“Perfecting Our Whole Nature”

Intellectual and Physical Education for Women in the Antebellum Era
  • Margaret A. Nash


Women pursued advanced education for many practical reasons. As important as these practical motives were in the increase of female education, they do not fully explain why so many women flocked to high schools, academies, seminaries, and the few colleges that admitted them. The thousands of women who saw teaching as a way to earn a living, and the somewhat smaller number who prepared for other possible remunerative occupations as well, such as bookkeeping, scribing, or writing for publication, were not the only women seeking higher education, nor were future vocations their only goals. Beliefs in evangelical Christianity inspired women to become more educated so that they could be better moral influences on their families and the world at large, while concomitant ideals of self-improvement also motivated women to seek out formal and informal sources of education. Women pursued advanced education, not only for practical purposes, but also because they and their parents in a fundamental way valued learning for its own sake. The idea of self-improvement through intellectual growth was an assertion of these women’s claim to their worth and independence in the Enlightenment, republican, and evangelical traditions.


Advanced Education Female Education Young Lady Female School Ancient Language 
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© Margaret A. Nash 2005

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  • Margaret A. Nash

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