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Education of Women in the United States South Christie Anne Farnham. The Education of the Southern Belle: Higher Education and Student Socialization in the Antebellum South. New York: New York University Press, 1994. χ + 256 pp. Elizabeth Fox-Genovese Northern, and increasingly national, attitudes toward southern education have typically ranged from condescension to contempt. The South's history of segregation has only reinforced the tendency to dismiss southern education as backward, inadequate, and discrirrtinatory. And, sadly, according to aggregate statistical indicators, many southern states continue to fall to the bottom of the national heap in educational accomplishment . In the same spirit, it has been easy for many to assume that southern women remain caught in the tentacles of traditional ferrvininity, lagging far behind other American women in independence, ambition, and accompUshment. More often than not, responsibUity for both the South's educational fatiures and its subordination of women is charged to the account of etite white southern men, who have arrogantly staved off justice to blacks, poor whites, and women, including the women of their own class and race. Under these conditions, it is hardly surprising that the education of southern women has not figured prominently on the research agenda of womens historians. Even as growing numbers of women's historians have begun, however belatedly, to explore seriously the experience of southern women, the neglect of southern women's education has persisted . From one perspective, this neglect seems puzzling. The history of women's education does offer a high road into the fascinating world of women's perceptions of themselves and the world, primarily by providing a preliminary guide to what educated women may be expected to have read. From another, however, the neglect may be seen to foUow naturally from a widespread reluctance to dismiss the inteUectual and educational life of women who did not see education as a vehicle for the advancement of womens independence, which most southern women did not. Education has from the start enjoyed an important place in the history of northeastern women, presumably on the assumption that the development of women's minds and independent intellectual tradition rank high among women's legacy for succeeding generations. During the past 2 decades or so, women's historians have constructed a dense and satisfying account of the lives and careers of pathbreaking women educa- © 1997 Journal of Women's History, Vol. 9 No. ι (Spring) 204 Journal of Women's History Spring tors such as Catharine Beecher, Mary Lyon, and Emma WUlard; women's colleges, especially the flagship "seven sisters"; and women's educational experiences and resulting webs of friendship.1 More often than not, however , these accounts have focused upon the aspirations and achievements of women who resisted conventional models of domesticity and subordination . For even when they inculcated traditional female virtues Ui the young women entrusted to them, they remained committed to the independence and access to the public world of men that their own careers as teachers afforded them and other women. In this fine book, Christie Anne Farnham thoroughly demonstrates that southern women's education served a significantly different mission from that of northern women. But, as she also demonstrates, its different mission does not justify its dismissal as a second- or third-class undertaking . To the contrary, as those who actually read Thomas Woody's massive study of women's education in the United States would know, southern education for women, if anything, outmatched its northern counterpart.2 The South, not the North, Farnham reminds us, produced the first "selfconscious effort to erect an institution at the collegiate level—whose stated goal was to provide an education for women identical to that avaUable at the highest levels for men and to use the term college in doing so" (11). In 1835, a group of leading male citizens in the smaU town of Macon, Georgia, met to discuss the founding of a women's coUege. On January 7, 1839, the Georgia Female College, later known as Wesleyan CoUege, opened in a new building, under the aegis of its first president, the distinguished Methodist minister and later bishop, George Foster Pierce, four professors, and assorted other teachers and staff. By the 1850s, women's coUeges...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2036
Print ISSN
1042-7961
Pages
pp. 203-211
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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