Successful Ager: Alice Yee

By Kassidy Wade

The Successful Agers in Action spotlight turns to Alice Yee: a change agent for women's equality on college campuses across the country. Alice Yee was another Wise Elder Changemaker Award recipient, chosen for her significant contribution to the equal treatment of women in universities and in the broader community.

Alice began her academic career following her graduation from Central Washington University (CWU), where she completed a degree in Guidance and Counseling. She commenced her journey as a community college teacher, while simultaneously taking on the role of motherhood. She brought three beautiful children into the world with her high school sweetheart. Sadly, Alice became a single parent when her youngest child was just six years old. This unfortunate circumstance followed the passing of her husband due to cancer. Alice explained how difficult it was to support her family on just one unequal, female salary.

Three years after having been promoted to Dean of Students at Wenatchee Valley College, Central Washington University conducted a nationwide search for a Dean of Women, and Alice was appointed to the position. This was the real beginning of her long career as an agent for change. She immediately began to highlight the inequalities that women faced in the university at the time, and to promote change for a more just environment. She questioned the policies at the university that only applied to women, such as curfews and dress codes. Within six years, Yee and her colleagues were able to totally alter the misogynistic policies.

Subsequently, she was offered the position of Dean of Women by the President of Grinnell College in Iowa, and later became Dean of Students. Grinnell College presented a quite different challenge from that of CWU. In the late 1960’s, loco parentis was the philosophy of most colleges, and great turmoil existed when students demanded total independence. In four years, Alice worked with the students, faculty, and administrators to make the drastic change in philosophy, which resulted in rules and policies that compatible with the new philosophy.

After completing her mission at Grinnell, Alice returned to Washington to marry Robert Yee, chairperson of the political science department at CWU. Robert was a dear friend of Alice, who had pursued her for over ten years before their marriage. Bob and Alice spent forty-seven years together before his passing in 2017.

When CWU learned of Alices’ return to Washington, the Director of Continuing Education offered her a position he described only as: “do something for women.” Alice accepted the offer with the understanding that she had the freedom to be as creative as possible, but that she would keep him fully informed. During the next seven years, she coordinated with women’s organizations across the state of Washington to establish the Women’s Center, which became a model for other universities.

One of the highlights of these years that she recalls is the International Women’s Year of 1977. Throughout this year, each of the fifty states held internal meetings to identify the major problems and recommend solutions for women in their state. Delegates from each state were elected to attend the national convention in Houston to select the major problems for women in the U.S.. The problems were presented as a Plan of Action to President Carter, which served as a guide for future national legislation. Alice was on the Washington state planning committee, and served as the on-site chairperson of the convention where four thousand women attended.

Alice had a long career filled with partnering with community organizations such as: Planned Parenthood, the League of Women's Voters, and the National Organization for Women. She fulfilled many roles to improve the lives of women, mostly in the state of Washington on local boards and committees.

Throughout her retirement, Alice’s burning passion for women’s equality has remained ablaze. At the age of 98, Alice organized a group of women at her retirement community to take their community bus to the 2017 Women’s March in Downtown San Diego. She and a few of her friends walked the entire march alongside thousands of other supporters! To this day she continues staying active, learning from lectures held at her retirement community, and writing articles for the community as well. She is currently 103 years old and continues to take part in the Women of Ancient Wisdom group, a group of women dedicated to celebrating the aging process and empowering women as they grow older. Alice continues creating change within her community; when I visited her a few months ago she was coordinating with the County of San Diego to offer voting ballots to her fellow residents following the recent Roe v. Wade discussion. Most recently, in mid-July, Alice was the speaker at a march done by women at Casa de Mañana to protest the recent decision on Roe vs. Wade.

Alice is an inspiration to us all, she reminds others that change is possible with dedication and passion. She has spent an entire lifetime
dedicated to the improvement of women's rights; her impact is truly immeasurable. May we all find that burning passion that ignites excitement, curiosity, and devotion within us, such as Alice has found. 

Photo Credits:
Second photo: ASHLEY MACKIN- SOLOMON and La Jolla Light
Third photo: DAVID SCHWAB and SDnews