chapter  9
34 Pages

Women's Education in England and the Colonies

In this environmentalist age it hardly seems necessary to justify the importance of education in affecting woman's position in society. To be effective, any feminine Declaration of Independence must contain a clause demanding complete equality of educational opportunity. It is surely no coincidence that women's status and roles improved in America at the same time as higher education was being extended to them. 1 Ruth Bolton, the mildly-feminist heroine of Twain and Warner's The Gilded Age, tells her less advanced mamma, 'Mother, I think I wouldn't say "always" to any one until I have a profession and am as independent as he is. Then my love would be a free act, and not in any way a necessity.'2 If, as Calhoun avers, 'economic independence is the only sure basis of equality', then educational opportunity is its handmaid. 3

Professor Bailyn has recently warned us of the anachronistic dangers inherent in the word 'education'.4 While we use the term to denote what used to be somewhat scornfully known as 'booklarnin' " the seventeenth-century concept was much closer to our 'upbringing', or more pedantically 'acculturation'. In the last three centuries, the educational balance has tipped heavily from the family to the school. The illiterate has become a curiosity, but so has the son intimately versed in his father's trade. This chapter will be limited to a discussion of formal education and training, but this restriction will omit much of what was then legitimately regarded as education.