Dr. Margaret Nash's anthology introduces new voices on the history of women in higher education

By Julie Porter |

It’s been over 30 years since historian Barbara Solomon published In the Company of Educated Women: A History of Women and Higher Education, one of the few comprehensive texts that looks at the role of women in higher education. Since then, subsequent accounts of women in higher education have largely been “an ‘add-in’ to the grand narrative of higher education,” explains Margaret Nash, a Professor in the Graduate School of Education at UC Riverside.

Inspired by this, and the lack of comprehensive scholarship that she, herself, has been able draw on for the courses she teaches at UC Riverside, Nash has released Women’s Higher Education in the United States: New Historical Perspectives, a collection of new viewpoints on women’s education from the early 19th century through the 1970s.

“So much research has been done since Barbara Solomon’s book was published in 1985, and Palgrave series editors William J. Reese and John Rury thought it was time for a new volume that brought together some of the new directions the field has taken since then. I was honored to take on the project,” said Nash.

The book contains 12 different essays, including “From Haskell to Hawaii: One American Indian Woman’s Educational Journey” authored by UC Riverside Ph.D. candidate Jennifer Talerico-Brown. Nash considered many factors when choosing authors for the various chapters, including the diversity of voices and experiences – racial, ethnic, and religious diversity, as well as roles: students, faculty, and administrators.

Whereas earlier research on women in higher education tends to ask about access, such as when were women allowed to attend college, Women’s Higher Education in the United States, poses different questions. “Histories of education usually focus on, understandably, people who receive or offer that education, and most of the chapters in this book do that, too. But there also are important stories to uncover in who is left out: who does not get formal education, and why? One of the chapters focuses on antebellum African American women who protested their exclusion from education,” explains Nash.

The volume also poses questions about power relations in higher education. For any time and place, what is the nature of the power that particular women have, as students, instructors, staff, or as President? How do particular women attempt to free or constrain other women through education? What understanding of “woman” is perpetuated by colleges and universities, and how do LGBTQs negotiate that definition? What disciplinary measures are being used to police the boundaries of acceptability?

By uncovering these stories, Nash’s anthology demonstrates how an examination of the history of women’s education can transform our understanding of educational institutions and processes more generally.

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