History of Gender and Education in the U.S.
Early education in the American colonies had a religious purpose. Schools existed to train boys to be clergymen. Consequently, the education of women was not a priority. Most colonial town schools did not admit women until the nineteenth century, although Boston public schools admitted some girls in 1789. When girls were finally permitted to attend town schools, they attended at different times of the day than boys.
The rise of the common school, with tax supported, free, compulsory education for all, occurred in the early nineteenth century. Both boys and girls had the opportunity to attend the common school. Although these schools were coeducational in name, segregation by sex was de facto: girls and boys entered through separate doors, went to different sides of the building, and often learned only from instructors of the same sex. True coeducation with social and recreational interaction between boys and girls existed only in those communities that could not afford to house students separately. Most towns could not afford to build and support one school for boys and one for girls, thus coeducation began to develop.
The first coeducational high school opened in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1840. Up until the Civil War, the spread of coeducational high schools was slow. At the end of the nineteenth century, girls had the opportunity to attend public elementary schools, most of which were coeducational. Some, however, remained segregated by sex. By 1882, 90 percent of urban high schools claimed to be coeducational. At this time, wealthy families often chose to send their children to single-sex religious and private schools.
Occurring simultaneously with the development of the public high school was the academy movement, which proposed to teach students more classical and fewer practical subjects. The academy movement significantly impacted the development of higher education for women. The curriculum grew to include teacher training programs along with such courses as chemistry and languages. These academies became firmly associated with women and gradually began to refer to themselves as "colleges." Georgia Female College was the first to do so in 1836.
While womenÕs colleges received renewed support following the Civil War, menÕs colleges were also growing in stature and number. For financial reasons, colleges in the west were mostly coeducational, while colleges in the east could afford to remain single-sex.
In 1837, Oberlin became the first coeducational college. At the turn of the century, coeducation began its sharp rise. By 1900, 98 percent of public high schools were coeducational, and by 1910, 58 percent of colleges and universities were coeducational. In the 1960s, approximately 62 percent of non-religious independent schools were single-sex. Originally, 100 percent of Catholic schools were single-sex; now almost 60 percent are coeducational. There were almost 300 single-sex colleges and universities in the 1960s. In one six month period in 1968, almost one quarter of all women's colleges either closed or merged with men's institutions. As of 1996, only 83 all-female colleges remained in operation. These statistics demonstrate the rapid spread of coeducation.
Thus, education in the U.S. began as exclusionary of women, progressed to including women but keeping them separate from men, and finally progressed to widespread coeducation. At this point, the American public views coeducation as the norm. However, gender inequity in the classroom has sparked a drive to return to single-sex education, as a way to truly educate males and females equally.
Government 375: Educational Reform and Ideology