when pigs fly … expect the unbelievable

Archive for August 2009

Often companies and service providers are judged by PRODUCT.  Does IBM make the best widget, or does HP?  Is Delta on time more frequently than Southwest?

Apply the same judgment to women’s education, and you’ll find the following:

  • The first woman Secretary of State in the US, Madeline Albright, graduated from Wellesley.
  • The first woman editor of the “New York Post”, Jane Amsterdam, graduated from Cedar Crest College.
  • The first woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, Emily Green Balch, graduated from Bryn Mawr.
  • The first woman in the US to receive a college bachelor’s degree, Catherine Brewer Benson, graduated from Wesleyan.
  • The first scientist to identify the Hong Kong flu virus, Earla Biekert, also graduated from Wesleyan.
  • The first woman leader of the American Newspaper Publisher Association, Cathleen Black, graduated from Trinity Washington University.
  • The first woman Executive Vice President of the American Stock Exchnge, Sarah Porter Boehmler, graduated from Sweet Briar.
  • First African American woman judge in the United States, Jane Matilda Bolin, graduated from Wellesley.
  • First African American woman surgeon in the South, Dorothy L. Brown, Bennett College for Women.
  • First woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, Pearl S. Buck, graduated from Randolph-Macon.
  • First woman secretary of the National Democratic Party, Dorothy Vredenburgh Bush,  graduated from Mississippi University for Women.
  • Author of Silent Spring, Rachel Carson, graduated from Chatham University.

This list could go on forever — but let me just add a few more reminders:

Hillary Rodham Clinton graduated from Wellesley.  Marian Wright Edelman, the first African American woman to pass the bar in Mississippi, graduated from Spelman.  Geraldine Ferraro, first American woman vice presidential candidate, graduated from Marymount Manhattan College.  Ella Grasso, the first woman to be elected governor of a state (Connecticut) in her own right, graudated from Mount Holyoke.  Katherine Hepburn, who won 4 Academy Awards for acting, graduated from Bryn Mawr.  Elizabeth P. Hoisington, first woman general in teh U. S. Army, graduated from the College of Notre Dame in Maryland.  Jeane Kirkpatrick, first woman U. S. Ambassador to the United Nations, graduated from Barnard.  Frances Perkins, first woman appointed to a presidental cabinet (FDR’s), graudated from Mount Holyoke.  Nancy Pelosi, first woman elected Speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives, graduated from Trinity Washington University.  Nettie Stephens, the first person to observe that the X and Y chromosomes determine sex, graduated from Bryn Mawr.

If that doesn’t convince you that women’s colleges are not a thing of the past, continue reading this week.


Faye Berry Culp, first GOP woman to serve as Majority Whip in the Florida House of Representative,  graduated from Mississippi University for Women.  Lenore Loving Prather, first woman Chancery Judge in Mississippi, first woman Supreme Court Associate Justice in Mississippi, and first woman Chief Justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court, graduated from MUW.  Mary Libby Bickerstaff Payne, first woman judge on the Mississippi Court of Appeals, graduated from MUW.  Kay Beavers Cobb, second woman to serve as an  Associate Justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court, graduated from MUW and is a friend of Faye Berry Culp — they visit often.


If the strength of the Ipswich curriculum was:  “think[ing] deeply, beyond traditional rote methods of learning, and to pursue only two or three subjects at a time, emphasizing depth of knowledge rather than breadth, and if it was able to educate its charges in this way of encouraging them to think….to really THINK…that, in itself, would be the greatest gift of any school and particularly of a school training young women who had grown up in an era when decisions were made by men — thus affecting the attitude among women that there was no need to think — someone would do it for them.

I am not sure that “thinking” can be taught, but I am sure that it can be encouraged, and I am also sure that questioning patterns can be learned which will lead an interested and inquiring mind to deep thought.

In fact, this is precisely what the W did for me.  It (its instructors, professors, and the other students there with me) made me aware of how shallowly I had considered even the things which might appear most enormous in my life.  It made me aware that I should trust my own intellect, pattern of thought, judgments and emotional and intellectual decision-making more than I dare trust that of others.  It made me a thinking, questioning, demanding — and incredibly happy individual!

I wish that the graduate students that I teach now at MSU had been served up the encouragement to think at an earlier age.  For most of them, when I suggest that (as a thumbnail):  they had LEARNED the subject matter in their undergraduate years; as a graduate student they were to THINK about it and APPLY it, they look at me in odd ways.  Thinking is not “thinking how to memorize”.  Yet that is how most of these young people — if put to the test — would tell you they do when they think — they memorize.

Thank goodness the W was interested in more than rote from me, just as Ipswich was interested in more than rote from the young ladies in the 1830s.  How lucky!

In the 1830s, women who received a higher education at all, did not receive what we consider a higher education.  And, the percentage of women who received the 1830s version of a higher education was under 10% of the appropriate age female population. 

The fact is that, particularly in the South, a vast majority of women could neither read or write “passably well” in the 1830s.  John Murray of the University of Toledo writes that, although the history of women’s literacy and how it was acquired in America remains misunderstood (perhaps because it was so unimportant), by the middle of the 19th century, almost every native-born white woman in New England could sign her name.  This was the first step to literacy; it was the first thing a man or woman with aspirations toward an education would learn to do.  However, even as late as the last half of the 19th century, one fourth to one half of women in the South marked an “X” in lieu of a signature on wills and deeds. 

However, if a young woman was lucky enough to obtain an education, the Ipswich Female Seminary was the place where the most rigorous education could be obtained. At a time when most girls’ higher education consisted of superficial instruction in French, music and drawing, this seminary’s rigorous curriculum included botany, astronomy and chemistry. Students  were encouraged to think deeply, beyond traditional rote methods of learning, and to pursue only two or three subjects at a time, emphasizing depth of knowledge rather than breadth.

Students at Ipswich were expected to spend most of their free time either taking supervised nature walks with their teachers or in their own rooms at the seminary’s boardinghouse. If a girl boarded in a private family’s home, she was firmly instructed to limit the time she spent with them. Students were forbidden from stopping in the street or even showing themselves in the front windows of their lodgings.

However, even at this time, the powers of the Seminary did not forget — yea, even stressed — the “delicacy of the female constitution” and sought that their young charges not tire themselves or be overcome with fatigue.

We’ve come a long way, baby!

Mary Lyon founded Mount Holyoke College (then called Mount Holyoke Female Seminary) in 1837.  Her words, uttered in 1937 to her first students, form the heart of the school’s mission: “Go where no one else will go, do what no one else will do.”  Mount Holyoke was the first of the Seven Sisters and became a model upon which other women’s colleges were patterned.  It sought to provide the equivalent of an Ivy League liberal arts education to its women students, and tasked itself with seeking and obtaining outstanding scholars who were also outstanding teachers.

Mount Holyoke was operated as a 3 year institution from its founding until 1861.  In that year, the three-year curriculum was expanded to four, and in 1893 the seminary curriculum was phased out and the institution’s name was changed to Mount Holyoke College.

In 1837, Mary Lyon established rigorous standards for the institution, which became the standards upon which the remainder of the Seven Sisters and most  of the public and private women’s colleges in the north and south, including the black women’s colleges in the south, were structured.

Lyon described Mount Holyoke’s principal mission as the preparing of female teachers; however, she also intended the education the qualify ladies for “other spheres of usefulness” by giving “a solid, extensive, and well-balanced English education, connected with the general improvement, that moral culture and those enlarged views of duty, which will prepare ladies to be educators of children and youth, rather than to fit them to be mere teachers, as the term has been tenchically applied.”

Lyon indicated that the general course of study would be based on the model of the Ipswich Female Seminary, which she and Zilpah Grant (who taught her at Byfield MA Female Academy) founded.  She had faith in the Ipswich curriculum because “the successful labors of many who have been educated there, and the powerful influence which they have been able to exert over the school, the family, and the neighborhood, prove, that the intellectual discipline and noral culture of that Seminary are of no inferior order” and that the recurring applicant pool from all the States and territories in the Union indicate and substantiate the high estimation by which Ipswich is held in the nation.  And thus it began, modeled on Ipswich.

 Wellesley is one of the “Seven Sisters” — the group of women’s colleges which were parallel to the Ivy League men’s colleges.  [The Seven Sisters include Barnard, Smith, Mount Holyoke, Vassar, Bryn Mawr, Wellesley and Radcliff.]  Founded in 1870 by Henry Fowle Durant and Pauline Fowle Durant, first students arrived in 1875 and Wellesley College graduated its first class of 314 in 1879.  Wellesley’s mission is to “provide an excellent liberal arts education for women who will make a difference in the world.”  It’s motto is “Non Ministrari sed Ministrare” — not to be ministered unto, but to minister.

From it’s first President, Ada Howard, until Kim Bottomly, the current (13th) president (invested on August 1, 2007), Wellesley’s board has always voted to elect female leadership for this institution.

Before the civil war, only 3 private degree-granting colleges admitted women.  They were all in Ohio — including Antioch and Oberlin.  Two public degree-granting colleges admitted women, University of Iowa and what is now the University of Utah.  During and after the Civil War, with declining male enrollment, more colleges were willing to consider admission of women.  (It’s the economy, stupid!)

But the tragic loss of young male life as a result of the Civil War not only made colleges more willing to supplement their funding by allowing women to attend (by 1870 8 public universities were admitting women), society was beginning to understand that there were many more young, marriage age women in America than there were men to marry them.  Thus, there developed the understanding that, as a social phenomena, some women would not marry and many young women were now widows.  These individuals would need to life off the largesse of their families or would have to find some way to earn a living.  So the institutions that we now know as women’s academies or seminaries began.  One such academy in our area was the Columbus Female Institute (1848) — precurser to Mississippi University for Women; another was the Judson Female Institute (1839) in Marion, Alabama.  Both were private institutions.

While a seminary education was suitable for many purposes, various leaders in women’s education in America criticized the curricula of the seminaries as weak in core academic courses; others suggested that seminaries, while effective, should be supplemented by women’s colleges which would offer a higher level of instruction.

I keep thinking about this name change thing and my mind swirls in so many directions. 

First of all I think about the Jews and how they must keep reminding everyone about the Holocaust.  Some people deny that it happened and some people don’t care or don’t want to be reminded that it happened.

I think the plight of women falls somewhat into this category.  Some people are complacent or unaware of the trials and tribulations that women endured to achieve the level of equality that we have in place now.  As recipients of this hard earned equality we need to never forget what our mothers before us endured to make it possible for each subsequent generation to reach a higher potential.

 Keeping the name of MUW is a symbolic reminder of our history.  Wiping it out is tantamount to wiping out the toil and sweat of all our mothers before us.

 The struggle for true equality continues.  Bill Clinton went to North Korea to gain the release of two Americans.  I realize that being a former President may trump being a former Senator and present Secretary of State.  Hillary should have represented us in North Korea. It was a tough call—they chose the person most likely to accomplish the task.  The goal was to get their release.  However, there is no doubt in my mind that most of the world viewed him as a better representative of our country simply because he is a man.  As long as minds are conditioned to view men as dominant women will have to strive to overcome the obstacles that stand in our way.

 Supporting the MUW name and the women’s mission is one way of supporting women.  We want the world to know this is the number one role of the institution.  All this talk about changing the name to attract men and women looking for a husband is absurd in this modern day society. The essence of modern day university life is concentrated solely on classroom instruction.  The avenues for socialization are present everywhere outside the university.

 I wonder.  Did Limbert exhibit a get even mentality when she chose Reneau?  Did she select it to wipe out the W because she knows it means so much to W alums?  If she had been really concerned about W heritage, history, community, alumni, selecting a name change that would be less drastic, she would have said,  “I challenge the people of Mississippi to come up with a new name that makes it possible to retain the W.”

 I keep thinking that at some point we need to make it clear that if the name is to be changed the W must be retained—forget Reneau.  There seems to be a consensus emerging that if it must be changed then choose:  The W,  A Mississippi University — admitting women since 1884, admitting men since 1982 — then sell it as how it is know worldwide, ” the W. ”

 I think we need to openly talk about this…it is the elephant in the room.

August 2009
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