I Can Do Anything You Can Do Better: Women at Universities

The Western College for Women class of 1904, Oxford, Ohio
Announcement of opening of Rogersville Female College, Rogersville, Tenn. Sept. 15th, 1869 Catalogue and circular of the Branch Normal College of the Arkansas Industrial University, located at Pine Bluff, Ark., for the year ending June 7, 1892, and announcement for 1892-3. Catalogue and circular of the Branch Normal College of the Arkansas Industrial University, located at Pine Bluff, Ark., for the year ending June 7, 1892, and announcement for 1892-3.

Women’s early education had been relegated to the home; from birth they were learned in the arts of homemaking, child rearing, and protecting the sanctuary of the family42 . While throughout the 18th and 19th centuries women contributed to household labor, particularly on farms, there was a social expectation that women should not work unless they have to43 . The Civil War disrupted assumptions that women should remain within the private sphere of the home. During the war, women ran hospitals, took over farms, and went to work in the factories44 . Akin to the women of WWII, these women gained sensations of freedom in the workplace which led them to demand for greater labor and educational opportunities. Furthermore, massive expansions in the immigrant populations, the settlement of the west, and the emancipation of African Americans in the South meant that there was a greater need for qualified teachers following the war45 . Women had already carved out reputations as skilled and competition teachers in the antebellum and wartime eras, further allowing them to pursue professions in these areas46 . Finally, the deaths of so many young men left many women widowed or without many prospects for marriage, forcing them to pursue alternative life pathways47 .


Women’s colleges were soon established with the idea that they should promote protestant ideas of “true womanhood” while also providing for an academically rigorous curricula and preparation for professionalism48 . Rogersville Female College (charter pictured left) was established in 1869 to educate the young ladies of Rogersville, TN with the goal of “such a distribution of subjects will be made, and such an arrangement of classes adopted, as will meet the wants of every pupil”. This demonstrates the tensions between ideas that women should primarily be mothers and caregivers in the home as well as that they could be intellectual and qualified workers in the public sphere49 . According to a Smith College president: “The college is not intended to fit woman for any particular sphere or profession but to develop by the most carefully devised means all her intellectual capacities, so that she may be a more perfect woman in any position”50 .

The development of women’s colleges coincided with the development of coeducational (“coed”) schools51. Many schools found it less expensive to have one school that catered to both men and women52. This was true for both religious institutions like Oberlin College, the alma mater of first female college graduate in the United States, and HBCUs like Fisk and Howard53. In terms of technical schools, on the left, the list of alumni from the 1892 course catalogue of Arkansas Industrial University lists both men and women. Coeducation though does not always mean equal education or equal experiences. Solomon notes that women could be segregated into separate classes or were not given the full liberal arts course work54. To the left, a description of the Arkansas Industrial University dormitories states that women will live in a house to be run by the president of the university and his wife. The description makes no note of housing for male students.

New York City - Medical College for Women, East Twelfth Street and Second Avenue - the anatomical lecture room

FOOTNOTES

42. Solomon, Barbara Miller. In the company of educated women: A history of women and higher education in America. Yale University Press, 1985. page 2

43. Solomon, Barbara Miller. In the company of educated women: A history of women and higher education in America. Yale University Press, 1985. page xx

44. Solomon, Barbara Miller. In the company of educated women: A history of women and higher education in America. Yale University Press, 1985. page 45

45. Solomon, Barbara Miller. In the company of educated women: A history of women and higher education in America. Yale University Press, 1985. page 45

46. Solomon, Barbara Miller. In the company of educated women: A history of women and higher education in America. Yale University Press, 1985. page 45

47. Solomon, Barbara Miller. In the company of educated women: A history of women and higher education in America. Yale University Press, 1985. page 45

48. Solomon, Barbara Miller. In the company of educated women: A history of women and higher education in America. Yale University Press, 1985. page 49

49. Solomon, Barbara Miller. In the company of educated women: A history of women and higher education in America. Yale University Press, 1985. page 49

50. Solomon, Barbara Miller. In the company of educated women: A history of women and higher education in America. Yale University Press, 1985. page 49

51. Solomon, Barbara Miller. In the company of educated women: A history of women and higher education in America. Yale University Press, 1985. page 50

52. Solomon, Barbara Miller. In the company of educated women: A history of women and higher education in America. Yale University Press, 1985. page 50

53. Solomon, Barbara Miller. In the company of educated women: A history of women and higher education in America. Yale University Press, 1985. page 50

54. Solomon, Barbara Miller. In the company of educated women: A history of women and higher education in America. Yale University Press, 1985. page 50

55. Solomon, Barbara Miller. In the company of educated women: A history of women and higher education in America. Yale University Press, 1985. page 58

56. Solomon, Barbara Miller. In the company of educated women: A history of women and higher education in America. Yale University Press, 1985. page 63

57. Solomon, Barbara Miller. In the company of educated women: A history of women and higher education in America. Yale University Press, 1985. page 58

58. Edwards, Rebecca. New Spirits: Americans in the Gilded Age, 1865-1905. Oxford University Press, USA, 2006. page 73

59. Edwards, Rebecca. New Spirits: Americans in the Gilded Age, 1865-1905. Oxford University Press, USA, 2006. page 73-75