THE EDUCATED WOMAN IN AMERICA: CATHARINE BEECHER AND MARGARET FULLER
Barbara M. Cross
Women in America have never had equal educational opportunities with men. In colonial times elementary education for girls was often available in the "dame schools" and other local private institutions. It was considered good for young ladies to learn to read and write, but they needed no formal instruction beyond these primary skills. Girls were not admitted to the colonial grammar schools that prepared boys for college, but were often allowed to attend the private academies that sprang up early in the nineteenth century. Then a few secondary schools for women were established and a few colleges began to admit females. At first the colleges that welcomed women set up separate courses, but occasionally women were permitted to take the same classes as men and to qualify for the bachelor of arts degree.
In view of the limited opportunities for advanced schooling, it comes as no surprise that most of the highly educated women of the times were taught by tutors, friends, or family at home. Whether educated at home or at school, they faced a difficult question: what were they trained to do? What social role would the educated women fill? In this essay Barbara Cross describes the paths followed by two American women of the nineteenth century, Catharine Beecher ( 1800- 1878) and Margaret Fuller ( 1810- 1850). Other works on women's education are Mabel Newcomer, A Century of Higher Education for American Women ( New York: Harper & Bros., 1959), and Thomas Woody, A History of Women's Education in the United States