Female Wesleyan College graduates, taken on the steps to a building in 1913.

Times Have Changed! Improvements Made in Women's Education

Times Have Changed! Improvements Made in Women's Education

Masters degrees, leadership positions, and overall inspiring females are the product of our modern day society. Built on the backs of countless women who fought for the rights we have today, it is important to look back and acknowledge how far we have come. From not being allowed to pursue a higher education, to now being the majority of attendance at colleges, it is truly an inspiring journey that must be highlighted. Not only to reflect on the influence that it has had on our society, but to pay tribute to the women who pushed for these rights. It is through our everyday choices and actions that we honor their devotion to the progression of women in studies. 

Being from a culture where women were taught to sit still and look pretty, to stay quiet and keep opinions to themselves, it is an amazing thing to be encouraged to use your mind to its fullest extent. The struggle for higher education rights began in 1672, when Elena Lucrezia attended the University of Padua. She was studying theology, however at the time women were only occasionally allowed to sit in on lectures. Although Elena was exceptional, she was denied her degree by the Catholic Church. Surprisingly enough, with support from classmates and family, Elena was able to receive a Ph.D in philosophy. This was such a significant step for women's education, but it still shows the struggle to get the degree, and society was still strongly rooted in the idea that women did not need a higher education to be a housewife or a mother. Aside from this, it was centuries before degrees for women were normalized. 

Whether you are a woman who has decided to go through college or not, the power of having that choice demonstrates how much our society has improved. School teachers, chauffeurs, and news reporters are just a few of the occupations that were not considered ‘positions for women’. Even if these jobs didn’t necessarily need a degree, being a woman alone was enough to be rejected from it. School teacher careers, that are currently female dominated, had been the exact opposite. Only during a shortage of male teachers in the mid-1800’s were females taken for teaching, being paid about one-third of what males were given. Soon after in the 19th century, coed schools began opening up, with Wesleyan being the very first women’s college. There was, however, still some hindrance. For example, when women were allowed to attend Oberlin, on Monday’s they were required to do the laundry of the male students! Over time, expectations such as the one previously mentioned began to dissolve, and each university began accepting women. Even Ivy Leagues eventually caught onto the trend, after fighting against the direct incorporation of women into their schools for years. 

This was all thanks to activism from individuals who held positions of power. Publishers, writers, and students all contributed to the movement towards women in higher education. According to Fast Company, females currently make up 61% of the college population for the 2020-2021 school year. This is an all time high! Being a woman currently enrolled in an undergraduate degree program, it is inspiring to know that there are so many others in the same boat. Not only is degree seeking easy for us girls, but there are so many opportunities available to us. From organizations such as The Women’s Network, that seeks to connect the diverse female population of universities, to Greek Life that encourages connections among students looking to get involved on campus. There is so much support for those who are looking for it. From the very first woman who earned a bachelor's degree in 1840, to the current 65% of women who graduate with college degrees, it's been a long time coming.