The classroom was one of many battlegrounds in the struggle for equal rights, as leaders of the women’s movement called for increased educational opportunities. Thomas Higginson’s speech “Woman and Her Wishes” (1853) notes that schools taught girls with the assumption that they would marry and raise children. The author counters that boys are just as likely to become fathers but that they are educated in the values of “professional and public duty. And if this accumulation of motives so often fails to act upon the boy, how can we expect that one alone will be sufficient for his sister?”(page 6).
A search on the term, coeducation, reveals a growing interest in coeducation at the university level in the decade following the Civil War. The Report Submitted to the Trustees of Cornell University . . . on [the] Proposal to Endow a College for Women (1872) surveyed various coeducational colleges and noted that their value arose “mainly from the fact that they have broken away from the traditions of the boarding and ‘finishing’ schools, and have provided thorough, substantial courses of instruction more like those aimed at in our best colleges,” (page 26).
Support for coeducation was echoed in guides such as An Address Upon the Co-Education of the Sexes (1873) and American Education, Its Principles and Elements (1877) which declared, “[N]othing in revelation, nature, or reason . . . can absolve society from its moral obligation to give the mothers of its children the highest and best education which it is expected those children of either sex will ever attain” (page 297).
- Why do you think that the question of coeducation was often framed in terms of a woman’s role as a mother?
- What do you think that universities considering the possibility of coeducation were interested in learning from established programs?
- How do you think that increased enrollment and the creation of new facilities influenced the question of coeducation?
- Do you think that students are more successful in gendered or coeducational institutions? Why?