The Move Toward Higher Education
The Civil War gave rise to a number of educational reforms, including a change in the curriculum, the birth of an elective system, and graduate school education. One of the more radical changes in higher education was the increasing acceptance of women's education. Though co-educational institutions arose prior to the Civil War, the first being at Oberlin College in 1837, higher education for women did not gain much support until after the war. Two main developments arose from the ashes of the Civil War which helped women break into higher education: the creation of a women's movement out the abolitionist movement and the land grant colleges. Together these two factors helped women gain more opportunity in the sphere of higher education and as result prove their ability to study at the same level as men. In essence, the women's movement in higher eduction was a chain reaction. as schools opened their doors to women, women were able to prove their intellectual abilities and this led to more colleges for women. Three main types of educational instutions arose for women: the land grant coed-colleges in the West, the all women's colleges such as Vassar, Smith, and Wellesley, and the creation of women's schools such as Radcliffe and Barnard which were meant to accompany larger all-male institutions (in the above cases, Harvard and Columbia) which did not want to completely open their doors to women but recognized the need to offer women an education.
In the West, women were always viewed on a more equal plane than their eastern counterparts because the vigors of pioneer life required women to labor next to their husbands outside the home. Frederick Rudolph says of the colleges in the West: "When the state universities, therefore, moved from the narrow class basis of the pre-war years toward the development of large popular institutions, it was to be expected that women would be included."(Rudolph, 314) Women were not considered fragile and they worked equally with men on the farms, so when it came to education, there was no reason for it to be any different. Of the 97 co-educational colleges that existed in 1872, 67 were in the West. (Rudolph, 322) The Morrill Act of 1862, granting land to each state at a rate of 30,000 acres for each senator and representative, provided the endowments that gave many important western universities their start. The first co-ed land grant college was the University of Iowa (1855), then the University of Wisconsin (1863), followed by Indiana, Missouri, Michigan and California.
University of Wisconsin
University of Iowa
Though the land grant colleges in the West were co-educational, they tended to adopt specific programs for women geared around domesticity. Courses like "the management of domestics...the science of the home...homemaking as a career...challenging problems in needlework...and interior decorating."(Rudolph, 370)These courses were meant to make women more appealing to men. All women colleges came about as people began to feel that women deserved an education at the same level as that of men. Vassar(1865), Wellesleyand Smith (1875), and Bryn Mawr(1884) were chartered to provide women with a classical curriculum like the ones perfected at Yale, Princeton, and Amherst. Matthew Vassar's successful creation of Vassar paved the way for Sophia Smith to found Smith College and Henry Fowle Durant to found Wellesley. These colleges became the most widely known routes of women's education. However, "as early as the 1870's, a majority of women were enrolled in co-educational schools rather than the single-sex institutions"(Ware, 34). Nevertheless, these women's colleges established the idea that women deserved an educations equal to that of men's, not one centered only around traditional feminine roles.
Biology Class at Wellesley
M. Carey Thomas
A compromise also developed between co-educational colleges and single sex colleges called co-ordinant colleges. Harvard began awarding degrees to women who passed their examinations but did their studies elsewhere as early as 1874. "These symbolic pats-on-the-back did not admit women to a Harvard classroom, but they did say, in effect, 'Nice going. We must admit that even though you are a woman, you can pass our exams.'"(Rudolph, 320) This realization led Elizabeth Cary Agassiz and a group of Harvard professors to begin giving courses for women. This was the beginning of the Harvard Annex (1884), which in 1893 became Radcliffe. Similar developments took place at Columbia with Barnard (1889), Brown with Pembroke, and Tufts with Jackson. Together with the already established Mount Holyoke, Vassar, Wellesley, Smith, Bryn Mawr, Barnard, and Radcliffe became known as the seven sisters.
Library at Radcliffe
Barnard Women in Barnard Hall
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