Margaret Smith Cracco, O.L. Davis, eds. "Bending the Future to their Will": Civic Women, Social Education,and Democracy. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1999. 304 pp. $102.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8476-9111-1.
Reviewed by Susan Stein-Roggenbuck (Department of American Thought & Language, Michigan State University)
Published on H-Women (July, 2000)
The Gendering of Social Education
Teaching has been a profession considered "acceptable" for women since the mid-nineteenth century and women eventually dominated certain areas of the field. But as with many feminized professions, women faced limitations in administrative opportunities and also in higher education. Most school administrators were men, and female teachers rarely rose to the rank of principal or superintendent. Women were often segregated in "female" fields such as home economics at the post-secondary level, or sought opportunities in women's colleges. This gendered hierarchy, which was also divided by race, ethnicity, and class, explains in part why thirteen women educators, from the late nineteenth to the late twentieth centuries, are not found in the history of social education or social studies education. The collection, "Bending the Future to their Will": Civic Women, Social Education, and Democracy, edited by Margaret Smith Crocco and O.L. Davis, seeks not only to chronicle the careers and professional contributions of these women through "collective biography," but "to make a claim for their status as educational theorists".
The collection's content intersects with several fields, including education history, political history, women's history, and women's studies, arguing that these women, using alternative methods and ideas, created a "distinctive tradition of social education."
The editors use the term "social education" to distinguish it, and the work of these women, from social studies. Margaret Crocco, in the introduction, points out that social studies denotes a more narrow definition centered largely on K-12 education. Social education, in contrast, connotes education about democracy and citizenship that takes place in a variety of settings, which is a key part of the gendered nature of this field. Many of the women in the collection developed their ideas and theories about education in non-school settings, including women's organizations or settlement houses, or through their personal social and political activism. Most eventually taught at the college or university level, and many challenged mainstream methods, practices and ideals.
Some of these women, including Jane Addams, Lucy Sprague Mitchell and Mary Ritter Beard, will be familiar to historians, while others are not. Those profiled in the collection include historian Lucy Maynard Salmon, Bessie Louise Pierce, Rachel Davis DuBois, Hilda Taba, Alice Miel and Hazel Whitman Hertzberg. Each chapter concludes with a sample of the woman's writings, allowing the reader to see primary source material. The majority of the authors come from the field of education, rather than history, and thus the focus is on the women as educators rather than their place in the broader history of women and gender.
Organized chronologically, the collection includes primarily white women. Marion Thompson Wright, who is analyzed with Beard in a piece by Crocco, is the only African American woman, and Hilda Taba, a native of Estonia, is the only immigrant. The white, East Coast slant of the collection (many were affiliated at some time with the Teachers College at Columbia University) is acknowledged in the introduction, but an analysis of the education ideas about citizenship and democracy of a broader group would provide a more complete picture of the effects of race and ethnicity on those ideals, and how those ideas and practices changed throughout the century under study.
A common thread running through many of the chapters is how these women's methods and theories of education contributed to the larger field of social education. Mary Sheldon Barnes, influenced by scholars such as Leopold Ranke, developed the "source method" of teaching, and was among the first, according to author Frances Monteverde, to apply the method to secondary education. She rejected the "learning by rote" and memorization common in late nineteenth-century education and instead taught her students to think, reason, and analyze, arguing that such learning made them better citizens in a participatory government. In contrast, Lucy Maynard Salmon, professor of history at Vassar College, preferred the "balanced approach" to education, combining the teaching of sources, using scientific methods such as those advocated by Barnes, with more traditional narratives. Salmon, however, expanded the definition of what was considered history, studying the world of domestic workers and foreshadowing the rise in social history and women's history much later in the twentieth century.
Lucy Sprague Mitchell brought the concept of service learning, or experiential learning, to her students, first with her pre-school students and later in her teaching of early childhood educators. At first a teacher of high school students, Rachel Davis DuBois taught her vision of intercultural education through her assembly series. Her programs focused on racial equality and peace, seeking to build understanding of the different races in America, as well as other nations. Her efforts prompted the district's school board to ask for her resignation in 1926 at the request of the local American Legion post, but she refused. Known as the Woodbury Plan (named for the school and not for the woman teacher who pioneered the programs), the programs were among the early efforts at intercultural education. Hilda Taba also fostered intercultural education through her work on the Intergroup Education in Cooperating Schools in the 1940s. She advocated planning for coherent programs, arguing that many earlier efforts (including those of DuBois) were piecemeal and of limited and unproven effectiveness. She broadened the scope beyond race to include religion and class (but not gender).
Another theme running through several of the chapters is the link between the women's ideas and their activism. For some of these women, participation in movements such as peace, suffrage and civil rights fueled their education theories. Jane Addams, also familiar to women's historians, is profiled in this collection as an education theorist, rather than a social worker. Petra Munro provides an interesting analysis of Addams's ideas about democracy and education, and her efforts to expand opportunities in each to both immigrants and women. She argued that citizenship was a collective act, and not an individual one centered on the vote. Her work at Hull House demonstrated, Munro argues, Addams's view that a "community network, and not individual rights, were the foundation of democracy"(86). Suffrage, an issue addressed by Addams, also was a key part of the activism of Beard and Salmon. Salmon pursued her suffrage cause through the National American Woman Suffrage Association despite efforts by Vassar's administration to prevent any such activism from touching the college campus. Salmon also sought to increase the participation of women in the American Historical Association, and constantly advocated the appointment of women to committees and their recognition as scholars and teachers.
Beard sought to use women's history to empower women with knowledge, and to redefine the male values used to define American society. She also rejected the idea of woman as victim. Hazel Whitman Hertzberg, born in 1918, had a lengthy career as a social activist in labor, pacifist and socialist organizations and causes before embarking on her career in education at the age of forty. Rachel DuBois left her teaching position in 1920 to devote herself to volunteering to see firsthand the problems in her community. Marion Thompson Wright used her scholarship on black education to draw attention to civil rights issues.
One question raised by these pieces is how they fit into the larger history of women and professionalization. Many of these women were in a field relatively acceptable for women (education) but at a level (college and university) that was much more male dominated. What kind of culture did they face? How did that affect their strategies? What changed over the century? Did a part of the lack of recognition of the work of Mitchell stem from the fact that she focused on early childhood education? DuBois earned her college degree in science, but turned to teaching because of the lack of opportunities for women in science in the early twentieth century. One is reminded of the work of Margaret Rossiter in Women Scientists in America: Struggles and Strategies to 1940. Rossiter argues that many women entered specific fields, including home economics education, because it offered fewer challenges to their participation. Did these women face similar choices? Do ideas about gendered professional values, or a gendered track of professionalization, factor into these stories?
The collection provides an important "correction" to the history of education theory, documenting the lives of women who clearly contributed to the field's development. The authors use a variety of primary sources, including personal papers and the published writings of the women, and the analysis of their ideas is generally quite good. Some are clearly among the first to document these women's lives, while some chapters, such as the one on Jane Addams, provide a different perspective on their work. The gender analysis in the pieces is somewhat uneven, and in many cases could be pushed much further than the authors do. Clearly a chapter-length work cannot encompass all aspects of these women's lives, but there are points where more could be done. Andrea Makler provides a helpful synthesis in the conclusion, analyzing the thirteen women and the context of social education and citizenship. (Some readers might find it helpful to read the conclusion before the rest of the chapters.) Many of these women had a pluralistic vision of American education and citizenship (although most were still a product of their times) and yet failed to see their own position as women as an issue to be addressed. Some of these women identified the limits placed on their sex and actively sought to change those; others did not. Why? What aspects of their personal and professional lives affected their choices? Some affiliated with professional societies and others chose not to. Some authors analyze how these decisions (or exclusions) affected these women's lives, while others do not.
Makler notes in her conclusion that "one thing we learn from the life histories of the sample of women included here is that women's roles over the last 150 years are not yet well enough understood to give a fully nuanced picture of how U.S. society worked across so many social levels" (256). While there is certainly much to learn, more information is available than is found in this collection. Historians of women will find that many of the pieces are not grounded in the wealth of scholarship available on women's position, both personally and professionally, in American society. The collection spans a century in American history, and while some pieces are grounded in the larger context of American history (such as World War II and the Cold War's effect on intergroup or intercultural education), many are not fully analyzed in the context of women's history.
The piece on Marion Wright is one example. The problem stems in part from the inclusion of both Beard and Wright in one chapter; there is less space to assess the women's lives. A significant part of the piece is also devoted to Merle Curti's influence on the two women's ideas. Wright's life offers a profound glimpse into the life of a professional black woman in the first half of the twentieth century, a period of "racial uplift" effort. She was married with two children when she applied to Howard University to pursue her undergraduate education, but had to hide her personal life because of prohibitions on married women attending the school. She later divorced, but again had to conceal that fact and her two children when she returned to the school as a faculty member in 1940: "She continued to keep her family a secret to most members of the Howard community until her death" (108). Wright committed suicide in 1962. Crocco writes that friends "concluded that she had finally succumbed to the depression that had plagued her since her young adult years"(113). Readers are left wanting more information and analysis about Wright's challenges and life, in the context of African-American women's history.
The collection's introduction and conclusion provide an able framework for the twelve chapters. Like any good anthology, Bending the Future to Their Will raises further questions and areas of research. Students of education theory and women in education will find this collection useful, and it would be excellent reading for undergraduates aspiring to be social studies teachers. (Makler offers an alternate approach to social studies education in her conclusion.) Their vision of what we now call multicultural education and the teaching of citizenship resonates with contemporary debates. The inclusion of primary writings in each chapter also enhances its appeal in the classroom. The collection is a reminder of the importance of incorporating the history of citizenship and democracy (profoundly gendered, as well as racialized, etc) in college history courses. Education majors comprise a large portion of the students in history courses at my institution, and historians can aid them in the effort to be more inclusive in their high school teaching by offering a comprehensive analysis of those issues in their history courses.
. Many historians of women have identified the gendered nature of the professions, both in training, values, and practice. Robin Muncy, Creating a Female Dominion in American Reform (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991) xiii-xiv, 8-10, 68-70; Joan Jacobs Brumberg and Nancy Tomes, "Women in the Professions: A Research Agenda for American Historians," Reviews in American History 10 (June 1982) 283; Linda Gordon, Pitied But Not Entitled: Single Mothers and the History of Welfare (New York: The Free Press, 1994) 72; Elizabeth Lunbeck, The Psychiatric Persuasion: Knowledge, Gender and Power in Modern America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994) 37-38. Margaret Rossiter analyzes the experiences of women entering both male- and female-dominated professions, as well as the strategies they employed. See Margaret W. Rossiter, Women Scientists in America: Struggles and Strategies to 1940 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982) 55-65.
. See Stephanie J. Shaw, What a Woman Ought to Be and to Do: Black Professional Women Workers During the Jim Crow Era (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1996); Darlene Clark Hine, Black Women in White: Racial Conflict and Cooperation in the Nursing Profession, 1890-1950 (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1989).
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Susan Stein-Roggenbuck. Review of Cracco, Margaret Smith; Davis, O.L., eds., "Bending the Future to their Will": Civic Women, Social Education,and Democracy.
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