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The growth in secondary education for women at the turn of the century is most evident by looking at one comparative statistic. In 1870, of the 1% of Americans who attended college, 20% were women; in 1910, of the 5% of Americans who attended college, 40% were women.

Oberlin College was the first secondary institution to admit women in 1830. However, those early female students were limited to the "ladies course" of instruction, whose curriculum consisted mainly of home economic studies intended to prepare women to be superior homemakers. Men were resentful of the female presence on campus, so women were actually segregated at school.

By 1867, there were 22 co-educational colleges in the U.S., but the major reason for admittance of women was to fill space in classes. Essentially, women did not have real secondary education opportunities until women’s institutions were formed. Women’s colleges and universities actually used the models of and formed alliances with the male schools that still refused to admit women.

Vassar was the first highly accredited women's college; students were actually instructed in academic areas beyond keeping house and caring for children. Unfortunately, women were still not satisfied since graduation seemed to be a dead end. Their education qualified them for professional positions, but their gender prevented them from acceptance in the working world.

Finally, in 1882, Boston University graduate Marion Talbot started the Association of Collegiate Alumnae to create a network for college-educated women. Through this network, women were able to make contacts and begin to progress in the male-dominated career world.

*Woloch, Nancy. Women and the American Experience. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984.

Note: The first college in the world specifically for women was founded in the South: The Georgia Female College was chartered in 1836 by the Georgia Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church and concerned citizens of Macon, Georgia. Operating today as Wesleyan College, it matriculated its first students in 1839. Thanks to Anne Bradburn of Tulane University for this addendum.

--Content prepared by Shelley Roy.

Copyright (c) 1999; all rights reserved.

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