“The formal education of girls and women began in the middle of the 19th century and was intimately tied to the conception that society had of the appropriate role for women to assume in life. Republican education prepared girls for their future role as wives and mothers and taught religion, singing, dancing and literature. Academic education prepared girls for their role as community leaders and social benefactors and had some elements of the education offered boys. Seminaries educated women for the only socially acceptable occupation: teaching. Only unmarried women could be teachers.
“Many early women’s colleges began as female seminaries and were responsible for producing an important corps of educators. Full-fledged women’s colleges offered women higher education, which had previously been reserved for men. They trained women in many of the traditionally male disciplines and were the only institutions where women could study science, mathematics, law and philosophy. Virtually all women of science from the 19th and 20th centuries received their training in women’s colleges.
“The abolitionist movement gave rise to the women’s college movement in a significant way, for women both championed the abolitionist cause and identified with its goals of emancipation for a disenfranchised group. Women’s colleges were an important response to the demands that women began to make for greater participation in society…
“The civil rights movement of the 1960s had a similarly great impact on women’s colleges. Women were among the leaders of the struggle for achieving civil rights for minorities, and they compared their situation once more to that of the minority groups.”