as well. Patton’s letter is exactly the kind of thing that is tremendously clicky, to the extent that it was probably worth it financially to the Daily Princetonian to publish it even if the site ended up offline because of the massive influx of readers.”

On a lighter note, Jane Reynolds, writing on the policymic blog, offered an observation that will resonate with both children and parents. “One positive thing I got from her piece was the realization that I officially don't have the most embarrassing mother on the planet," she said. 

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