Women's Education in America: Collections

Among the developments in nineteenth-century America, women’s access to education grew significantly, with the opportunity to become both teachers and learners expanding as the decades progressed. Gale's Women's Studies Archive is an essential resource for researchers who are looking to explore this history in depth.

In the early part of the nineteenth century, very few girls received an education and those who had the option attended dame schools, which started in the eighteenth century and focused on basic literacy. It wasn't until the Common School Movement of the 1840s and 1850s that girls could take their education further, being permitted to attend town schools, though usually at a time when boys were not in attendance.


The need for more schools led to a growing demand for teachers, and America began to look to women to fulfill this role. Concurrent with the high-school system spreading throughout America came the seminary movement led by Catherine Beecher. Providing single-sex education for women, these academies were modeled on English finishing schools and provided the moral, literary, and domestic education needed to train young women to teach.

Higher education was even more of a struggle for women to access, being entirely off-limits until Oberlin College accepted both female and African American students. This lack of access to education was decried at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, which created the foundation for efforts toward equal education for women. Co-educational colleges became more common after the Civil War, especially in western states where smaller populations made them more financially viable. In the East, however, women remained barred from higher-education institutions like Yale and Harvard, leading to the creation of sex-segregated colleges for women, such as Vassar and Bryn Mawr. Despite increased access, female scholars who pursued graduate education often found themselves isolated and those who chose to continue as academics faced blatant discrimination because of their gender.

As the century progressed, increased access to educational opportunities gave educated women the potential for an identity outside the home and altered the traditional patterns of women's lives, with those who had attended academies often marrying later than those who had not. Nonetheless, women's education often remained focused on the domestic sphere, with teaching and motherhood continuing as the dominant women's professions.

Women's access to an equal education has been a long and difficult struggle that wasn't truly addressed until Title IX came about in 1972, but the roots of the movement were formed during the nineteenth century. The monographs in Gale's Women's Studies Archive are the perfect sources for those looking to explore the history of women's education from the point of view of women themselves.

  • Monographs on and by Women from the American Antiquarian Society

    Voice and Vision features a substantial monograph collection from the American Antiquarian Society. These books contain the output of predominantly female authors in a variety of forms, including poetry, fiction, instructional guides (domestic and professional), personal letters, recipe books, memoirs, pamphlets and leaflets, biographies and autobiographies, personal papers, children’s literature, commentaries on fashion, diaries, and religious tracts. The material covers an eclectic mix of topics, such as the abolition of slavery, education, African American women, alcohol and temperance, American life, divorce, domestic service, education, female crime, poetry, health and hygiene, Indian women, Irish women, juvenile literature, mental health, moral reform, religion, sexual discrimination, social reform and charitable organizations, women in publishing, women’s legal status, and women’s suffrage and rights.


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  • Rare Titles from the American Antiquarian Society, 1820–1922


    Containing over one million pages of women-authored works from the American Antiquarian Society, the pre-eminent collector of pre-twentieth-century Americana, this archive includes over a century of female writing. This unique corpus of female-authored literature centers on the American female experience in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The database not only provides women’s perspective of history but is an essential resource for researchers wanting to undertake in-depth analysis into women’s authorship, enabling researchers to track the development of female language, literature, and ideas.

    Curated by the American Antiquarian Society, the monographs were selected from across the library’s collections, including a diversity of fiction genres and non-fiction subjects but primarily because they were authored or edited by women in an attempt to provide users with a canon of women's literature. This artificial collection has been kept deliberately broad and includes fiction, poetry, instructional guides on domestics and etiquette, personal letters, recipe books, memoirs, histories, pamphlets and leaflets, biographies and autobiographies, personal papers, children’s literature, commentaries on fashion, diaries, legal accounts, oration, political ephemera, and religious tracts. This incredibly wide scope supports a variety of research, helping users answer questions about women's cultural contributions as well as provide insight into women’s day-to-day lives. The individuals range from famous figures to complete unknowns, allowing scholars to make new connections and rediscover lost or ignored works from the past.

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