Women's Colleges Still Make Sense

By Feigl, Dorothy M. | U.S. Catholic, January 1996 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Women's Colleges Still Make Sense

Feigl, Dorothy M., U.S. Catholic

Why women's colleges? with access to essentially all the schools that were closed to them just 30 years ago (the Citadel notwithstanding), why should young women elect to attend a school that is a remnant of a time when women were not welcome elsewhere?

Of the 300 women's colleges that existed in 1960, only 84 remain today. Only about 20 of these are Catholic colleges for women. Why should these remaining schools not also go gentle into that good night?

The Women's College Coalition has marshaled facts and figures that make a case for its member schools, citing, for example, the disproportionately high representation of their graduates among women leaders in business and government. I, too, want to make a case for education at women's colleges but by addressing the experience itself.

I have observed thousands of girls make the transition to womanhood in this setting. The heart of that transition is a simple and essential act: the student's acceptance of herself as a capable and talented person. She must come to recognize that self-confidence is not the same as conceit and that pride, an oft-cited vice in a Catholic upbringing, can also be a virtue. At these schools, women learn to cope with the benefits and burdens of being bright enough and skilled enough to assume real responsibility. This acknowledgment of one's best self can occur at any institution of higher education, but it happens routinely at women's colleges. What distinguishes a women's college is its insistent, explicit, and pervasive valuing of women.

The faculty (women and men) at these institutions are committed to women's education. It is their focused expertise that determines course content, teaching styles, modes of leadership development, and research agendas. In concert with other student-development professionals, they design for women not just a room but a school of one's own.

Let me offer an illustration from my own school's history. In the mid-1940s, Saint Mary's College opened a graduate school of theology that, during its existence, conferred advanced degrees on hundreds of women. The program was established because no graduate program was accepting--or even contemplating accepting--women into advanced study in theology. In many instances, women charged with the formal religious education of young people in grade schools and high schools had no access to graduate programs that would offer them a stronger background from which to instruct others.

So for almost two decades our Graduate School of Sacred Theology addressed that need and, in the process, educated the first wave of women theologians in the Catholic Church. When other graduate programs began accepting women, Saint Mary's phased out its program and returned to its exclusive concentration on undergraduate education.

The impetus for that graduate program remains the justification for women's colleges today: we meet the needs of women in a society that, by and large, still doesn't.

Women's needs are no more simply defined than men's. However, there is an overriding need that can be simply stated: women, like men, need to be taken seriously.

The same could be said of women's colleges. I was once invited, along with other representatives of women's colleges, to participate in a federally sponsored project aimed at encouraging more women to pursue careers in science. What we discovered upon our arrival was that we, who already had an outstanding record of achievement in accomplishing the desired goal, were to be offered counsel by representatives of major research universities whose records in this area were dismal. Go figure.

Students of traditional college age are just beginning to take measure of their intellectual capacities and potential. It is a critical time for defining themselves. We who teach young women know it is a time when they may push their horizons outward, accepting the sometimes scary fact that they have much to give and that much will be expected of them.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Women's Colleges Still Make Sense


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?