Gender, Coeducation, and the Transformation of Catholic Identity in American Catholic Higher Education

By Poulson, Susan L.; Higgins, Loretta P. | The Catholic Historical Review, July 2003 | Go to article overview

Gender, Coeducation, and the Transformation of Catholic Identity in American Catholic Higher Education


Poulson, Susan L., Higgins, Loretta P., The Catholic Historical Review


Much of the recent scholarship on American Catholic higher education in the twentieth century has focused on the demise of a unified Catholic intellectual tradition and the growing secularism and dependency upon laity in Catholic institutions. While recognizing that numerous Catholic colleges and universities have reached new heights of academic respectability and financial success, many lament the loss of Catholic higher education's distinctiveness as it increasingly resembles its more secular counterparts. A rapid decline in the number of clerics and religious women, the growing laicization of university governance, the rising numbers of non-Catholics on the faculty and in the student body, and the lack of a coherent, widely-shared ideological consensus of what constitutes Catholicism are frequently cited reasons for the loss of a distinctive Catholic culture.1 We propose another reason that, while sometimes mentioned in recent works, has been under-explored: the profound changes in gender norms in Catholic higher education created by the widespread adoption of coeducation. By examining the histories of Boston College, Georgetown University, and the University of Notre Dame, we will explore how the recent wave of coeducation contributed to a critical cultural break with past Catholic practices. For while the minds of students are shaped by the content in the classroom, they are also influenced by the cultural values and social rituals reflected in campus life. The wave of coeducation that swept through Catholic higher education a generation ago hastened the acculturation of American Catholics to contemporary society.

Sex Segregation and the Structure of Catholic Higher Education

When Catholics first established their colleges and universities in the United States, sexual segregation was the national norm. Coeducation first emerged in 1833 when Oberlin College opened with forty-four women students enrolled in its Female Department. Several small religious colleges followed Oberlin's example, including Iowa College (Grinnell), Knox, Wheaton, Lawrence, Northfield (Carleton), Berea, and Washburn. The largest boost to coeducation came at mid-century, when several Midwestern land grant institutions began to admit women, including Iowa in 1855, Wisconsin in 1867, Indiana, Kansas, and Minnesota in 1869, and Michigan and Missouri in 1870.2 By 1870 there were nearly a hundred coeducational colleges; by 1890 there were 282; and by 1902 there were 330.3 Most of these institutions were in the West and Midwest; the more traditional South and East had proportionately more single-sex institutions. At the turn of the century, seventy-one percent of American colleges and universities were coeducational, and forty percent of American college students were women.4 Thus, while the large majority of college students nationwide attended a coeducational institution, students at Catholic colleges pursued their education in a single-sex environment.

This single-sex characteristic of Catholic higher education became further entrenched when Catholic colleges for women opened at the turn of the twentieth century. Largely in response to the concern that growing numbers of Catholic women were attending non-Catholic institutions, many bishops "urged, and occasionally ordered" women religious to establish colleges. In 1899 six women became the first to graduate from a Catholic college when they received their degrees from the College of Notre Dame of Maryland. Debate among Catholics over the propriety of higher education for women continued when Trinity College opened a year later in the nation's capital. Proponents of the institution, such as the Bishop of Peoria, John Lancaster Spalding, and the president of Boston College, Thomas I. Gasson, S.J., strongly supported the ability of women to develop professional aspirations.5 Women religious continued to establish colleges at an astounding rate. At the end of World War I, there were ten colleges iihat enrolled 1,500 students; by 1968 there were 142 colleges educating 101,000 students. …

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.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

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

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Gender, Coeducation, and the Transformation of Catholic Identity in American Catholic Higher Education
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
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?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

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

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

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.