Continuing the Conversation

Updated: Jan 18

Whatever your political views, here is an unarguable fact: for the first time in U.S. history, a woman has been projected as the winner of the Vice President role. As politics aren’t my forte, and there are too many political disputes over the internet as is, I find myself focused on the implications of this statement alone. Women as wives, mothers, professionals, leaders, once thought to be only caretakers are now seen to fulfill these roles and any others they please. For years they were denied access to literacy, and now they sit in seats of power. The fight of women’s rights to education is a long and jumbled discussion, but it’s one worth having. Here we will take a look at a short rundown.

For centuries, women were unable to get the same education as men. Girls could get a basic education, but women were perceived to be intellectually inferior, and people were afraid that education in “non-domestic subjects” wouldn’t prepare women for their “natural” roles (aka, mothers and wives). However, between the years of 1790 and 1870 the number of girls in American public schools began to surpass the number of boys. This was a quiet occurrence, as school boards and parents slowly began including girls in boys-only classes, something Horace Mann called “smuggling in the girls.” As it became clear that the girls could keep up, the old argument of intellectual inferiority didn’t stand up anymore. This led to other excuses to leave women out of education, such as the idea that higher education would harm a woman's reproductive capabilities.

Nevertheless, American women like Mary Lyon, Emma Willard, and many others in the U.S. believed in women’s education and fought to prove that women could stand with the best on the educational front. Many ideas had to be debunked, and ingrained biases confronted. As the fight moved into the 1950s and 60s, the Civil Rights movement “fueled the feminist movement as well,” and therefore women’s education. As people argued that all races were equal, many also fought to establish that genders, too, were equal. Their fight only grew in intensity.

From the 19th century to the 20th, women’s education kept progressing. The views of traditionally feminine roles started changing, college courses began broadening for women’s education, and women did not miss out on the opportunities. This occurrences brought us to 1979, when the number of U.S. women entering higher education surpassed the number of men, a trend that still continues today. The amount of women leading roles in universities, media, government, and places of prestige continues to rise.

Though equality for women is still a fight today, the ground we’ve covered is truly inspiring. Women fought hard to earn their right to literacy, and they continue to prove that their roles are not limited, nor should they be. In all the talk of literacy we’ve done, the impact of it can have on people’s lives can be seen clearly in the fight women have faced. It isn’t only a privilege, but a symbol of equality, and in many cases, the spoils of a long-fought battle.

Fights for a better country have been ongoing since the birth of our nation and will continue for as long as we exist. The fight isn’t over and there are many others to fight. While views are split, what if we celebrate the difference from a hundred or so years ago? The difference in equality and education: let this be our push for going forward.

Western Arkansas Literacy Council

Kaitlin Butler

November 11, 2020


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