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Bright Epoch

Women and Coeducation in the American West

Andrea G. Radke-Moss

Publication Year: 2008

With the passage of the Morrill Act in 1862, many states in the Midwest and the West chartered land-grant colleges following the Civil War. Because of both progressive ideologies and economic necessity, these institutions admitted women from their inception and were among the first public institutions to practice coeducation. Although female students did not feel completely accepted by their male peers and professors in the land-grant environment, many of them nonetheless successfully negotiated greater gender inclusion for themselves and their peers.

In Bright Epoch, Andrea G. Radke-Moss tells the story of female students’ early mixed-gender encounters at four institutions: Iowa Agricultural College, the University of Nebraska, Oregon Agricultural College, and Utah State Agricultural College. Although land-grant institutions have been most commonly associated with domestic science courses for women, Bright Epoch illuminates the diversity of other courses of study available to female students, including the sciences, literature, journalism, business commerce, and law. In a culture where the forces of gender separation constantly battled gender inclusion, women found new opportunities for success and achievement through activities such as literary societies, athletics, military regiments, and women’s rights and suffrage activism. Through these venues, women students challenged nineteenth-century gender limitations and created broader definitions of female inclusion and participation in the land-grant environment and in the larger American society.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Series: Women in the West


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. viii-ix

Tables and Graphs

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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xii

The completion of this book would not have been possible without the academic, emotional, and financial support of many individuals and institutions. From the dissertation stage of this project I would like to express thanks to John R. Wunder, whose unfailing support and energy kept this project focused, relevant, and on time. Few advisors would have ...

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pp. 1-20

With the passage of the Morrill Act in 1862, many states in the Midwest and West chartered land-grant colleges following the Civil War. Because of both progressive ideologies and economic necessity, these institutions admitted women from their early beginnings. Although some historians have downplayed coeducational experiences at land-grant colleges as mere ...

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1. Making a Welcome for Women Students: The Discourse of Coeducational Inclusion by Administrators and Students

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pp. 21-47

The land-grant experiment purposely sought to provide education as a democratic ideal, and coeducation was linked to the emerging standard for the egalitarian provision of education to men and women. When Adonijah S. Welch gave his inaugural address for the new Iowa Agricultural College in March of 1869, coeducation was still a hotly debated national topic, and ...

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2. The Place of Women Students: Reading the Language and Practices of Gender Separation

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pp. 48-78

As the defense and promotion of coeducation became an integral part of the land-grant ideology and culture in the 1870s, students and administrators began the long and laborious process of trying to sort out the actual practice of mixed-gender education. Because the state land-grant charters offered no guidelines for male-female interaction, the details of ...

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3. The Early Practice of Coeducation: Literary Societies as Laboratories for Separation and Inclusion

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pp. 79-101

Literary societies for male and female students emerged in the 1870s and 1880s as significant experimental laboratories for the implementation of coeducation, especially as land-grants in the 1870s struggled to define the extent of gender mixing. Coed literary societies offered what few universities possessed — an opportunity for men and women students to debate, ...

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4. Women Students' Sociality: Building Relationships with Men and Women

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pp. 102-142

This chapter will examine ways in which four land-grant institutions in the West simultaneously sought to encourage the two opposing forces of separation of the sexes and desirable sociality that would lead to marriage. Most administrators attempted to maintain a strict culture of separation between the sexes, while also allowing and even encouraging proper and ...

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5. Women's Course Work: Farm Wives, Finished Ladies, or Functioning Scientists?

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pp. 143-189

The land-grant experience saw the emergence of an institutionalized form of gender separation through the new domestic science course of study. Also called domestic economy or household economics, this movement in the nineteenth century sought to train women in their separate sphere to be more efficient and productive in the home arts such as cooking and ...

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6. Under the Gaze: Women's Physical Activity and Sport at Land-Grant Colleges

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pp. 190-222

Land-grant women students experienced a favorable environment for the development of physical activity and participation in sports. Students took advantage of the relatively free and sometimes liberal culture of coeducational institutions that helped promote female sports. Further, the physical culture classes and military training offered as part of the land-grant mission ...

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7. "The American Eagle in Bloomers": "Student-Soldieresses" and Women's Military Activity

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pp. 223-251

Land-grant university environments allowed women the opportunity to take traditionally male activities — literary society debates, athletics, team sports, and school elections — and adapt these for women's participation. This process of redefining the male student sphere for women's inclusion, or better, creating a parallel female sphere, was an important part of ...

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8. Challenging Political Separation: Women's Rights Activism at Land-Grant Colleges and Universities

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pp. 252-288

On November 12, 1916, Bernice Forest, a student at Oregon Agricultural College, recorded in her diary that she had voted for Charles Evan Hughes in the presidential election. When Pres. Woodrow Wilson beat Hughes, Forest expressed a tempered disappointment: "Maybe my choice was ill advised," she said. However, she had thoughtful reasons for voting against ...

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Conclusion: Bright Epoch: When the Fair Daughters Joined the Ranks

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pp. 289-304

What is the ultimate legacy of coeducational experience for land-grant women students between 1870 and 1918? Rather than an example of strict gender exclusion and discrimination in a male-dominated environment, the land-grant experience is a story of the negotiation of gendered spaces — at times toward greater inclusion for women, and at times toward ...


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pp. 305-330


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pp. 331-342


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pp. 343-352

E-ISBN-13: 9780803219427
E-ISBN-10: 0803219423

Illustrations: 29 illus, 7 graphs, 4 tables
Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: Women in the West