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Posts Tagged ‘Religion’

Letters from a Father to his Daughter Entering College: From 1913

This folio was written by the president of Western Reserve College near the turn of the twentieth century from the perspective of a college administrator and a father sending his daughter to college. Though it was written slightly after the time period I am studying, it reflects the sentiments of those living at the time who were aware of the college experience for women from perspectives of both college faculty and parent. This letter reflects the fears and hopes for women going to college, and offers advice on boys (avoid them), keeping one’s health, making friends, one’s position in the community, and maintaining religious observances. It also discusses areas that are viewed by the author as different for women than for men, such as the belief that “college women are inclined to have an undue appreciation of the intellectual values and an undue depreciation of the ethical values,” which seems the opposite of views held in the preceding century where women were seen as more “naturally moral” than men but intellectually inferior (19). This father does offer specific advice, too, on the importance of handwriting, advising his daughter to avoid “illegibility and uncouthness,” and reminding her that “it is important that your writing should be easy to read and pleasant to look at” (69-70). Overall, this letter was interesting as it “updates” the views that society had about women going to college at the beginning of the twentieth century, and even mentions the historic changes of the women’s college which “has ceased to be a nunnery; it has become a community” (59-60). The author mentions that his wife was educated at Vassar, one of the sister schools of Mt. Holyoke, and has always assumed that her daughters would attend college, thus showing an attitude of continuity and continuing educational opportunities for women who were the offspring of former college (women) graduates. Though not directly related to the time period I am studying, Letters from a Father to his Daughter Entering College reflects back to those times and shows how the generation of college women from the nineteenth century influenced perceptions of women attending college for subsequent generations of Americans.

Work Cited:

Thwing, Charles Franklin. Letters from a Father to his Daughter Entering College.  New York: The Platt & Peck Co., 1913. Print.

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“The Female Seminary Movement and Women’s Mission in Antebellum America.”

Though this article is dated and tends, at times, to overstate the liberatory power of women’s education in the latter half of the nineteenth century, it does also offer a different insight into the success of the argument for women’s education during this time. Though the argument of the necessity of educating women for the office of “republican motherhood” is a common one, this article speaks more directly about the influence of evangelical Christianity in promoting women’s education, both because of its reliance upon individual salvation, and because of the hope that educated women could help usher in a

Kumler Chapel, Western Campus

“new millennium” of spiritual, moral, and intellectual elevation. This article also distinguishes between the ideas of “ornamental” versus “useful” education for women, with “usefulness” being the higher ideal in antebellum America, which helped justify the teaching of heretofore “masculine” subjects, such as Greek, Latin, and advanced mathematics, to women. The methodology of research for this article was conducted “by examining public speeches delivered of the subject of female education during the antebellum period,” which gives insight into the actual views proclaimed publicly by church and social leaders on this topic (43). Though this article does not delve deeply into any one area of research, it does offer different insights into the success of seminary education for women during this time. Additionally, despite Sweet’s sometimes sweeping claims about the alterations in society’s opinions about the importance of educating women during this time, he does also note the ways in which women were still regulated and limited by perceptions of their “natural sphere” of domestic and service work, and how this ideology was embedded into the type of education they received. Though seminary educations, with their emphasis on religious duty, domestic service, and the moral development of women appeared to be a “safe” way of educating women to maintain the status quo, he notes how access to ideas, literacy, and the demonstration of intellectual equality with men “enabled some to break out of old definitions and roles,” thus demonstrating the multiple and simultaneous influences of power and resistance that I have noted elsewhere in examining this topic within this time period (55).

Work Cited:

Sweet, Leonard I. “The Female Seminary Movement and Women’s Mission in Antebellum America.” Church History 54.1 (March 1985): 41-55. Print.

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