Miles Ahead of the Rest

The efforts of Mary Lyon and Zilpah Grant led to other improvements in female education. The Female Department in Oberlin College hosted many leaders and teachers trained in the academies instituted in New England by Lyon and Grant (Solomon, 21). Oberlin college furthered the seemingly progressive movement in creating one of the first co-educational colleges in America. Founded in 1833 in Oberlin, Ohio, the college “operated as a religious family in which both sexes retained their distinctive roles” (21). God’s cause on earth overpowered the prejudices instituted among both sexes and different races, thus the college accepted both women and men, regardless of race. The college still encouraged the assigned gender roles, though contemporaries considered Oberlin to be an “abberation to those who believed in maintain the separate male and female spheres,” (21). Instead, the roles and races would be taught equally, but divided.

Oberlin Graduates of 1855, Members of the Oberlin Female Reform Society (

The progressive idea of equality in God’s eyes while maintaining a division would later become a belief the “Separate, but Equal” argument regarding racial segregation in the twentieth century. Still, racial and gender inferiority managed to pervade other social movements in the nineteenth century as the leaders of most movements represented middle to upper class white women. Despite the complexities of views regarding race and gender, Oberlin proved to be the most radical, yet conservative (militant Christians founded the school), institution of its time.


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