Nathan '76 pioneers co-education

Nathan spent her childhood in Baltimore, where she developed an interest in political science, which she would later pursue in college. In 1972, after graduating from a co-ed private high school, she enrolled at Connecticut College. During her junior year, she came to Amherst as part of the 12-College Exchange program, motivated by the variety of academic opportunities the College would provide. “I was looking for a place that was challenging and stimulating, and that would give me the chance to cultivate my learning experience,” she said.

One significant factor in Nathan’s decision to come to Amherst was Professor Earl Latham of the political science department, a constitutional law specialist whose expertise Nathan anticipated would aid her path toward law school.

She came to Amherst expecting to spend one year on exchange, and then to return to Connecticut College for her senior year. In fact, she had entered the program several months before Amherst actually became co-ed. “The school’s trustees made the decision to begin admitting women full-time in November of my junior year, so the idea of being one of the first woman graduates played no role in my decision,” she said. Even after the policy was officially implemented, she did not intend to transfer; she did not apply for reinstatement until finals period in May.

“Life at Amherst during that time was very tumultuous for me,” said Nathan. “The 24 of us on 12-College Exchange were at the center of the debate over whether women should be allowed to enroll, and everyone-students, faculty and alumni-all had very distinct opinions one way or another. I didn’t want to deal with that for another year.” But in the end, the positive aspects of Amherst’s education won out, and she remained to fulfill the requirement of two years necessary to receive a degree under the co-education program.

For Nathan, the experience of Amherst centered around people she met and the friendships that developed out of her interactions. “My time at Amherst was spent learning about my friends and other students,” she said. “Many of the friendships I formed at school still exist, and in some cases they are very strong.”

Because she came to Amherst under a temporary program, Nathan found that opportunities for participation in extracurricular activities were minimal. Despite having no women’s sports teams available to her, she was able to involve herself in various sports by taking gym classes offered by the College. “I took cross-country skiing and tennis; there weren’t especially great opportunities, but I think I was able to make do with what was there.”

Nathan’s studies also accounted for a large portion of the time she spent at school. Besides the work she did with Latham, she concentrated on courses in the Russian department, dealing a fair amount with Professors of Russian Stanley Rabinowitz and Jane Taubman. “I really enjoyed the courses in Russian language and literature that I was able to take at Amherst,” said Nathan. “Due in large part to courses I took with Rabinowitz, for a while I was considering pursuing a career in international law.”

After graduating, Nathan attended law school at the University of Maryland. During her third year there, she transferred to the University of Connecticut law school in New Haven, where she spent time working for a local judge, as well as volunteering for VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America). “VISTA is basically the United States version of the Peace Corps. During my time working for an attorney there, I started a handicapped unit for the program,” she said.

After law school, Nathan moved to New York City, where she worked as a staff attorney in 1980-81 with the legal services office, working with handicapped test cases. Subsequently, she returned to Maryland, where she worked in the state attorney general’s office for nine years. The background she received in mental health issues there prepared her for her current post-a private law practice that she has run since 1990.

“We deal with mental health law,” she said. “Specifically, we represent mental hospitals, outpatient programs and other care providers in the area.”

Nathan helped set the pace for every woman who has attended Amherst since its co-education in 1976; during a period of skepticism and opposition, Nathan faced the daily critics of co-gendered schooling and came away with a strong education and numerous allegiances.

Keeping in contact with the school since her graduation and attending this past summer’s forum on co-education, Nathan understands the value of the time she spent here. “Amherst prepared me to think critically about what are frequently complex issues,” she said. “I also learned how to think creatively about solutions to problems that confront me every day.”