The Higher Education of Women, 1892-1917

Since women had gained limited access to some universities andprofessional schools in the United States from the mid-nineteenthcentury, it is often assumed that the crucial battles in women'shigher education had been "won" during these earlierconfrontations. This was not the case.

Institutional discrimination against women in higher educationflourished during the entire period analyzed here. As studentsor faculty members (especially the latter), women were systematicallylimited in their opportunities. Sometimes they were completelybarred from entering a college or university. At other times moresubtle forms of prejudice were exhibited, such as a lack of intellectualacceptance or financial support.

A leading advocate for women's rights to education during thisera was Marion Talbot, an early Chicago sociologist who is rarelyrecognized as part of this school. [1] Her original interest inthis program was a result of her personal struggle. In the 1870s,she discovered to her dismay that she could not obtain adequatetraining in Boston, a leading educational enclave, in order toenter college. Then, after a considerable battle to obtain a collegedegree, she could not find a job.

Working with women in a similar quandary, in November of 1881she cofounded the Association of Collegiate Alumnae (ACA, laterto become the American Association of University Women, AAUW).Most of the documentation on women's higher education during the1890s was channeled through this group.[2] By 1884, they had356 members. Of this number, only twenty-six held master's degreesand a mere four had earned doctorates. [3] As a group, they foughtto gain access for women into universities and in 1892 they feltthey had made considerable progress when four graduate schoolsopened their doors to women: Chicago, Yale, Pennsylvania, andLeland Stanford, Jr. [4]

Despite this relative progress in the United States, Europeanuniversities remained more open to women students. These opportunitiesfor higher education, however, were not supported by financialaid. Fellowships and faculty positions were available to men,not women. [5] But:

there was no room in this masculine procession for young women,no fund available whereby they might, by virtue of their post-graduatetraining, become competitors for the college and university positionsto which young men aspired. Very few graduate courses were opento young women, and no positions on college faculties outsideof the women's colleges then developing. [6]

At the turn of the century, then, women with any college training,let alone graduate work, were pioneers. They fought for entry,financial assistance, and job prospects. This led to women takingdegrees in any fields they could enter, and taking any jobs theywere offered. Sociology was a relatively open field within thismilieu of repression and restrictions.

At this time European theorists represented both the most conservativeand most radical thought on the role of women in society. Theconservative position can be found in the writings of AugusteComte and Emile Durkheim. [7] Both "founding fathers"of sociology, they were also patriarchal in their analysis ofsociety. The Schwendingers summarize Comte's views as follows:

With regard to women, Comte maintained that women were constitutionallyinferior to men because their maturation was arrested at childhood.He insisted that patriarchal authority (as well as a politicaldictatorship) was absolutely indispensable for "Order andProgress" in France. Accordingly, he proposed that womenwere justifiably subordinated to men when they married. Divorceshould be unequivocally denied them: women should be pamperedslaves of men. [8]

Durkheim noted in Suicide that "Women's sexual needshave less of a mental character because, generally speaking, hermental life is less developed." [9] He wrote that womenmust remain monogamous and that they participate less in the "collectiveconscience" or moral order of society. [10]

As she lives outside of community existence more than man, sheis less penetrated by it; society is less necessary to her becauseshe is less impregnated [sic] with social ability. With a fewdevotional practices and some animals to care for, the old unmarriedwoman's life is full.[11]

Sexist attitudes such as these were targets attacked by radicalsociologists. Engels, in particular, developed a complex theoryof the relationship between women's status, the family, the accumulationof wealth and the concentrated power of the state. [12] In theUnited States, Charlotte Perkins Gilman was writing on the politicaleconomy of women and their rights for full and equal participationin society. [13]

Thus the role of women in society was the subject of considerabledebate. The major answer to the question of women's rights asprofessionals at the University of Chicago was to allow them entry,but expect them to "act" and have interests differentfrom men's. During the era studied here the predominant institutionalresponse to women in sociology at the University of Chicago wasthe popular ideology of the "Doctrine of the Separate Spheres."

Women and Chicago Sociology: 1892-1902

When Chicago opened in 1892, women were included within its "pioneer"plans. As students and faculty, women were expected to be participantsin a "radical" new approach to education. (It was thisdream that partially attracted Addams during the early days, too.)There were more successful women within the university duringits first three decades than during its succeeding five. [14]

This participation, however, was not the same as the men's. Womenwere expected to remain within their "special sphere,"even though educated in an advanced manner. This "Doctrineof the Separate Spheres" was the dominant attitude towardswomen's place in society at this time. Each sex was expected tobe distinct. Women "managed" the home, emotions culture,morality, and children. Men "governed" the family, socialand political institutions, especially the economy, and were morerational than women.[15] Thus Chicago made a forward step by includingwomen within the university structure, but retained its beliefin a "separate sphere" for women within this structure.

Sociology was particularly suited to this approach to the "newwoman." It was a social science that was meant to "carefor" social maladjustment. Albion Small adopted this separatistview, but he was not alone in this perspective. Addams, for example,thought women were different too, albeit superior; and in 1892Samuel Dike articulated the male view as follows:

Men and women are fundamentally different. Therefore, even ifthey received the same education, they would respond to it inunique ways. There must be subjects in which women will take deeperinterest than men. The place of the family in the social order,and of women in the family, and their future as wives and mothers,will inevitably draw the attention of women to the family andthe home as subjects of educational importance in proportion totheir richness in educational material and value, and to theirclose connection with the life of women. [16]

Women were expected to study the "simpler forms of sociallife" [17] while men studied the "larger" ones.In this seminal article on the "sphere" of women insociology. Dike noted that women sociologists would be best occupiedin social settlements, where their philanthropic and benevolentspirits would respond to the needy. Dike also noted that the "major"concerns of women were often ignored in sociology coursework,and that this lack must be addressed. [18]

Fortunately, the women largely ignored this view of "theirwork. " They, too, shared the vision of "special"aptitudes and interests, but they thought theirs were superiorto the men's and wished to alter the shape of society in toto,according to their worldview. The women on the sociology faculty,five in number, were always "segregated" within thedepartment: Mary McDowell as a "Special Lecturer," AnnieMarion MacLean in Extension, Sophonisba Breckinridge and MarionTalbot in "Household Administration," and Edith Abbottas a "Special Lecturer in Statistics." [19] This separationwas not entirely forced on the women, for they desired this status,too. In their "world," they were given considerableleeway to define sociology and the work they wanted to do. Thissegregation, moreover, created faculty jobs for women. For example,Talbot noted that in 1901 there were only twenty female facultymembers. When the "women's sociology" group startedthe Chicago Institute (later to merge with the social work program),the number of employed women jumped to forty-one. [20] For thewomen, this desired separation was based on their strengths andnot their inferiority. The women's view of their distinctiveness,however, did not govern the university. They were separate, butunequal, as scholars.

Writing in 1903. Talbot documented the superior performance ofwomen in the university:

Ninety-three men and 128 women received honors for scholarshipbased on class and examination grades. If the women had receivedhonors in the same proportion to their numbers as the men thenumber of women would have been 81 instead of 128. In the sameperiod of time 1,164 students have received the Bachelor's degree--614men or 53 percent, and 550 women or 48 percent. One hundred andforty-five of the men and l99 of the women received honors forscholarship on graduation, and 44 men and 73 women received specialhonors. If the women had received honors and special honors mthe same proportion to their numbers as the men, the number ofwomen would have been 130 honors and 39 for special honors insteadof 199 and 73 respectively. [21]

This overachievement was even more remarkable given the constraintswithin which women studied. Talbot also documented that despitewomen's academic excellence, they received a smaller proportionof the fellowship funds. Approximately 12 percent of the graduatemen received aid; less than 5 percent of the graduate women did.[22]

The women clearly excelled the men in their scholastic performance.The men, in retaliation and in response to pressures and moneysupporting the segregation of the sexes, began to favor "separatetraining" for men and women. Thus, the "golden age"of the first decade came to an end. It was the pressure of women'soutstanding performance that was the first impetus to decreasetheir student opportunities. As Talbot scathingly notes, on 3July 1900, the University Congregation,

(that grandiose organization which never lived up to PresidentHarper's expectations and, after a period of coma, finally expired)the following topic was raised for discussion: Resolved that bettereducational results would be secured in the University by teachingthe sexes in separate classes. [23]

Coeducation, supported during the first ten years, was then givena severe blow.

Women and Chicago Sociology, 1902-20

When coeducation was attenuated at the university, the women andsome of the men strongly opposed it because it meant involuntarysegregation. Thus, the early Chicago men's views on women canbe partially traced through their response to this controversialcoeducation issue. Small and Vincent supported sex segregationin the classroom, the former in public and the latter in private.In a more passive way, Thomas and Henderson also supported itby not visibly protesting it. Zeublin and Mead (as well as theChicago women) protested it publicly. These stances are examinedwhen each of the men is considered below.

Within the Sociology Department, sex segregation became increasinglyapparent. Although each change between 1902 and 1920 cannot bedocumented here, the net result is that by 1920 the women facultywere administratively and professionally separated into the Schoolof Social Services Administration.

Formally, the women were now social workers and the men were sociologists.The causes of these dramatic definitions resulting in two separatefields of specialization is the topic of chapter 12. Suffice itto be noted here, that women's place in sociology was first establishedthrough "special qualities" of mind and action and laterremoved from the field to another profession. The women's areasof specialization were only selectively continued by male sociologistsduring the 1920s and 1930s. Thus, sexism was institutionalizedin sociological thought, but in a complex and changing pattern.Forces countering this prejudice were best articulated by Thomasand Mead, although their voices were unheeded. The "religious"men tended to be more conservative than Mead and Thomas, whilePark and Burgess were the most repressive.


1. Talbot's place in the Chicago Department of Sociology is brieflydiscussed by Mary Jo Deegan, "Women and Sociology: 1890-1930," Journal of the History of Sociology 1 (Fall1978): 11 -34. Few references to her work can be found in anyother writings on the Chicago School.

2. See the first chapter of Marion Talbot and Lois Kimball MathewsRosenberry, The History of the American Associationof University Women, 1881-1931 (Cambridge, Mass.: HoughtonMifflin. 1931), pp. 3-11.

3. Ibid., pp. 144-45.

4. Ibid.. p. 146.

5. Ibid., p. 143.

6. Ibid.

7. Writings by early male sociologists on the subject of womenare considered by Herman and Julia Schwendinger, The Sociologistsof the Chair (New York: Basic Books, 1974).

8. Ibid., p. 310.

9. Emile Durkheim, Suicide, tr. J.T. Spaulding and GeorgeSimpson (New York: Free Press. 1951, c. 1897), p. 272.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.. p. 215.

12. Frederick Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Propertyand the State (Moscow: Progressive Press, 1968, c. 1884).

13. Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Women and Economics (NewYork: Harper Torchbooks, 1966,c. 1898).

14. See the excellent documentation of women in social scienceat Chicago by Jo Freeman. "Women on the Social Science Facultiessince 1892." Mimeograph of a speech given to a minority groupsworkshop of the Political Science Association, Winter 1969.

15. See Eileen Kraditor. ed., Up from the Pedestal (Chicago:Quadrangle, 1970): Jessie Bernard, The Female World (New York: Free Press. 1981).

16. Samuel W. Dike, "Sociology of the Higher Education ofWomen," Atlantic Monthly 421 (November 1892):671.

17. Ibid.

18. Ibid., pp. 673-76.

19. Mary Jo Deegan, "Women and Sociology: 1890- 1930,"Journal of the History of Sociology 1 (Fall 1978):14-24.

20. Marion Talbot, "The Women of the University," DecennialPublications of the University of Chicago (Chicago: Universityof Chicago Press, 1903), p. 122.

21. Ibid., pp. 138-39.

22. Ibid., p. 139.

23. Marion Talbot, More Than Lore (Chicago: Universityof Chicago Press, 1936), p. 172.

From Mary Jo Deegan, Jane Addams and the Men of the Chicago School, 1892-1918.New Brunswick NJ: Transaction Books, 1986, pp. 192-196.

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