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Black Women in the Ivory Tower, 1850–1954

An Intellectual History

Stephanie Y. Evans

Publication Year: 2008

Evans chronicles the stories of African American women who struggled for and won access to formal education, beginning in 1850, when Lucy Stanton, a student at Oberlin College, earned the first college diploma conferred on an African American woman. In the century between the Civil War and the civil rights movement, a critical increase in black women's educational attainment mirrored unprecedented national growth in American education. Evans reveals how black women demanded space as students and asserted their voices as educators--despite such barriers as violence, discrimination, and oppressive campus policies--contributing in significant ways to higher education in the United States. She argues that their experiences, ideas, and practices can inspire contemporary educators to create an intellectual democracy in which all people have a voice.

Among those Evans profiles are Anna Julia Cooper, who was born enslaved yet ultimately earned a doctoral degree from the Sorbonne, and Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of Bethune-Cookman College. Exposing the hypocrisy in American assertions of democracy and discrediting European notions of intellectual superiority, Cooper argued that all human beings had a right to grow. Bethune believed that education is the right of all citizens in a democracy. Both women's philosophies raised questions of how human and civil rights are intertwined with educational access, scholarly research, pedagogy, and community service. This first complete educational and intellectual history of black women carefully traces quantitative research, explores black women's collegiate memories, and identifies significant geographic patterns in America's institutional development. Evans reveals historic perspectives, patterns, and philosophies in academia that will be an important reference for scholars of gender, race, and education.

Published by: University Press of Florida

Title Page, Copyright

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List of Illustrations

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pp. xi

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pp. xiii-xiv

Thanks to scholars at Howard University’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, especially Thomas Battle, Ida Jones, Donna Wells, and Joellen El Bashir, for allowing me access to the hallowed halls where the treasures are kept. I am grateful for assistance from archivists at Bethune-Cookman College, Middlebury...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xv

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Introduction. “This Right to Grow”: Higher Education as Both a Human and Civil Right

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pp. 1-17

Anna Julia Cooper was born enslaved in approximately 1858. Despite racist and sexist barriers of the caste system in the United States, she earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from Oberlin College, attended graduate school at Columbia University, and then, in 1925, earned a doctoral degree from the...

Part 1: Educational Attainment

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1. “A Plea for the Oppressed”: Educational Strivings, Pre-1865

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pp. 21-35

Before the Civil War, over 250 institutions offered college-level work; only a select few were open to black or women students. The most notable were Oberlin (founded in 1833), Antioch (1853), and Wilberforce (1856), all in Ohio; Hillsdale (1844) in Michigan; Cheyney (1837) and Lincoln (1854) in...

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2. “The Crown of Culture”: Educational Attainment, 1865–1910

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pp. 36-56

Between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of World War I, many black women blossomed in fertile academic ground. Not only were three colleges developed especially for black women, but this era cultivated the first substantial crop of scholars to complete formal training that was on par with men’s and...

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3. “Beating Onward, Ever Onward”: A Critical Mass, 1910–1954

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pp. 57-76

Droves of migrants to northern and urban areas; the modernization produced by two world wars; cultural renaissance in popular cities like Harlem, St. Louis, and Chicago; the Great Depression; and the intensification of mass mobilization for citizenship rights all had great impacts on black women’s college experiences...

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4. “Reminiscences of School Life”: Six College Memoirs

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pp. 77-103

Autobiography provides a rich source from which to consider the development of African American collegiate women. Though historically unreliable as a stand-alone document, a first-person account (as seen in John Hope Franklin’s Mirror to America), adds much detail to the scene drawn by the collective...

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5. “I Make Myself Heard”: Comparative Collegiate Experiences

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pp. 104-119

Overall, black women’s reflections on their collegiate days reveal a sense of appreciation for having access to higher education and a frustration at the social limitations they continued to face despite that access. As a result of their struggles, they demonstrated a dedication to advancing opportunities for others to...

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6. “The Third Step”: Doctoral Degrees, 1921–1954

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pp. 120-138

Progress toward building a critical mass of undergraduate degree holders moved at a tortoise’s pace for black women; their attainment of graduate degrees proceeded at an even slower snail’s pace. The first and second waves of undergraduate studies illustrated a compelling ebb and flow of knowledge consumption...

Part 2: Intellectual Legacy

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7. Research: “The Yard Stick of Great Thinkers”

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pp. 141-159

Research, teaching, and service are the core of higher education. Each area raises questions of interest about scholarly agenda, curricular focus, pedagogical practice, and responsibilities to communities. Though black women’s access to formal education was limited, their scholarship was present in America...

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8. Teaching: “That Which Relieves Their Hunger”

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pp. 160-179

In 1865, the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (commonly known as the Freedmen’s Bureau) was housed in the War Department, just as the Bureau of Indian Affairs was in the 1820s. Educating black people was not initially a priority of the Freedmen’s Bureau; it was organized for the managing...

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9. Service: “A Beneficent Force”

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pp. 180-193

Despite the various means of learning, black women educators’ articulation of the function of education was tied directly to community service. However, they did not all have the same definition of service. There was general belief in an innate and reciprocal relationship between education, community...

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10. Living Legacies—Black Women in Higher Education, Post-1954

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pp. 194-216

A growing body of contemporary scholarship reveals black women’s social contract in various arenas. Sharon Harley, Glenda Gilmore, Debra Gray White, Rhonda Willimas, Premilla Nadasen, and Amrita Myers exemplify researchers who explore black women’s social relationships in labor, political, civic, housing...


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pp. 217-239


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pp. 241-257


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pp. 259-275

E-ISBN-13: 9780813045207
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813030319
Print-ISBN-10: 0813030315

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 11 b&w photos, 5 maps
Publication Year: 2008