ABSTRACT

More than two decades of interest in the history of American women as college students have recently culminated in a trio of notable books. Barbara Miller Solomon's In the Company of Educated Women: A History of Women and Higher Education in America, Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz's Campus Life: Undergraduate Cultures from the End of the Eighteenth Century to the Present, and Lynn D. Gordon's Gender and Higher Education in the Progressive Era all use a rich variety of sources to bring to life the experiences of generations of women undergraduate students, mainly at prestigious colleges and large state universities. While the authors have different emphases, they share a commitment to making sense of college experiences through alumnae memoirs, letters, yearbooks, and works of fiction, as well as more conventional sources. Their inquiries intersect in their analyses of life for women on coeducational campuses during the Progressive Era and earlier years. Together, Solomon, Horowitz, and Gordon present a cohesive picture of "coeds" whose lives were entirely controlled by the Victorian notion of separate gender spheres. The "outsiders" of the first generation espoused traditional values, studied hard, and remained on the sidelines during extracurricular activities. Beginning in the 1890s, women of the second generation proclaimed that, like men, they could devote themselves to "college" life; adhering to a separate spheres ideology, they created student government, clubs, and activity groups for women only. Solomon, Horowitz, and Gordon portray a form of education in which male and female students stayed entirely apart---education that did not warrant the prefix "CO."1