Women in Education Research Paper

Pages: 9 (2563 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 10  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Sports - Women

Women in Education

Educational opportunities for men and women are now equal under the law, but that was not always the case. American women made slow progress during the nineteenth century in securing their rights to expand their intellectual horizons beyond the roles of wives and mothers to which society held them. The struggles of women to be seen as equals paralleled the struggles of blacks. Some people active in the abolitionist movement were also active in the women's movement. Society changed slowly and women's roles began to evolve, especially after winning the right to vote in 1920. Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, women still held traditional roles in the United States, but change continued as colleges and universities began admitting women. Women were finally getting access, in large numbers, to the kinds of programs in business, medicine, law, politics and other once-male bastions, that would prepare them for better career opportunities, to a great extent on a par with men. Although there are still gaps along gender lines, women can celebrate the tremendous progress they have made in education.


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As higher education in America has evolved over the past two centuries, the role of women has become increasingly prominent. With greater access to education, including access to fields that were traditionally limited to men, women have been able to assume more important roles in virtually every avenue of life, including business, medicine, law, politics and administration. As women have become more educated during the last two hundred years, they have collectively earned a greater sense of self-worth and the power to make their mark on history. The purpose of this paper is to look at the changes in American society and the ways these changes created, and in some cases necessitated, new educational opportunities for women.

Women's Opportunities in Education and the Workplace: A Brief History

Research Paper on Women in Education Assignment

Throughout the history of western civilization, women were usually considered subordinate to men. They were often treated as chattel and had few rights. Women born into wealth or nobility often found themselves in arranged marriages, engineered by men to build dynasties for land, money and power. Women themselves could own nothing; money and property belonged to their fathers, then their husbands. Women could not choose to leave marriages, even in cases of abuse. With few exceptions, their lives were narrowly defined as wives and mothers. Women were considered too delicate for many of the pursuits, both intellectual and physical, that were enjoyed by men.

Oberlin College, founded in 1833, was the first college to allow attendance of women and blacks. It was the beginning of change in the United States with respect to opportunities for women in higher education. Stubblefield & Keene (1994, p. 117) echoed the sentiments of many women, writing "The denial of recognition for some women was unacceptable." In 1847, the Voice of Industry urged:

Give us an opportunity, time and means to cultivate our minds. Treat us as equals and we will show you that we are not naturally more peevish, more fretful and idiotic than the other sex. In short, restore us to our rights, and we will prove ourselves intelligent, virtuous, and reasonable beings (Foner, 1977, p. 313).

That same year, Lucy Stone, feminist and abolitionist, worked her way through Oberlin and earned an a.B. degree. She was a wife and mother who kept her own name, which was a rarely practiced custom in 1847 (Solomon, 1985, p. 114.5). She began her career as a lecturer and journalist, passing away in 1893. During her lifetime, she led the movement for women in New England.

In 1848, a year after Lucy Stone's graduation, the Declaration of the Seneca Falls (NY) Convention demanded the rights of women to be treated equally in society. The so-called "Declaration of Sentiments" was modeled on the Declaration of Independence and signed by sixty-eight women and thirty-two men (Halsall, 1997). The event had been organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, two abolitionists who had been denied the right to speak at a world anti-slavery conference. They saw their struggles as women were akin to the struggles of blacks to be accepted as equals of white men. Schneir (1972, p. 77) called the Delcaration "the single most important document of the nineteenth century women's movement," adding "It laid the foundation for future achievements even though suffrage was not achieved until 1920."

In 1884, another Oberlin graduate received her degree. Anna Julia Haywood Cooper, an educator, was the author of a Voice from the South (1892). She played a part in history, like Stanton and Mott, by linking the equality of women with the advancement of black people. She was committed and passionate on the subject of education as" a vehicle to social, economic, and political freedom" (Johnson, 2009).

Despite these gains, education still fell under the realm of that for which women were considered unsuitable. That is why we know the names of Lucy Stone, Anna Cooper and a handful of others; their achievements were considered quite remarkable for the times. "Education for women was thought to make women discontented with their current status, and possibly even irritated with men" (McClelland, 1992, p. 12). Others worried that a woman "might risk brain fever or sterility if she were allowed to become educated (Delmont, 1996, p. 109). "The Yellow Wallpaper," a famous American short story written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman at the end of the nineteenth century, tells the tale of a young doctor's wife who goes mad from the frustration of being denied the opportunity to write. Her creativity is stifled by her husband, and also by society. They expect that she fulfill her role as wife and mother and forgo foolish pursuits.

Education was deemed unnecessary for women. Solomon (1985, p. xviii) noted that the earliest push for women to become educated was due to the fact that they were mothers of men. Men would need to be literate. Solomon further observed "It was not until the twentieth century that women began to desire knowledge for themselves as individuals."

Life in the first half of the twentieth century saw some changes for women, but their status was far from equal to that enjoyed by men. Men with stay-at-home wives often made all the financial decisions, sometimes with devastating results. "Budget and medical records reveal that many families of the past had two standards of living, with male household heads spending money on beer and recreation while women and children went without needed food and medical care (Coontz, 2001. There were no laws governing child support in the United States until the 1920s, and even by the 1950s, enforcement was sporadic. Women whose husbands left them often had little recourse. Women who were widowed often fared little better economically, although society accorded them a higher status than a woman who was divorced.

"The stay-at-home mother's role began to give way in the 1950s and 1960s, as observed in the steadily increasing fractions of mothers with preschoolers making at least part-time forays into the workforce," (Edwards, 2000). This was not the first time that women went to work, however. The textile mills of the nineteenth century employed women, most of whom were not really women at all but young girls. Mill work was hardly a career, but a temporary step into the work place as a way for girls to escape rural poverty and earn some money before marriage. "Most [girls] were between 15 and 25, signing on for short stints that rarely exceeded a year at a time. Overall, they averaged about three years of employment before leaving the mills for marriage, migration to the west, other employment, or return to their hometowns (Lowell National Historical Park -- Women's History in Lowell, n.d.). Later, the iconic image of "Rosie the Riveter" symbolized the many women who worked in factories during World War II. When the men came home after peace was restored, they reclaimed their positions as breadwinners and women returned to their roles as housewives.

The 1950s, then, were not the first years for women in the workforce. There were jobs for women, but they had not enjoyed a wide variety of opportunities. In addition to factory work, women held jobs as secretaries, teachers, or nurses. With few exceptions, women did not join the ranks of professions such as law, medicine, and business.

In the 1950s, stay-at-home moms started going back to work and it is easy to make the leap in thinking that women began going into the workforce in greater numbers as opportunities increased, men's salaries stagnated, and society found working mothers more acceptable. Although one cannot argue against these factors, Edwards (2001) asserted that home ownership was a huge factor. Because of the employment opportunities available to them, most women did not go to work because they were bored or unfulfilled at home. The decision was driven by economics, and what increased income could do for the family.

Evanson (1988) reported that as women returned to the… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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