Jane M. Hugo
Twelve years ago, as I began to explore adult education history, I found the nearly invisible or certainly “forgotten” history of women’s formal and nonformal adult learning perplexing. With my scholarship focusing on women’s learning, I found that published adult education histories were typically of little help in illuminating women’s learning spaces or leadership. Furthermore, once I began to undertake historical analysis of this aspect of women’s lives, I realized that the power and the potential for investigating women’s adult learning was great (Hugo 1990).
Thus, the focus of this chapter is on the phenomenon of women’s learning. In particular, it is an analysis of how one group of women undertook nonformal learning together, through the creation and nurturing of a women’s study club in one community. By necessity, such an undertaking requires an investigation of both the learning and teaching methods, as well as an analysis of the factors that may influence community-building, namely, the intersection of race, class, and gender, both within institutions and between diverse populations. It also means that I need to focus on the ways in which language and culture organize our lives and experiences across the life span (see, for example, Burstyn 1990; Cremin 1976; Eisenmann 1997; Gere 1997; Scott 1984; Weiler 1997).
For example, it is recognized that there is a relationship between social perceptions of what women can and cannot do in society and the education they choose for themselves or the education society offers them (see, for example, Cott 1977; Solomon 1985; Rothman 1978; Kerber 1993). In addition to this, it is recognized that limitations on women’s broader participation in society worked to foster women’s single-sex or homosocial networks—networks that have been found to create strong relationships among women. These same factors contributed to the creation of a distinct women’s culture and influenced