Harvard Educational Review
  1. Winter 1996 Issue »

    Women, Higher Education, and Professionalization

    Clarifying the View

    By Linda Eisenmann
    In Adamless Eden: The Community of Women Faculty at Wellesley
    by Patricia Ann Palmieri.
    New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995. 382 pp. $35.00.

    Women Scientists in America: Before Affirmative Action, 1940–1972
    by Margaret W. Rossiter.
    Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995. 584 pp. $35.95.

    "The process by which women of ideas are marginalized, devalued, and forgotten is a complex one," notes Patricia Palmieri, as she advances her own corrective in In Adamless Eden: The Community of Women Faculty at Wellesley (p. 265). Indeed, academic women, whether the professional scientists of Margaret Rossiter's work, Women Scientists in America: Before Affirmative Action, 1940–1972, or the various humanist, social scientist, and artist faculty in colleges around the country, have seldom received due attention in the history of higher education. Female professors and their institutions either have been treated as isolated topics by scholars, thus risking the marginalization that Palmieri notes, or they have been omitted as insignificant to the story of mainstream higher education, summarily devalued for their presumed lack of a vital role.1 Making matters worse, scholars of higher education have been notoriously "prestige-centric"; that is, they turn their sights on those institutions sitting atop the prestige hierarchy, and write the history of higher education based on only the handful of research institutions that have amassed wealth, size, and influence over the past century. As Christopher Jencks and David Riesman explained three decades ago, most collegiate institutions aspire to join the "academic procession," whereby even the most modest teachers college or regional school aspires to be a "little Harvard" in its own sphere of influence.2 This continued preoccupation with high-prestige institutions not only minimizes the number of women who are studied, but also neglects investigations of the types of institutions where most women have negotiated their role in the academy.

    A recent surge of interest in the history of professionalization initially did not much benefit women, either. Burton Bledstein provoked this discussion with The Culture of Professionalism in 1976, in which he details a mutual connection between the needs of an aspiring nineteenth-century middle class and the opportune rise of university education.3 Focusing on prominent male university leaders like Harvard's Charles Eliot, Johns Hopkins's Daniel Coit Gilman, and Michigan's James B. Angell, Bledstein suggested that the aspirations of a new middle class — particularly their search for identity through status — led a cohort of men to create a "culture of professionalism" wherein universities took a leading role in defining the terms, the credentials, the membership, and the behavior necessary to establish a professional class in the United States. The setting, or better, the mechanism, for this professionalization was the new research university, which was just growing into its local power after being adapted from Germany in the mid-nineteenth century. Since women played a minute role in these universities, both foreign and American (i.e., they were occasionally accepted in small numbers as graduate students, but almost never as faculty members or undergraduates), Bledstein's version of the story of professionalization threatened to proceed without any nod to women's involvement. Once again, the presence of women in higher education was nearly forgotten.

    By the 1980s, historians of women had begun to offer missing pieces to the story of higher education's development, countering the earlier male- and university-dominated work, including new histories written in the 1960s and 1970s.4 Although historians of women doubtless can be tempted by the lure of the prestige hierarchy, their efforts to discover women's participation eventually and inevitably led to the less-prestigious side of the collegiate roster, namely normal schools, teachers colleges, Catholic institutions, and land-grant schools. These institutions, while important locally for advances in curriculum and expanded enrollments, seldom captured the attention of collegiate leaders, who saw the major colleges and research universities of the East as the ideal models. Even when the land-grant presidents joined the ranks of these influential leaders around 1900, they rarely were lauded because of their service to women. Only in recent years have historians begun to recognize the particular contributions of the land-grants, for example, in providing rare faculty positions for women. In addition, scholars are developing an interesting line of research on the role that normal schools played for women students and faculties as they prepared females for teaching, the one job that welcomed them as trained, if not completely professional, participants.5

    The historical literature on teachers as professionals is burgeoning, and it joins a body of work provoked by Bledstein's conceptions of professionalism. Recognizing that the various professions developed differently, and drawing on societal mechanisms beyond the university such as hospitals, churches, families, and schools, historians have brought women and, less often, people of color, into the discussion of professional development.6 It is in the intersection of these two histories — women's place in higher educational history and their progress as developing professionals — that Palmieri and Rossiter place their works with valuable new perspectives on women's contributions to each area.

    Although both studies explore women's movement into the community of professionals, the two books approach the issue from nearly opposite vantage points. Palmieri takes a close-up shot, examining women's definition of the academic role through the collective biography of fifty-three female professors working at Wellesley College between the 1880s and 1920.7 She offers a "social portrait" of the group, explaining how similarities in their family backgrounds and their educational and career paths combined with the particular academic culture at Wellesley to create a unique female community that simultaneously sustained and limited women's activities. Rossiter prefers a wide-angle view, surveying the entire working landscape for women scientists in the United States between World War II and the advent of affirmative action. Where Palmieri examines several dozen women in depth, Rossiter explores hundreds of scientific careers pursued in academe, government, industry, and nonprofit organizations, and judges both the quantity and the quality of women's participation in science.

    It is striking that both vantages reach similar conclusions: traditional (male) routes to professionalization did not work for women and, in fact, were rarely opened to them. When women did manage to secure professional training, they were treated subsequently as anomalies who could not hope to obtain posts in settings matching their skills. When they developed their own parallel work communities, these were judged as marginal at best, deviant at worst. When they persisted within traditional settings, women were restricted to the lowest levels of professional performance or relegated to the fringes of intellectual discovery. Moreover, in covering a century from 1875 (Wellesley's founding) to 1972 (the Equal Employment Opportunity Act), Palmieri and Rossiter see nearly continuous restriction of women's participation, broken by occasional cycles of meager progress. Overall, these authors conclude, societal views of gender rarely remained flexible enough to allow women to sustain professional work on an equitable basis with men.

    Palmieri seeks to "recover" as well as analyze a community of women who helped define the American role of academic woman. She notes, correctly, that hers is the first scholarly work "to analyze in depth the lives and careers of a single faculty" (p. xvi). Generally, higher educational histories focus on noteworthy individual administrators and scholars, or they take an institutional approach to one or more settings or issues. Looking at many contemporaneous scholars in one place allows Palmieri to look for ways in which both women's backgrounds and the setting affected their development as academic professionals. However, what proves more of a problem for her is separating the interactive effects of the two.

    In this regard, Palmieri's choice of the unusual setting of Wellesley College hardly offers a typical case study. But, recognizing the atypical nature of a school that, from its beginning, was strongly committed to women as both faculty members and presidents, Palmieri turns what could be a devastating criticism of the non-generalizability of her case into a challenge: more than most writers of institutional histories, she provides generous discussion of the wider contexts of women's history and education. Chapters are interspersed with broad discussions of higher educational history and women's roles. Part One, for example, "Putting Women in Professor's Chairs," tells the Wellesley story, but does so by explaining the college's unusual commitment to women as professionals. Part Two, "Women Scholars and Their Wellesley World: A Social Portrait," is the most Wellesley-centered section, looking at biographical data on the Wellesley faculty. Part Three, "Trailblazers and Women's Higher Education," extends the discussion to the Wellesley faculty's educational ideals and their pedagogy, emphasizing its unusual women-centered nature within higher education. The final section, "The War Within, the War Without: Challenges to Community," places Wellesley in a post–World War I context of change in higher education, where the aging faculty finds its values under considerable attack.

    In introducing her choice of Wellesley College and its unusual community, Palmieri outlines the school's founding in 1875 by Henry and Pauline Durant, an evangelical and philanthropic couple whose children had died young. Wellesley was the first college committed to both an all-female faculty and a succession of female presidents. Although other prominent women's colleges founded around the third quarter of the nineteenth century hired female faculty or chose a female president, only Wellesley (of the non-Catholic schools) sustained both these posts as female enclaves for a substantial period of time (Vassar and Smith, for example, both opened with male presidents). The work of other historians has clarified the significance of women's colleges' hiring of female professors; without these opportunities, the growing number of well-trained academic women would have had almost no chance for scholarly employment. We know that before the turn of the century, men's colleges and coeducational universities almost never hired female faculty, having quite a sufficient and more comfortable supply of men ready for employment. The few women working in higher education were generally home economics professors at the land-grant institutions, a path whose limitations and frustrations Rossiter examines well. With few collegiate employment opportunities in coeducational universities and eastern men's colleges, college-trained women (even those with Ph.D.'s) generally found work only in secondary school teaching, a field that Palmieri, revealing a prejudice, calls "that graveyard for women of high ambition" (p. 92).

    One shared characteristic that Palmieri finds among her women faculty is a tendency toward career "drift" after completing their studies, a condition she explores in Part Two. Not unlike their younger contemporaries who wondered "after college, what?" these Wellesley women with advanced training seemed painfully unfocused about their futures, often doubting their own abilities and successes. Historians have found this uncertainty to be quite prevalent among women college graduates before the turn of the century. In Twenty Years at Hull House, for example, Jane Addams captured the dilemma of graduates torn between "the family claim" — returning home to lend support to fathers, mothers, and siblings — and "the social claim" — forging a career, even if unpaid, that would allow ongoing devotion to a life of the mind and of activity.8 So common was this period of frozen decision that an 1896 pamphlet addressed the question directly.9

    More surprising, however, and an interesting revelation of Palmieri's book, is that the women of the Wellesley faculty, 40 percent of whom held doctorates, fell prey to this indecision and self-doubt. Earning a doctoral degree was a tremendous step for women at the turn of the century; many traveled to Germany, where women were at least tolerated, if not readily welcomed, in a few academic settings. Even earning a Master's degree in the United States marked a woman as unusual in talent, ambition, and perseverance. Why would women with such dedication become so stymied as they neared their goals? Palmieri suggests that a lack of clear goals, as well as the resources to create them, plagued these women. Examining the family backgrounds of the Wellesley women, Palmieri finds that each of them had been treated as special since their youths, and she wonders whether such special status isolated and confused the grown women as they tried to craft lives around their own and their families' expectations.

    Precocious as girls, these women had loved books and learning and were encouraged by both parents to pursue intellectual endeavors, even at the expense of more typically feminine behavior. Mothers encouraged these daughters (although not always their sisters) to emulate the "new woman," an active girl with an education geared toward public service. The mothers consistently cleared the way of household duties (therein the role of the less-special sister), allowing their unusual daughters more freedom to explore their "inquisitive, adventuresome, and even rebellious natures" (p. 67). Generally upper middle class in character, these families were unusually reformist and public service oriented, although Palmieri notes an interesting tendency among the fathers to have withdrawn from active public life, often in disappointment over the failure of movements like abolitionism. Nonetheless, the daughters continued to see their fathers as larger-than-life idealists with high intellectual and moral standards.

    In this "social portrait" section of her book, Palmieri takes a mildly psychohistorical approach to understanding the career paths of the Wellesley faculty, a method that sometimes stretches the data, but that generally provokes interesting insights. After finding striking similarities among family backgrounds, for example, Palmieri concludes that these women pursued academic careers in efforts to emulate both their fathers' intellectualism and reformism. However, the women were always careful to identify themselves as following a new path rather than fitting into an established order; to reach higher than their own fathers, Palmieri suggests, would come dangerously close to overtaking those idolized men. Emily Green Balch, for example, an economist who later won the Nobel Peace Prize, constantly worried about disappointing her father's expectations and "berated herself for not being as selfless" as he, a pillar of the Boston community. "Perhaps this is why," Palmieri muses, "so many talented and assertive women avoided issues of hierarchy, status, and power by adopting the persona of the pioneer, a person who does not supplant another because she is first" (p. 66). In fact, one of the issues that Palmieri must face in her decision to study the professionalization of women's careers through these Wellesley faculty members is their firm insistence on defining themselves "as pioneers rather than as professionals" (p. 85).

    Palmieri explores how being treated as "special" both inspired and hindered the Wellesley women. Certainly the encouragement provided by family, friends, and teachers propelled these intellectual women into a world, and even a career, of ideas. Yet underlying this support was what Palmieri calls "an informal ideology of the `select few' that operated in educational circles" (p. 84). This approach enabled male faculty members to allow a small, hand-picked cadre of bright women into graduate school and even into faculty posts, on the theory that direct sponsorship by these exalted men could establish these particular careers, but not really open the door widely enough for more ordinary women to take their chances. The key, however, was that these select few were supported for acting more like men than women: "Put upon a pedestal reserved for a select few female geniuses, yet defined as lacking normal female virtues," Palmieri explains, "these intellectual women could not help but feel conflict" (p. 86). German scholar Carla Wenckebach, for example, described herself as "Cinderella," waiting to be rescued from her fate; Ethel Puffer Howes bewailed feeling like an "intellectual Frankenstein" (p. 96).

    Although historians have rarely shown us women's reactions, such feelings of isolation and deviance likely plagued academic women in most settings; what made Wellesley exceptional was its community of women joined together in their difference. Palmieri's unique contribution in this work is describing and analyzing a woman-centered academic community where the personal and the professional joined to an unusual degree, providing extraordinary support for this group of women. Coming together after childhoods and school lives of "specialness," the Wellesley faculty built a community where they could stand apart from the expectations of the world, and follow their own intellectual and creative bents.

    For women, following this road in turn-of-the-century America generally meant not marrying, and Palmieri notes that only one of this unusual group of fifty-three left Wellesley to marry (Ethel Puffer Howes, later a scholar of women's issues). Instead, the women created a unique community supported for and by the efforts of women, a community that shared housing, travel, work, incomes, and recreation. For example, some single faculty members enjoyed communal housing in College Hall, combining living space with working space right on campus; another group of fourteen formed a "colony" of shared housing in another part of town. Shared sabbaticals provided time for travel and writing. Wellesley faculty also supported their households, sometimes combining salaries to do so. Wellesley salaries generally matched those of contemporary women faculty on other campuses — usually lower than men's because women were not seen as having to support families. However, fully one-third of Wellesley faculty women had dependents, usually mothers or sisters who provided household help. Six women lived with their mothers; one-quarter with their sisters. In addition, many faculty women formed couples, usually life-long relationships that had strong emotional if not always sexual components in what Palmieri describes as "Wellesley marriages," and others have termed "Boston marriages."

    Palmieri does a good job of examining these strong women's relationships in light of current scholarship on lesbian identity, noting that the turn of the century is generally considered the time when the modern notion of lesbianism cohered, spurred by Freudian thinking. Certainly these Wellesley couples in companionate relationships were women-centered and deeply emotionally involved. Yet, she concludes, most of the relationships seem to match the type of nineteenth-century romantic friendships in which "educated spinsters renounc[ed] marriage in favor of intimacy and support from other women" rather than consciously recognized lesbian unions (p. 137). However defined, these deep relationships sustained many of the Wellesley faculty through their early years in the faculty role, their development as intellectuals and academics, and their personal experiences with work, illness, and career.

    The strongest part of Palmieri's book describes the intertwined personal and professional lives of Wellesley's faculty. This "social portrait" section most closely resembles Palmieri's 1981 dissertation, a work long-cited by historians of higher education for its presentation of an unusual and self-conscious women's community. In addition to describing their working conditions, their friendships, and their sense of "work culture" in her book, Palmieri goes on to characterize the educational ideals faculty women transmitted to students. In particular, consumed with a belief in social activism, the faculty pushed the first generations of Wellesley students into reform work outside the college and into radical intellectual questioning within the classroom. Until the 1910s, this vision of an intellectual woman's activist life found a fairly happy match between faculty and students, with many students choosing to emulate faculty lives and commitments.

    However, Palmieri suggests that this "golden age," during which faculty needs and student performance were so well matched, was relatively short-lived, even in a women-centered community like Wellesley. Skirmishes with the founders and with various college presidents, although rarely major, did signify a discrepancy between the Durants's original expectations that Wellesley faculty would be rather religious and respectful of authority and the iconoclastic women who actually sought their unusually open opportunity. For example, the faculty quickly established academic fiefdoms, in which very strong department heads dictated hiring practices and workloads for both junior and senior faculty, often perpetuating "protégée chains" of women who had studied together (a female version of the "old boys' network"). Some presidents tolerated these practices, but pushed faculty on curriculum issues and expectations for scholarship. For instance, Julia Irvine, the college's "brilliant but formidable" fourth president, challenged a senior group by pushing out some entrenched faculty members and increasing the expectations for scholarship, challenging women who had let social service work outdo their formal research.

    More discomfiting, Palmieri concludes, was the eventual shift in students' stance from early emulation of these intriguing, strong professional women to a rejection of these same unmarried, socially activist, learned professors. After the turn of the century, and certainly by World War I, "college attendance for women was not a sacerdotal and strange experience but a socially sanctioned endeavor" (p. 199). So long devoted to life at Wellesley (most of these women served on the faculty for decades), few of what she calls the "old war horses" understood or welcomed the newer, more flamboyant, socially oriented generation of college students. The last section of Palmieri's book details clashes Wellesley's faculty experienced not only with their own students, but also with the backlash mounted against their way of life by various social commentators.

    This part of the story is not as new as Palmieri seems to suggest; many historians recently have outlined how post–1910 shifts in college life on both male and female campuses pitted faculty views against student conceptions of college.10 Perhaps for Palmieri, the backlash feels all the more significant and poignant because it virtually eliminated the unique community Wellesley's women had established and also, as she argues, obscured its real achievements. On the other hand, what her research may show us is that because Wellesley women preferred to view themselves as exceptions rather than consciously as a vanguard, they were less able to voice a concerted challenge to prevailing views of women as intellectuals and professionals. Here is where Wellesley's limits as a case study emerge, suggesting that a look at women in a wider range of settings and over a longer period of time might clarify their development as intellectuals and academic professionals. For this view, we have Margaret Rossiter's monumental examination of the careers and choices of hundreds of women scientists.

    In her first volume on scientific careers, Women Scientists in America: Struggles and Strategies to 1940, published in 1982, Rossiter covered the period coinciding with Palmieri's investigation of Wellesley.11 There, Rossiter commended the women's colleges for creating an "entering wedge" for all academic women, but especially for women scientists who, even with degrees in chemistry or biology, were usually relegated on coeducational campuses to home economics laboratories. Only in the women's colleges was the commitment and opportunity strong enough to allow small groups of scientists to flourish and to train the next generation of women scientists. However, Rossiter also concluded that early generations of female scientists at women's colleges did not achieve as much research notoriety as their credentials and early promise would have suggested. There was no real incentive, she argued, for these female scientists to do more research; they had reached as high in the professional world as they were likely to, given rampant sex discrimination in hiring. The few departments that did distinguish themselves, such as Mount Holyoke's in chemistry or Vassar's in astronomy, often did so at the expense of other fields that were less competitive for the few research and facilities dollars available to sustain active laboratories and field work.12

    Before 1940, Rossiter found, women scientists generally followed one of two strategies: either confronting discrimination and noisily pushing for full equality, or accepting prevailing inequities and steadily pushing for women's achievement but within restricted venues. Palmieri's academic women adopted Rossiter's second approach, although certainly they were less sanguine than others, creating a world of special value within larger restrictions. In her first book, Rossiter argued that neither strategy had worked especially well, and that the predominant second approach — working within restricted opportunities — had provided some accomplishment, but "at the price of accepting a pattern of segregated employment and underrecognition, which, try as they might, most women could not escape."13

    In taking up the story at World War II in her second volume, Women Scientists in America: Before Affirmative Action, 1940–1972, Rossiter had several reasons to expect that women's movement into professional science would now have a more positive outcome: women's increased participation in a wartime work force, their vaunted value as "womanpower" in the Cold War technology race, and the huge monetary investments in science beginning in the Second World War and continuing to the present. Yet, when Rossiter ends her story with the advent of legislative protections in the 1970s, she offers a dim assessment of women's progress over those three decades: "The evidence indicates that the growth and affluence of the period [1940–1972] that could have made room for more and better-trained scientists of both sexes did not benefit the two equally. In fact," she finds, "it generally unleashed certain forces that hastened the women's exit and subsequent marginalization and underutilization, which could then be cited to justify denying further training for their successors" (p. xv).

    What happened to limit women's participation in these eras of economic boom and technological need? To answer this question, Rossiter marshals an astounding array of evidence to assess women's work, roles, productivity, and advances as American scientists. Not content to study only those women who held collegiate faculty posts, she also examines female scientists in government, industry, and self-employment, devoting strong chapters to each. She also wisely understands that an assessment of women's progress in academe may differ depending on when one takes the snapshot: women as entering graduate students, as completers of master's or doctoral degrees, as new faculty, or as senior professors. Again, Rossiter devotes chapters to women's progress in each of these arenas, generally finding that the further we look along a career path, the fewer women we will see in successful positions.

    Organizationally, the book examines academic women first and at greater length than women scientists in other fields — the middle seven of the book's sixteen chapters address women in some aspect of academe. Following these are chapters on women in corporate, nonprofit, and governmental settings, and then two fascinating chapters on women's development of their own prizes, clubs, and other professional means of self-recognition — an approach that Palmieri's Wellesley community would have understood and appreciated. Leading off the book are three strong chapters that set the stage for women's role as professional scientists during World War II and in the postwar era of "scientific womanpower."

    As Rossiter reviews the 1940s and 1950s, she sees some signs of progress: women scientists did advance in academic, industrial, and governmental roles during World War II, and they pursued science Ph.D.'s in record numbers in the 1950s. Rossiter suggests, however, that all of these gains were short-lived, unsustained by programs, fellowships, legislation, or other indices of real commitment on the part of industry and academic leaders. World War II, for example, did pull women into science jobs and professional training. However, since the conflict was always seen as a temporary employment situation, women could not consolidate the few gains they did make. They were placed on college faculties, but eased out as soon as men became available again. In other areas where women were recruited into men's jobs, they often received low- and entry-level posts, rarely directing projects or leading programs. Rossiter details, for example, how only a handful of women directed research or development efforts during the war, and how only about a dozen worked on the Manhattan Project, the war's most prestigious program (p. 5). Even expanded training for science jobs did not benefit women much more than men. Rossiter explains that, because of increased wartime recruitment of both sexes and some changes in the definition of "scientist," women's percentage on the government's National Roster of Scientific and Specialized Personnel changed only from 4.0 percent in 1941 to 4.1 percent in 1945 (p. 24). Thus, even though common perceptions suggested that women had benefited tremendously from wartime opportunities, they in fact did not overtake men's advances, and much of their own progress was either short-lived or low-level.

    The postwar "adjustment" period proved even worse for women, as male veterans flooded both the job market and college campuses. In a strong discussion filled with detailed examples, Rossiter shows how dozens of collegiate institutions imposed quotas on female students, preferring (patriotically and opportunistically) to hold their spaces for men. State universities, including Michigan and Wisconsin, declined applications from out-of-state women, and some women's colleges (e.g., Vassar and Hunter) opened their doors to male veterans. Quotas and restrictive policies were most stark at the graduate level. Harvard, for example, allowed male enrollments in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences to double in one year alone (1946 to 1947), while the women's graduate enrollment from Radcliffe was cut back from 400 to 300; Radcliffe's enrollment did not return to the previous level until 1957, despite the persistent call for trained "womanpower" in the 1950s (p. 33).

    In a section that helps inform our understanding of the development of women's campus roles, Rossiter details how women deans and other administrators were eased into lower-ranking posts (from dean of women to educational advisor for women students) while new, more specialized jobs were created for male applicants (dean of students). Senior women faculty, too, found themselves increasingly surrounded by young, male recruits; when faculty openings occurred, few institutions hired the women who had gained considerable experience during the war years. In fact, Rossiter describes how a woman-dominated "parafaculty" developed as "faculty wives" seized long-term research associate and other non-tenure-track jobs — the only posts open to them in a time when nepotism rules prohibited employment of both members of a married couple.

    These rules were strict and very unfriendly to women's professional advancement; when a couple working for the same institution married, the party "let go" was always the woman. Rossiter cites the flagrant case of Josephine Mitchell, a newly tenured mathematics professor at the University of Illinois, an experienced researcher who held a prestigious grant from the National Science Foundation. After she was tenured, Mitchell married an untenured colleague in her department, a man several years younger than she. The University quickly informed Mitchell that its anti-nepotism rules demanded that she not be reappointed, her recent tenure notwithstanding. Although Mitchell and her husband Lowell Schoenfeld fought the decision, becoming a protest example used by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), they eventually left Illinois to be hired jointly by Penn State University. That institution, unlike most others, Rossiter notes, used the postwar availability of trained women scientists to build strong scientific departments, frequently hiring academic couples and experienced female professors (pp. 125–126). The chapters that detail these situations constitute a strong base on which others can develop a literature to analyze and interpret the 1950s decade for its role in women's academic status.14

    Although her work does not focus solely on academic women, Rossiter makes an enormous contribution to the history of higher education by tracing women scientists' progress at research universities and at the women's and teachers' colleges that earlier had welcomed female academics. She observes the tendency among institutions during the growth years of the 1950s and 1960s to lean phototropically toward a research university model, wherein credentials, research, and scholarship superseded teaching and character-building skills as desired traits of the faculty. At the same time, sharp young men were valued more than experienced older women.

    Other historians of higher education, notably Jencks and Riesman and more recently Roger Geiger, have outlined this process by which research universities dominated the hierarchy of higher education from the 1950s onward.15 Rossiter accepts this now-dominant view, but expands it in a most welcome way by using three separate chapters to place the template of women scientists' experience on top of the unfolding process in three significant settings: home economics at coeducational institutions, teachers colleges, and women's colleges. In introducing these chapters, Rossiter cautions us against the threat of Whiggism in our history, chiding our tendency to "assume rather simplistically that what came later was a major improvement over what had gone before," by reminding us that "this view minimizes and understates the often heroic efforts by the early women who had very few resources" (p. 192). This "Whiggish" approach not only minimizes the contributions of early women, it also clarifies the lack of sustained progress by academic women generally. Rossiter's story outlines the ways in which experienced women were eased out of faculty roles at institutions that had formerly provided their only real professional opportunities; once these roles were closed, the next generations of female academics had even fewer avenues for professional development.

    In her fine chapter on home economics departments, for example, Rossiter explains that these areas supported "the most numerous and the highest-ranking women scientists" at the nation's strongest universities. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, however, these departments (sometimes even entire colleges) were progressively downgraded, as "several major programs were discontinued, removed, or dismembered in some way" (pp. 165, 166). Rossiter explains that these departments, usually headed by older women, became embarrassments on many campuses trying to upgrade their images with research-oriented, higher-paid male faculty. She attributes ageism and sexism (and perhaps, at times, homophobia) to the systematic devaluation of home economics professionals. Ironically, she notes, when the late 1960s brought fresh money from the War on Poverty into the areas of health, education, and welfare, newly restaffed (often male) departments could develop specialties in whole new areas and fields, such as "nutritional sciences."

    Rossiter's next chapter tells a similar story of "upgrading" women out of jobs at the teachers colleges, especially those following the growth pattern of normal schools becoming teachers colleges and then state universities. Had these institutions continued to hire women in the same proportions as they had earlier as normal schools, female academics would have held onto one secure place in the professional panoply. For instance, the National Education Association found in the mid-1950s that "the largest proportions of women faculty were at the poorest and least prestigious colleges and universities" (p. 187): women constituted 23.5 percent of faculty at teachers colleges, for example, while only 7.2 percent at private universities (Table 9.1, pp. 188–189). But the era's push was toward diminishing the old normal-school style in favor of a more scientific and university-oriented approach to teacher training. Aided by state funds, college presidents eagerly recruited male professors at higher salaries, pushing their schools into a wider range of fields beyond pedagogy and home economics. In a later survey, the U.S. Office of Education found that women's percentage as faculty at one group of teachers colleges dropped from 47 percent in 1947 to 33 percent in 1963; at junior colleges, the drop was from 48 percent to 28 percent (p. 190). Rossiter's particular contribution is to place this story into its wider context of academic progress for women.

    Rossiter's story of women's colleges' treatment of their female scientists also shows the complicated workings of the postwar decades. Over time the faculties became more male, and the era ended with late-1960s student challenges to the all-female nature of the campuses. One process working against female faculty in selected fields was parallel curricular decisions by both students and administrators. That is, as students voted with their feet, low enrollments at women's institutions closed many physics, earth sciences, and astronomy departments. Simultaneously, at some schools administrators made decisions not to invest in facilities-dependent programs like physics or geology. Nor were the research grants of the 1950s and 1960s always uniformly open to women's college researchers. Finally, these colleges followed the era's tendency to hire more men when new faculty posts opened, seeing this as upgrading the institution. "It became a truism," Rossiter notes, that higher salaries were necessary to lure good faculty from both industry and university posts; however, she also explains that competitive salaries became "a kind of code phrase for the mainstreaming and consequent masculinization of the women's college faculty" (p. 225).

    Yet the women's campuses were also sites of some of women academics' strongest advances in this era. Many such colleges permitted the hiring of married female faculty, expanding opportunities less available at other institutions. And some women's college presidents and alumnae became astute players in the philanthropic and grants arena, building strong relationships with foundations and funding programs and professorships through use of what Rossiter calls, as in her first book, "creative philanthropy" (see pp. 38–40).

    These last examples remind readers that women were not silent victims of the processes going on around them. As with her earlier volume, Rossiter cites many individuals and programs that challenged prevailing stereotypes — people like Josephine Mitchell, who fought against Illinois, or Mildred Mitchell, who in 1951 published a sharp critique of discrimination against women in psychology, opening herself to a harsh rebuttal by Harvard's Edward Boring (p. 44).

    Although Rossiter finds some examples of women leaders and women's organizations challenging discrimination, the sharpest part of her book ascribes part of the blame for the lack of overall progress to these groups' inability to formulate and sustain a critique of society's limited views of women. Some difficulty resulted from women's lack of a vocabulary to identify and name gender discrimination; decades of accepting the limits of the situation perhaps had made many women leaders cautious, even conservative. Other problems resulted from inconsistent reactions by some women's organizations. The AAUW, for example, led the way for women academics with its long-standing postdoctoral fellowship program and its occasional foray into reports challenging anti-women policies. Rossiter notes, however, that the association was fighting its own internal battle with discrimination, as its regional chapters fought over the exclusion of Black members (p. 40).16 Other times, women, even when organized, seemed to lack a strong strategy to combat unfavorable change. For example, Rossiter relates how, even when the female leaders of the American Home Economics Association finally banded together to seek their share of 1960s grant money, they relied too heavily on older political methods and skills, and thus found their proposal defeated by newer approaches and networks (pp. 174–176).

    Rossiter ends her book with a more hopeful chapter that highlights changes brought by the women's movement of the 1960s. By the end of that decade, legislation was in place to support women's equal pay and employment, and women scientists were assuming a role in challenging discriminatory practices. This chapter, however, is not the strongest in the book. After such a wide-ranging story of the previous two decades, its explication of the 1960s feels rushed and somewhat narrow, with its lens focusing mostly on organizations pertinent to women scientists. Perhaps one chapter cannot capture the large social and professional dislocations that began with the 1960s; perhaps, too, this concluding chapter can serve as a prelude by Rossiter (or others?) for a third volume, which would assess the post–affirmative action era.

    Rossiter's special strengths and contributions to women's history lie in her deep, careful investigation of individual women in a range of settings. Additionally, she makes a significant contribution by questioning and reexamining data used in earlier studies to assess — and sometimes denigrate — women scientists' progress. In several instances, notably her reanalysis of a 1952 study by Robert Knapp and H. B. Goodrich, she reviews both the raw data and the guiding inquiry that led various researchers to undercount, misrepresent, or misdiagnose the achievements of women scientists (pp. 213–214).17 Rossiter's work is most impressive in its careful, scientific approach to data that others have previously offered, analyzed, and packaged.

    If Palmieri is attempting to "recover" the stories of undervalued women academics, Rossiter is trying to reassess the value that previous historians have assigned to women. Both authors recognize that the dominant histories of higher education and of twentieth-century professionalization have long managed to avoid integrating women into the main narrative. Certainly it is less common now to find women's stories lumped into a solitary chapter, as Frederick Rudolph did in his 1962 history of the American college and university. However, there are still times when building an understanding of women's participation in some aspect of higher education requires piecing together the scattered arguments listed under "Women" in an author's index.

    As women's history has moved beyond the initial stage of providing "compensatory" work that fills in the gaps of the story, and past the next focus of celebrating women's separate culture in opposition to men's, it has called for works like Palmieri's and Rossiter's that integrate women into the overall historical narrative. Although both succeed, Palmieri's book, because of the limits of its subject, is the less innovative in its contribution. One can feel Palmieri pushing the boundaries of her women's institution, building connections to the larger worlds of academe and professionalism. Wisely, she steeps her work in secondary sources, successfully tying those works to her own story and building a larger case around her Wellesley women. Rossiter takes the whole panoply of women's scientific work as her study, but in doing so she offers more than a look at just the women. She explicates the various settings for doing science in the United States, from the confines of women's colleges to the expanses of research universities and government agencies. She might have aided readers more with a concluding chapter that summarizes these various settings, laying out a reintegrated narrative, but she provides us the data to do so with her strong focus on primary material and reinterpretations.

    These two authors, then, differ in their choice of settings, approaches, and goals. Palmieri more frequently turns to psychology for her explanations; Rossiter prefers relating facts to social forces. Palmieri consciously blends secondary sources with her case study; Rossiter is building first explanations from her primary and reconfigured data. With their different strengths, these historians substantially advance our understanding of professionalization, especially by showing how higher education was rarely the steady mechanism for women's advancement that it was for men's. In doing so, they convincingly demonstrate that historians of higher education must expand their sights to many settings beyond the research university territory if the whole story of academic professionalization is to be told.

    University of Massachusetts, Boston


    1 For authors who specifically discuss women's experience in higher education, see Thomas Woody, A History of Women's Education in the United States, 2 vols. (New York: Science Press, 1929); Mabel Newcomer, A Century of Higher Education for American Women (New York: Harper, 1959); Jessie Bernard, Academic Women (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1964); Helen Astin, The Woman Doctorate in America (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1969); Roberta Frankfort, Collegiate Women: Domesticity and Career in Turn-of-the-Century America (New York: New York University Press, 1977); and Barbara Miller Solomon, In the Company of Educated Women: A History of Women and Higher Education in America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985). For histories of higher education that treat women only in passing, see Frederick Rudolph, The American College and University: A History (New York: Knopf, 1962); Laurence Veysey, The Emergence of the American University (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965); and Roger Geiger, To Advance Knowledge: The Growth of American Research Universities (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986) and Research and Relevant Knowledge: American Research Universities Since World War II (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).

    2 Christopher Jencks and David Riesman, The Academic Revolution (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1968); see especially Chapter 1. Their notion of the academic procession has been quite influential, and is ubiquitous in institutional histories.

    3 Burton J. Bledstein, The Culture of Professionalism: The Middle Class and the Development of Higher Education in America (New York: Norton, 1976).

    4 Barbara Miller Solomon and Lynn Gordon, in particular, demonstrated how women staked a claim in mainstream collegiate life, detailing their movement into coeducational institutions; Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz assessed the parallel growth of the women's colleges. Solomon, In the Company of Educated Women; Lynn D. Gordon, Gender and Higher Education in the Progressive Era (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990); Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, Alma Mater: Design and Experience in the Women's Colleges from Their Nineteenth-Century Beginnings to the 1930s (New York: Knopf, 1984). Before publication of her book, Palmieri's dissertation has also been frequently cited for its story of Wellesley; see "In Adamless Eden: A Social Portrait of the Academic Community at Wellesley College, 1875–1920," Diss., Harvard Graduate School of Education, 1981.

    5 On women's employment in the land-grants, see Susan B. Carter, "Academic Women Revisited: An Empirical Study of Changing Patterns in Women's Employment as College and University Faculty, 1890–1963," Journal of Social History, 14, No. 4 (1981), 675–699; and Maresi Nerad, "`Home Economics Has to Move': The Disappearance of the Department of Home Economics from the University of California, Berkeley," Diss., University of California, Berkeley, 1986. On women in coeducational institutions, see Geraldine Joncich Clifford, ed., Lone Voyagers: Academic Women in Coeducational Universities (New York: Feminist Press, 1989). On women and the normal schools, see Christine A. Ogren, "When Coeds Were Coeducated: Normal Schools in Wisconsin, 1870–1920," History of Education Quarterly, 35, No. 1 (1995), 1–26; and Laura Docter Thornburg, "Between the Common School and the College: Michigan State Normal School, 1849–1899," Paper presented at the History of Education Society, Minneapolis, MN, October 1995. Other histories of the normal schools have been less focused on their roles as women's institutions; see, e.g., Jurgen Herbst, And Sadly Teach: Teacher Education and Professionalization in American Culture (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989); John I. Goodlad, Kenneth Sirotnik, and Roger Soder, eds., Places Where Teachers Are Taught (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1990). On the Catholic colleges, see Mary J. Oates, Higher Education for Catholic Women: An Historical Anthology (New York: Garland, 1987).

    6 On teachers as professionals, see Wayne Urban, Why Teachers Organized (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1982); Donald Warren, ed., American Teachers: Histories of a Profession at Work (New York: Macmillan, 1989); and Richard Altenbaugh, The Teacher's Voice: A Social History of Teaching in Twentieth-Century America (New York: Falmer Press, 1992). On a growing body of literature challenging Bledstein's paradigm of professionalism, see, as examples, Mary Ann Dzuback, "Professionalism, Higher Education, and American Culture: Burton J. Bledstein's The Culture of Professionalism," History of Education Quarterly, 33, No. 3 (1993), 375–385; Regina Markell Morantz-Sanchez, Sympathy and Science: Women Physicians in American Medicine (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985); Ellen Fitzpatrick, Endless Crusade: Women Social Scientists and Progressive Reform (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990); Darlene Clark Hine, Black Women in White: Racial Conflict and Cooperation in the Nursing Profession, 1890–1950 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989); Susan Reverby, Ordered to Care: The Dilemma of American Nursing, 1850–1945 (Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1987); Polly Welts Kaufman, National Parks and the Women's Voice: A History (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996); Rosalind Rosenberg, Beyond Separate Spheres: Intellectual Roots of Modern Feminism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982); and Penina Migdal Glazer and Miriam Slater, Unequal Colleagues: The Entrance of Women into the Professions, 1890–1940 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1987).

    7 Palmieri's book covers the period from Wellesley's founding in 1875 through the 1920s. The fifty-three women she studies in depth constitute the faculty of the college between 1900 and 1910.

    8 Jane Addams, Twenty Years at Hull House (New York: Macmillan, 1910).

    9 Helen Ekin Starrett, After College, What? For Girls (New York: Crowell, 1896). The pamphlet and the wider issues raised for college graduates are discussed in Joyce Antler, "`After College, What?': New Graduates and the Family Claim," American Quarterly, 32, (Fall 1980), 409–434.

    10 See, for example, Horowitz, Alma Mater, and Polly Welts Kaufman, ed., The Search for Equity: Women at Brown University, 1891–1991 (Hanover, NH: Brown University Press, 1991).

    11 Margaret Rossiter, Women Scientists in America: Struggles and Strategies to 1940 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982).

    12 Rossiter, Women Scientists: to 1940, esp. chapter one. Palmieri agrees generally with Rossiter's conclusion about the moderate productivity of Wellesley's research scientists, but goes on to suggest that "discrimination and despair are only part of the Wellesley story. Often a missionarylike devotion to social reform precluded a full-time commitment to scholarship." She uses this point to begin a discussion of the social reformist tendencies of the Wellesley faculty (pp. 119–120). More than Palmieri, Rossiter laments the decision, even if not a conscious one, to let teaching duties overwhelm research expectations at the women's colleges.

    13 Women Scientists: to 1940, p. xviii.

    14 Little analytical work exists on women's academic roles in the 1950s and 1960s. See, for example, Linda Eisenmann, "Befuddling the `Feminine Mystique': Academic Women and the Creation of the Radcliffe Institute, 1950–1965," Educational Foundations, 10, No. 3 (Summer 1996), 5–26.

    15 Jencks and Riesman, The Academic Revolution; Geiger, To Advance Knowledge and Research and Relevant Knowledge.

    16 For a fuller discussion of this issue, see Susan Levine, Degrees of Equality: The American Association of University Women and the Challenge of Twentieth Century Feminism (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995).

    17 The Knapp and Goodrich study, which analyzes the undergraduate institutions that trained important American scientists and that was used as the baseline for subsequent work, is reported in Origins of American Scientists (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952).
  2. Share

    Winter 1996 Issue


    The Colonizer/Colonized Chicana Ethnographer
    Identity, Marginalization, and Co-optation in the Field
    By Sofia Villenas
    "To Take Them at Their Word"
    Language Data in the Study of Teachers' Knowledge
    By Donald Freeman
    Inclusion, School Restructuring, and the Remaking of American Society
    By Dorothy Kerzner Lipsky and Alan Gartner
    Sustained Inquiry in Education
    Lessons from Skill Grouping and Class Size
    By Frederick Mosteller, Richard J. Light and Jason A. Sachs

    Book Notes

    Saving Our Sons
    By Marita Golden

    This Is How We Live and Tapori

    Wasting America's Future: The Children's Defense Fund Report on the Cost of Child Poverty
    By Arloc Sherman; Introduction by Marian Wright Edelman; Foreword by Robert M. Solow

    Blacked Out
    By Signithia Fordham

    Works about John Dewey 1886–1995
    Edited by Barbara Levine

    By Matthew Lipman

    Diversity in Higher Education
    By Caryn McTighe Musil, with Mildred Garcia, Yolanda Moses, and Daryl G. Smith

    Handbook of Qualitative Research
    Edited by Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln.

    Commissions, Reports, Reforms, and Educational Policy
    Edited by Rick Ginsberg and David N. Plank.

    The Multilevel Design
    By Harry J. M. Huttner and Pieter van den Eeden.

    Search and Seizure in the Public Schools (Second Edition)
    By Lawrence F. Rossow and Jacqueline A. Stefkovich

    Call 1-800-513-0763 to order this issue.