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Higher Education for Women in Postwar America, 1945–1965

Linda Eisenmann

Publication Year: 2006

This history explores the nature of postwar advocacy for women's higher education, acknowledging its unique relationship to the expectations of the era and recognizing its particular type of adaptive activism. Linda Eisenmann illuminates the impact of this advocacy in the postwar era, identifying a link between women's activism during World War II and the women's movement of the late 1960s. Though the postwar period has been portrayed as an era of domestic retreat for women, Eisenmann finds otherwise as she explores areas of institution building and gender awareness. In an era uncomfortable with feminism, this generation advocated individual decision making rather than collective action by professional women, generally conceding their complicated responsibilities as wives and mothers. By redefining our understanding of activism and assessing women's efforts within the context of their milieu, this innovative work reclaims an era often denigrated for its lack of attention to women.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. vii-viii

This book began as a smaller effort to understand the context for the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Bunting Institute, predecessor of the Radcliffe Institute. In the 1990s, as assistant director of this research center for women ...

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pp. 1-10

Writing from retirement in 1979, Esther Raushenbush, past president of Sarah Lawrence College and founder of a premier early 1960s program for helping older women return to college, reflected on women’s higher education in the early years after World War II: “There was an explosion of interest, attention, and research about women in the 1950s—their role in society, their education, ...


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1 Postwar Gender Expectations and Realities

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pp. 11-42

In 1964 Kathryn Greeley had three children (ages 7, 9, and 10), a physician-husband teaching pharmacology at a southern university, a master’s degree in social work, and a résumé that included a few years’ work with the YWCA, a half-year in France as a social worker, and a host of volunteer positions with local community and interracial groups. She described herself as feeling “safe at ...

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2 Educators Consider the Postwar College Woman

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pp. 43-86

“Once I asked a professor for . . . a ‘practical assistantship’ . . . and he said to me, ‘I can’t, Beth. You’re a very bright student but you’ll have children and quit working in the field and not be publishing papers which redound to the credit and illustrious name of the university. So I will choose a male assistant.’ He was quite...


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3 Research: The American Council on Education’s Commission on the Education of Women

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pp. 87-111

In 1955 Esther Lloyd-Jones, professor of education at Columbia University and founding chair of the Commission on the Education of Women, worked hard to craft an enthusiastic fundraising appeal for this fledgling project of the American Council on Education (ACE). She wrote to the Phillips Foundation...

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4 Practice: Advocacy in Women’s Professional Organizations

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pp. 112-140

When Northwestern University students returned to their campus in fall 1948, many were surprised to realize that the year’s leave of absence taken by their dean of women, Ruth McCarn, resulted from her dismissal. They had assumed that McCarn was merely taking time off. But in fact, Dean of Students F. B. Seulberger, acting for President Franklyn Snyder, had arranged for McCarn’s ...

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5 Policy: The President’s Commission on the Status of Women

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pp. 141-178

Agnes Meyer was an intriguing choice for service on the President’s Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) created by John F. Kennedy in 1961. In many ways, Meyer’s life personified the challenges and ambiguities the commission confronted in assessing American women’s status. At age 75, this self-described “author, social worker, and humanitarian” had led a flamboyant life ...


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6 Women’s Continuing Education as an Institutional Response

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pp. 179-209

Mary “Polly” Bunting traveled a long road to the prominence of her membership on the President’s Commission on the Status of Women in 1961 and chair of the ACE’s Commission on the Education of Women. Her experiences as a female scientist, widowed mother of four, and president of Radcliffe College marked her as unusual during the postwar era. Yet in trying to establish herself profession-...

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7 The Contributions and Limitations of Women’s Continuing Education

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pp. 210-227

Even women committed to academic careers found themselves affected by postwar cultural and psychological ideologies and confounded by the complicated reality of sustaining careers, maintaining homes, and raising families. Several founders of the 1960s continuing education centers interrupted their careers to accommodate family needs and husbands’ jobs; in many ways, their ...

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pp. 228-234

The programs created to support women’s continuing education proved extremely popular within a short time of their introduction. From the University of Minnesota’s initial effort in 1960, hundreds of similar programs for women appeared on college campuses...


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pp. 235-272


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pp. 273- 280

E-ISBN-13: 9780801888892
E-ISBN-10: 0801888891
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801887451
Print-ISBN-10: 0801887453

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2006