10:09 AM

Women's History Month: Women's Impact on Education

Throughout March via a series of internal communications, HE&R team members have explored the impact women have made throughout the generations. Today, we look at the impact women have made on education.


Good morning, 

As we conclude our celebration of Women’s History Month, we explore the impact women have had on education. Although more women than ever are receiving an education, it was not until the 19th century that opportunities for higher education were available.

The first university chartered for women was Georgia-based Wesleyan College in 1836. More than 10 years later, the topic of women being educated was elevated when The Seneca Falls Convention, the first women’s rights convention in the United States, convened in 1848. At its conclusion, the event organizers issued the Declaration of Sentiments which condemned the fact that women had been denied not only their “inalienable right to the elective franchise,” but also “the facilities for obtaining a thorough education, all colleges being closed against her.” The number of women enrolled in higher education facilities increased when the Morrill Act, granting federal land to each state for the explicit purpose of creating public colleges, passed in 1862. By 1880, 34 public institutions had opened with 70+% enrolling women.

The first female college president was Francis Willard, who in 1871 was chosen to lead Evanston College for Ladies. Two years later, the college merged with Northwestern University and Willard became the first Dean of the Women’s College. More than 100 years later, Judith Rodin became the first woman to be named president of an Ivy League college, The University of Pennsylvania, in 1994. Currently, just 30% of women are presidents of colleges and universities.

As has been widely shared, Milton S. Hershey credited his wife, Catherine Hershey, with the idea to start Milton Hershey School (MHS) in 1909. Mrs. Hershey and a number of women played a vital role in developing the School into what it is today. Prudence Copenhaver worked to establish home life programs for the students. Prudence and her husband, George, were the first MHS houseparents. Prior to being named the School’s first female administrator in 1950, Berta Harm served as the school psychologist and was often the first contact students and their families had with MHS. According to the School, ‘She was responsible for the admission of over 1,500 new students in a time period when school enrollment increased from 400 to 1,100.’ Kay Becker is recognized as a driving force behind changes at the School in the 1960s and 70s including admitting girls. Today, MHS has an equal number of males and females in its 2,200+ enrollment, showcasing the School’s continuing positive impact on its students, past and present, regardless of their race, gender or ethnicity. 

Thank you.