Honoree Lawrie Mifflin ’73 B.A. broke barriers for women athletes at Yale
When Lawrie Mifflin ’73 B.A. first arrived on campus in 1969, she was already breaking barriers. Mifflin was a member of the first coed first-year class, one of the first women to experience all four of her “bright college years” at Yale. And when she discovered that Yale had no organized sports for women, Mifflin set out to break another barrier.
“I think one of the things that the university had not prepared for was women who were interested in playing sports,” Mifflin said in a video testimonial for the 50WomenAtYale150 initiative, honoring the anniversaries of coeducation and the first women students at Yale. “It was one thing if you wanted to swim in the swimming pool or use the tennis courts, but to play organized competitive sports was not something that had occurred to them.”
Mifflin is one of five former student athletes being presented with the George H.W. Bush ’48 Lifetime of Leadership Award at Yale Athletics’ Blue Leadership Ball on Nov. 22. The award is given to alumni athletes who have made significant leadership contributions in their work. Other winners this year include Butch Graves Jr. ’84 B.A., John Kerry ’66 B.A., Jon Reese ’90 B.S., and Ken Wolfe ’61 B.A.
As a first-year student, Mifflin wanted to play field hockey, so she and a group of other students decided to start their own team, writing to nearby universities to ask if they would be interested in playing against Yale. But the team’s lack of varsity status proved to be a challenge. Without a proper practice field, adequate equipment, a coach, or uniforms, they couldn’t really compete.
“We realized that we were still playing in cut-off blue jean shorts and Yale T-shirts that we had bought at the bookstore ourselves … So [we] hustled over to Southern Connecticut State University and said, ‘Can we borrow your kilts?’ because they were blue.”
This incident, Mifflin said, sent a signal to the university that it needed to take the women’s team seriously. Soon after, the team began pushing for varsity status. Thanks to Mifflin and her teammates’ resourcefulness and tenacity, the team achieved varsity status in the fall of 1972, becoming the first women’s varsity sport at Yale. Women’s squash and women’s tennis soon followed, in the winter and spring of Mifflin’s senior year.
But Mifflin’s achievements at Yale were not limited to field hockey. Dissatisfied with the quality of coverage of women’s sports in the Yale Daily News, she volunteered to take over as the women’s athletics reporter. Her work at the YDN prompted professors to encourage her to pursue a career in journalism, which she did, earning her master’s degree from Columbia University in 1974.
Mifflin credits her time at Yale with teaching her how to overcome challenges, a skill that she said has been invaluable in her career as a writer and editor, first for the New York Daily News, then for The New York Times, and currently as managing editor for The Hechinger Report.
“At Yale I was never treated with disrespect by professors or other students … But you might’ve been looked down on a little bit or thought to be not as capable as the guys until you showed otherwise. And I think when you show otherwise, that prepares you for doing the same thing later in life.”
Overall, Mifflin said, her experience as part of the inaugural first-year class of women was overwhelmingly positive.
“There was a feeling of camaraderie amongst the women,” she said. “We were here in part because we were resilient creatures.”
Since the 1970s, the Yale women’s field hockey team has won two Ivy League Championships. But perhaps its greatest achievement, said Mifflin, is the precedent that it set for the inclusion of women in competitive sports at Yale.
Maura Grogan ’78 B.A., an alumna of the women’s ice hockey team, cites the founding of the first women’s team as an important step in the development of women’s athletics on campus.
“Field hockey and crew were pioneers, both in the caliber of their players and in their advocacy,” Grogan said. “Other sports definitely benefited from their efforts.”
Today, Mifflin remains an active member in the field hockey team’s alumni association, which meets every fall to watch the current team play, and even comes together for an annual alumnae game. Seeing the success of the program now makes her proud, she said.
“The women who come here and want to play a sport … are treated well and they’re able to do so freely and with all the best equipment and training,” Mifflin said. “And I feel that that’s a legacy of the first women at Yale that is worth celebrating.”