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A World of Their Own

A History of South African Women’s Education

Meghan Healy-Clancy

Publication Year: 2014

The politics of black education has long been a key issue in southern African studies, but despite rich debates on the racial and class dimensions of schooling, historians have neglected their distinctive gendered dynamics. A World of Their Own is the first book to explore the meanings of black women’s education in the making of modern South Africa. Its lens is a social history of the first high school for black South African women, Inanda Seminary, from its 1869 founding outside of Durban through the recent past.

Employing diverse archival and oral historical sources, Meghan Healy-Clancy reveals how educated black South African women developed a tradition of social leadership, by both working within and pushing at the boundaries of state power. She demonstrates that although colonial and apartheid governance marginalized women politically, it also valorized the social contributions of small cohorts of educated black women. This made space for growing numbers of black women to pursue careers as teachers and health workers over the course of the twentieth century. After the student uprisings of 1976, as young black men increasingly rejected formal education for exile and street politics, young black women increasingly stayed in school and cultivated an alternative form of student politics. Inanda Seminary students’ experiences vividly show how their academic achievements challenged the narrow conceptions of black women’s social roles harbored by both officials and black male activists. By the transition to democracy in the early 1990s, black women outnumbered black men at every level of education—introducing both new opportunities for women and gendered conflicts that remain acute today.

Published by: University of Virginia Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

Tables and Figures

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pp. vii-viii

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On Terminology and Orthography

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p. ix

Racial terminology presents manifold problems when writing after – and when attempting to write ourselves out of – apartheid. While some scholars have tried to minimise their use of such terminology as a protest against its persistent racialising logic, I use the terms ‘African...


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p. x

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pp. xi-xiv

As a close reader of acknowledgement pages, I have learned that writing good history hinges on having good friendships. I can only hope that this study is as rich as the intellectual comradeship that went into it. First, the women and men affiliated with Inanda Seminary, past...

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pp. 1-17

Inanda Seminary stands some fifteen miles north of Durban, Kwa- Zulu-Natal, its verdant campus separated from the township around it by a long driveway and an electric fence. Amidst whitewashed buildings and jacarandas, neatly attired schoolgirls file between classrooms...

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Chapter One: Social Reproduction in the Making of a‘Benevolent Empire’ 1835–1885

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pp. 18-52

‘The whole system of schools in this mission needs reforming,’ Henry Bridgman wrote to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions on behalf of his American Zulu Mission in 1864. ‘We absolutely need now, a girls Seminary, modelled after Mt. Holyoke...

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Chapter Two: Domestic Revolutions and the Feminisation of Schooling in Natal 1885–1910

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pp. 53-86

In 1894, Native Schools Inspector Robert Plant concluded of Inanda that he had ‘nothing but praise to give. The modesty, cleanliness, good behaviour, general intelligence, and industry shown by the girls generally is most creditable both to themselves and the ladies in charge.’...

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Chapter Three: New African Women’s Work in Segregationist South Africa 1910–1948

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pp. 87-119

In honour of Inanda Seminary’s seventieth anniversary, over 500 alumnae descended upon the campus in 1939. After a ceremony featuring Lucy Isaac, the oldest alumna, the women crowded into the chapel to hear the day’s keynote speaker: alumna Ntombi Mndima...

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Chapter four: Education Policy and the Gendered Making of Separate Development 1948–1976

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pp. 120-162

In late 1956, Adams College held its last service. During a storm that pelted the iron-roofed chapel with ominous force, a full congregation tearfully sang ‘God Be with You until We Meet Again’. ‘Two Native women students in the choir stopped singing because they were...

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Chapter Five: Educated African Women in a Time of Political Revolution 1976–1994

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pp. 163-190

In June 1976, Sikose Mji was training as a secretary at Inanda, in the course that had been launched with funding from American corporations avoiding divestment and with the support of KwaZulu leader Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi. But Mji was not interested in...

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pp. 191-199

Post-apartheid educational transformations will hinge on concurrent transformations in the economy and society – which remain characterised by striking degrees of progress towards gender and racial equity in some dimensions, but limited by deepening class divisions...


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pp. 200-264


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pp. 265-293


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pp. 294-312

Reconsiderations in Southern African History

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E-ISBN-13: 9780813936093
E-ISBN-10: 0813936098
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813936086
Print-ISBN-10: 081393608x

Page Count: 328
Illustrations: 28 b&w illus., 10 tables
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 875640595
MUSE Marc Record: Download for A World of Their Own

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Inanda Seminary (Inanda, South Africa).
  • Blacks -- Education.
  • Women -- Education -- South Africa -- History.
  • Women -- Political activity -- South Africa -- History.
  • South Africa -- Politics and government -- 20th century.
  • Education -- South Africa -- History -- 20th century.
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