Women in Higher Education (1880-1920)

Query from Holly J. McCammon mccambhj@ctrvax.vanderbilt.edu 8 June 1999

I have been examining U.S. Census data concerning women's enrollment in coeducational colleges and universities (with no distinction between),and women's presence as doctors and lawyers 1880-1920.

Beginning in 1890 there are more women enrolled in higher education in the western states (including ND ,SD, NE, and KS, and states farther west), than in either the eastern or the southern states. (I've examined two measures: a) enrolled women total enrollments and b) enrolled women/total women).

Also, there are often more female doctors and lawyers in the western states than in the eastern or southern states (measured either, e.g. , in terms of a) female doctors/ total doctors or b) female doctors/population.

I've consulted a number of sources this far: Lynn Gordon' _Gender and Higher Education in the Progressive Era_; Phyllis Stock's _Better Than Rubies_; Mabel Newcomer's _A Century of Higher Education for American Women_; chapter by Rosalind Rosenberg's _In Women and Higher Education in America_; article in _Signs_ by Patricia Albjerg Graham; chapter by Paula Treichler in _For Alma Mater; Barbara Miller Soloman's _In the Company of Educated Women; Thomas Woody's _A History of Women's Education of Women's Education in the United States_; an article by Joan Jacobs Brumberg and Nancy Tomes in _Review in American History, and Barbara Harris's _Beyond Her Sphere."

None seems to address in any detail the higher levels of women in higher education and the professions in the West. Can anyone help out here?

Concerning the higher enrollments in the West, I know that in the East and in the South compared to the West, more women went to women's colleges, and indeed, adding these figures to the coeducational data increases substantially (no such dramatic for the West). With the addition of the women's increase college enrollments the South than rivals the West as the leader in women's enrollment in higher education, but the East continues to substantially behind.

Why are women's enrollments in higher education and women's presence in the professions higher in the West? Can anyone recommend sources that discuss regional differences? Any thoughts appreciated.


  • From Florence Deacon 09 Sept 1999

    Sandra L. Meyers, "Westering Women and the Frontier Experience 11800-1915_(1982) uses that data as evidence that women in the west had different experiences than their eastern sisters, and the greater freedom and opportunity extended even to their granddaughters' generation.

  • From Margaret Smith Crocco 09 Sept. 1999 msc38@columbia.edu

    The history of woman suffrage in the US shows that Western states and territories allowed women the right to vote earlier than did Eastern states. The conventional wisdom on this score was that these states were trying to attract women as residents and citizens in the effort to "civilize" these earlier these newer settlements.

    So you might look at some works about the history of suffrage in the United States, like Flexner's _Century of Struggle_ and other more recent works on suffrage struggles in the states to see if anything is said about higher education for women.

    At the History of Education Society meeting last fall, I heard presentations about higher education in the midwest for women. Three papers all suggested an unusual openness in the land grant colleges to women's enrollment throughout the midwest as contrasted with the Eastern colleges, where parallel, single-sex institutions were established for elite women largely. These were all doctoral students, and I don't have the details on this, but if you want to track down the specific presenters, contact John Rury at DePaul, who was the head of HES last year; also see the work of Jergen Herbst, whose students these were, I believe.

  • From Jo Freeman jfrbc@cunyvm.cuny.edu 10 Sept 1999

    For higher education see what happens to your data when you distinguish public and private colleges. The western states were settled later than the eastern and southern one, and most systems of higher education were established, or much enhanced, after the Morrill Land Grant was passed.

    In the years after the Civil War, the woman movement had created some consciousness about women's status and the need for higher education for women, and many western settlers came from eastern states where they had been exposed this agitation. It was easier for women to influence public bodies, including admissions standards at public universities, than to influence private ones.

    The California Constitution of 1879 specifically stated that " No person shall be debarred admission to any of the collegiate departments of the University on account of sex." (Article IX). In 1878 the legislature made the private college of Hastings College of Law part of the University of California. It was a men's school and even after joining the university tried to remain such. It was sued by Clara S. Foltz, already a practicing attorney in San Francisco, who desired admission, and in November 1879 the Supreme Court ruled that properly qualified female students must be admitted (Foltz v. Hoge, 54 Cal. 28 (1879).

    Compare this with the private Leland Stanford Junior University whose trustees decided there were too many women and restricted admissions in the 1890s. (Hensen & Lathrop, _California Women: A History_, a practice & policy still in force in the 1960s.

    I believe you'll find that the ratio of public to private school students (in higher ed) is higher in the western states, and the ration of women to men is higher in the public than the private schools.

    As for the professions, supply and demand would be the most obvious explanation. When demand exceeds supply, "standards" are loosened.

  • From Genevieve McBride gmcbride@uwm.edu 20 Sept 1999

    It might be wise to not rely solely on the official record as to when women were admitted into colleges and universities, because women were often not allowed to take the full curriculum. For example, the U of Wisconsin (then only at Madison) regents approved admission of women in 1866, but the first women graduates (including later leader Clara Bewick Colby) were denied degrees at first, because they had not been allowed to complete the regular curriculum. There long was a "women's college" program within the University. Enforcement of the law often takes a court case by courageous (and well-funded , thus the delay) woman.

    And it was excellent advice to not neglect the normal schools. Many of those former institutions, including mine, where most of the students and faculty were women (and which women regents well before the UW), log offered more than teaching training--since teachers needed to be trained to teach in many areas--and finally became state universities.