Essay on Education and Women’s Social Roles

Essay on Education and Women’s Social Roles

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Education and Women’s Social Roles


The expectations held by a society define the roles of its members. While many factors influence the parts individuals play in their cultures and communities, education has always been the crucial element in the establishment of social roles. Education was the catalyst which changed women's roles in society from what they were in the late 1800s to what they are now.

In the latter years of the nineteenth century, women's roles in American society underwent gradual but definite growth, spurred on by a rapidly changing society. As the nation recovered from its Civil War and slavery faded away, a massive transformation of industrialization took place, and revolutionary scientific ideas, such as those presented in Charles Darwin's Origin of Species, and by Sigmund Freud, caused people to question and to rethink fundamental aspects of their lives, religion, and beliefs. Social reforms in the fields of health, labor, and education developed as the publication of books and periodicals revealed to the public the problems therein. At the turn of the century, women's roles were severely limited by society's concepts of male supremacy and female inferiority. Women were perceived as weak, a notion upheld by the "prevalence of invalidism among nineteenth century women". (Muhlenfeld, Elisabeth) Fashions of the times didn't help either. Voluminous, billowing skirts hampered movement, and corsets caused dizzy spells and fainting. A woman's priority in young adulthood was to find a husband, and after doing so, raise a family and run a well-kept household. Women were not expected to harbor aspirations other than "... the acquisition of a husband, a family, and a home....". (Cowen, Ruth Schwartz) The male-d...


... middle of paper ...


...changing the role of women in society from a passive one to an active, vital force.

All references are from Sweet Briar College's 1996 Orientation Anthology, (Women's Place, Women's Choices: The Public Careers and Personal Experiences of American Women. Ed. Cynthia M. Patterson and Martha Woodroof, 1996.)

Sources Cited


Muhlenfeld, Elisabeth. Mary Boykin Chesnut: A Biography. (selection)

Cowen, Ruth Schwartz. "Two Washes in the Morning and a Bridge Party at Night: The American Housewife Between the Wars."

Solomon, Barbara. "In The Company of Educated Women, Women and the Modernizing of Liberal Education."

McCandless, Amy Thompson. "Preserving the Pedestal: Restrictions on Social Life at Southern Colleges for Women."

McVea, Emilie Watts. "Sweet Briar College: An Interpretation."

Patterson, Cynthia M. "From Sentiment to Social Reform."

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