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Women's History Month Project
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National Women's History Month, March 2012

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March is Women's History Month. During this month, DoDEA celebrates the accomplishments and contributions women have made in the field of education and in the education of women.


The History of Women's Education  

Today, women outnumber men in American colleges across the nation. According to data from the 2010 Census, 37 percent of employed women have their bachelor's degree or higher compared to 35 percent of men. However, this gender reversal is a very recent phenomenon.  

For centuries women fought to be equal to men in obtaining an education. 

With the end of the American Revolution came the notion of education as a safeguard for democracy. Women were beginning to be allowed to obtain a basic education on the premise that they would nurture the bodies and minds of male citizens and leaders. This concept was prevalent in the United States for many years.

Advocates for women faced arguments from physicians and other "experts" who believed women were not capable of developing intellectually like their male counterparts. These "experts" believed that women could potentially be harmed by striving to obtain an education. This became the basis for arguments against coeducation.  

It would be almost two centuries before a college would open that would admit women. In 1833, Oberlin College in Ohio became the first college to accept women in a coeducational environment. In 1879 Harvard opened its "Annex," now known as Radcliffe College, for women. Men and women would continue to be educated separately until the 1970s. Despite these changes, the curriculum for women was still limited compared to what was taught to men. 

When coeducation spread to the Ivy League schools the number of women's only colleges began to decrease steadily. Many schools that began only educating women, including the Seven Sisters, are still operational in the U.S. but enroll a much more diverse cross-section of the country than they did over 100 years ago.  


Famous Firsts

Elizabeth_Blackwell Elizabeth Blackwell (Feb. 3, 1821-May 31, 1910) - was the first woman to graduate from Medical School in 1849 and was a pioneer in educating women in medicine.



euphemia_loftonMartha Euphemia Rosalie Lofton (1890-July 25, 1980) - was the first African American woman to obtain her Ph.D. in Mathematics from Catholic University in 1943 and taught for many years in DC's public schools.


Ellen_Swallow_Richards Ellen Swallow Richards (1842-1911) - was the first woman to be admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1873. She became the first female professional chemist in the United States.

 

Visit the Women in History for more information.