The History of Women’s Right to Get Higher Education in America

Women and Education

Higher education has a great value nowadays. The situation is so because we live in the age of digital technologies. Therefore, it is important to have highly-qualified professionals. Certainly, every young person in Europe and the United States seeks the opportunity to get the university degree in a particular specialty. On the other hand, getting a degree is a difficult task for the majority of students: they have to write too many research papers, and combine study with work somehow. Moreover, it is important not to forget about personal life and romantic relationships. Eventually, the majority of students live under the constant pressure because they must be present in several different places at the same time literally.

Nowadays it is normal for us that modern men and women are equal in their rights to obtain higher education, but such a situation was not always natural, and it is largely an achievement of the Women’s Liberation Movement. Although feminists of the twentieth century won a lot for women’s rights, including the right to study at the university, the situation has changed a little due to some objective factors. For instance, the physical ability to have a baby and the power of many social stereotypes concerning family and the female function in its development. Therefore, modern people’s opinion is that women are more responsible for the family and should devote more time to it, even if they have rights to get higher education, work, and build a career. However, the United States of America is one of the most highly developed countries in terms of getting a higher education by women. Nowadays sexual and law equality between men and women is admitted in many countries all over the world, but this was not always the case. Therefore, it might be interesting to learn the history of female education development in the United States.

The History of Female Education in the USA 

It may seem surprising but the idea of female education was invented in Islamic countries. For example, the most ancient educational institution in the world – the University of Al Karaouine in Moroccan city Fes – was founded by Fatima Al-Fihri in the middle of the ninth century. Certainly, its doors were opened for women, too. Moreover, it is considered one of the first existing, continually working, and the first degree-awarding educational establishments in the world by such organizations as UNESCO and Guinness World Records. Therefore, it is not unusual that women played a significant role in the sphere of education.

So, what about the United States of America? The story of female learning in this country has the same trends as in European states, especially in England. For example, it was admitted that both girls and boys must be able to read, write, and count. Therefore, elementary education was obligatory for everybody regardless the sex. It was supposed that reading is necessary for the ability to read and understand the Scriptures. Certainly, the opportunity to be educated depended not only on the sex but also on such factors as prosperity of a particular family, and the race. Consequently, rich families always got more possibilities.

Little boys and girls attended so-called “dame” schools. These schools had such a name because all of them were organized in the following way: a local woman, usually old enough (a dame), led the group consisting of several boys and girls. This model was borrowed from England of those times. However, there were some differences in curriculum between boys and girls. Of course, all kids who attended the dame schools were taught reading, writing, and arithmetic, but girls were also taught to some household skills like sewing and knitting.

Further on, girls stayed at home while boys were able to continue their education at the next stage – in town schools. Town educational establishments were only for boys because the social opinion held that a woman should only be able to read (to learn the Bible, for example) and to count some household expenses. As a result, a small number of well-educated women (usually from rich families) were treated with hostility because it was very unusual for that society.

These social trends began changing after the Revolutionary War in 1775 – 1783. The War for Independence meant a new life for the new country; thus, it needed new thinking and an innovative approach to different social questions. That is why it is not surprising that people’s opinion concerning female study changed. Although a woman still could not be smarter and more educated than a man, the necessity of female education was accepted because girls were considered the basis of the future independent American society.

One of the key events of that time was the opening of The Young Ladies Academy in 1787. Nevertheless, all teachers were men, but the very school was for girls only. The subjects were reading, writing, arithmetic, and geography. Afterwards, this academy became the prototype for other establishments of secondary education, which flourished in the nineteenth century. These establishments were also called “Academies” in honor of The Young Ladies Academy. However, the dawn of female educational establishment faced another problem – the lack of teachers. Most teachers were men because society had a great reluctance to the idea that women could work somewhere outside their houses. Fortunately, the crisis was overcome with the help of women who were agreed to work in academies for small wages. In fact, women as schoolteachers earned 1/3 of what male teachers had.

The middle of the nineteenth century was pointed out with another event as well – the foundation of public school system in the majority of states. Another advantage of this innovation was that such schools were coeducational. In other words, these establishments combined the primary and the secondary schools. Meanwhile, some private female schools turned into colleges at that time. One of colleges to admit women was Oberlin founded in 1833 in Oberlin, Ohio. It is interesting that Oberlin was opened for African Americans as well. However, the curriculum of this learning institution was very restricted, and such education could not compete with male college education. All in all, the educational system of the United States grew very fast, and soon the first female college with the curriculum comparable with men’s colleges was opened. It was Vassar college, founded in 1861. Though the curriculum was good and could compete with the same in men’s colleges, the main disadvantage was too high tuition rates, which made education in its walls available only for women from the richest American families.

The problem of female higher education was also acute because there was an opinion that it is not necessary for a woman to go to the university. Consequently, while men obtained their degrees in such places as Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Clark, Stanford and other universities, women didn’t have this right. For example, the Radcliff college, one of female educational establishments, which was called “Harvard Annex” as well, gave its students the ability to get degrees at the Harvard University only in 1963. Certainly, a great role in this process was played by the first-wave feminists at the beginning of the twentieth century. They strived for women’s rights in different spheres: work, family, politics, economics, and education.

Feminism, as one of political movements, is widespread in different countries all over the world. It has a wide range of achievements now used by women of modern society every day, and the right to go to the university and obtain a degree in different sciences is one of them.


Modern Opportunities to Obtain Higher Education

Certainly, the opportunity to get higher education was received by women with great difficulty because even in the 50s of the twentieth century, the traditional model of a perfect American family seeing a man as a breadwinner and a woman as only a housewife was very common. However, nowadays the United States of America keeps pace with the time and gender equality is present in all spheres of modern life, including education. Moreover, the modern educational system has different variants of education, which are comfortable for everybody. If a woman has work or a baby, and it is necessary to combine all these duties with the learning process, the problem can be solved with the help of an extramural form of study, which gives better mobility to all students regardless sex, age, and other factors. This form of study also includes distance learning when a student has the opportunity to get his/her degree at a particular university anywhere in the world with the help of modern online technologies.

Thus, modern women are free in their rights: they can choose each profession at each university, and participate in learning process in the way most comfortable for them. Certainly, this achievement was worth fighting for because it was the key to the new way of life. Moreover, the United States is an active participant of the Bologna Process. Therefore, the entire process of study is adjusted to two types of people: those who need only basic knowledge and those who want to go further. If a student wants to learn the basis of this or that profession, four years are enough to get necessary knowledge and the Bachelor degree diploma. Furthermore, if a student wants to continue his/her academic research in a particular sphere, he/she can easily do it during the next two years, and obtain a Master’s degree as well. Such a system is comfortable for everybody, including women. However, if a woman has a baby and combine study with child care, the lack of time can become a commonplace. Special academic writing services will help mothers to avoid such a situation, and to cope with different problems very well.