Women’s Colleges “More Important Than Ever in an Increasingly Global World”

“Heavy lifting remains to be done in the developing world and women’s colleges are the incubators for the leaders capable of weathering those storms.”


Rebekah Schulz – Liberia, October ’13

Following our announcement of the student winner of the 2013 essay competition, we are thrilled to name Rebekah Schulz, class of 2006, as our winner in the alumna category! Rebekah wrote a powerful response to the prompt, “Women, education and the future… what do women’s colleges have to offer?” Like many Mawrtyrs, Rebekah did not feel a strong sense of “sisterhood” throughout her college years. It was only later, when she began to apply her Bryn Mawr education to the challenges of post-graduation personal and professional life, that the value and impact of her women’s college experience became clear. Her essay tells the story of how she has learned to apply the “secret reserve of Wonder Woman-like strength and the uncanny ability to solve problems” that she gained from Bryn Mawr in her demanding work in West Africa.

Rebekah gradated from Bryn Mawr in 2006 with a double major in Mathematics and History of Art. She currently works for the US AID Excellence in Higher Education for Liberian Development (EHELD) project.  She is based at the College of Agriculture and Sustainable Development at Cuttington University in Suakoko, Liberia, where she teaches geology and soil science and helps to run the library. “Bryn Mawr prepares you to dig in anywhere and anyhow!” She is pictured above at Cuttington Unviersity in October 2013 at a freshman matriculation program with two students that she is sponsoring while they look for scholarships. Rebekah blogs about Liberia and teaching at

In an increasingly global world women’s colleges are more important than ever before.  The goal of higher education is to prepare the next generation of leaders with a moral and intellectual foundation that will keep them grounded during stormy conditions.  The women’s movement has made great strides in recent decades and it’s tempting to think women no longer need to be galvanized and steadied for success in a man’s world.  Unfortunately that isn’t true in most parts of the world and in the western countries we easily forget that nasty truth.  Heavy lifting remains to be done in the developing world and women’s colleges are the incubators for the leaders capable of weathering those storms.

Like most young people I didn’t appreciate college until it was over.  At Bryn Mawr I laughed at “sisterhood” and wondered what I’d been thinking.  I was sure I could compete with men and I was hungry to prove it!  What we all know, however, is that Bryn Mawr teaches you that the only person worth competing against is yourself.  You are forced to plant your feet on the ground, focus your eyes, and clear your voice.  The opportunity to attend a women’s college is a gift and graduates receive much more than a diploma.  They graduate with a decoder ring and a cape (sorry, Double Star, the superhero kind).  They graduate with a secret reserve of Wonder Woman-like strength and the uncanny ability to solve problems.

I didn’t realize I had or needed any of that until I moved to West Africa.

In 2011 I joined the Peace Corps and accepted an assignment to teach high school math in Liberia.  Boasting Africa’s first female president, Liberia has a lot of girl power.  It also has a lot of heartbreaking problems.  Girls are less likely to be educated than boys.  They are forced into early marriages and start having children at a young age.  Women suffered the worst atrocities imaginable during the 14-year civil crisis yet they are ashamed to talk about it.  Rape is a family matter.

Walking onto campus as one of two female teachers, the first female math teacher ever, I was intimidated.  Then I realized I had the cape and decoder ring.  I remembered the only person worth competing against was myself.  I didn’t have to compete with the ‘boys’ and I didn’t have to prove anything to anyone.  All I had to do was put my feet on the ground, clear my throat, and do the best job I could.  When someone said something I didn’t like (such as referring to me as “that little girl”) I had the confidence to politely correct him.  When people saw me as a woman and only a woman I had the courage to prove them wrong.  When my girl students said, “I can’t” I pointed at myself and said, “Yes, you can!”

I have met remarkable women from all over the world working here. The uniting factor among them is that most attended a women’s college or an all-girls high school.  And you can always tell.  As soon as she starts talking you can tell she gets it.  She sees the world through the same lens you do.  She doesn’t let a lack of solutions keep her from trying to solve problems.  She has a loud laugh and is unapologetically honest.  She’s “almost a man!” as I overheard one such woman described.

In my new job with US AID I teach at an agricultural college, again one of only two female faculty members.  It is the definition of a boys club and everyday I say a little prayer of thanks for Bryn Mawr.  My four years without men gave me the confidence and strength to compete with them when the stakes are high.  It gave me scaffolding and armor for the sexual harassment and ignorance women face everyday in the rest of the world.

When you’re always carrying a weight you forget about it.  Attending a women’s college is an opportunity to put that weight down for four years and use that energy for more productive things, like improving yourself.  The weight women endure may be reducing in the west, but our sisters in the rest of the world continue to struggle under it, often unknowingly.  If we’re serious about changing the world and improving their lives, our lives, we need women’s colleges.  The storm may be lifting in America, but it is far from finished.

Do you have thoughts about the place of the women’s college in the twenty-first century educational landscape? Have there been aspects of your experience that have shaped your understanding of education for women in the world today? Respond in the comments, or tweet us @GreenfieldHWE!

“Women’s Colleges: Necessary and Invaluable” – Essay Competition Winner Erica Rice Reflects on Women’s Education

“There is no greater inspirational force than that which comes from surrounding
oneself with individuals whom she admires.”

Erica Rice, Class of 2017

Erica Rice, Class of 2017

We are excited to announce the first of the two winners of the third annual essay competition of The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education, sponsored by The Friends of the Bryn Mawr College Library. Our student winner, freshman Erica Rice, responded thoughtfully to the prompt “Women, education and the future… what do women’s colleges have to offer?” In her essay, she asserts that “equality means not only the freedom to be the same, but also very much the freedom to be different.” The benefits to be reaped from a women’s college education are not a uniform commodity, but are rather the extent to which the college culture and experience allow each individual to avidly pursue a  chosen path and excel in the areas in which she is most passionate. Congratulations, Erica!…

Women’s Colleges:
Necessary and Invaluable

The college experience can very easily become a paradox, as a college education should be what equips a young person to accomplish whatever they wish, yet during the time spent earning a diploma, a great deal of pruning other dreams and aspirations is necessary to earn the title of college graduate. The ability to focus and make decisions about one’s future is indeed important, but all too often in the college setting, in the process of becoming a college graduate, pieces of the individual dissolve. Colleges and universities have plenty to offer the future, but people have more. At women’s colleges, the student body is made up of individuals willing to identify as different and who believe that it is their individual aspirations combined with a college diploma that will be what changes their world. The college experience for these women will be a tool, not an identity; because their identity is something they are not willing to compromise.

In addition to bringing together an impressive and self-selecting group of individuals, the experience of women’s colleges is a precious commodity that will become no less important in the future. That women have come to assert themselves as intellectual assets on college campuses across the world is wonderfully exciting and an absolutely necessary aspect of global progress in every way. Leveling the gender discrepancy in education continues to be a process that demands the support of groups and individuals in every sector. However, it is vital to remember that equality means not only the freedom to be the same, but also very much the freedom to be different. This is where the experience of women’s colleges is so important. Women’s colleges provide that opportunity to both learn and live as part of a community aware of both its uniqueness as well as its absolute viability in an academic setting without ever asking the individual to sacrifice her identity as she knows it.

This corner of the educational landscape is incredibly valuable and that it be preserved is necessary. As a member of such a community, I can speak personally to the value of the institution of a women’s college. By making the decision to be a part of a community which is so deliberately unique, I have placed myself among the ranks of women who are united in our common goal of wanting to be agents of change and progress in our worlds. There is no greater inspirational force than that which comes from surrounding oneself with individuals whom she admires. At women’s colleges, peers serve as motivators because passion is contagious and I have experienced no shortage in a women’s college community.

Women who make the choice to attend all women’s colleges do not do so with the intention of being ignored. We plunge into our identities as we see them with confidence and live in our community with purpose. At women’s colleges, the product is not simply a college graduate. Rather, women’s colleges produce something far more influential: educated women who have reached their respective goals in their own ways. Women of this kind are what shape the world and that they have every resource to cultivate their aspirations is crucial. The accomplishments of graduates of women’s colleges are too many to count, as will be the contributions of future women in these institutions. Some things, however, are certain: these institutions offer something to their students that is unique and precious, and the world waits with bated breath for what the individuals who make these colleges what they are will offer next.

Do you have thoughts about the place of the women’s college in the twenty-first century educational landscape? Have there been aspects of your experience that have shaped your understanding of education for women in the world today? Respond in the comments, or tweet us @GreenfieldHWE!

Call For Papers: Global Feminisms and Religion

A Call for Submissions on Global Feminisms and Religion

The Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion will soon be celebrating its 30th anniversary. To mark this exciting occasion, we would like to dedicate a special section or issue to Global Feminisms and Religion. We therefore invite submissions in a variety of formats — articles, Living it Out pieces, roundtables, review essays — which address issues of globalization, religion, and feminist inquiry and practice across borders or which highlight feminist work in religion in particular cultural contexts beyond the U.S. Please consult with the JFSR editors about ideas and timelines for roundtables or review essays (journal@fsrinc.org). Article submissions will be considered in our regular anonymous review process and are welcome immediately and until January 2014. If you are a regular reader of JFSR and have suggestions for soliciting submissions for this special topic, please contact the editors.

Christy Cobb
Submissions Editor
Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion
Drew University
36 Madison Ave.
Madison, NJ 07940

Email: journal@fsrinc.org
Visit the website at http://www.fsrinc.org/jfsr/submissions

Guest Post: A Room With a View


Christine de Pizan

In this guest post, Elena Johnson ’16 reflects on architecture, female scholars, and intellectual inspiration. In the Balch seminar, ‘Bookmarks‘, Professor Katherine Rowe asks her students to consider the tools and conditions that shape the way we think and write. Drawing inspiration from a syllabus that included Virginia Woolf and Christine de Pizan, among others, Elena began to theorize the role of the constructed academic environment in which she found herself during her first year here at Bryn Mawr. This essay is her reflection on windows–both as a source of inspiration and illumination, and as a representation of the spatial luxury to which not all female scholars have had access.

Elena collaborated with the Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education to pair her words with photographs from the Bryn Mawr College archives, which illustrate some of the themes that weave throughout the piece. In addition to appearing in this post, we will be releasing weekly clusters of images on our Tumblr page. Be sure to follow us so that you don’t miss any! And check out the first posting here.

Bryn Mawr rises from a foundation of scholarly pride and ambition. Rather than model its dorms and classrooms after other women’s colleges, it takes its inspiration from the brooding gothic edifices of Oxford and Cambridge. Stone worked like lace glitters with windows in a statement of almost overwhelming grandeur: this is not Virginia Woolf’s impoverished Fernham1. Its founders did not intend for it to serve as a home away from home, with all the “women’s work” that that then implied, but as a rigorous monument to academia.  If nothing else, it does its best to intimidate newcomers.

Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf

As a freshman at Bryn Mawr, I enrolled in the school’s writing seminar program.  Instead of reading about volcanoes or Greek mythology (my other two choices), I found myself in a class called ‘Bookmarks’, where we read Christine de Pizan and Virginia Woolf2. Both women published their work in times and places where female scholars were relatively rare and considered something of a joke at best. Both took on the challenge of defending women, but where Christine claimed the existence of an innate feminine virtue, Woolf declared that women had been deprived of the basic essentials requisite to great writing. It was while reading these, surrounded by echoes of Oxford and Cambridge, that I realized the subject for this essay: windows.

In her essay, A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf proposes that by possessing both a private room and the money to pay for a comfortable life, a writer gains independence: the ability to separate oneself from the bitterness and distraction of reality. But in isolating these prerequisites to genius, Woolf overlooks a third, equally vital resource. Windows provide the writer with light, a view, and a degree of isolation somewhere between mind-numbing loneliness and the constant interruptions of the wider world.


Thomas Library

Traditionally, windows address a practical concern by providing would-be scholars with the light they need to work. At Bryn Mawr, they grace the high walls of Thomas Great Hall, once the reading room of Bryn Mawr’s library, with gothic splendor. In this photo, lamps sprout from every desk, yet the students pictured work mainly by the natural light that floods the room. Today, the Canaday, Collier and Carpenter libraries have replaced Thomas as popular study spots, but if anything these modern equivalents have expanded on its window-laced walls and the students who study in their sunlit carrels draw easy comparison to a much older variant on the same theme.


Christine de Pizan

In illustrations of The Book of the City of Ladies, Christine appears illuminated by windows.  One artist includes skylights and a wide arced opening, which take advantage of the sunny day (see image at top of post), while another demonstrates the aid these windows lend with a handful of long golden rays cast over the writer and her desk, highlighting her work in the eyes of the viewer. Writing in a room of her own, with sufficient funds, with the light provided by her windows, Christine produced valuable volumes to help fill the sorry gap on Woolf’s shelf.

Windows offer metaphorical illumination in addition to the more practical sort. In A Room of One’s Own, Woolf describes the “branch of illumination” (Woolf 44) and the “lamp in the spine” (18) as the source of brilliance and innovation, while spending bright sunny afternoons at the imaginary Oxbridge as she searches for inspiration. However, the real world thwarts these sources: the Spartan meal at Fernham puts out the lamp, and outraged gentlemen cast shadows on her day at Oxbridge. Both the light and Woolf’s inspiration, linked in her mind and in her words, are disrupted by the realities of sexism. Only in the final scenes of her essay, as Woolf awakes to “the light . . . falling in dusty shafts through the uncurtained windows” (94), does the “branch of illumination” bear fruit, drawing her away from the looping and frustrated logic of a male-dominated world and allowing her to think, clearly and independently, in her own room, with her own money.


Studying in a window

Where light mingles physical necessity with a more esoteric need, the view through a window exists more basically as a source of inspiration. Woolf benefits from this phenomenon throughout her struggle to produce A Room of One’s Own. First, at Oxbridge, the sight of a tailless cat through the window inspires Woolf to ponder the missing elements in a society torn by post-war sexism. Then at Fernham, she and Mary Seton discuss the poverty of their sex while standing at a window overlooking the grandeur of Oxbridge. However, Woolf’s greatest revelation occurs at the window of her private rooms in London. Exhausted after struggling through the male-dominated shelves of the library without much success, Woolf finds her answers through her bedroom window, where the sight of a man and a woman climbing into a taxi together finally inspires the conclusion of her essay.

Just as a window lets light in, it keeps out a world of interruptions, creating a degree of separation that allows Woolf to enjoy the isolation of her room without sacrificing the benefits of a broader view. While walking over the fields of the fictionalized Oxbridge, Woolf suffers constant interruptions that repeatedly destroy her thought process. Only by imagining herself “contained in a miraculous glass cabinet through which no sound [can] penetrate” (6) can Woolf resume thinking, albeit temporarily, glorying in her “freedom from any contact with the facts” (6). This early realization later contributes to Woolf’s high regard for privacy, but the mention of glass bears scrutinizing. While walling herself off from the facts of an oppressively sexist society gives her room to think, Woolf thinks about what she sees, inspired by the world around her. Though this paradox has no easy solution, windows appear as a possible compromise.

The degree of separation a window offers also gives refuge to the “androgynous mind” as Woolf calls it, referring to Coleridge. She posits that because of the recent polarization of the sexes, the works her contemporaries produce lack the same element of suggestion present in Coleridge, Shakespeare and Austen. Writers become too obsessed with defending or injuring one sex or the other, personifying masculinity or representing femininity. The window allows the writer’s mind to “separate itself from the people in the street” (96) and the emotional and cultural turbulence inherent there. A writer at a window need not write as a man or a woman about men or women, but as a person about people. Whether sitting by a Single_dorm_room_Bryn_Mawr_Collegewindow in a London apartment, or in a dorm in Bryn Mawr, or in a medieval study while dreaming of a City of Ladies, the presence of windows offers the same thing: a degree of isolation between you and yourself, a space to see society without getting caught up in its emotion, and an unparalleled opportunity for authenticity without interference.

A room of one’s own means a door with which to lock out the skeptics and critics, even the simple doubters who smile condescendingly at the writer’s hunger for self-expression. That five-hundred a year, now a much larger sum, means the writer need not depend upon a skeptical father, or a critical husband, or a doubtful boss for her livelihood. While privacy and independence help, the writer will also need a window. Not necessarily a very great window or a very beautiful one, but a gap in the wall through which light may enter in and her mind may wander out, free from scrutiny. A window, so that when she pauses, grasping at the next thought to put on paper, she may see beyond her room and her money and the waiting page.  Perhaps she will see nothing but the cold rain, tapping against the glass and forming clear rivulets that pool in the grass. Or, maybe, she will see two people, a young woman and a young man, get into a taxicab together and drive away.


Do you have a favorite window on campus? Do you prefer to work by natural light, or in a more secluded environment? Respond in the comments, or tweet your replies @GreenfieldHWE.

Editorial assistance by Evan McGonagill.


1. In her essay, Woolf juxtaposes the impoverished, fictionalized women’s college “Fernham” with the wealthier, equally fictionalized men’s college “Oxbridge” in an effort to highlight the disparity between the sexes, as well as the positive effect luxury has on innovative thought.

2. Because of the naming conventions of the era, scholars refer to Christine by her first name only. So for the sake of accuracy (and at the cost of comfort) I will do the same in this essay.

“I’m not a historian but I am interested in people’s stories”: Lianna Reed ’14 reflects on working on Bryn Mawr College oral histories

In this guest post by Lianna Reed ’14, you can learn more about the digitization of the oral history collection held by the Special Collections department of Bryn Mawr College. As part of its work, The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education is converting the audio tapes into digital files which will eventually be hosted on the Tri-College digital repository site, Triptych.

Previously, student worker Isabella Barnstein worked on the project and wrote about her experiences. We are further along with the work now and finding out more and more about alums from the past. Some of the material has been used in our Taking Her Place exhibition which can be linked to by scanning QR codes on certain labels. These include the 1935 radio broadcast by M. Carey Thomas and interviews with faculty, staff and students in the past (you can find them by clicking this link to our site). The exhibition runs until June 2nd and after this it will be made available as a digital exhibit on our site so make sure to visit the digital exhibitions section of the site ….

Guest blogger and Special Collections student worker, Lianna Reed '14.

Guest blogger and Special Collections student worker, Lianna Reed ’14.

I have been working on the oral history project with The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education for three months and not only have I learned how to digitize cassette tapes to mp3 files but I have also been absorbed into the lives of Bryn Mawr women from ten, twenty even eighty years ago.  I’m not a history major or English major, in fact my academic work doesn’t usually relate to my work with Special Collections. I actually appreciate this difference because working here is a release from my academic life as a double major in Political Science and French. I get to come to work and listen to alumnae talk about their time as students in the 1940s, sneaking out of the dorms past curfew (10pm) and going to the cemetery down the road. I become immersed in the details of women who became renowned archaeologists, politicians, activists, tutors, and the list goes on and on. Oral histories are an interesting form of history because they involve someone else, usually the interviewer, prompting the interviewee to respond to certain questions. However with Bryn Mawr women, these questions are often disregarded as the women believe that they themselves aren’t interesting. I have heard so many women say “Oh, you don’t want to hear about that. It isn’t interesting.” Actually, most things are interesting, especially anecdotal commentary. Even when the women describe how challenging Bryn Mawr was and their feelings about not using the degree, prompting them to feel unworthy of their degree, it is interesting and valuable for the history archives and also for those of us that are soon to be graduates.

My first oral history was my most memorable. Fleta Blocker was a bell maid in Radnor who came to Bryn Mawr as a teenager on the recommendation of her sisters. Too young to work she was put on staff for a trial year before she was hired permanently.  Fleta would end up working for forty years at Bryn Mawr College. Honored as one of the longest serving employees at Bryn Mawr, Fleta wasn’t just a bell maid, she was a friend and a student herself at Bryn Mawr. Fleta saw more change and development at Bryn Mawr than anyone else. But what does it means for Bryn Mawr’s Special Collections digital archives to have Fleta’s interview? Who will listen to her tell her story? Who will understand what it meant to her and, of course, the students, to have her there in the dorm? While Fleta’s interview is linked on the website of The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education and featured in the Taking Her Place exhibition and we can track who listens and in what language, we can’t always know how they might understand Fleta’s time at Bryn Mawr in the college’s history. Maybe oral histories are like podcasts and while you can’t force anyone to listen to them, they are an integral piece of history that is accessible, not just for the Bryn Mawr community but for the community of women’s education around the world. Faculty are always celebrated for their accomplishments and their connections with publically accomplished students, but what about the other people who supported and encouraged students to become the people they are remembered to be?

What does working on this project mean for me? As I said I am not a historian but I am interested in people’s stories. I am interested in doing research in sub-Saharan Africa on the effects of transitional and restorative justice. Oral histories are one of the most important forms of archival material that we have as humans. Oral tradition is the way we know and remember songs, family history, and recipes we love to cook. Oral history and oral tradition help to clarify the ways in which restorative justice has impacted the lives of many. For example, the gacaca courts in Rwanda are an oral tradition that are both a method of enacting justice and also a form of history as the plaintiffs, witnesses and criminals participate in an open dialogue. These histories are invaluable to the success and development of Rwanda in the present day. I hope that after having listened to hundreds of different interviews from people reluctant to talk and people more than enthusiastic at Bryn Mawr I will be prepared for whatever might come my way in the field. When I am out in the field I can gather information necessary to create a dialogue, not only amongst those I am interviewing but also with the wider international community producing a discourse that gathers many people’s individual stories, much like the archives at Special Collections at Bryn Mawr College.

‘Primary sources have the potential to help teachers in the classroom’: Temple student Adrian Wieszczyk on her experiences at Bryn Mawr

This blog post has been written by Adrian Wieszczyk, a student at Temple University who is currently completing her training to become a high school teacher. Adrian is one of three students this year who used our collections as part of the National History Day Philly Cultural Collaboration Initiative. As with our other participants, we thank Adrian for her hard work and wish her all the best with completing her studies!

My name is Adrian Wieszczyk and I am a student at Temple University. I have had the pleasure to work with Bryn Mawr College this semester through a field work internship. Through my experience I have felt very welcomed and aware of the resources and tools that Bryn Mawr provides, due to the helpful staff. As a result, I have discovered primary documents within the special collections that have potential to help teachers use primary documents within their classroom. The intended outcome of this internship through Temple was to introduce me to working with museums or archives as a future teacher and become more aware of resources provided. As for Bryn Mawr, my project was to create a lesson plan for their website using documents within their special collections. I believe that this project is very helpful for teachers, considering many teachers are unable to look through the rich resources and documents that institutions carry.

My particular focus was the female culture and role in the Prohibition era. I chose this topic because I found a few interesting documents that were published in Bryn Mawr’s Lantern of 1922-24 that discussed different perspectives and beliefs about the Prohibition. Unfortunately, I was unable to discover all of the documents and resources on the prohibition because of the time restraint but I was still able to take advantage of the documents I did find. My finalized project is a lesson plan called women in the prohibition. This lesson teaches the different organizations and cultures of females during the prohibition. For instance, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, Women’s Organization for Prohibition Reform, and the cultural perspective of a “Flapper“. I really enjoyed researching these organizations as well as creating a lesson plan to further student’s knowledge of the female role in the prohibition.

Overall this experience has furthered my knowledge and skills as a student and as a future teacher. I have enjoyed developing relationships with the staff at Bryn Mawr as they have been extremely welcoming and helpful. I have learned a great deal about Bryn Mawr and other institutions in regards to getting involved as a future teacher. This knowledge will help me as I create lesson plans for my classroom and use the resources and primary documents that institutions, like Bryn Mawr College, carry and provide. I look forward to keeping in contact with Bryn Mawr College and using their digital archives to improve my upcoming lessons.



“Special Collections was a rewarding and educational experience”: Temple University student Danielle Porter reflects on her internship at Bryn Mawr

This blog post has been written by Danielle Porter, a student teacher at Temple University who has used our collections as part of the National History Day Philly Cultural Collaboration Initiative. We wish Danielle well with the rest of her studies!

My name is Danielle Porter. I am a student from Temple University taking a methods course that required an internship that expected us to complete around thirty hours of field placement. I decided to do my internship at Bryn Mawr College. What I hoped to get out of the experience was a better understanding of how to read and translate primary documents and how to use them in lessons.

My time at Bryn Mawr College, Special Collections was a rewarding and educational experience. I was able to work first hand with primary sources and write a lesson plan. The primary sources were both digitized and on paper and both provided a wealth of information. I really liked looking at the primary sources and seeing how women lived and thought back in the early twentieth-century. I used these primary sources to create an original lesson plan on Women in War. I looked through the documents that Bryn Mawr had and chose newspaper clippings and pictures that I though best represented what I was trying to get across in the lesson. The pictures were taken from a scrapbook created on the Red Cross training program initiated on campus during World War II. The lesson has students look at the primary documents and decide whether gender bias was present or not, and if they feel as if women had progressed in society.

I really enjoyed my internship at Bryn Mawr. The documents that were provided were very interesting and informational. I feel as if my time was well spent here because it provided me with insight as to how use primary documents in lessons and the importance of research.

Women, athletics, Constance Applebee and National History Day: An intern insiders view

Marion Reid, Temple University Student

This blog post has been written by Marion Reid, a student teacher at Temple University who has used our collections as part of the National History Day Philly Cultural Collaboration Initiative. We wish Marion well with the rest of her studies!

Bryn Mawr Canaday Library – Special Collections has a wealth of information on Women’s History from the late 19th century to the present. As an intern at Bryn Mawr’s Special Collections, Canaday Library, I am awed by the vast amount of valuable information available on Women’s History to the public and the school community.  Such information is on women who have been at Bryn Mawr as students, staff member or otherwise. There is a team of staff members who will provide assistance to researchers or those who need to use the facilities. My mentor/supervisor, Dr. Jennifer Redmond – who is part of this team – has been extremely helpful in helping my colleagues and me in accessing primary and secondary resources online and at the library. Being at Bryn Mawr has taught me how to handle pictures, clippings and many other documents, as my namesake Marianne Hansen is always there to give us invaluable insight on how to handle these resources.

Constance Applebee, courtesy of Bryn Mawr College Archives

My aim is to evaluate the political and cultural contributions of Constance Applebee as part of the History curriculum for Grade 12 which requires an examination of  individuals and/or groups in Pennsylvania’s History from 1890 until now. My main interest is in the area of sports and Constance Applebee’s role therein.  She has influenced and shaped the development of sports – field hockey at Bryn Mawr College, Harvard University and many other institutions as well as the United States in general. I have also looked at two other women; Margaret Ayer Barnes, a novelist and a former student of Bryn Mawr College who wrote many novels during the early 1900s such as “Bridal Wreath” which  I have read and which is one of her many romantic novels. I think these novels could and should be used to encourage teenagers to read.  Additionally, I have done some research on Hope Emily Allen who was a feminist who spoke on values and identity. I was unable to delve further into the information on Hope Emily Allen as time does not permit.

However, I am impressed with the work of Constance Applebee who is my main research interest. She was able to introduce field hockey in the USA and make it a success, having taught along the east coast USA and the rest of the country. She was not only a sport enthusiast but also a volunteer. She encouraged and enrolled her team members in the ambulance service where they took care of orphans in homes. These children were not only provided with food, shelter, and clothing. They were entertained, taken to the beach and also tucked into bed.

Presently, I am pursuing my studies in Social Studies Education, at the secondary level at Temple University. I started at the beginning of Fall Semester on August 27, 2012; and expect to graduate next Fall November, 2013. My passion is teaching. I taught for more than 20 years in Jamaica.

Guest post: Ada Kepley, women’s education and the law

Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons

Historical Spotlight: Ada Kepley, the First Female Law School Graduate

It’s difficult to imagine a time when women couldn’t become lawyers in the U.S. However, in the 1870s, when Ada Kepley hoped to become a lawyer, it was unheard of for women to practice law. Kepley was the first woman in our country to graduate from law school. When Kepley graduated from Union College of Law in 1870, the state of Illinois informed her that women were not legally allowed in the learned professions. It wasn’t until 1873 that the laws barring women from practicing law were overturned.

According to the Illinois Bar Journal, Ada Kepley and two other Illinois women, Myra Bradwell and Alta Hulett, played critical roles in opening up the doors to the law profession for women. All three women applied for the Illinois bar in the 1870s and actively spoke out against discriminatory practices in the legal field. It was eighteen-year-old Alta Hulett who finally convinced the Illinois Legislature to permit women to practice law, through persistent and ardent lobbying. Kepley and Bradwell were then allowed to take the bar exam and become practicing lawyers.

Kepley, Bradwell, and Hulett were, in part, able to make the strides they did in the Illinois legal field with the help of Henry B. Kepley, Ada Kepley’s beloved husband. Mr. Kepley was a lawyer in Effingham who ardently encouraged Ada Kepley to pursue law. When Kepley was told she couldn’t become a lawyer, Henry B. Kepley drafted a bill that would outlaw discrimination based on gender in the learned professions in Illinois. It was the bill that Henry B. Kepley drafted that would eventually become a law in 1872, after Alta Hulett’s efforts came to fruition.

As Ada Kepley celebrated the victory of being able to practice law, she had other pressing matters on her mind as well. The women’s suffrage movement and temperance movement became particularly important to Kepley. She joined forces with the likes of Susan B. Anthony and Frances Willard to rally and lobby for equal voting rights for women. Additionally, she helped found an organization called Band of Hope, which aimed to educate the young adult population about the perils of alcohol abuse.

Kepley’s vocal support of prohibition legislation got her into some trouble in her local Effingham, Illinois community. In fact, according to Marilyn Willison, author of The Self-Empowered Woman, Kepley was beaten by two different liquor enthusiasts, and the son of a liquor dealer actually tried to shoot her (but missed). These harrowing events didn’t stop her from speaking out in favor of temperance, however. Kepley remained a passionate supporter of making alcohol illegal for all of her adult life.

Ada Kepley’s legal career was made possible mostly because her beloved husband, Henry Kepley, was also a lawyer. Ms. Kepley was able to join her husband’s practice and work for Effingham clients alongside him. At the turn of the 20th century, it would have been quite difficult for a woman to practice law without some sort of support from a man. Ada Kepley may not have achieved the goals of equality she longed for in her lifetime, but she certainly paved the way for future women to achieve those goals.

Katheryn Rivas is a freelance writer and professional blogger who frequently contributes to www.onlineuniversities.com and other education sites. If you have any comments or questions, drop Katheryn a line at katherynrivas87@gmail.com. Please see our Editorial Policy on guest posts for the Educating Women blog

Winner of the inaugural student essay prize, Kai Wang ’15 on why single sex education matters today.

Kai Wang, winner of the undergraduate essay prize 2012

As we welcome new students to Bryn Mawr College this week, we thought we would feature the work of a current student. This post is brought to you by Kai Wang ’15, a current Bryn Mawr College undergraduate student and winner of the inaugural Essay Competition of The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education. Kai won a $500 cash prize, sponsored by the Friends of the Library at Bryn Mawr College, and the opportunity to publish her essay here. Kai was also honored in the annual prize giving ceremony. The judging panel was comprised of the Director of the Center, Dr. Jennifer Redmond, Ms. Jen Rajchel ’11, at that time Digital Initiatives Intern, Mae Carlson ’12, representing the Student Government Association, and Professor Sharon Ullman of the History Department. We all thought Kai’s essay connected the past with the present landscape of women’s education in interesting ways. Well done Kai! If you are new to Bryn Mawr College, keep an eye out for the posters this semester announcing the second competition.

Kai spent this past summer doing an exciting short self-initiated extern at the Beijing Cancer Hospital in the Department of Hepatic, Biliary and Pancreatic Cancer. At the hospital she could closely observe and learn more about the doctors’ jobs from a more authoritative perspective, in addition to familiarizing herself with the procedures in a hospital setting, interacting with patients and building more experience for a potential career in the medical field. After this, she returned to Canada to spend the rest of the summer break helping with her small family-operated plant nursery, soaking up the Summer sun, and cracking a  few books in preparation for another beautiful semester back home at Bryn Mawr.


Kai Wang: Why Single Sex Education Matters Today

With the hot debate on the significance of single-sex education, dominating public opinion questions the necessity of continuing this rigid and even antiquated tradition. Thus the persisting query is: Why should single-sex education matter today?

Globally, problems of gender bias have always existed, including in earlier Western society (this is especially evident in former education systems, though it is much overlooked these days due to the supplantation of single-sex education by co-education). Thus, the importance of single-sex education cannot be so easily dismissed as great gender inequality still exists in many regions of the world such as in impoverished and rural areas of India and China. This inequality between male-female education remains a stark reality especially for women, who are most often the victims of social discrimination. Yet through its focus on the importance of learning for each and both genders, single-sex education demands equality between sexes and thus contests the culturally embedded notions of gender discrimination. Through teaching women, for instance, single-sex education discourages gender stereotypes through paralleling females’ proficiency to that of their male ‘superiors’. Hence, the development of single-sex education (again, chiefly for women) in this area is very much a means of liberation from gender inequality. Single-sex education, then, is indisputably a crucial element in bringing about recognition for education and equality between genders; it allows for the autonomy of individuals entrapped in cultural bias to reach out towards a change and a future against the flawed perceptions of gender prejudice.

The significance of single-sex education for women in particular has a deep rooted aspect of representation. Since academies for women’s higher education have opened on a socially accepted level, the continued existence and flourishing of all-females institutions attest to the decisive successes against past struggles for the recognition of intellectual equality and freedom from social inferiority. Through my own experiences at Bryn Mawr College, I am continually inspired by my peers’ dedication to their work as well as their confidence and vivacity in interaction. For those of us attending all women’s academic institutions, we bear witness to the legacy of spirit, independence, and dignity of women that these academies uphold.

While the popularity of co-ed systems seems to have rendered single-sex education obsolete, there is no doubt that it is still an important component of educational success. Often, criticism directed at single-sex education argues that it offers a false impression of the world in that its very selectivity of gender and sheltered learning environment does not reflect the real-world challenges as does, for example, the way a co-ed environment imitates a microcosm of society. Consequently, single-sex education is not realistic in preparing students for ‘real’ life and the facilitation into society with its frustrations, some of which are not introduced to students within their educational experience. Yet this argument fails to consider the rebuttal; in a single-gendered setting, there is undeniably greater freedom permitted to the student in terms of release of self expression, a cause contributed to by the elimination of societal pressures for restraint and conformity.

With the focus on single-sex education, students at these institutes are encouraged to explore greater fields of academia, thus propelling the development of single-sex communities to extend in all areas of learning. Many reports evaluating the performances of student in single-sex institutions in comparison with co-ed institutions confirm a significant rise not only in learning efficiency but also in interest of subjects: in a single-sex environment, more women tend towards science courses than in co-ed institutions, showing that what has traditionally been seen as the academic territory of one gender can be managed as adeptly by the other. This support for diverse learning thus mirrors the world within a single gendered space and serves as an outlet for self discovery and expansion of potential. The experiences acquired from a single-sex environment allow its’ students to pursue new and budding interests, thereby contributing to the odyssey of self-realization. The onslaught of new responsibilities and social activities that come with this period of college life also marks a great transitional stage into adulthood whereby one defines individuality and manages independence within the sphere of a single gendered community, and later, in the greater societal world. Thus, not only do these experiences gained through the single-sex environment offer insight and practice in handling future challenges –just as in a co-ed setting- they also invalidate the argument against single-sex education about false-preparation for integration into society.  

Yet why must we only measure the value of single-sex education in comparison to co-ed systems in order to appreciate its importance? The significance of single-sex education lies not in its point-to-point advantages or disadvantages over co-ed settings but rather, in the unique experience it provides its’ students. It is this experience that determines value. Experiencing education in a single-sex community is only a short fragment of time in one’s life, yet it creates unique memories of exploration, self-discovery, and lasting friendships in the distinct context of a single-sex setting. In society, there will always be chances for interactions with members of the other sex, though, with time, there will likely be fewer chances to experience single-sex education because of the dwindling number of single-sex educational institutions throughout the nation.

A spring of exploration, boldness and vision, single-sex education realizes within each single gendered community greater potential for growth, liberation from stereotypical constructs, and development of distinct individuals that other modes of education could never mimic. In the end, there will always be skeptics and critics of this approach, but it is time for single-sex education to take a decisive stand for its existence and its merit. What is needed on our part is an adamant persistence and belief in the values of single-sex education against the overwhelming odds of societal demands for conformity. The question should be: Why shouldn’t single-sex education matter today?


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