Princeton Mom Susan A. Patton — who advised female students to “find a husband” in a letter to the editor so widely discussed that it may have crashed the Daily Princetonian’s website—has some regrets. “I wish I married someone who went to Princeton,” she told me today. The recently divorced mother and president of Princeton’s class of 1977 stands by her warning that, “As Princeton women, we have almost priced ourselves out of the market,” and thus should snag husbands before graduation. But she would like to clarify a few points.
Patton spoke by phone from her home in the Upper East Side, where she runs her own business as a human resources consultant and executive coach. She was in the midst of reading responses to her letter when I called. “I’m astounded by the extreme reaction. Honestly, I just thought this was some good advice from a Jewish mother,” she laughed.
“It’s not that I’m anti-feminist,” she said. “I completely understand that not all women want to be married, not all women want a family, not all women are heterosexual. I get all of that!” But “women go to college for a lot of reasons. Women go to Princeton for the very rich academic experience that Princeton provides and has provided for 250 years. I’m just saying, if as a young [Princeton] woman, you are thinking that you would like to have not just professional success but personal success as part of your life happiness, keep an open mind to the men that you’re surrounded with now.
“Because these are the best guys. You’ll meet wonderful men outside of Princeton, but you’ll never have the numbers in your favor the way you do now. And not just the men you marry, but the friends you keep. My husband was not a Princetonian, but my best friend is.”
After 27 years together, Patton and her ex-husband finalized their divorce last month. “He went to a school of almost no name recognition,” she said, declining to name the institution. “Almost no name recognition. A school that nobody has respect for, including him, really.” They met through work a few years after Patton’s graduation. Was she thinking of him when she wrote the letter? “No. No, I wasn’t thinking about my personal circumstances. I was thinking, if I had daughters, what would I tell them?” Though her letter to the Prince advised, “you will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you,” she wouldn’t discuss the relative worthiness of her ex.
But she does wish she’d married a Princetonian. “Yes! Yes. Yes, I wish I married someone who went to Princeton,” she replied when I asked. “That way I could have embraced Princeton for the thirty years that I stayed away from it because my ex-husband had no respect for the hoopla, the traditions, the allegiance, the orange and black … It wasn’t until both of our sons became Princetonians, and my marriage ended, that I was able to again embrace the university, and I did so with both arms.”
“My older son was admitted to Princeton in 2006. My younger son was admitted in 2010,” she explained. “And between those two, my marriage ended.” She declined to comment on whether she was dating again, but welcomed the suggestion of meeting a new partner through her work with the Princeton alumni club. “How wonderful would that be?” she marveled. “That would be wonderful.”
“I’m not suggesting everyone marry at 22,” she added. “But take a good look around at the men you meet at Princeton, because these are amazing men. These are the kinds of guys you want to spend your life with, raise a family with.”
“I was of the pioneering class of women on campus,” she said. “I think women are a mighty force to be reckoned with. My intent was to provide very basic, very simple, honest advice to young women on campus. They are bombarded with messages of having it all, and leaning in, and professional achievement. But there’s a whole other measure of happiness and success that isn’t being addressed.” Until now.