Possibilities and Limitations

Education and White Middle-class Womanhood
  • Margaret A. Nash


Advanced education for women and men was more similar than it was different in both curricula and pedagogy between 1780 and 1840. Although there were those who believed that brains were sexed and that women’s brains were less capable of study, the predominant rhetoric was one of equal ability. Educators believed that the type of learning that would best prepare women for their future roles was basically the same education that prepared men for theirs. There was a general consensus that women had the same intellectual capabilities as men, could enjoy intellectual pursuits as much as men, and that their lives would be similarly enriched. Teachers and students alike were motivated by a strong belief in the value of learning for its own sake, and the joys inherent in learning.


Female Education Political Equality Young Lady Woman Suffrage Early Republic 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Carl F. Kaestle, Pillars of the Republic: Common Schools and American Society, 1780–1860, (New York: Hill and Wang, 1983), 118Google Scholar
  2. Thomas Dublin, ed., Farm to Factory: Women’s Letters, 1830–1860 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981), 21–22.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Nina Baym, “Women and the Republic: Emma Willard’s Rhetoric of History,” American Quarterly 43 (March 1991), 6–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 6.
    Emma Willard, An Address to the Public: Particularly to the Members of the Legislature of New York, Proposing a Plan for Improving Female Education [1819] (Middlebury, VT: Middlebury College, 1918)Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    Ellen N. Lawson and Marlene Merrill, “The Antebellum ‘Talented Thousandth’: Black College Students at Oberlin Before the Civil War,” Journal of Negro Education 52 (Spring 1983), 154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 8.
    Madelyn Holmes and Beverly J. Weiss, Lives of Women Public Schoolteachers: Scenes from American Educational History (New York and London: Garland Publishing Inc., 1995), 63Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    For one account of the incident, see Shirley J. Yee, Black Women Abolitionists: A Study in Activism, 1828–1860 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1992), 50–51.Google Scholar
  8. Bonnie Handler, “Prudence Crandall and Her School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color,” Vitae Scholastica 5 (Winter 1986), 199–210Google Scholar
  9. Philip S. Foner and Josephine F. Pacheco, Three Who Dared: Prudence Crandall, Margaret Douglass, Myrtilla Miner: Champions of Antebellum Black Education (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1984).Google Scholar
  10. 15.
    Christine Stansell, City of Women: Sex and Class in New York, 1789–1860 (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1987), 68.Google Scholar
  11. Stuart M. Blumin, Robert Fogel, and Stephan Thernstrom, eds., The Emergence of the Middle Class: Social Experience in the American City, 1760–1900 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989)Google Scholar
  12. Linda Young, Middle Class Culture in the Nineteenth Century: America, Australia and Britain (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003)Google Scholar
  13. Jonathan Daniel Wells, The Origins of the Southern Middle Class, 1800–1861 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004)Google Scholar
  14. Heidi L. Nichols, The Fashioning of Middle-Class America: Sartains Union Magazine of Literature and Art and Antebellum Culture (New York: Peter Lang, 2004)Google Scholar
  15. T. Walter Herbert, Dearest Beloved: The Hawthornes and the Making of the Middle-Class Family (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993)Google Scholar
  16. Burton S. Bledstein and Robert D. Johnston, eds., The Middling Sorts: Explorations in the History of the American Middle Class (New York and London: Routledge Press, 2000).Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    See Kaesde, Pillars of the Republic, especially ch. 6; William J. Reese, The Origins of the American High School (New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 1995)Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Michael Chevalier, Society, Manners and Politics in the United States: Being a Series of Letters on North America (Boston: Weeks, Jordan & Company, 1839), 137Google Scholar
  19. Anthony Trollope, North America [1861] (New York: St. Martins, 1986), 249Google Scholar
  20. Amal Amireh, The Factory Girl and the Seamstress: Imagining Gender and Class in Nineteenth Century American Fiction (New York and London: Garland, 2000), 7.Google Scholar
  21. Gerda Lerner, “The Lady and the Mill Girl: Changes in the Status of Women in the Age of Jackson,” Midcontinent American Studies Journal 10 (Winter 1969), 5–15.Google Scholar
  22. 20.
    For discussions of respectability, see Richard L. Bushman, The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities (New York: Random House, 1992)Google Scholar
  23. Daniel A. Cohen, “The Respectability of Rebecca Reed: Genteel Womanhood and Sectarian Conflict in Antebellum America,” Journal of the Early Republic 16 (Fall 1996), 419–461.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 22.
    Elias Marks, Hints on Female Education, with an Outline of an Institution for the Education of Females, Termed the So. Ca. Female Institute; under the direction of Dr. Elias Marks (Columbia, SC: David W. Sims, 1828), 42.Google Scholar
  25. 24.
    Baynard R. Hall, An Address Delivered to the Young Ladies of the Spring-Villa Seminary, at Bordentown, NJ. At the Distribution of the Annual Medal and Premiums: on the Evening of the 29th of August, 1839 (Burlington NJ: Powell & George, 1839), 8.Google Scholar
  26. 49.
    Henry Barnard, ed., Memoirs of Teachers, Educators, and Promoters and Benefactors of Education, Literature, and Science. Reprinted from the American Journal of Education (New York: F. C. Brownell, 1861), 133.Google Scholar
  27. 50.
    Nancy Beadie, “Emma Willard’s Idea Put to the Test: The Consequences of State Support of Female Education in New York, 1819–67,” History of Education Quarterly 33 (Winter 1993), 543–545.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 51.
    Quoted in Thomas Woody, A History of Women’s Education in the United States, I (New York: The Science Press, 1929), 308.Google Scholar
  29. 52.
    For quotation, see Anne Firor Scott, “The Ever-Widening Circle: The Diffusion of Feminist Values from the Troy Female Seminary, 1822–1872,” History of Education Quarterly 19 (Spring 1979), 7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lucy Forsyth Townsend, “Emma Willard: Eclipse or Reemergence?” Journal of the Midwest History of Education Society 18 (1990), 289–290.Google Scholar
  31. 61.
    Catharine Beecher, The True Remedy for the Wrongs of Women (Boston: Phillips, Sampson, 1851)Google Scholar
  32. 62.
    Quoted in Elizabeth Alden Green, Mary Lyon and Mount Holyoke: Opening the Gates (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1979), 160.Google Scholar
  33. 92.
    Edward H. Clarke, Sex in Education; Or, a Fair Chance for the Girls (Boston: J. R. Osgood, 1873)Google Scholar
  34. 97.
    Peter G. Filene, Him/Her/Self: Sex Roles in Modern America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), 73.Google Scholar
  35. 98.
    Alan Trachtenberg, The Incorporation of America: Culture and Politics in the Gilded Age (New York: Hill and Wang, 1982), 80.Google Scholar
  36. 99.
    Gail Bederman, Manliness & Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880–1917 (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1995), 13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. 101.
    Mark C. Carnes, Secret Ritual and Manhood in Victorian America (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989)Google Scholar
  38. Jeffrey P. Hantover, “The Boy Scouts and the Validation of Masculinity,” in The American Man, Elizabeth H. Pleck and Joseph H. Pleck, eds. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1980), 285–302.Google Scholar
  39. 102.
    Harvey Green, Fit for America: Health, Fitness, Sport, and American Society (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), 182–215Google Scholar
  40. E. Anthony Rotundo, American Manhood: Transformations in Masculinity from the Revolution to the Modern Era (New York: Basic Books, 1993), 231–239Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Margaret A. Nash 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Margaret A. Nash

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations