Harvard Educational Review
  1. Winter 1997 Issue »


    The History of Women in Education

    Christine A. Woyshner, Bonnie Hao Kuo Tai
    The nineteenth century saw major advances in educational opportunities for women and girls, from the common school movement in the early part of the century to multiple opportunities in higher education at the century's close. In the 1800s, women began to play central roles in education - as teachers and as learners, in formal and informal education settings, on the frontier and in the cities. What did these advances mean for the education of women and girls in the twentieth century?

    This Symposium looks at developments in the education of women and girls over the course of the twentieth century, including research currently being conducted by and about women who historically have been excluded from mainstream academic discourse.

    Our aim in presenting this Symposium is to showcase some of the provocative work being done in the area of the history of women in education. We selected works that we believe push the existing paradigm of historical research, including several articles that reflect the multiplicity of discourses being used in historical inquiry into women in education. Each article in this collection contributes to understanding women's lives in education through traditional and alternative historical analyses. Often the stories of women, marginalized in research and practice in general and in historical research in particular, make use of other disciplinary tools, such as economic, political, and anthropological methods of inquiry, to address the challenges of a paucity of written records and a history of exoticization of non--Western cultures. We hope this Symposium will play a role in furthering such scholarship and will encourage others to pursue research that takes existing scholarship into new territory.

    We encouraged our authors to consider one of the following questions: What have been developments in the history of women in education? How has research in this area grown and/or changed? What were the educational experiences of marginalized women, such as linguistic, cultural, racial, and/or ethnic minorities? How have women taught and learned despite tremendous odds and oppression? We encouraged authors to address or incorporate nontraditional historiography, such as oral history. We sought out international pieces to move us toward understanding women's educational experiences in settings beyond our country's borders.

    Our open interpretation of historical research for this issue allowed our authors to challenge the existing paradigms of historical research, to suggest other ways to study women in education, and to bring research by and about women of marginalized groups into this issue. The result includes work by both emerging and more established scholars, in traditional and nontraditional methodologies, on women in the United States and beyond.

    We open this issue with Kathleen Weiler's "Reflections on Writing a History of Women Teachers." Weiler presents an overview of some current issues in feminist historiography, contemplating the importance of an awareness of the nature of knowledge, subjectivity in historical evidence, and the role that language plays in the social construction of gender. Through a reanalysis of data from her book Country Schoolwomen, Weiler offers a succinct synthesis of key issues in feminist historiography and a thoughtful examination of historical documents.

    Asgedet Stefanos's "Women and Education in Eritrea: A Historical and Contemporary Analysis" offers a view of the diverse ways in which women attained formal and informal education before, during, and after the recent revolution that resulted in an independent Eritrea. Through the voices of Eritrean women interviewed by Stefanos in the course of her research, she describes Eritrea's transition from a premodern to an industrialized economy, as well as the accompanying changes in women's roles in that society. Stefanos relates how sexist practices of colonialists and missionaries sometimes inadvertently provided educational opportunities for women, while the Marxist revolutionary agenda that embraced women's issues in its effort to gain support for an independent nation created roles for women in the public sphere. This tended to create new problems for women who, following the revolution, attempted to assert their independence and autonomy in a post--revolutionary context in which efforts to improve women's status weakened.

    Linda Eisenmann synthesizes the research on women in the history of higher education in "Reconsidering a Classic: Assessing the History of Women's Higher Education a Dozen Years after Barbara Solomon." Eisenmann looks into how Solomon's comprehensive history, In the Company of Educated Women, both expanded and constrained historical research on women in higher education She explains that Solomon's text was unique in that she was the first scholar to attempt to be inclusive of women of color, immigrant women, and women of lower socioeconomic classes. Using Solomon's text as a springboard, Eisenmann considers the latest research done in the field of the history of higher education, as well as new directions this research could take, such as expanding the range of institutions and populations studied.

    Linda Perkins's article, "The African American Female Elite: The Early History of African American Women in the Seven Sister Colleges, 1880-1960," represents just such an expansion of the field. Perkins reveals the painful experiences of young Black women who persevered despite their ostracism and marginalization within these elite institutions. She exposes the way the Seven Sister colleges reflected society's attitudes toward Black women by continuing racism and oppression on their campuses. Her study also demonstrates, however, that despite the racist climate on these campuses, the African American women who attended were highly successful. Most of the women Perkins interviewed valued the opportunity to attain a degree at such an institution and the connections and status it brought.

    In "The Hidden Half: A History of Native American Women's Education," Deirdre Almeida argues that Native American women have historically resisted educational policies that sought to assimilate them, using their education to advocate for indigenous rights and the power to tell their own stories. Almeida describes the Native American culture's long tradition of female leadership, and how their strength has helped generations of women survive the off--reservation boarding schools, outing system, and public education to reaffirm Native American experience, values, and knowledge.

    In "Conflicted Progress: Coeducation and Gender Equity in Twentieth--Century French School Reforms," Marilyn Mavrinac analyzes the advances made in girls' education in France during two reform movements in the twentieth century. In addition, she touches on the status of women in teaching and school administrative positions during these two waves of reform. These two waves, one from 1920 to 1930 and the other from 1960 to 1980, both aimed to upset the nation's focus on educating a select White male elite. Mavrinac notes the irony that gender equity was often a byproduct of school reform, rather than a component of any reform movement. She suggests that the patriarchal structure of the French republic is largely to blame for the slow and conflicted progress made by women in education.

    By publishing this Symposium, we hope to highlight the potential of such research to inform feminist pedagogy and educational policy now and in the future. While this collection highlights an array of women's educational experiences, the lives of women in the history of education leave much to be researched about the ways that diverse groups of women during different time periods have taught, learned, written, and led. We commend the authors in our Symposium for their contributions to the field of the history of education. We thank Sally Schwager and Eileen de los Reyes for contributing a Foreword and an Afterword. We also wish to gratefully acknowledge the contributions of the Harvard Educational Review Editorial Board, in particular Mildred Carstensen, Holly Gelfond, José Antonio Segarra, and John Yun, who served on the Symposium committee with us.

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  2. Winter 1997 Issue


    The History of Women in Education
    Christine A. Woyshner, Bonnie Hao Kuo Tai
    Reflections on Writing a History of Women Teachers
    Kathleen Weiler
    Women and Education in Eritrea
    A Historical and Contemporary Analysis
    Asgedet Stefanos
    Reconsidering a Classic
    Assessing the History of Women's Higher Education a Dozen Years after Barbara Solomon
    Linda Eisenmann
    The African American Female Elite
    The Early History of African American Women in the Seven Sister Colleges, 1880-1960
    Linda M. Perkins
    The Hidden Half
    A History of Native American Women's Education
    Deirdre A. Almeida
    Conflicted Progress
    Coeducation and Gender Equityin Twentieth-Century French School Reforms
    Marilyn Mavrinac
    The Road to College
    Hmong American Women's Pursuit of Higher Education
    Stacey J. Lee

    Book Notes

    We Can't Eat Prestige
    By John Hoerr

    The Seed Is Mine
    By Charles van Onselen

    The Essential Piaget
    Edited by Howard E. Gruber and J. Jacques Vonëche

    Journey With Children
    By Frances P. Lothrop Hawkins

    Guided Reading
    By Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell

    One Child, Two Languages
    By Patton O. Tabors

    Taking Note
    By Brenda Miller Power

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