Josh Falk: Women in Higher Education

By: Josh Falk

(The following draws heavily from this informative article, A History of Women in Higher Education, by Dr. Genevieve Carlton. Please read the full article for even more (sometimes shocking) information.)

As you know, a core part of BVP’s mission is to prepare all scholars for success in college. But did you know that women in the US have not had the opportunity to attain a degree in higher education for nearly as long as men have?

Harvard College was founded in 1636, but didn’t admit women until over 300 years later! While Oberlin College became the first US college to admit women in 1837, many “elite” institutions like Princeton and Yale did not open their doors to women until the 1970s. (And note: Oberlin admitted white women in 1837; it took another 25 years before Mary Jane Patterson became the first black woman in the US to be awarded an undergraduate degree, also from Oberlin.)

Such discrimination in higher education led inevitably to inequality for women in their prospective careers. As Dr. Carlton writes in the article linked above: “Single-sex education was rooted in the idea that women didn’t need a degree to pursue socially acceptable roles like homemaker, mother, and domestic servant. As such, gender norms effectively excluded women from higher education for centuries.” It’s a sad statement that such gender norms and sexism persisted well into the 20th century. And although much progress has been made, such discrimination continues today in various systemic forms, the gender gap in pay and expectations for parenting, to name only two. Government remains another area of slow progress and visible inequality for women: women first won the constitutional right to vote in 1920, the first woman was elected to the US Senate in 1932, the first woman was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1981, the first woman was elected Vice President in 2020, and the US has still never elected a woman to be president.

These days, the majority of college undergraduates are women. We’ve come a long way. Women’s History Month serves as an annual reminder to celebrate women’s history, and to continue to be vigilant in promoting full gender equality now and in the future, at BVP and the world beyond.

Josh Falk is the Head of School at Blackstone Valley Prep High School.