IN THE COMPANY OF EDUCATED WOMEN: A History of Women and Higher Education in America by Barbara M. Solomon

IN THE COMPANY OF EDUCATED WOMEN: A History of Women and Higher Education in America

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A solid, broad-ranging study of female students' changing attitudes and experiences--considerably livelier, too, than one would assume of a survey extending from the colonial era into the present. Though the early beginnings of female higher education were less than propitious, Solomon (History and Literature, Harvard) notes that the post-Revolutionary decades produced such pioneers as Emma Willard, Catherine Beecher, and Mary Lyon: ""Each in her own way appeared to accept the social constraints placed on women and yet drew on Enlightenment republican thought and on evangelical sentiment to enlarge the scope of women's higher education."" The big move into higher education came, however, in the post-Civil War period. This Solomon attributes to the popularizing trend in public education (the growth in common schools and high schools), the Civil War and Reconstruction (entailing a forced re-evaluation of society, and with it of women's roles), and the ferment in university education generally. ""The one place where women had a guaranteed welcome was at a women's college""--notably, Vassar, Smith, Wellesley, and Bryn Mawr, all founded between 1865 and 1884. Highranking co-ed universities, by contrast, felt uneasy about their women students. (Cornell's first president would have no ""flippant and worthless boarding school misses""; the U. of Chicago president worried that women were getting more Phi Beta Kappa awards than men.) Each development brought a debate on the purpose of female education. From 1860 to 1920, Solomon finds many female students ""caught between the attraction of using their education in professional ways and keeping in mind that a woman's usefulness was not equated with professionalism."" From 1920 to 1944, the terms of the debate became career and/or marriage--with a decline in support for combining the two from 1929 to 1944, which Solomon links to the Depression, disappointment with suffrage, and possibly WW II domesticity. Today, newspaper stories about women retreating from career aspirations into the family remind her of ""confessions"" by ""ex-feminists"" in the 1920s and 1930s. Along with Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz's Alma Mater: another excellent reflection of the renewed interest in women's higher education.

Pub Date: April 17th, 1985
Publisher: Yale Univ. Press