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Women’s Education – Women’s Empowerment:

Celebrating Women’s History Month

an Exhibition

March 1, 2012 - March 31, 2012

curated by
Maureen Cech

Women’s Education–Women’s Empowerment

Women’s History Month raises awareness of the essential and influential roles women play in the development of our shared history. Women’s History Week was recognized by Congress in 1981, and in 1987, Congress designated the month of March to the celebration of Women’s History in perpetuity. Each year, the National Women’s History Project identifies a theme that highlights the myriad ways in which women have contributed to community–building and nation–building. The theme for 2012 is “Women’s Education–Women’s Empowerment,” which recognizes the essential role higher education has played in granting women political, economic, and social agency–and the biases, stereotypes, and pseudoscience women have faced to be educated equally with men. Once considered too fragile of mind and body for intense intellectual pursuits, women now outnumber men in many colleges and universities around the United States. Many opponents of women’s education saw higher education as unfeminine and diminished women’s chances for marriage. Women’s colleges began opening in the nineteenth century and offered women educational opportunities previously unimagined. Co–education was considered controversial by many, and courses of study for women were often restricted to a few fields, particularly in the humanities and areas that would be considered most useful for the domestic sphere. Sex stereotyping in male–dominated fields such as the sciences also prevented many women from undertaking such courses of study. Many American colleges and universities did not become co–educational until the mid–twentieth century, and educational opportunities offered to men were not extended to women until the passage of Title IX of the Education Codes of the Higher Education Act Amendments in 1972 (enacted in 1977), which prohibits gender discrimination by federally funded institutions.

Pestalozzi Literary Society

Bylaws, constitution, and amendments, 1876–1886

Delaware College admitted its first female students in September 1872. During this first period of co–education, a group of nine women students formed a literary club in 1876 called the Pestalozzi Literary Society, named in honor of Swiss educational reformer Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746–1827). The society’s stated purposes were to encourage companionship and advance literary pursuits among the College’s female students. The Pestalozzians promoted social and political causes on campus and in Delaware, particularly women’s rights; the group brought women’s rights activist Belva Lockwood (1830–1917) to speak on campus and sponsored a lecture by Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906).

Shown here is a volume containing the Pestalozzi Literary Society’s constitution, bylaws, amendments, membership roster, and presidential oath.

Carol E. Hoffecker

Beneath Thy Guiding Hand: A History of Women at the University of Delaware. Newark, Delaware: University of Delaware Press, 1994.

From the first period of co–education in the nineteenth century to the opening of the Women’s College of Delaware in 1914 to full co–education in 1945, the history of women at the University of Delaware has been neither simple nor straightforward. Hoffecker’s book recounts the roles female students, faculty and administrators have occupied and held throughout the University’s history, as well as the contributions these women have made to the development of the University as an institution of higher education.

Members of Tassel, 1951

Tassel was an all–female honorary society established at the newly co–educational University of Delaware in the early 1950s. Women from the junior class were chosen each year for outstanding scholarship, leadership, and service. In 1960, Tassel joined Mortar Board, the national honors society for women, which later included male members after the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

Winifred Robinson

History of the Women’s College of the University of Delaware, 1914–1938. Reprinted from Delaware Notes, 1947.

Winifred Robinson (1867–1962) acquired a Ph.D. in botany in 1912 and held teaching and administrative positions at Vassar and the University of Wisconsin Summer School before becoming the first dean of the Women’s College. She served as dean from the school’s opening in 1914 until her retirement at the age of 70 in 1938. Dean Robinson was a powerful force in shaping the new and experimental enterprise of women’s public higher education in Delaware.

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