Southern Women at the Seven Sister Colleges: Feminist Values and Social Activism, 1875-1915

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From the end of Reconstruction and into the New South era, more than one thousand white southern women attended one of the Seven Sister colleges: Vassar, Wellesley, Smith, Mount Holyoke, Bryn Mawr, Radcliffe, and Barnard. Joan Marie Johnson looks at how such educations—in the North, at some of the country’s best schools—influenced southern women to challenge their traditional gender roles and become active in woman suffrage and other social reforms of the Progressive Era South.

Attending one of the Seven Sister colleges, Johnson argues, could transform a southern woman indoctrinated in notions of domesticity and dependence into someone with newfound confidence and leadership skills. Many southern students at northern schools imported the values they imbibed at college, returning home to found schools of their own, women’s clubs, and woman suffrage associations. At the same time, during college and after graduation, southern women maintained a complicated relationship to home, nurturing their regional identity and remaining loyal to the ideals of the Confederacy.

Johnson explores why students sought a classical liberal arts education, how they prepared for entrance examinations, and how they felt as southerners on northern campuses. She draws on personal writings, information gleaned from college publications and records, and data on the women’s decisions about marriage, work, children, and other life-altering concerns.

In their time, the women studied in this book would eventually make up a disproportionately high percentage of the elite southern female leadership. This collective biography highlights the important part they played in forging new roles for women, especially in social reform, education, and suffrage.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Johnson does for the Seven Sisters what historian Anne Firor Scott first did for Troy Female Seminary, showing how graduates 'disseminated the feminist values they learned there.' This superbly researched work will be a valuable addition to the historiography on women's higher education, the Progressive Era, and the region."—Amy Thompson McCandless, author of The Past in the Present: Women's Higher Education in the Twentieth-Century American South

“Joan Johnson's new book, based on prodigious research, tells a fascinating story about the influence of a northern education on this privileged group of southern women who in turn had a significant influence on southern society. It is a very welcome addition to what we know about women in the New South and also adds a valuable new dimension to the story of regional reconciliation after the Civil War."—Marjorie J. Spruill, author of New Women of the New South: The Leaders of the Woman Suffrage Movement in the Southern States

"Johnson's engaging portrait of an influential group of women significantly deepens our insight into the female college experience and the new models of activist womanhood that helped shape the Progressive Era South.”—Andrea Hamilton, Journal of American History

"[Joan M.] Johnson’s reliance on primary sources and scrupulous use of selected secondary sources make Southern Women at the Seven Sister Colleges a real contribution to southern women’s history at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. When Johnson concentrates on the special influences of southern life, the result is especially fascinating."—North Carolina Historical Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780820334684
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press
  • Publication date: 4/15/2010
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 1,474,218
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Joan Marie Johnson is a lecturer in women’s history and southern history at Northeastern Illinois University. She is the cofounder and codirector of the Newberry Seminar on Women and Gender at the Newberry Library in Chicago. She is the author of Southern Ladies, New Women and coeditor of South Carolina Women: Their Lives and Times.
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Table of Contents

ix Acknowledgments
1 Introduction
13 one. “In theWonderland of the Mind”: The Benefits of a Liberal Arts Education
40 two. “We DoWant More Southern Girls to Come”: Entrance Requirements, Preparatory Departments and Schools, and Alumnae Networks
62 three. From Homesick Southerners to Independent Yankees: The Campus Experience
78 four. A Southerner in Yankeeland: Southern Clubs, YankeeWays, and African American Classmates
109 five. After College: The Marriage and Career Dilemma
143 six. After College: The Activist
175 Notes
207 Bibliography
223 Index
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