As Dubois & Dumenil write in their book Through Women’s Eyes: An American History with Documents, the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries was the time when women started to play a leading role within the public landscape. They became ambitious, organized, and widely mobilized in various organizations and policial movements (Dubois & Dumenil, 2012, p. 407). As the industrial capitalism was on the rise and as new technological developments entered the life of the American society, the demand for women labor grew and made women a considerable force within the pool of laborers (Dubois & Dumenil, 2012, p.294). THESIS STAETEMENT: Even though women faced various challenges in attending universities and colleges, they were able to use the educational opportunities offered by women’s colleges and, later, by public universities and other co-educational institutions, and were able to become less dependent on men.
To begin with, the purpose of women’s colleges was to provide higher education opportunities for women. It was very important at the time when most college doors were closed to them and at the time when changes in social life presented women with opportunities of making a career outside homes (Dilley, 2016).
Still, women encountered certain challenges in attending universities and colleges. When attending higher educational institutions, women had to face the opposition from some groups within the society. For example, the clergy would criticize women for going to colleges because they saw it as a threat to traditional family values and a temptation for women to abandon their roles as mothers and wives (Mendus & Rendall, 2002). Also, males opposed co-education and women’s involvement in medical profession. Edward Clarke, for example, argued against co-education because he said it would have an adverse effect on women’s reproductive capacity.
Others asserted that women, due to their “menstrual disability,” should not be exposed to mental stimulus required for pursuing a medical profession. In particular, Henry Maudsley’s 1874 book Sex in Mind and Education said that women would damage their health if they follow the study regimes that were similar to men’s (Mendus & Rendall, 2002). Another challenge for women at women’s colleges was to get education equal in content and quality to that of men. Taking into account the fact that women did not have the same opportunities in the society at the time, women fought for being recognized as having equal intellect and deserving equal education (Dilley, 2016). Black women had to face segregation and had fewer college opportunities (Dubois & Dumenil, 2012).
With regard to educational opportunities, many women’s colleges emerged as a response to the new demands of the labor market in the 1870s and as a result of dramatic societal changes. On the one hand, the demand for women nurses, teachers, and social workers was on the rise, which encouraged more and more women to enter colleges and take traditionally female courses. On the other hand, the overall expansion of higher education triggered the increase in female enrollments. Specifically, it is known that by the late 1800s higher educational institutions had multiplied following the states’ move to establishing public universities. That became possible as a result of federal funds availability after the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890. Consequently, women were encouraged to admit to colleges. To illustrate, between 1890 and 1910, the number of American women attending universities and colleges swelled from 56,000 to 140,000. Of that number, 106,000 were enrolled in co-educational institutions, such as state universities, while others attended women’s colleges, such as Barnard and Wellesley. Fewer women attended separate women’s medical schools, such as the Women’s Medical College of Chicago and the Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia (Kamensky et al., 2018).
College education opportunities greatly affected women’s personal lives. They, for example, were able to remain single if they did not want to marry, because they could provide for themselves. Also, they acquired more rights in social life and, with time, in family life.
Similarly to the women of that time, I see pursuing a college degree as a significant experience because it will open the doors to my financial stability and independence. For example, I will get a better job and will be able to provide for my family. Secondly, college education is empowering. For example, it will equip me with necessary skills and knowledge to initiate changes in my community, just like the women did at the start of the 20th century.
In conclusion, women of the late 19th and early 20th century used to the fullest the opportunities offered by universities and colleges. Owing to this, they were able to become less dependent on men and more important in the society.