Education and Women’s Social Roles
The expectations held by a society define the roles of its members. While many factors influence the parts individuals play in their cultures and communities, education has always been the crucial element in the establishment of social roles. Education was the catalyst which changed women's roles in society from what they were in the late 1800s to what they are now.
In the latter years of the nineteenth century, women's roles in American society underwent gradual but definite growth, spurred on by a rapidly changing society. As the nation recovered from its Civil War and slavery faded away, a massive transformation of industrialization took place, and revolutionary scientific ideas, such as those presented in Charles Darwin's Origin of Species, and by Sigmund Freud, caused people to question and to rethink fundamental aspects of their lives, religion, and beliefs. Social reforms in the fields of health, labor, and education developed as the publication of books and periodicals revealed to the public the problems therein. At the turn of the century, women's roles were severely limited by society's concepts of male supremacy and female inferiority. Women were perceived as weak, a notion upheld by the "prevalence of invalidism among nineteenth century women". (Muhlenfeld, Elisabeth) Fashions of the times didn't help either. Voluminous, billowing skirts hampered movement, and corsets caused dizzy spells and fainting. A woman's priority in young adulthood was to find a husband, and after doing so, raise a family and run a well-kept household. Women were not expected to harbor aspirations other than "... the acquisition of a husband, a family, and a home....". (Cowen, Ruth Schwartz) The male-dominated social order dictated that women be meek and obedient "domestic creatures," for the most part confined to housewifery and raising of children, deferential to men, and financially dependent on the husband. These very definite ideas about a woman's part in the overall scheme of things were responsible for the restricted part women played in their world. "...[A]n exclusively nineteenth century phenomenon among women... developed as a result of the concept of the 'woman's sphere,' whereby the woman's role in life was strictly limited to home and family. 'Sorority' as a social phenomenon seems to have passed away in the twentieth century as women's opportunities and roles expanded". (Muhlenfeld)
As slaves were forbidden to learn to read, women were likewise kept in their place through lack of substantial and purposeful formal instruction. In the late 1800s, women began to go to college to pursue "learning for its own sake, detached from professional motives". (Solomon, Barbara) Higher education was not intended as job preparation. Women were expected to marry and not pursue a career, thus having no practical use for their educations aside from what they learned in home economics courses. In the south, token...