Bright Epoch: Women and Coeducation in the American West

Bright Epoch: Women and Coeducation in the American West

Bright Epoch: Women and Coeducation in the American West

Bright Epoch: Women and Coeducation in the American West

Synopsis

With the passage of the Morrill Act in 1862, many states in the Midwest and the West chartered land-grant colleges following the Civil War. Because of both progressive ideologies and economic necessity, these institutions admitted women from their inception and were among the first public institutions to practice coeducation. Although female students did not feel completely accepted by their male peers and professors in the land-grant environment, many of them nonetheless successfully negotiated greater gender inclusion for themselves and their peers.
In Bright Epoch, Andrea G. Radke-Moss tells the story of female students' early mixed-gender encounters at four institutions: Iowa Agricultural College, the University of Nebraska, Oregon Agricultural College, and Utah State Agricultural College. Although land-grant institutions have been most commonly associated with domestic science courses for women, Bright Epoch illuminates the diversity of other courses of study available to female students, including the sciences, literature, journalism, business commerce, and law. In a culture where the forces of gender separation constantly battled gender inclusion, women found new opportunities for success and achievement through activities such as literary societies, athletics, military regiments, and women's rights and suffrage activism. Through these venues, women students challenged nineteenth-century gender limitations and created broader definitions of female inclusion and participation in the land-grant environment and in the larger American society.

Excerpt

With the passage of the Morrill Act in 1862, many states in the Midwest and West chartered land-grant colleges following the Civil War. Because of both progressive ideologies and economic necessity, these institutions admitted women from their early beginnings. Although some historians have downplayed coeducational experiences at land-grant colleges as mere reinforcement of women's traditional roles through domestic science course work and exclusion from male clubs and activities, this study shows that women students took a much more proactive role regarding their own inclusion on these campuses. Although women students did not feel complete acceptance by their male peers and professors in the land-grant environment, many of them successfully negotiated greater gender inclusion for themselves and their fellow female students.

This is not so much the story of the access to higher coeducation as it is the practices of coeducation at land-grant colleges. Regarding the interplay between separation and inclusion for women students, this book examines various areas of contested gendered space, including course work, heteroand homosociality, athletic and military activities, and feminist reforms such as suffrage activism, journalism, and political leadership. Rather than being venues for female exclusion, western land-grant colleges offered opportunities for women students to determine new areas of participation and inclusion for themselves within traditionally male environments. As a result, women land-grant students were able to effect change on many fronts of feminist reform by challenging gender restrictions both on campuses and in the nation at large.

Land-grant colleges in the nineteenth-century American West were among the first public institutions in the world to practice coeducation. the admission of female students was a new and revolutionary experiment . . .

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