Liberations and Contradictions:
Moments in the History of Gender and Education

A public lecture series associated with History/Women's Studies 285:
Pathways to Vassar: The Rise of Women's Higher Education in Historical Context

Thursdays 5:15pm to 6:30pm, in Taylor 203
Free and open to the public. First-come, first-seated.

Please note that the lecture will be webcast. However, the live webcasts will not be viewable via iPhone or iPad. We are working with the webcasting supplier to provide other formats of the archived videos.

Download syllabus for History/Women's Studies 285 (PDF)

September 1, 2011

Renaissance Men (And Women)

Nancy Bisaha, Professor of History

This lecture will examine the medieval roots of the university movement. We will learn about the students (party animals, town-gown rioters, and tavern dwellers, as well as the studious, brilliant achievers of the age) and their often aloof and unpredictable masters. We will also answer two very important questions: What options for education were available to young women? And how did Elena Cornaro-Piscopia, whose image graces the stained glass window of the Thompson Library, achieve the first doctorate awarded to a woman in 1678?

Suggested reading:

September 8, 2011

Constructions of Femininity and the Enlightenment Debate over Women's Education

Sumita Choudhury, Associate Professor of History

During the Age of Enlightenment, women's education generated heated debates as various 18th-century writers argued over what form of learning enabled women to realize their true "nature." This lecture will describe how treatises, novels, and pornographic satire explored women's minds and bodies, and the connection between the two. The "curriculum" writers prescribed was designed not to bring out female intellectual potential but rather, to enhance women's social roles as wives and mothers.

September 15, 2011

"A New Era in Female History"?: Women During the Revolutionary Era

James H. Merrell, Lucy Maynard Salmon Professor of History

In March 1776 Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John, asking him to “remember the ladies” when he and his colleagues in the Continental Congress made a new nation. Despite her plea, women in this period have been forgotten more often than remembered. Countering the amnesia, this lecture asks: Was there an “American Revolution” for women, ushering in what Judith Sargent Murray called “a new era in female history”?

September 22, 2011

Ladies' and Gentlemen's Proper Behavior in the Age of Domesticity

Rebecca Edwards, Eloise Ellery Professor of History Ronald D. Patkus, Head of Special Collections, Vassar College Library, and Adjunct Associate Professor of History

We will begin this session by using original copies of Godey's Lady's Book to explore the 19th-century code of respectable behavior: thrift, self-control, piety, and domesticity. We will devote special attention to depictions of the home, "woman's sphere." We may think such ideas were universal, but they were not. Emerging in the turmoil of industrialization, they were unevenly interpreted and often contested. The lecture will explore two alternative ideals of gender behavior: "martial manhood" and "public womanhood."

Suggested reading:

September 29, 2011

Goodness! Gender and Religious Faith

Rebecca Edwards, Eloise Ellery Professor of History

This lecture will explore some of the complex ways in which religious faith both hampered and encouraged 19th-century women's emancipation. We will trace the rise of evangelical Protestantism during the Second Great Awakening and explore its impact on society and politics. We will then consider three vibrant examples of alternative religious practice, all of which challenged prevailing ideas about marriage and domesticity: Shakerism, Mormonism, and Spiritualism.

October 6, 2011

Reform, Antislavery, and Women's Rights

Rebecca Edwards, Eloise Ellery Professor of History

From the 1830s onward, women took such active and prominent roles in American reform that by the late 1800s commentators declared it was "Woman's Century." This lecture will describe women's and men's various antebellum reform efforts and explore their consequences for gender relations and public life. You will leave with a historical explanation for why politically prominent women—for example, Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann—may tend to be more politically extreme than male party leaders.

Suggested readings:

October 27, 2011

Inventing Women's Education

Rebecca Edwards, Eloise Ellery Professor of History

This lecture will discuss experiments in women's higher education, the founding of Vassar, and the early curriculum and student life. Since Vassar promised young women an education equivalent to that of Harvard or Yale, we will make a detour to Harvard to consider how elite men's colleges did and did not provide a useful model. We will compare women's single-sex education with the simultaneous rise of co-education at less elite colleges, especially in the South and West.

Suggested readings:

November 3, 2011

Emancipations in Context: Liberalism and Nationalism

Rebecca Edwards, Eloise Ellery Professor of History

The 19th century was a great era of liberalism and nationalism. We will consider the meaning of those terms at the time and explore some of the ways in which American women's emancipation, like the end of slavery, was inextricably tied to the terrible war to preserve the Union. Tracing the revolution in federal governance forged during the war, we will consider how Americans ended up, in the words of historian Thomas Bender, "forgetting liberalism and remembering nationalism."

Suggested reading:

November 10, 2011

"Not the Boys Less, But the Girls More": Black Women and Higher Education after Reconstruction

Quincy T. Mills, Assistant Professor of History

November 17, 2011

Vassar Graduates and Progressive Reform: Julia Lathrop, Josephine Roche, and Julia Stimson

Miriam Cohen, Evalyn Clark Professor of History, Robyn Muncy, Department of History, University of Maryland, William Elfant, Vassar Class of 1979, Chair: Elisabeth Israels Perry, St. Louis University

At the end of 19th century and during the early decades of the 20th, many women made critical contributions to American social reform, tackling issues of health care, children's welfare, women's rights and labor rights. Three such women were Julia Lathrop, Vassar Class of 1880. Julia Stimson, Class of 1901, and Josephine Roche, Class of 1909. This panel looks at the lives of these illustrious women and the Vassar education that helped nurture their lifelong careers on behalf of social justice.

December 1, 2011

The College and the Cold War

Robert K. Brigham, Professor of History on the Shirley Ecker Boskey Chair of International Relations

December 8, 2011

The Many Meanings of Education in 19th-Century America

A Reading by the Students of History/Women's Studies 285