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“Citizenship for the College Girl”: Challenges and Opportunities in Higher Education for Women in the United States in the 1930s

by Margaret A. Nash & Lisa S. Romero - 2012

Background/Context: Little research has been done on higher education for women during the 1930s, even though scholars have pointed to this period as a turning point because the proportion of female students declined during this decade. The decline was only relative, however, as men’s enrollments skyrocketed while women’s increased more slowly. This article seeks to understand women’s continually increasing numbers, rather than the relative decline in enrollment.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question: During a time of economic hardship, what justifications were used to encourage women to attend college? What purposes or rationales were part of the national discourse that made it possible for ever-increasing numbers of young women to attend and graduate from college?

Research Design: Our research consists of historical analysis of printed archival material from 1929-1940. Primary material was drawn from original print editions of the Readers’ Guide to Periodic Literature and the electronic version of Reader’s Guide Retro. We divided journals into popular magazines and academic journals, and coded all articles indexed under the terms “College, students, women,” “Education of women,” and “College women.” We analyzed 128 articles from popular magazines and 85 articles from academic journals. This provided a rich source of magazine and journal articles considered significant during the period studied. After coding and choosing the themes for our focus, we looked for related articles from newspapers; we used electronically archived materials from the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times. To avoid an east/west coast urban bias, and in an effort to include an African-American perspective, we supplemented this with material from smaller Midwestern and African-American presses including the Daily Illini, The Chicago Defender, Columbia Missourian, Hannibal Courier, and the Urbana Daily Courier.

Conclusions: Two primary discourses were evident in newspapers, periodicals, and academic journals that encouraged women to attend college in the 1930s. The first was that of eugenics. Previous scholarship on eugenics tends to emphasize how eugenics was used to discourage women from advanced schooling, as postponing childbearing meant a reduction in the birthrate. We argue that while this argument was indeed present in national literature, eugenic arguments were used as well to encourage women’s college attendance. In this view, educated women produced healthier future generations and therefore served eugenic interests. The second primary discourse was that of the need for education for citizenship. The periodical literature reveals an emphasis on colleges teaching women about the responsibilities of voting, volunteerism, and promoting peace and social unity.

In the spring of 1932, Ruth Erickson, Mary Elizabeth Jackman, and Caroline Lange represented their campus’ Student League of Women Voters at a conference for new voters. With delegates from a dozen Illinois colleges, they listened to speeches on “You and Your Government,” “You and Your Vote,” and “Citizenship for the College Girl,” and participated in a mock national party convention.1 The inaugural meeting of this statewide event, instructing new voters in the responsibilities of civic engagement, fit very well with a major current of thinking about the purposes of postsecondary education during the 1930s—that college should train young people for citizenship. In the midst of major economic and social turmoil, college enrollment for women soared. We argue that periodical literature of the 1930s framed women’s postsecondary participation through two overlapping discourses: eugenics, and women’s contributions to civic life. Examining this literature reveals the divergent uses of eugenic arguments, both for and against women’s higher education, as well as the emphasis on the need for advanced education for women in order to promote social unity.

This article explores a relatively neglected period, as little scholarship focuses on higher education during the Depression, and still less focuses on women’s education. The research that does consider female students in the 1930s usually includes them only as a small part of a more sweeping history of higher education and the focus typically is on access.2 Barbara Solomon’s 1985 book In the Company of Educated Women still provides one of the best accounts of the history of women’s higher education in the United States. Her three chapters on this time period combine the 1920s and 1930s, but emphasize the 1920s, providing little detail specific to the 1930s and citing few primary sources from this decade. David O. Levine’s excellent chapter on higher education during the Depression documents the “culture of aspiration” from 1915-1940. However, Levine focuses largely on men, explaining that “women have been absent from this book” because they “were excluded from occupational opportunities that stimulated the rise of American higher education after World War I.”3 More recently, John R. Thelin’s well-researched history of higher education provides some discussion of women, but a vivid sweeping history can only give scant attention to the Depression era for either women or men. As a result, we know little about higher education for women during the 1930s. The absence of a robust body of scholarship on this period is striking, given that the Depression era frequently is pointed to not only as a turning point or “defining moment” in American history, policy and politics, but also as a time of retrenchment for women, both in and outside of academia, following the heady gains of the 1920s. Although some scholars have pointed to the declining relative representation of female students in the halls of higher education, detailed investigation of this important period is lacking.4

To gain a better understanding of this period and the contemporary conversations, debates, and issues regarding women’s education, we examine popular magazines, academic journals, and newspapers published from 1929 through 1940.5 As historian D. George Boyce notes, public opinion is conveyed in the press and analyzing the press reveals “how issues were first identified, defined, and treated.”6 Newspapers and journals do not convey everyone’s ideas; both radical and reactionary extremes generally are confined to specialized newspapers. Major newspapers and magazines do, however, represent the spectrum of mainstream opinion, as the press needs to retain its audience by situating itself fairly centrally within the range of public opinion.7 Using these sources, then, we look at how a variety of mainstream presses (such as Time, Harper’s, and major newspapers) and some specialized presses (such as The Farmer’s Wife, Independent Woman, and The Chicago Defender) discussed the topic of higher education for women during the Depression. We also examine scholarly journals, thus providing us with views from both inside and outside of the academy.  

We do not limit our investigation to any particular institution or types of institutions (single sex or coeducational, public or private, predominantly white or historically black) or any particular regions. Real differences existed between and among these types of universities and regions of the country, but we leave those distinctions for future studies. Nor do we look at women’s daily-lived experiences in any institutions, which also is a fruitful topic for future research. Our intention is to draw a broad, national picture of women’s higher education. We look for shared national themes, whether examining an article about an elite eastern women’s college, a Midwestern land grant coeducational university, or a historically black college or university.

We discuss major themes in the primary literature of the period, each of which is discursively linked to the culturally pervasive questions of the meanings of citizenship. We begin our discussion with the topics of marriage, motherhood, and eugenics. Other historians, most notably Barbara Solomon, discuss these themes, along with their corollary of what curriculum would best prepare women for marriage and motherhood. Solomon argues that the main issue surrounding marriage for women was whether a woman could or should combine family and career. We take a change of tack and examine the discussion of marriage and motherhood from the perspective of questions of the social good. Specifically, we argue that proponents of women’s education used the arguments of the eugenics movement to justify higher education for women. Most historical work on the impact of eugenics on education focuses on the use of intelligence testing and on the use of eugenics and testing to promote racial segregation.8 Other work highlights the use of eugenic arguments to discourage women’s education by arguing that education tended to reduce reproduction rates of the “most fit,” thus resulting in “race suicide.”9 We discuss this aspect of eugenics, but we suggest that eugenic arguments also were used to support women’s education.

Notions of citizenship and new opportunities for women were important and recurrent topics in the popular and academic press of the day. Preparing women for citizenship, given their still relatively new roles as voters and in some states as jurors, was a frequently given justification for women’s higher education; it carried more weight in the face of the international rise of fascism. At the same time, new fields for women (although eventually some, such as home economics, became problematic and limiting) promised new educational and professional opportunities. These, too, often were discussed in terms of their contribution to the betterment of society. The duties and responsibilities of citizenship, then, along with the opportunities derived from it, were used as a primary way that popular magazines and academic journals alike presented the subject of higher education for women. These rhetorical themes provided rationales for expanding opportunities for white middle-class women, but were framed within a discourse that preserved existing racial and gender boundaries. For African American women, new opportunities in higher education were linked in the Black press to the ongoing project of racial uplift and consolidation of middle-class identity.


Beginning in the early twentieth century, college morphed from an institution serving a small percentage of the population to an institution offering a more common experience.10 Total enrollment increased from 237,592 students in 1900 to 1,494,203 students in 1940.11 Between 1900 and 1938, the population enrolled in higher education increased 469 percent, while the population of 18-21 year olds increased only 61 percent (and the United States population increased by 71 percent). In 1910, less than 5 percent of 18-21 year olds nationwide attended college; by 1938, nearly 14 percent of this age group attended college.12 Though growth in enrollment dipped during the height of the Depression, between the years of 1932 and 1934, it quickly rebounded.13 Men, especially, experienced unsurpassed growth in both the rate and number of enrollments, with 152,254 male students attending in 1900 and 893,250 in 1940.14 Although men’s participation in collegiate life expanded at a greater rate than did women’s, the sheer number of women attending college also grew exponentially. In 1900, there were 85,338 female students, and by 1940, there were 600,953.15 Enrollment at public colleges and universities expanded at a much faster pace than did enrollment at private schools. The number of junior colleges also increased greatly during the inter-war period.

Table 1: Enrollment 1930-1940


College Enrollment 1930s


Total Number



% of Total































Note. Enrollment data was collected biannually by the U.S. Office of Education and is provided by academic year (not calendar year). The date corresponds to the end of the school year (i.e., 1930 is the 1929-1930 school year).

Not surprisingly, given these surging enrollments, the number of bachelor’s, master’s, and even doctoral degrees jumped substantially as well. Table 2 shows the number of females who earned graduate and undergraduate degrees from 1900 to 1940; it does not include associate’s degrees because the U.S. Department of Education did not compile these statistics until well after this period. In 1900, 5,237 women and 22,173 men earned bachelor’s degrees, compared to nearly 77,000 women and 109,546 men in 1940. Though the rate of growth for men was more rapid than that for women, the number of degrees earned by both men and women increased enormously.

Table 2: Female College Enrollment & Degrees Earned, 1900-194016
































Not everyone benefited from this expansion. For African Americans, common school education was not always available, and without adequate primary or secondary schooling, higher education was nearly impossible. A 1933 study showed that 41 percent of African American high school age students in 425 counties had either no high school facilities or facilities not equivalent to a four-year high school. Five Southern states had not a single accredited public high school for African Americans. It followed, then, that enrollment in colleges and universities was lower than for whites. A study of fifteen states showed that while there were three whites for each African American in the general population, there were nine white students for every African American in public colleges and universities in those states.17 The relatively low enrollment was due to lack of opportunity, not lack of interest. During the 1930s, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) had several important United States Supreme Court victories in a series of desegregation cases that eventually led to Brown v. Board of Education. A number of the 1930s cases concerned discrimination in higher education.18 For example, the 1936 Maryland Court of Appeals case Murray v. Pearson, (169 Md 47) established precedent for a Supreme Court win two years later in Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, (305 U.S. 337 (1938)). Both cases, concerning admission to law schools, were part of mounting legal challenges to the Plessy doctrine (Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896)) of “separate but equal.” Although these cases were victories for integrationists, it would be decades before equal opportunity in higher education came anywhere close to being reality. Many African Americans believed, though, that education was crucial for social advancement and that it was a critical factor in the work of “racial uplift.” Therefore, the Black press regularly voiced support for education at all levels.19

The 1930s was a period of contradictions and paradoxes. Internationally, the decade saw the rise of fascism and communism in Europe and the start of World War II. In the United States it also was a time of volatility, growing unionism, labor activity, and racial tension. More than anything, this decade was marked by the Great Depression, a painful and protracted period of unemployment for many Americans. Though economic decline in rural farming communities began in the 1920s, the start of the Great Depression is commonly marked with the 1929 crash of the stock market. The Depression continued largely unabated throughout the 1930s. Per capita income dropped from an average of $655 per year in 1929 to a low of $353 in 1933.20 At its peak, about 25 percent of the working population was unemployed. This unemployment, combined with the Dust Bowl and the migration of people out of the areas impacted by it, meant that many lives were disrupted economically, psychologically, and physically. President Herbert Hoover’s replacement by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932, and FDR’s “New Deal” programs, provided some measure of hope for many people, but it was only the United States’ entry into World War II in 1941 that finally brought the Great Depression to an end.

The Depression had an enormous impact on women’s lives, from the trivial to the not so trivial. In fashion, the “boyish” look or flapper dress of the 1920s gave way to conservative styles emphasizing curves, fuller figures, longer skirts, and even more restrictive corsets.21 In the workplace, two somewhat contradictory factors seem to be at play. Women had made some employment gains during the 1920s, both in sheer numbers and in types of occupations open to women. Even during the Depression, women rose to levels of leadership never seen before; Eleanor Roosevelt, Frances Perkins, Mary McLeod Bethune, and other high profile women took leaderships roles in government. In fact, the New Deal was a watershed time in the prominence of women in positions of responsibility in the federal government.22 Nevertheless, strongly held social norms, particularly evident in the 1930s, dictated that jobs should go first to men and only second to women.23 Women who did work—and many did so out of necessity—were paid less than men and were expected to stop working once married. According to Susan Ware, a 1936 Gallup poll found that over 80 percent of Americans agreed that wives should not be employed if their husbands had jobs.24 Law and contract also enforced the social prohibition on married women working. Section 213 of the National Economy Act of 1932 prohibited both husbands and wives from being employed by the federal government. Many companies had rules that when a woman worker married, she could no longer be employed. This was the case in most school districts, where many women worked as teachers. In addition, a variety of social legislation restricted the length of the workweek for women.25 In spite of this, many women, including married women, were in the labor force. By the end of the 1930s, 35 percent of wage-earning women were married.26

For young people who could not find jobs, one alternative was school. The numbers of people pursuing postsecondary education rose during the 1930s. Students stretched financially to stay in school, sometimes making in-kind payments of cattle, coal, or produce.27 Colleges made efforts to provide scholarships and work-study programs when part-time jobs could be found. In part to keep young people out of the labor market, Roosevelt’s Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) and, later, the National Youth Administration (NYA) began to provide some federal assistance to college students in 1934.28 Aid to students, whether as private scholarships or federal relief, was extended to more males than females and was overwhelmingly offered to white students. In spite of financial hardship, if they could scrape together the money, the loans, the federal assistance, and/or the part-time work to get by, off to college they went in unprecedented numbers. This made sense to young people and their parents as a viable option, in part because of a contemporary discourse that reinforced the need for higher education for women in their positions as wives, mothers, citizens, and professionals. It is this discourse that is the focus of this paper.

Other topics related to higher education appeared in newspapers, magazines, and journals, to be sure. Health and hygiene for both men and women came up often, especially in the academic literature of the burgeoning field of home economics.29 This was an exciting new arena for scientific research; even the word “vitamin” had only recently been coined and the flurry of new research was reflected in the founding of The Journal of Nutrition.30 In addition, academic institutions supported the move toward replacing municipal and state health departments run by political appointees with scientific management of public health, by opening new programs and schools of public health to train future health managers.31 The heightened interest in health and hygiene showed up in popular and academic articles on higher education that documented students’ height and weight gains to show their robust health or that reported on surveys on student participation in athletics. Not surprisingly, during these Depression years, another common topic was that of work—both during college to make education affordable, as well as after college, to ensure that the education paid off. This was evident in articles with titles such as “Jobs for College Women,” “Girls Must Work,” “Student Loans,” and “After College.”32

What were not much debated were women’s intellectual abilities. That women were equally capable of rigorous academic work largely was settled by this period. “Women Have Intellectual Superiority,” trumpeted the African American newspaper The Chicago Defender reporting on the top scholars at Howard University.33 The mid-1930s saw many retrospectives on a century of college education for women, from the founding of Wesleyan College in Georgia (1836), the oldest chartered women’s college; to the founding of Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in Massachusetts (1837), often regarded as the first to offer collegiate-level work to women; and the opening of Oberlin College in Ohio to women (1837). All of these retrospectives proclaimed how far women had come, now that women could find “academic halls a congenial, almost a natural habitat.”34 Women had proven that they could combine scholarship with femininity, “holding their own among parabolas and parasangs in classrooms everywhere and disappointing the neighborhood Jeremiahs by retaining their rosy cheeks and feminine charm.”35 Yet another writer heralded the present day, when a number “of the educational battles of the past century may be listed as finished, their fields of dispute obsolete.” Included in this list as settled were “women’s ability to achieve…ability to master college curriculum,” and the claim that “women lacked the physical and physiological fitness for the strain of higher education.”36 Similarly, other authors noted that “the gloomy prophecies of opponents of the cause, that the exacting requirements of higher education would undermine the health of young women, make all too evident their innate intellectual inferiority…had proved to be without foundation.”37 Indeed, by the 1930s, questions about whether women were intellectually and physiologically capable of mastering a college liberal arts curriculum had been answered. Whether their education contributed to the common good, or whether it led to personal tragedy or “race suicide” was another matter altogether.


The discourse about higher education for women during the 1930s was firmly rooted in a white, middle class norm of woman as wife and mother. Regardless of perspective or opinion—whether conservative or progressive, whether male or female, whether a university professor writing in an academic journal or a journalist for the popular press—all seemed to share a common belief about the proper role of women in American society: that of wife and mother.38

Failure to become a wife and mother meant living a tragic, wasted, or at least an unhappy life. Not marrying was a fate to be avoided and one to be taken seriously by girls and their parents. Although journals included a few positive references to independent women who were able to provide for themselves if the need ever arose, the negative image of single women as spinsters abounded.39 Even progressive voices found in publications of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and the National Woman’s Party, while championing higher education for women, reiterated the basic assumption that women would and should marry. While conservatives blasted higher education for destroying women’s chances at marital bliss, progressives countered with statistics that showed educated women’s high rates of marriage and low rates of divorce. Both sides agreed that women should marry; they disagreed only on whether education interfered with this goal.

Numerous magazine, newspaper, and academic journal articles written during the 1930s warned that attending college could mean risking marriage and happiness for women.40 College educated women were said to be less likely to marry for a variety of reasons. For instance, sociologist Paul Popenoe, a strong voice for eugenics, argued that college women delayed marriage and missed the window of opportunity to find a good husband. “The delay,” according to Popenoe, “often results in depriving her of any real chance of marriage…during these few years the marriageable men she once knew have been won by other girls and she is left without a husband.”41 Since women generally marry older men, “by the time college women decided to marry, few single men remain,” wrote Popenoe, and those that do are a sorry lot, comprised “of mental and physical defectives, of homosexuals, of incompetents and derelicts, of men who have been prevented from marriage by venereal or other serious disease, or of men whose outlook is so warped, infantile, or egocentric” that not even a desperate woman would marry them.42

Aside from the problem of waiting too long, college also caused women to have unrealistic ideas and beliefs not conducive to marriage. According to a 1935 article in the Journal of Educational Sociology, some graduates of women’s colleges blamed their alma mater for their single state, saying that the schools “encouraged [them] to form segregated ideals or make unreasonable demands during the period when they should have been thinking of their need for a mate.”43 College “deludes” women into thinking that marriage should be between equals, wrote Walter L. Lowe in The Chicago Defender, while men “hold that it is an inalienable right of all husbands to be lord and master of their respective homes.” In this mismatched situation, no marriage could be happy.44

Many articles articulated concerns about possible negative effects of college on femininity and heterosexuality. For example, the author of an article published in The Woman’s Journal, herself a Seven Sisters graduate, expressed relief and delight that, after visiting several women’s colleges, she found that the girls have “charming femininity.” She contrasted the “feminine charm” she found with the “boyish mould” of the past. In many cases, the preoccupation with femininity gave way to concerns about sexuality or heterosexuality. In this same article, the author reassured readers that, at the women’s colleges, there was now “almost continual presence of men on the campus,” and that “the perfectly normal and happy contact girls have with men today has eliminated many of the emotional problems which used to confront us among the student body.”45 A variety of articles noted that “lack of sexual adjustment” among college graduates was one of “the chief causes of unhappiness among our men and women today.”46 Further, some research found that college students had “more familiarity with unconventional theories of sex conduct.”47 Although most young women “transition from home and parental control to cooperative membership in a college community…to heterosexual love and mating,” some “manifest homosexual preoccupation.”48 For such women, according to these writers, postponing marriage added to the problem.

In essence, while earlier claims that women were not physiologically suited for higher education may have become obsolete, they gave way to new claims of the dangers of unhappiness and maladjustment for individual women. However, an even greater threat is also evident in the literature—that of a dysgenic threat to middle-class society. Whereas the threat of spinsterhood and unhappiness was broadly discussed in both academic and non-academic circles, social scientists moved beyond problems of individual level happiness to the collective implications for society. Here, the real danger posed by women going to college was to humanity. If America’s best and brightest young women failed to marry, delayed marriage, or intentionally or unintentionally had fewer children, the best genes would not be passed on in sufficient numbers. While eugenics very much was about “building a better race,” it was at least as much about social class identity, and therefore was also of concern to middle class African Americans.49 Some African American leaders spoke of the need to make sure that those “Negroes of the better class have children,” viewing that as one necessary means for racial uplift.50

Social scientists, and sociologists in particular, published research papers documenting dysgenic threats to the United States population. Journals abounded with articles with titles such as “The Size of Families of College and Non-College Women,” “Variations in Birth Rates According to Occupational Status, Family Income, and Educational Attainment,” “Fertility and Intelligence of College Women,” and “The Age Factor in Marriage.”51 For example, a typical article reported the existence of a “marked inverse association between birth rates and educational attainment,” with “college-trained wives” having “15 percent lower [birth rates] than that of women of seventh-eighth grade education, and 31 percent lower than that of women whose formal learning was confined to the sixth grade.”52 So common were these arguments that Willystine Goodsell, Professor of Education at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College, wrote in 1936, “the college education of women has been under indictment on the ground that its effects are markedly dysgenic.”53 Higher education of women clearly was marked as the culprit of the perceived decline of the white middle class.

Proponents of women’s education defended education from within this same cultural paradigm. Rather than dismissing eugenics or fears of “race suicide,” they further bolstered arguments based on the importance of marriage, motherhood, and eugenics. They argued that, while it had been true in the past that college educated women did not marry and have children, this was no longer the case. College educated women of the 1930s, they claimed, were different than earlier generations of college women.54 They were feminine, likely to marry, “make good wives” and have children.55 For example, the author of a June 1938 article in the Journal of the American Association of University Women wrote:

For a considerable time statistics seem to substantiate a … claim against college education: that higher education for women—or the period necessary therefore-- was the preventive factor in the marriage of gifted women and a limiting influence on the size of their families. Statistics on marriage rate, on age of marriage, and on size of families, seem to support this thesis....  recent statistics tend to show that the number of college women marrying is increasing.56

Other social scientists conducted surveys showing that college youth believed in marriage, family, and church, thereby reassuring any who still needed reassurance that college education for women was not tearing the fabric of society.57 Articles for the popular press proclaimed that “the college girl puts marriage first. Her career now ranks second, though she hopes to fit it in.”58 There was no need, these authors concluded, for concern that college women would eschew marriage or childrearing.

Supporters of women’s education also argued that, not only did education not keep women from marrying, it made them even better wives and mothers. An Urbana, Illinois editorialist opined, “The best wives in the world are those who have had the advantage and benefit of a college education. They are more companionable and desirable. As the years roll on, the woman with the trained mind is far superior as a wife to the baby doll type [with] her shallow attractions.”59 A divorce court judge in Chicago asserted that, based on the 38,000 divorces he had granted in thirteen years on the bench, he could say with authority that far from hurting marriage, education gives “a common intellectual basis for a happy marriage.”60 Articles in The Chicago Defender also supported the view that “only the educated woman can really be said to be prepared to assume the duties of wife and mother,” and the African American “race can not advance beyond the thinking of its women”; therefore, men should choose college graduates for their wives.61

Education, various articles suggested, helped by imparting practical skills. One farm woman wrote a letter to a newspaper expressing how her education had enabled her to help her children with their schoolwork, and that both she and her carpenter husband were grateful that her two years of geometry meant that she could “listen intelligently to talk of a blue print, or help make one of a home, auto body, or whatever occasion demands.”62 Articles and letters to editors also talked about less tangible benefits of education. Education improved people’s lives by teaching mental discipline and by broadening horizons. “There isn’t a profession that demands broader knowledge, greater intelligence, adaptability, and resourcefulness than farm homemaking,” one writer said, in response to the question of why women who planned to be housewives still needed education. “Of course, education helps to develop these qualities and therefore its value is beyond question.”63 An Iowa farm woman wrote,

Now that our oldest daughter is attending college she is bringing home to us the inspiration, the bigger ideas, and the knowledge we hoped she would get. She is developing greater confidence in herself, a broader sense of values, and a better understanding of the vital things in life.... I, too, am gaining mentally, because during Daughter’s weekends at home, her Daddy and I read her books.64

All the proclamations that college education hurt marriage and families, then, were countered with other proclamations that postsecondary education improved life for everyone.

Arguments about women’s education shifted from a focus on individual happiness to a focus on the social good. Women continued to pursue postsecondary education in ever-increasing numbers, doing so in part because of cultural beliefs regarding the value of education. Education, many people claimed publicly, would bring benefits to individual women and their husbands, to the children they raised, and to the greater society. The public discourse around women’s education used the language of eugenics both to warn of the dangers of too much education and to argue for the need for it. Both perspectives emphasized women’s obligations toward the community at large, a duty that loomed large in the context of “a society in transition from a culture of individualism to a culture of responsibility.”65


As early as Thomas Jefferson, people have argued that an educated citizenry is the backbone of a healthy democracy, and this point of view was no less in existence during the Depression. Citizenship was a theme that cropped up consistently in this period. The Depression led some people to fear for the continuation of democracy, as reformers on the Left spoke openly of the need to revamp government, while activists on the Right feared a socialist incursion. People everywhere on the political spectrum had ideas about how educational institutions could or should promote their vision of democracy. Outside of formal education, millions of adults participated in public forums to discuss how to meet the responsibilities of citizenship in the midst of strenuous challenges. It should not be surprising, therefore, that higher education also seemed to many people to be a likely place to teach about civic duty.66

For white women, the concept of citizenship was tied to marriage, motherhood, and eugenics in ways that both expanded and limited their opportunities. Instruction in voting and public service; participation in student government, peace and protest movements; and involvement in debate clubs reinforced women’s activism in various arenas. None of this was construed as terribly dangerous or threatening to the social order, though, because its purpose was consistently framed in public discourse as fitting within women’s roles as wives, mothers, and preservers of white, middle-class society. For African American women, higher education was linked to wifehood, motherhood, and racial uplift. Participation in student government and activism was also common. However, “democracy” at times seemed like a hollow word when African Americans had to fight to enroll in universities—and often lost.

Some young people went to college or continued on to graduate school because there were no jobs, but idealism also was a factor. Young people in the midst of turbulent times, just out of a cataclysmic war and painfully aware of enormous social problems, wanted to create a better world. To do this, education was key. As one person said in a New York Times article in 1932, “Higher education is not a ‘luxury expenditure’ in a democracy.” Not only was education a necessity during times of tumult, but the scores of young people avidly pursuing it was cause for hope, according to that same article. “That young men and young women are willing and eager to undergo its severe disciplines and endure privation in order to make the most of their personal endowments and fit themselves to ‘make their weight felt in the determination of public problems’ is the healthiest of signs in this time of adversity.”67 The fact that more urban youth attended college than did rural youth was presented as a problem in agricultural newspapers. If higher education “has anything to do with providing successful leadership, then country life and agriculture are certain to suffer,” stated one editorial that encouraged more farmers’ children to attend college.68 “If we are to preserve and develop leadership of a high quality among our rural people,” said another editorial, more of “our rural children” need to go to college.69 Indeed, for many people, the solution to the problems the nation faced was likely to be found in the activity of an educated and engaged citizenry.

Education was a way of teaching the duties and responsibilities of citizenship and of introducing young people into the domain of world citizenship. This was true for both women and men, but took on new importance for women, who had only recently won the right to vote. As new voters, women especially needed to learn about citizenship. Women’s lives had changed in other ways besides voting, though. By 1929, women were eligible for jury service in twenty states, which was “a recognition of citizenship.”70 Women in the era of the New Deal took on important positions in unprecedented numbers in nearly all levels of government. Even before the New Deal, women held a plethora of positions, including in settlement houses, labor unions, child welfare agencies, juvenile justice, social work, and education. As professionals and as voters, women were engaged in public life as never before.

The discourse on women’s education included regular references to these new roles, and coeducational and women’s colleges were eager to instruct women on how to exercise their responsibilities. “The world needs your help at the moment in political, social, and moral fields,” the Dean of Students told female students at Barnard College. “Bear your main share of the responsibility,” she urged students.71 “If the college has a central interest or purpose,” said the President of Connecticut College for Women, “it is educating our young women to competent active interest in community affairs; or in different words, education for better citizenship, education for public affairs in professional capacities or as private citizens.”72 The National Association of College Women held regular regional and national conventions urging female students to take on leadership positions. One conference with the theme, “The College Woman Accepts the Challenge of the Community,” included delegates from fourteen states, and a more national conference of the same group met with the agenda of outlining “Techniques for Action on Contemporary Problems.” One session at the conference was titled “The College Woman’s Contribution to Physical and Mental Health of the Community,” lest anyone forget that college educated women had special responsibility to the greater good.73 Women were encouraged to be leaders within their professions and as community members and higher education prepared them to do this. In periodical literature, this appeared most often through discussion of student government, the curriculum and extracurriculum, and life after graduation.

One way to learn about citizenship was through engaging in student government. Student government, said one reporter on women’s colleges, is an “outcome of actively promoting good citizenship.”74 In practically all colleges, both coeducational and single-sex, wrote another reporter, “women have full-fledged self-government, with their own chief justice and court, which passes on infringements of campus rules... And the student government presidency is perhaps the most respected and coveted office on the campus.”75 Bennett College for African American women aimed toward “educating for life in a democracy” and therefore had a strong student government that emphasized self-direction.76 Lucy Diggs Slowe, Dean of Women at Howard University, felt that “opportunities for self-expression through self-government and opportunities for becoming acquainted with the problems of the world in which they live” were particularly crucial for African American women, who often had not been permitted to vote or to participate in the responsibilities of government at municipal or state levels. “They are accustomed to stand by” and see policies implemented without their input, wrote Slowe, and college student government was an important place to help them learn to take responsibility.77 Nearly twenty years after suffrage, the popular press criticized women’s participation in the electoral process for being weak. Higher education, some leaders claimed, could help remedy this situation. “If women are to meet the criticism that, having won the ballot they do not exercise it,” said one such institutional leader, “they must learn in college the importance of the democratic process and through their own student government how that process works, what its pitfalls are and the measures necessary to perpetuate it.”78

During this decade, newspapers reported that students took on increasing responsibility on campuses across the country. Woman’s College at the University of North Carolina began a system of localized judicial boards in 1939, “denoting a trend toward even more democratic government and more student freedom” than was already in place. The Dean of Women there described the system as one of “checks and balances somewhat like those in our American democracy...under our aim of more intelligent freedom with more specialized guidance.”79 At Syracuse University, the link was made explicit between participation in student government and training “early to become leaders later.”80 Student government was a highly visible way that colleges and universities could demonstrate that they were providing opportunities for students to understand and engage in participatory democracy.

Women’s political interests included a strong international bent, according to many newspapers. Idealism was flourishing, reported The Woman’s Journal, and the “novel form” it was taking in 1930 was “promoting international understanding.”81 The missionary zeal of past generations, according to another journalist in 1932, had “widened into an intelligent, but no less intense, desire to bring peace into the distracted world.” Female college students were, “therefore, busy promoting international clubs or organizing model sessions of the League of Nations.”82 Representatives of Vassar, Mount Holyoke, and other women’s colleges noted the presence of “very active international study groups” on their campuses.83 By 1933, Mount Holyoke’s International Relations Club had 220 members, or one-fifth of the total undergraduate population, in addition to a Peace Club, and a large current events club. Students at Mount Holyoke, Smith, Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Vassar, Connecticut College for Women, and Sarah Lawrence together published a magazine called The Student Internationalist.84 Students at the New Jersey College for Women formed groups of the League of Women Voters, the Permanent Peace Group, and the National Student League, and the student newspaper “frequently feature[d] news of international importance.”85 This interest continued after graduation, as evidenced by, for example, a Missouri chapter of the American Association of University Women sending delegates to meetings of the World Federation of the National Education Association and the International Convention of the AAUW.86

Debate was another extracurricular activity that supported the impetus toward involvement in social and political issues. Women were avid debaters in both coeducational and women’s colleges. At tiny Good Counsel College in White Plains, New York, debating became so popular that twenty percent of the student body participated. This was in no small part because college administration actively promoted debate, speech, and voice training. “The official attitude of the college authorities” was that “concise, graceful, and effective oral expression should be characteristic of college-trained women no less than the ability to express themselves well in writing. Skill in speech is regarded as a stimulant to self-confidence and characteristic of the ability to exercise leadership.”87 Announcements of local girls participating in college debates appeared in newspapers, such as that of Margaret Bier, who was a debater at the Northeast Missouri State Teachers’ College.88

In spite of women’s participation in these activities, many people feared that insufficient numbers of young people took strong enough interest in political and social affairs. This was not an entirely gendered fear. “The average college man and woman in this country,” noted one dismal assessment of campuses, “is totally indifferent to national and international affairs.” “Why don’t your young men care?” was a plaintive query in Harper’s in 1931, in which the author discussed the utter indifference of most undergraduates.89 Carter G. Woodson, Langston Hughes, W.E.B. DuBois, and other leaders were dismayed by what they saw in African American students as “disinterest and distance from the pressing social issues” of the day.90 The situation was so bleak that “only 10% [of all college students] can name their Senators,” and the “only thing they can discuss intelligently is prohibition.”91 This fear of indifference intensified regarding young people’s lives following graduation. The decade or so after graduation is the time in which women “sink themselves either in the petty details of their work or in the care of their homes and children,” lamented a dean of Jersey Women’s College in 1931, urging students not to “let themselves deteriorate, but [to] be intellectually alive and abreast of the world’s events.”92 A former Secretary of War and current trustee of Johns Hopkins University complained, “The great trouble with most men who have been educated, is that they become uneducated just as soon as they stop enquiring and investigating life and its problems for themselves.”93

To help mitigate this potential problem, colleges actively promoted post-graduation civic involvement. The Department of Government at Barnard College produced “an intensely appealing leaflet,” entitled You and Your Government—What You as College Women Can Do About It. The leaflet, given to all Barnard graduates, contained “straightforward and practical directions for participation in citizenship.” Strategies like this, in addition to the four years of practice in student government, courses that encouraged community involvement, and internship programs, may have worked. One study showed that women college graduates had higher voter rates than women who had not attended college—62 percent compared to 50 percent, in 1935.94 Newspaper accounts reinforced the value to the community of college-educated women, such as one from 1940 that asserted that Vassar graduates, “whatever their politics, are as a rule, responsible members of their communities; that the great majority of them are public-spirited citizens who give generously of their time and energy to welfare agencies.”95 The Chicago Defender published a regular column titled “A Scrap Book for Women in Public Life” that praised African American women’s contributions to the civic order, as well as other columns about women “playing their parts well in upbuilding” their communities, such as one that reported on a special chapel service in Chicago held in recognition of women’s leadership roles in preserving democracy.96 Local and state women’s groups also sponsored events to teach women about politics and government, such as the statewide conference held in Normal, Illinois in 1932 that featured speeches on “You and Your Government,” “You and Your Vote,” and “Citizenship for the College Girl.”97 In these ways, college education for women was portrayed as not only of worth to the individual woman, but also as beneficial to the community, state, and nation.


A major reform at colleges and universities during the 1930s was the reduction of the number of required courses and the individualization of students’ selection of courses. How much of the curriculum should consist of required courses and how much of it should be freely chosen by the student? Allowing greater freedom of choice for students spread rapidly in this decade. This experiment was considered “almost revolutionary” in its “recognition that education necessarily must be an individual matter.” Using the analogy of dress fitting or tailoring, one commentator said that the curriculum that “cuts to the same pattern the educational costumes of tall and short, fragile and robust,” no longer has a place. Instead, “most of our colleges have adopted a program which may be fitted to the individual measure of each student.”98 At Teachers College, the slate of required courses that comprised 40 percent of a student’s course load and that was intended to create a “common intellectual world” was deemed an undesirable “demand” for “uniformity.”99 “Flexibility of courses to suit the talents of the individual is apparently the ideal of the younger generation as well as of the progressive educator,” wrote a reporter after discussing changes at Wheaton College.100 “The great objective in education has become clarified into training the young to think independently and creatively,” said an article in The Atlantic Monthly, and as a result, the undergraduate woman saw herself as “the architect of her own education.”101 Students should no more take courses in a lock-step regimen than they should be forced to conform to anything else, including political ideas. Instead, they should participate in the design of their own education.

As colleges and universities gave students more freedom to choose classes and individualize their course of study, the curricular options for young people expanded. This coincided with a call for more practical vocational courses for the rising number of college students. Women pursued studies in diverse fields. Science, economics, political science, and journalism were popular, experiencing record enrollments. Women also pursued vocational fields of study including business, home economics, and social work. Mirroring the labor market, these vocational fields of study were highly gender segregated. Although fields such as home economics ultimately may have served to limit opportunities for women, in the 1930s, these programs promised new opportunities.102 Women’s expanded curricular options were commonly discussed not only in terms of responsible citizenship and contributions to society, but also in terms of the post-collegiate personal and professional opportunities they might engender.

Many articles noted college women’s pursuit of social sciences curricula. Vassar President MacCracken noticed that “students are more interested now in their election of economics courses, in corporate organization and finance, the stock market, banking, methods of statistical inquiry.”103 In 1935, the New Jersey College for Women reported “a decided trend toward study of political and social problems.”104 The new president of Connecticut College for Women, Dr. Blunt, spoke of the need to teach women “as possible future participants in politics and not merely observers.” Women needed theoretical and practical courses in economics and sociology, she contended; if women were armed with this knowledge, future boards of directors managing organizations like the United Charities and the Child Welfare Society would be rescued from amateurism.105 Students there did not disappoint Dr. Blunt. Five years later, The New York Times reported that coursework in economics, sociology, political science, and history all had been strengthened and that registration in these courses had increased from 584 in 1932 to 961 in 1935. Students were flocking to new courses on theories of the State and the history and operation of political parties, among others.106

Women learned to analyze social problems and they also learned to analyze rhetoric and discourse. As a result, the field of journalism grew over the decade. At the College of New Rochelle, fully twenty per cent of students were enrolled in the Journalism Department, where they studied such subjects as “the psychology and technique of propaganda. Students study various attempts made by propagandists to mold public opinion through pamphlets, newspapers, art, literature, the theatre, commercial advertising and the radio.”107 The goal for such students was the same as the goal the Women’s Dean at Barnard had for all students: “Having trained brains, they will think straight…. They will know a fact when they see it, which is rare in Congress. They will know whose opinions to value.”108 Similarly, a male professor at Rutgers urged the Women’s Intercollegiate Association for Student Government to learn to distinguish “sound philosophy from drivel.”109 This they apparently did, in many classes geared toward that end.

One African American journalist who wanted a graduate degree in journalism was unable to pursue it, however. Democracy had its limits and one of those limits was mixed-race education. Lucile Bluford not only wrote for newspapers, she made newspaper headlines when she was denied admission to the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri in 1939. The NAACP had just won an important victory over that university’s law school the year before with the “Gaines” case. Bluford’s denial, however, made clear the need for more sweeping legal challenges to end segregation.110

New internship programs created opportunities for students to learn about government. Colleges made arrangements for students to get credit for internships as part of regular coursework or honors work. Some of these experiences were “internships in practical government” in Washington, D.C., made possible through the National Institution of Public Affairs. Internships could lead to professional work, but even if they did not, they were touted as helping to increase voter participation and civic engagement.111

During the Depression women demonstrated marked interest in fields like science, architecture and engineering. Women did, of course, face substantial obstacles, outright barriers and prejudice as they tried to penetrate laboratory doors. This is perhaps no better illustrated than in the case of chemist Mildred Cohn, famous for pioneering work in the emerging fields of biochemistry and biophysics. Cohn graduated from high school in 1929 and enrolled in Hunter College at age 14. Hoping to study physics, she instead majored in chemistry because physics was not offered at the women’s college. While an outstanding student, she was told by her chemistry instructor that he could prepare her only for a teaching position rather than as a scientist because lab work was “unladylike.” With a Bachelor’s degree in hand in 1931 and still determined to pursue a career in science, she enrolled in graduate school at Columbia. She supported herself by babysitting because teaching assistant positions were only available to men. She earned a Master’s degree in 1933 at age 19 and, unable to afford school, went to work for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the forerunner of NASA. There, she designed studies for fuel injection experiments, but because she was not permitted in the lab, her male colleagues carried out her experiments. After two years, she returned to Columbia to complete her Ph.D., which she earned in 1938. For the next twenty years, even with her doctorate and her groundbreaking experimental discoveries, Cohn found employment only as a laboratory research assistant.112

In spite of the barriers that Cohn and other women faced, a growing number of women in the 1930s studied science and sought related employment after college. For example, a number of publications specifically mentioned women enrolling in science classes such as chemistry.113 By 1937, college placement officials spoke of new opportunities for women in laboratory research. “One of the most encouraging aspects of the situation…has been the improved outlook for students trained in science. The demand for laboratory workers has enabled us to place twice as many as last year.”114 The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) noted women’s interest and success in science as well. According to an MIT official, “the modern young woman who comes to MIT for a technical education neither asks nor receives any special favors… she is accepted on the same basis of men.” After graduation, some marry “but others enter fields for which their Technology training has specially equipped them.… most of them take up architecture. Chemistry and biology come next in order of popularity, and physics, public health, city planning and geology follow.” Also of note was that four women were pursuing aeronautical engineering degrees, a field in which the first woman had graduated only four years earlier in 1932.115

Although liberal arts and science programs continued to be popular fields of study for both men and women, many voices argued that such fields were an outdated idea. Numerous articles discussed the need for a new progressive education tailored to women and their post-collegiate family life, employment needs, interests, and contributions to society.116 The Dean of Women at Atlantic University lamented that curriculum was “still based on men’s experience, work, and needs.” She urged courses of study for women that acknowledge that they do different work, have different needs, and make different contributions to society than do men. Women need curriculum suited for their “real job … in American society” which  “covers the use of beautiful English speech, health of body and mind, human relationships, the economics of consumption, beauty in home and community, and citizenship.”117 Thus curriculum for women should include courses in home economics, health, social and mental hygiene, child psychology, and English literature. Many colleges heeded these calls for what some considered to be a progressive modern education for women. Although a number of these programs began before the Depression, vocational educational programs were widely discussed and promoted during the 1930s.118

While teaching and nursing remained the top two fields for women throughout the 1930s, colleges and universities across the nation added an increasingly broad assortment of professionally geared courses and majors to their slate of offerings. These included a wide variety of classes that prepared women for jobs and careers in business, social work, home economics, journalism, stenography, relief work, and nutrition. For example, in 1936, Hunter College bragged that it offered “an enlarged field of specialized business courses. These added to the pre-medical, pre-social work and pre-journalism courses of study mark a trend toward a curriculum that is regarded as adapted to the increasing wide vocational fields for women.”119 Many colleges expanded their business offerings. Boston University added new courses in typing and shorthand for women majoring in Business Administration and Journalism.120 The City College of New York admitted women to their daytime business classes and expected record enrollment.121 Business majors were trained for jobs in merchandising and department stores, accounting and bookkeeping, and secretarial work.

Home economics also experienced a great surge in popularity during the Depression. Home economics departments offered a vast array of courses for women including nutrition, hygiene, social work, child development, consumer education, household management, institutional management, textiles and commercials arts, merchandising, and department store purchasing. Because of this wide range of courses, home economics programs sometimes aligned with programs or departments of business and sometimes with euthenics, a term for the improvement of external environmental living conditions such as hygiene, nutrition, and sanitation. It was no mere coincidence that the word “euthenics” sounded a lot like the word “eugenics,” as they had a similar agenda. The goal for both was strengthening families through better health. In business, euthenics, or their own departments, the programs highlighted a scientific approach, coinciding with the larger trend of universities becoming research institutions. Home economics was a two-edged sword, offering on the one hand a uniquely female yet scientific place for women in the research university, while also thereby marginalizing women’s work.122

Colleges and universities offered other new or expanded “scientific” programs for women in euthenics, social work, and child development. Many campuses reported that social work offered “one of the best and most eagerly accepted opportunities.”123 Also popular at many colleges were child development and nursery school programs, a new area of employment for women. A New York Times article noted that nursery schools were “a rapidly growing industry in the United States.”124 Nursery school training was seen as a new opportunity, different from other teaching. College women were “attracted not to the high school job, once the vocational reward of a college education, but toward more adventurous new opportunities” with nursery schools.125 Similarly, a Midwestern publication noted that “original minded girls are attracted by the strong rise of nursery schools.”126 A common element of all of these programs—home economics, euthenics, social work, and nursery schools—was the belief that all of these programs scientifically trained and equipped college women to serve and improve the greater community.

Women’s colleges were not alone in providing vocational programs for women. Co-educational institutions, especially land grant institutions, also provided a slate of vocational programs for women that included programs in social work, home economics, social hygiene, rural training, and relief work. Iowa State expanded its home economics and agricultural extension programs, with college women providing education in nutrition and hygiene to farmers’ wives and working with other public agencies to provide much needed relief work.127 Cornell University, too, expanded its popular home economics program.128 The City College of New York offered nine new courses in hygiene in 1936.129 These programs were not necessarily all new, but they expanded as enrollment expanded and were very much a part of the discourse about higher education and opportunities for women in the thirties.

While some debated the merits of a liberal arts versus a “more practical” vocational education for women, it was clear that college women themselves wanted both academic and vocational choices on their collegiate menu. A reporter noted that when undergraduates at Pennsylvania College were asked, “Should college prepare one for a vocation, or should it restrict itself to providing a broad cultural background,” the answer was,

Girls at the college say that it must do both. They want practical training—in domestic science or in Russian history—and they also want wide cultural training. They would like to have their cake and eat it too; or, rather, they want to have the whole cake.130

Surveys at a variety of institutions confirmed the expansiveness of women’s interests and the crucial link between their interests and labor market prospects. A 1932 survey of Barnard students found that “fields in which careers were the major interest included music, psychology, writing, the theatre, mathematics, social work, chemistry, medicine, history, art, economics, law, scientific research, finance, department store work, food, botany, anatomy, philosophy, French, Latin and drawing.”131 Pennsylvania College found their students “intent on scientific preparation. English and history remain popular…but the interest in economics and eugenics is increasing. Chemistry received a large number of votes.”132 Columbia reported that “our women graduates are finding places in social and research work, accounting and statistics, merchandising and retailing, as assistants in colleges and as secretaries. A few are being graduated with law and medical degrees.”133 In 1937, Barnard noted the “types of work secured showed a fairly healthy spread. The fields entered by those employed included teaching, merchandizing, statistical, scientific, social work, secretarial, literary, and costume designing.”134 Reporting on a female University of Minnesota engineering graduate who secured a position with a large corporation as construction manager, the Daily Illini noted that “the achievement of this…co-ed is typical of the deep professional urge and new vocational interest evidenced by the women student of today… even though her chances of success are comparatively meager.”135 The article ended with the somewhat triumphant (if premature) declaration that “the time has passed when the young women in college must think of herself in terms of limitations.” Certainly, many women pursued a range of academic and vocational interests.

While it is true that in the 1930s most college women planned to marry, interest in marriage did not preclude women from desiring and pursuing a wider slate of options. A headline covering the results of a 1938 survey of female students at the Pennsylvania College for Women announced that while nearly all of the students intended to marry, “Three Out of Four Also Would Learn to Earn.” Sixty percent of the women “voted for a career, by which professional occupation extending over a period of years was indicated. Forty percent would like to combine marriage and career.”136 Similarly, among seniors at New Jersey College for Women in 1936, “40% planned to work after marriage.” Another article declared that the “universally expressed wish to marry has come with almost universally expressed desire for a job,” and the desire to work was not based simply on economic necessity.137 Girls planned to do “something worthwhile” and hoped for a job that would be “so engrossing that it will be a hard pull to leave it for marriage.”138

Social norms of the 1930's did sharply curtail opportunity in the labor market, but at the same time, women also pushed the boundaries. A student newspaper at co-educational University of Minnesota noted that “theoretically, at least the vocational cosmos of the woman graduate today stretches beyond the farthest imagining of a quarter of a century ago.”139 Expressing this interest, a New York Times article from 1933 announced that:

the college girl’s eyes turn most longingly toward the newest viands on her embellished occupational menu, even though they come to her as yet in starving portions: diplomatic service, applied psychology, advertising and department store buying, museum work, and labor management.140

In summary, print literature of the period spoke of the expansion of curricular choices for women during the Depression. New fields opened and women availed themselves of these choices, in spite of legal, social, and other barriers. Surely many women, like Dr. Mildred Cohn and Lucile Bluford, met with frustration as they pursued their goals. Colleges and universities did not open their doors equally to all and neither did employers. Some of the “new” options for women were old wine in new bottles, as home economics, euthenics, and social work repackaged women’s work as wives, mothers, and social housekeepers. Yet, as represented in popular magazines, the college woman reveled in her “embellished” choices.


The academic and popular press of the 1930s reflects an overarching concern regarding the meanings of citizenship and the means of preparing young people for taking on the responsibilities of citizenship. This is not surprising in an era of severe economic hardship, unprecedented social stress, and international threats to democracy. Popular and academic discourse positioned women as important players in the creation of a better world. Higher education would help train women to be engaged citizens, performing their civic duties in a myriad of ways. Educated white and African American women would work for the betterment of society as wives, mothers, and volunteers; as informed voters and jurors, and in appointed and elected offices; and in professional roles as social workers, teachers, hygienists, nutritionists, nurses, scientists, economists, and journalists.

Women could pursue higher education and some could enter new occupational arenas, but only under the veil of a particular ideal of womanhood. Not all women had to marry and have children, but all needed to position themselves as at least potential wives and mothers. Their careers needed to be understood as caretaking for their communities and their country. They were not simply citizens; they were actual or metaphorical wives and mothers doing the “social housekeeping” of the nation.141 Historians have demonstrated that proponents of women’s education from as early as the eighteenth century have used the argument that education would make women better wives and mothers, but it was never exactly the same argument, as each iteration reflects the nuance of a particular context.142 In the 1930s, proponents of women’s education used, at least in part, the discourse most readily available, that of eugenics. In this decade, eugenic arguments were used to dissuade women from pursuing higher education, admonishing women not to waste their most productive childbearing years. Proponents of women’s education also used eugenic arguments and were able to marshal support for women’s college attendance as well as for women’s entrance into career paths that otherwise might not have been open to them. The use of eugenic arguments was also true for African Americans, who linked this discourse to that of racial uplift.

Ruth Erickson, Mary Elizabeth Jackman, and Caroline Lange, who attended the Illinois Student League of Women Voters conference, were emblematic—if not necessarily representative—of female college students of their time. Because this was a decade in which the cultural ethos was one of forsaking individual interests in order to contribute to the social good, women’s responsibilities as citizens took on heightened importance. Understanding what “citizenship for the college girl” entailed was a cultural project undertaken by thousands of young women and it was a project heartily endorsed by colleges and universities and by a broad swath of the general public. Popular magazines, newspapers, and academic journals all contributed to this cultural project by publishing articles that supported the need for college educated women to participate in the rebuilding of civic life during a time of enormous social and economic challenge.


We would like to thank Timothy Reese Cain, Linda Eisenmann, Marianne Smith, the
Riverside history writing group, and the anonymous reviewers for feedback on drafts of this article.


1. “Campus Women to Attend New Voters Meeting,” Daily Illini, April 8, 1932, 7.

2. See for example  Barbara Miller Solomon, In the Company of Educated Women (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985); Mabel Newcomer, A Century of Higher Education for American Women (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1959); John R. Thelin, A History of American Higher Education (Maryland: The John Hopkins Press, 2004); Linda Eisenmann, "Reconsidering a Classic: Assessing the History of Women's Higher Education a Dozen Years after Barbara Solomon," Harvard Review of Education 67, no. 4 (1997), 689-718.

3. David Levine, The American College and the Culture of Aspiration, 1915-1940 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1986), 123.

4. Michael D. Bordo, Claudia Goldin, and Eugene N. White, Eds., The Defining Moment: The Great Depression and the American Economy in the Twentieth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998); Linda Eisenmann, "Reconsidering a Classic”; David Levine, The American College and the Culture of Aspiration; Solomon, In the Company of Educated Women.

5. Our research consists of historical analysis of printed archival material from 1929–1941.  Primary material was drawn from original print editions of the Readers’ Guide to Periodic Literature and the electronic version of Reader’s Guide Retro. We divided journals into popular magazines and academic journals, and coded all articles indexed under the terms “College, students, women,” “Education of women,” and “College women.” We analyzed 128 articles from popular magazines and 85 articles from academic journals. This provided a rich source of magazine and journal articles considered significant during the period studied. After coding and choosing the themes for our focus, we looked for related articles from newspapers; we used electronically archived materials from the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times. To avoid an east/west coast urban bias, and in an effort to include an African-American perspective, we supplemented this with material from smaller Midwestern and African-American presses including the Daily Illini, The Chicago Defender, Columbia Missourian, Daily Illini, Hannibal Courier, and the Urbana Daily Courier. Popular magazines: Atlantic Monthly, Better Homes and Gardens, The Farmer’s Wife, Forum, Harper’s, Independent Woman, Ladies Home Journal, Life, Living, Reader’s Digest, Scribner’s, Time. Academic journals: American Journal of Psychology, American Journal of Sociology, American Sociological Review, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Current History, Education, Hygeia, Journal of Negro Education, Journal of the American Association of University Women, Journal of Educational Sociology, Journal of Higher Education, Journal of Home Economics, Peabody Journal of Education, Scholastic, School and Society, School Life, School Review, Science, Science News Letter, Social Forces, Yale Review. Newspapers: The Chicago Defender, Columbia Missourian, Daily Illini, Hannibal Courier, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Urbana Daily Courier.

6. D. George Boyce, “Public Opinion and Historians,” History 63 (1978), 214-26.

7. Edward Caudill and Paul Ashdown, Sherman’s March in Myth and Memory (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), 5-7.

8. Leila Zenderland, Measuring Minds: Henry Herbert Goddard and the Origins of American Intelligence Testing (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998); Patrick J. Ryan, “Unnatural Selection: Intelligence Testing, Eugenics, and American Political Cultures,” Journal of Social History 30, no. 3 (1997), 669-685; John P. Jackson, Jr., Science for Segregation: Race, Law, and the Case Against Brown v. Board of Education (New York: New York University Press, 2005); Carlos K. Blanton, “From Intellectual Deficiency to Cultural Deficiency: Mexican Americans, Testing, and Public School Policy in the American Southwest, 1920-1940,” Pacific Historical Review 72, no. 1 (2003), 39-62.

9. For instance, see Charles L. Vigue, “Eugenics and the Education of Women in the United States,” Journal of Educational Administration & History 19, no. 2 (1987), 51-55.

10. Thelin, A History of American Higher Education; Patricia Albjerg Graham, "Expansion and Exclusion: A History of Women in American Higher Education," Signs 3, no. 4 (1978),759-773; Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz, "The Shaping of Higher Education: The Formative Years in the United States, 1890 to 1940," The Journal of Economic Perspectives 13, no. 1 (1999), 37-62.

11. In the 1928-1930 Biennial Survey of Education, the U.S. Department of Education noted that while the growth in college attendance during the decade of the 1920s was unprecedented, this increase may be “overstated.”  Figures are based on voluntary returns of institutional surveys and returns were “more complete” in 1930 than 1920.   

12. U.S. Office of Education, Biennial Survey of Education in the United States, Statistics of Higher Education 1937-1938, Bulletin 1940, No. 2, Chapter IV, 8.

13. Enrollment at private colleges and universities shrank at a greater rate than that of public institutions. U.S. Department of Education noted that the enrollment in publically controlled colleges of arts and sciences actually increased 1% from 1932-34.

14. U.S. Office of Education, Biennial Survey of Education in the United States: Statistical Summary of Education 1937-1938, Bulletin 1940, No. 2, Chapter I, (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1941), 12; U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics: 2005 (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Statistics, 2005), http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d05/tables/xls/tabn246.xls.

15. Ibid.

16. U.S. Office of Education, Biennial Survey of Education in the United States: Statistical Summary of Education 1937-1938, Bulletin 1940, No. 2, Chapter I, (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1941), 12; U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics: 2005 (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Statistics, 2005), http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d05/tables/xls/tabn246.xls.

17. Charles H. Thompson, “Introduction: The Problem of Negro Higher Education,” The Journal of Negro Education 2 (July, 1933), 260-4.

18. James T. Patterson, Brown v. Board of Education: A Civil Rights Milestone and Its Troubled Legacy (Oxford University Press, 2001). The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) fought against segregation and the poor conditions of schools for Spanish speaking children in this period, as well, most notably in Alvarez v. Lemon Grove School District case in 1931. In contrast with NAACPs focus on higher education, LULAC at this time focused on K-12 schools. See Vicki L. Ruiz, “South by Southwest: Mexican Americans and Segregated Schooling, 1900-1950,” OAH Magazine of History 15 (Winter 2001), 23-27; Guadalupe San Miguel, Jr., “Let All of Them Take Heed”: Mexican Americans and the Campaign for Educational Equity in Texas, 1910-1981 (University of Texas Press, 1987).

19. Michael Fultz, “‘The Morning Cometh’: African-American Periodicals, Education, and the Black Middle Class, 1900-1930,” Journal of Negro History 80, no. 3, 1995, 97-112.

20. Figures are for the continental U.S. from Table XVI Income per capita in the United States, Biennial Survey of Education in the United States, Statistics of Higher Education 1937-1938, Bulletin 1940, No. 2, Chapter IV, p. 26.

21. Susan Ware, Holding Their Own: American Women in the 1930s (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1982); Jill Fields, "Fighting the Corsetless Evil: Shaping Corsets and Culture, 1900-1930," Journal of Social History 33, no. 2 (1999), 355-384.

22. Susan Ware, Beyond Suffrage, Women in the New Deal (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981).

23. Ware, Holding Their Own.  

24. Ibid.

25. Chase Going Woodhouse, "The Status of Women," The American Journal of Sociology 35, no. 6 (1930), 889-895; Alice Kessler-Harris, "In the Nation's Image: The Gendered Limits of Social Citizenship in the Depression Era," Journal of American History 86, no. 3 (1999), 1251-1279.

26. Alice Kessler-Harris, Out to Work: A History of Wage-Earning Women in the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), 259.

27. “College at a Corner,” Time, Sept. 26, 1932, n.p.; Levine, The American College and the Culture of Aspiration.

28. Levine, The American College and the Culture of Aspiration.

29. Examples include E. W. Stearn, “Important Factors in Directing the Health of the College Woman,” American Journal of Public Health 21 (Sept. 1931), 10; “Girls Taller, Four Pounds Lighter than in 1914,” News Week 3, Jan. 27, 1934, 27; R. G. Barker, “Growth in Height and Weight in College and University Women,” Science 83 (Jan. 1936), 59-61; J. Foster, “Dieting Daughters: Mistaken Ideas on the Subject of Ideal Weight,” Hygeia 1 (Feb. 1937), 141-3; M.S. Chaney, “Food and Health Habits of Students at Connecticut College,” Journal of Home Economics 30 (Jan. 1938), 39-47; P. Nelson, “Nutritional Status of College Women,” Journal of Home Economics 30 (Sept. 1938, 465-6; H. S. Mitchell, “Vitamin C Status of College Women as Determined by Urinary Excretion,” Journal of Home Economics 30 (Nov. 1938), 645-50; A. W. Ellis, “The Status of Health and Physical Education for Women in Negro Colleges and Universities,” The Journal of Negro Education 8 (Jan. 1939), 58-63.

30. Kenneth J. Carpenter, “A Short History of Nutritional Science,” The Journal of Nutrition 133 (Oct. 2003), 3023.

31. Elizabeth Fee, Disease and Discovery: A History of the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, 1916-1939 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1987).

32. “Jobs for College Women,” Survey 65 (Feb. 1931), 561; "Student Loans." Time, Sept. 23 1929, n.p.; "After College," n.p., May 8, 1939.  Other examples include L. Turlington, “Careers for College Girls: New National Clearing House,” Woman’s Journal 14 (March 1929), 15; “Jobs for College Women,” Woman’s Journal 15 (July 1930), 21; Polly Johnson, “To College on a Flat Purse,” Farmer’s Wife (Aug. 1, 1931), 24; “Girls Must Work,” Ladies Home Journal 53 (June 1936), 32-3; Kathryn Soth, “The Will To Learn Finds a Way,” Farmer’s Wife (April 1, 1938), 21; V.D. Clark, “Effect of NYA Employment on the Grades of Men and Women in College,” School and Society 48 (Dec. 1938), 803-4.

33. “Women Have Intellectual Superiority; Are Ranking Students at Howard U.,” The Chicago Defender, Nov. 15, 1930, 6.

34. Eunice Fuller Barnard, “The Co-eds Round Out A Century,” New York Times, Oct. 3, 1937, 145. See also “The Co-Ed’s Centennial,” Los Angeles Times, July 27, 1933, A4.

35. Eunice Fuller Barnard, “Women and Colleges,” New York Times, May 2, 1937, SM12. See also “Wesleyan College Centennial,” New York Times, May 31, 1936, 11. A parasang is an ancient Persian measure of distance, equivalent to about 3.5 miles.

36. Helen D. Bragdon, "The Second Century Faces the First: Is It Time to Choose New Goals in Higher Education for Women?" Journal of the American Association of University Women 31, no. 4 (1938), 206-07.

37. Willystine Goodsell, "The Educational Opportunities of American Women - Theoretical and Actual," Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 143 (1929). Also see “Shall We Educate Our Girls and Boys Alike?” National Business Woman (Dec. 12, 1933), 396-7, 421-2, 424; Marion Talbot, “Women in the University World: The Story of a Century’s Progress,” Journal of the American Association of University Women 32 (June 1939), 203-214.

38. For information on eugenics, especially the role of gender in eugenics, see Wendy Kline, Building a Better Race: Gender, Sexuality and Eugenics from the Turn of the Century to the Baby Boom (University of California Press, 2005).

39. See for example “Normal Co-eds or Intellectual Spinsters?” Daily Illini, Sept. 30, 1934, 4; “Five Sisters,” Time Oct. 1, 1934, n.p.; "Survey Shows Why College Girls Stay Single; Not Unattractive, but Can't Find the Right Man," The New York Times, Feb. 18, 1928,1; Willis D. Ballinger, “Spinster Factories: Why I Would Not Send a Daughter to College,” Forum and Century 87 (May 1932), 301.

40. "Survey Shows Why College Girls Stay Single”; Marjorie Van De Water, "How to Find a Husband," The Science News-Letter 32, no. 853 (1937), 106-108; Ernest R. Groves, "Sex Adjustment of College Men and Women," Journal of Educational Sociology 8, no. 6 (1935), 353-60; Paul Popenoe, "Where Are the Marriageable Men?" Social Forces 14, no. 2 (1935), 257-262; James H. S. Bossard, "The Age Factor in Marriage: A Philadelphia Study," The American Journal of Sociology 38, no. 4 (1931), 536-547.

41. Paul Popenoe, “Where Are the Marriageable Men?” 257-258.

42. Ibid.

43. Groves, "Sex Adjustment of College Men and Women," 355.

44. Walter L. Lowe, “Do College Women Make Poor Wives,” The Chicago Defender, July 20, 1935, 11.

45. Jeannette Eaton, "The College Girl of 1930," Woman's Journal, May 1930, 6.

46. Mary Jacobs, "Shall We Educate Our Girls and Boys Alike?" Independent Woman, December 1933, 424.

47. Groves, "Sex Adjustment of College Men and Women," 356.

48. Robert D. Leigh, "College as Transition," Progressive Education 16, no. 1 (1939), 50-58.

49. Wendy Kline, Building a Better Race: Gender, Sexuality, and Eugenics from the Turn of the Century to the Baby Boom (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001).

50. Daylanne K. English, Unnatural Selections: Eugenics in American Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 35; Daylanne English, “W.E.B. DuBois’s Family ‘Crisis,’” American Literature 72, no. 2, 2000, 291-319.

51. Raymond R. Willoughby, "Fertility and Intelligence of College Women," Science 88, no. 2282 (1938), 281-282; Bossard, "The Age Factor in Marriage"; Willystine Goodsell, "The Size of Families of College and Non-College Women," The American Journal of Sociology 41, no. 5 (1936), 585-597; Clyde V. Kiser, "Variations in Birth Rates According to Occupational Status, Family Income, and Educational Attainment," The Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly 16, no. 1 (1938), 39-56.

52. Kiser, “Variations in Birth Rates,” 53-54.

53. Goodsell, "The Size of Families of College and Non-College Women,” 585.

54. Helen D. Bragdon, “The Second Century Faces the First: Is It Time to Choose New Goals in Higher Education for Women?” Journal of the American Association of University Women 31, no. 4, (1938), 207.

55. "Feminist Notes: College Women Pick Good Husbands," Equal Rights 20, no. 30 (1934), 238; Eaton, "The College Girl of 1930,"; Jacobs, "Shall We Educate Our Girls and Boys Alike?"

56. Bragdon, "The Second Century Faces the First,” 207.

57. George J. Dudycha, “The Social Beliefs of College Seniors,” The American Journal of Sociology 37 (March 1932), 775-780; Clifford M. Kirkpatrick, “Student Attitudes toward Marriage and Sex,” Journal of Educational Sociology 9 (1936), 545-555; Willard Waller, “The Rating and Dating Complex,” American Sociological Review 2 (Oct. 1937), 727-734; Theodore Newcomb, “Recent Changes in Attitudes Toward Sex and Marriage,” American Sociological Review 2 (Oct. 1937), 569-667; Joseph K. Folsom, "Changing Values in Sex and Family Relations," American Sociological Review 2 (1937), 717-726; William S. Bernard, “Student Attitudes on Marriage and the Family,” American Sociological Review 3 (June 1938), 354-361; Wayne C. Neely, “Family Attitudes of Denominational College and University Students, 1929 and 1936,” American Sociological Review 5 (Aug.1940), 512-522.

58. Eunice Fuller Barnard, “The College Girl Puts Marriage First,” The New York Times, Apr. 2, 1933, SM8.

59. “Dumb-bell Wives and Betty Co-Ed,” Urbana Daily Courier, June 26, 1934, 4.

60. “Holds Best Wives Are College Girls,” New York Times, July 9, 1934, 17.

61. “Has Education A Purpose?” The Chicago Defender, Oct. 3, 1936, 16; “Select Wife Who Can Run Fast Race, Says Professor,” The Chicago Defender, Nov. 15, 1930, 3.

62. Mrs. R. T., “Waiting for the Next Test,” The Farmer’s Wife, Jan. 1, 1931, 14.

63. “How Does Education Help You?” The Farmer’s Wife, May 1, 1936, 3.

64. College-defender, Iowa, “For Sis—For College,” The Farmer’s Wife, Apr. 1, 1935, 14.

65. Kline, Building a Better Race, 95; Alan Dawley, Struggles for Justice: Social Responsibility and the Liberal State (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991).

66. Robert Kunzman and David Tyack, “Educational Forums of the 1930s: An Experiment in Adult Civic Education,” American Journal of Education 111 (May 2005), 320-340.

67. “Colleges Facing Test,” The New York Times, Oct. 16, 1932, E1.

68. “Education and Rural Leadership,” The Farmer’s Wife, Apr. 1, 1929, 3.

69. Lucile W. Reynolds, “They Believe in Education,” The Farmer’s Wife, Sept. 1, 1930, 10.

70. “Farm Women and Jury Service,” The Farmer’s Wife, Apr. 1, 1929, 3.

71. “Barnard Girls Told To Avoid ‘Conceit’: Dean Gildersleeve Advises 227 Seniors to Beware Also of ‘Overmodesty,’” The New York Times, May 11, 1932, 21.

72. “Civic Duty Taught At Connecticut,” The New York Times, Mar. 8, 1936, N8.

73. “College Women From 14 States To Hold Meet; Gary, Indiana, Chapter Will Be Hostess,” The Chicago Defender, Nov. 11, 1939, 16; “College Women Hold Significant Convention,” The Chicago Defender, Apr. 30, 1938, 15. See also “Place Of College Women In The Community To Be Discussed in N.Y.,” The Chicago Defender, Apr. 18, 1936, 17.

74. Leonora W. Lockhart, “Women’s Colleges: A Striking Contrast,” The New York Times, May 5, 1929, 12.

75. Eunice Fuller Barnard, “A New American College Girl Emerges,” The New York Times, Mar. 12, 1933, SM4.

76. “Bennett’s Courses Train Deans, Personnel Workers,” The Chicago Defender, Feb. 12, 1938, 6.

77. Lucy D. Slowe, “Higher Education of Negro Women,” The Journal of Negro Education 2 (July 1933), 352-358 (quotes on 356, 358).

78. Paul Swain Havens, “Higher Education for Women Stresses Role of Conserver,” The New York Times, Dec. 17, 1939, 57.

79. “Links ‘Freedom With Guidance,’” The New York Times, Feb. 5, 1939, D10.

80. “Students’ Lives Ruled by Council,” The New York Times, Dec 1, 1940, D68.

81. Jeannette Eaton, “The College Girl of 1930,” The Woman’s Journal, May 1930, 7.

82. Mabel Barbee Lee, “The American College Woman Emerges: She Has Widened Her Horizon and Enriched Her Life, Says One Who Has Kept Watch,” The New York Times, Apr. 17, 1932, SM4.

83. “Our Students Held Ignorant of Events,” The New York Times, Sep. 5, 1931, 16.

84. Eunice Fuller Barnard, “A New American College Girl Emerges,” The New York Times, Mar. 12, 1933, SM4.

85. “Study Social Problems,” The New York Times, Jan. 20, 1935, N2.

86. “Mrs. C. H. Williams Speaks to A.A.U.W.,” Columbia Missourian, Nov. 22, 1929, 3.

87. “Debating Emphasized for Women Students,” The New York Times, Nov. 28, 1937, 51.

88. “Palmyra Girl Will Debate At College,” Hannibal Courier, Oct. 24, 1935, 6.

89. Harold Joseph Laski, “Why Don’t Your Young Men Care? The Political Indifference of the American Undergraduate,” Harper’s Magazine, July 1931, 129-136.

90. V.P. Franklin, “Introduction: African American Student Activism in the 20th Century,” Journal of African American History 88 (Spring 2003), 106; V.P. Franklin, “Whatever Happened to the College-Bred Negro?” History of Education Quarterly 24 (Fall 1984), 411-18.

91. “Our Students Held Ignorant of Events,” The New York Times, Sep. 5, 1931, 16.

92. “College Women Told to Resist Petty Lives: Dean of Jersey Women’s College Warns of ‘Danger Years’ Soon After Graduation,” The New York Times Oct. 18, 1931, 37.

93. “Student Loans,” Time, Sept. 23, 1929, www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,732853,00.html.

94. Kathryn McHale, “Education for Women,” The Journal of Higher Education, Dec. 1935, 466.

95. “The Women of Vassar,” The New York Times, June 23, 1940, BR7.

96. For one example of the series, see “A Scrap Book for Women in Public Life: Ruth Gwendolyn Smith at Wellesley,” The Chicago Defender, Jan. 18, 1930, 5; “Playing Their Parts Well in Upbuilding,” The Chicago Defender, May 3, 1930, A6.

97. “Campus Women to Attend New Voters Meeting,” Daily Illini, Apr. 8, 1932, 7.

98. Kathryn McHale, “Education for Women,” The Journal of Higher Education, Dec. 1935, 460.

99. “Urges Wider Choice in College Courses,” The New York Times, Aug. 18, 1931, 23.

100. E.F.B., “Classroom and Campus: Real Student Government,” The New York Times, May 11, 1930, 58.

101. Mabel Barbee Lee, “Censoring the Conduct of College Women,” The Atlantic Monthly, April 1930, n.p.

102. Sarah Stage and Virginia B. Vincenti, eds., Rethinking Home Economics: Women and the History of a Profession (Cornell University, 1997).

103. "College Women's Work; College Women and the Social Sciences," The New York Times, May 13, 1934, n.p.

104. "Study Social Problems; Women at New Jersey College Show More Interest in Subject," The New York Times, January 20, 1935, n.p.

105. “Install Miss Blunt As College Head: Representatives of 100 Institutions Attend Her Induction at Connecticut College,” The New York Times, May 17, 1930, 10.

106. “Civic Duty Taught At Connecticut,” The New York Times, Mar. 8, 1936, N8.

107. “Journalism Popular at Girls’ College,” The New York Times, Feb. 21, 1937, 31.

108. “Puts College Girls On A Par With Men: Dean Gildersleeve, at Barnard Class Day Exercises, Says World Needs Them,” The New York Times, June 2, 1932, 24.

109. “Mrs. Edison Advises Gentility in Women,” The New York Times, Nov. 14, 1930, 2.

110. “Is The University of Missouri Playing ‘Hide and Seek’ With The Supreme Court Decision?,” The Chicago Defender, Feb. 11, 1939, 17; “Barred Student Files Damages Suit Against The University of Missouri,” The Chicago Defender, Oct. 14, 1939, 4; “Lucile Bluford Loses $10,000 Missouri U. Suit,” The Chicago Defender, Nov. 2, 1940, 2.

111. Kathryn McHale, “Education for Women,” The Journal of Higher Education, Dec 1935, 466.

112. Matt Schudel, “Scientist Overcame Bias to Excel in Biochemistry and Biophysics” Washington Post, October 23, 2009, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/22/AR2009102204570.html; Tomas H.  Maugh II, "Chemist Fought Bias to Break Scientific Ground," Los Angeles Times, Oct. 31, 2009, A27; "Women of the Hall: Mildred Cohn." National Women's Hall of Fame, accessed November 6, (2009), www.greatwomen.org. In 1958, Dr. Cohn received her first faculty appointment as an Associate Professor of  Biochemistry. During the course of her prolific research career she worked with four male Nobel Laureates. Cohn became a member of the National Academy of Science in 1971 and was the first female to receive the National Medal of Science in 1983. Cohn’s groundbreaking work included the use of stable isotopes to examine the mechanisms of enzymes; generative work in nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMR); and seminal studies of the role of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in cell energy.

113. See for example, David Allen Robertson, "A Realistic Curriculum," The New York Times, March 1, 1936, XX9; "Practical Studies Asked by Women; but Pennsylvania College Holds That Training Must Be Broadly Cultural," The New York Times, May 2, 1937, N4.

114. "Jobs Easier to Get for Barnard Girls; Number of Positions and Total Earned in Last Academic Year Set a Record; 151% Gain since Slump; Students Now Have More Chance to Pick Work They Like, Says Head of College Agency," The New York Times, Oct. 3, 1937, 54.

115. "M.I.T. Girls Invade Aero Engineering; 4 Women Are Taking Course in Which First of Sex Was Graduated in 1932; Most Become Architects; Hundreds Have Entered Men's Fields since New Englander Blazed Way 66 Years Ago," The New York Times, April 19, 1936, N9.

116. Kathryn McHale, "Education for Women: The Significance of Present-Day College Education for Women and Curriculum Changes," The Journal of Higher Education 6, no. 9 (1935), 459-468; Mina Kerr, "What Should College Do for Women? A Plea for Education Based on Woman's Needs," Woman’s Journal, November 1930, 43-44; Jacobs, "Shall We Educate Our Girls and Boys Alike?"; Mabel B. Lee, "After College Blues When a Girl's A.B. Counts Little in Getting a Job," Woman's Journal, May 1931, 36-38; "Bennington Experiment," Time, Feb. 10, 1930, n.p.; "Progress's Pilgrim," Time, Monday, Nov. 27, 1939, n.p.; "Girls Meet Boys," Time, Monday, Mar. 20, 1939, n.p.; "New Design," Time, Monday, Feb. 19, 1940, n.p.; Leigh, "College as Transition"; James Madison Wood, "A Women's Right to a Right Education," Progressive Education XVI, no. 1 (1939), 44-50.

117. Mina Kerr, "What Should College Do for Women?" 24, 43.

118. Some of these programs began in earlier in the century as part of the progressive reform agenda.  For example see  Mary Ann Dzuback, "Women and Social Research at Bryn Mawr College, 1915-40," History of Education Quarterly 33, no. 4 (1993); Elizabeth A. Daniels, "The Disappointing First Thrust of Euthenics, Adapted from Bridges to the World, Henry Noble Maccracken and Vassar College," College Avenue Press, http://vcencyclopedia.vassar.edu/three-chapters/the-disappointing-first-thrust-of-euthenics.html; "Home Economics Archive: Research, Tradition and History (Hearth)," Albert R. Mann Library, Cornell University, http://hearth.library.cornell.edu.   

119. "Hunter Enlarges Business Courses; Combines Them with Cultural Studies to Widen Student's Vocational Field;" The New York Times, Sept. 27, 1936, N12.

120. "Boston University Gives Co-Eds More; Offers Shorthand and Typing to Those in Business Training Courses," New York Times, April 23, 1939, n.p.

121. City College admitted women in 1930 for the first time in its eighty year history. In 1933 women were banned from further admission to its day time session. City College explained that the ban was due to a need to limit undergraduate enrollment, that women now outnumbered the men, and that Hunter College had recently introduced business courses into its curriculum. The ban ended in 1936 when women were re-admitted. See "City College Ban Is Put on Women; Students Desiring Business Can Now Get Them at Hunter," The New York Times, May 26, 1933, n.p; "Increase Likely at City College; Readmission of Women to Day Session Expected to Result in Larger Enrollment," The New York Times, Sept 20, 1936, N3.

122. Maresi Nerad, “Gender Stratification in Higher Education: The Department of Home Economics at the University of California, Berkeley 1916-1962,” Women’s Studies International Forum 10, no. 2 (1987), 157-164.

123. Eunice Fuller Barnard, "The College Girl Puts Marriage First," The New York Times, April 2, 1933, SM8.

124. Eunice Barnard, "In the Classroom and on the Campus; Prosperous 1937 Is Indicated for Education as Classes Grow, Revenue Increases," The New York Times, Dec. 27, 1936, N5.

125. Barnard, "The College Girl Puts Marriage First," SM8.

126. "Life Begins at Graduation," Daily Illini, Oct. 2, 1934, 4.

127. Barton Morgan, "A History of the Extension Service of Iowa State College." (Ames, LA: Collegiate Press, 1934), http://hearth.library.cornell.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=hearth;idno=5721701.

128. "Home Economics Archive: Research, Tradition and History,” http://hearth.library.cornell.edu.

129. "Increase Likely at City College; Readmission of Women to Day Session Expected to Result in Larger Enrollment,” The New York Times, Sept 20, 1936, N3.

130. "Practical Studies Asked by Women; but Pennsylvania College Holds That Training Must Be Broadly Cultural

131. "Barnard Girls Name Marriage, Reading, Men as Their Chief Interests; Many Want Careers," The New York Times, May 30, 1932, n.p.

132. "Practical Studies Asked by Women; but Pennsylvania College Holds That Training Must Be Broadly Cultural,” The New York Times, May 2, 1937, N4.

133. Robert F. Moore, "Jobs for the Graduates; from Morningside Heights the Future Looks Brighter for the Class of 1936," The New York Times, May 31, 1936, n.p.

134. “M.I.T. Girls Invade Aero Engineering; 4 Women Are Taking Course in Which First of Sex Was Graduated in 1932,” The New York Times, April 19, 1936, N9.

135. "Life Begins at Graduation," 4.

136. "Marriage Is Goal of 96% at P.C.W.; Three out of Four Also Would Learn to Earn," The New York Times, Dec. 11, 1938, 72.

137. Barnard, "The College Girl Puts Marriage First," SM8; "Women Students Back Republicans; Seniors at New Jersey College Also Vote for Anthony Eden as World Leader; Miss Perkins Wins Honor," The New York Times, May 24, 1936, n.p.

138. Ibid.

139. "Life Begins at Graduation," 4.

140. "The College Girl Puts Marriage First,” SM8.

141. Sara Evans, Born for Liberty: A History of Women in America (New York: Free Press, 1997).

142. Sarah Robbins, “‘The Future Good and Great of Our Land’: Republican Mothers, Female Authors, and Domesticated Literacy in Antebellum New England,” New England Quarterly 75, no. 4 (2002), 562-591; Melissa Ladd Teed, “‘A Large Sphere of Usefulness’: Women’s Education and Public Life in Hartford, 1815-1850,” Connecticut History 39, no. 1 (2000), 1-22.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 114 Number 2, 2012, p. 1-35
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16244, Date Accessed: 1/25/2022 4:16:39 AM

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About the Author
  • Margaret Nash
    University of California, Riverside
    E-mail Author
    MARGARET A. NASH is an Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Riverside. Her research focuses on the history of education in the United States, especially the role education plays in the historical construction of identity. She is the author of “Contested Identities: Nationalism, Regionalism, and Patriotism in Early American Textbooks,” in History of Education Quarterly (Fall 2009), and Women’s Education in the United States, 1780-1840 (Palgrave Press, 2005). Currently, she is researching campus life at a junior college during the 1930s.
  • Lisa Romero
    University of California, Riverside
    E-mail Author
    LISA S. ROMERO recently received her doctorate from the University of California, Riverside. Her dissertation, “Student Trust: Impacting High School Outcomes,” examined the effect of trust on student achievement and educational outcomes. She is the co-author of “The Politics and Practice of Alternative Certification,” in Educational Administration Quarterly (August 2010).
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