Innovators in the Classroom

Multiple female educators endeavored to create more and better opportunities in education for young ladies between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. The educators worked to educate young ladies in as many subjects as possible, rather than create academies and seminaries for religious purposes. Women such as Catharine Beecher, Mary Lyon and Zilpah Grant represented the forerunners of these innovative educators. While the motivations for education varied among the women, they all shared the common goal of bettering the lives of future generations of females.

Catharine Beecher, daughter of Reverend Lyman Beecher, advocated for women’s education in order to benefit the homes and schools of the nation. She dedicated her life to improving educational conditions, though she did not believe in the first women’s rights movement in the 1840s. The most important role of a woman, in Beecher’s mind, was to perform as “educators and socializers of children” (Seller, 45). They possessed the capacity for advanced learning, and were “different but equal” to their male counterparts. However,  Beecher believed the best use of those capacities would be to “professionalize women’s domestic roles”, and thus remain as contributors to “the development of a good society [which] allowed them to be equal…from a subordinate position” (44-5).

Similar to Catharine Beecher, Mary Lyon and Zilpah Grant championed women’s education for the benefit of female teachers. The two friends’ worked closely together and with the minister Joseph Emerson in order to address “women as the equals of men in intellectual capacity” (Solomon, 19). Both women hailed from impoverished backgrounds and earned their education through work. They viewed education and teaching as an opportunity for mobility. After many struggles and difficulties, they opened Mount Holyoke Seminary in Massachusetts. The school flourished despite the doubts of the people from which they asked for endowments. Out of the first forty years of alumnae, seventy percent became teachers (Westervelt, 67).

As the women’s suffrage movement developed alongside the efforts towards women’s education, the women who promoted equal education opened new doors for the future of American females. Though the justification behind female education differed from that of women’s suffrage, women able to obtain a more advanced education would soon be able to put their knowledge towards future efforts, such as suffrage, abolition, and temperance.


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