A brief history of women’s access to higher education — Margaret Levi at The Interval (02017)

October 4, 2019 0 By Ronny Jaskolski


The next step forward is really with
liberal arts and graduate education which are 19th century creations largely. There’s greater inclusion. There’s breadth. But also specialization. This is the era of the classic education. Where every young man of a certain class had to learn Greek and Latin, but also natural science and philosophy. But they were still very exclusive institutions
in terms of gender, race, class. So this is Rosa Luxemburg, one of my great heroines. How many of you have ever heard of Rosa Luxemburg? My students have heard of her. One of whom is here. Rosa Luxemburg was a very important
political economist, in the early part of the 20th century
…the last part of the 19th. Her death was by drowning. She was murdered by the Germans at the end of
World War I because of her social beliefs. She was a social democrat, she was a socialist, she was a communist. She fought with Lenin; had a different view of organizing. She was a very ambitious woman who wanted to go to graduate school. And she found… in this wonderful graphic novel called “Red Rosa” this is the image from that. She found that there was a graduate school that accepted women. The University of Zurich. And so she went to the University of Zurich and graduated from there with a PhD in 01887. Just to give you a sense… that it wasn’t that long ago. How hard it was for women to get an education. Another heroine of mine is Gertrude Stein who went to Radcliffe. Studied with William James. So she learned psychology and philosophy. Then went to John Hopkins Medical Schoo because it was one of the only places a woman could go on and get a degree. She was bored there. And left to go to Paris to become the Gertrude Stein we know. Using some of the things she learned from William James in the process of writing her poetry. My own experience in getting an education involved a place called Western High School in Baltimore. It was the first public high school that women could attend. I was not in the first class. That was in 01844. Walt Whitman gave the convocation speech. But it still exists. And it’s got this very long history. It was created as a place where women could go… There was an Eastern and a Western because women couldn’t travel very far from where they lived. And it really prepared women to be teachers. Not University teachers, but teachers of young children. And it grew from that. So it became one of the famous places for college preparatory work. A public high school, right? Others followed suit. I then chose to go to Bryn Mawr College. Which had a similar history, but for universities. Founded in 01855— again I was not in the first class. Though I am getting close to feeling like I was. And it was a place that was the first college for women that did two things. One it followed the Harvard model in terms of standards. So it was the highest standard of any place that women could go. And the second thing it did was provide the first graduate program at a women’s college. So it was one of the first and only places that women could get a college–both a college education of a very high quality and a graduate education. That’s what formed me. So you can see why I care about these issues of exclusion. This is James Meredith at Ole Miss (in 01962). Just to remind you about how recently our universities were exclusive. This is not that long ago. This is the 01960s. Now there were exceptions. Harvard was founded as an Indian College. A Native American college. There were the historically black colleges
that got formed. But nonetheless until very very recently colleges and universities in the United States, as well as elsewhere, were extremely exclusive. They’ve really opened up in the post World War II era. More than any other time.