Senior Sem Journal: The History of Women in Higher Education

Our third Senior Seminar journal entry from the beginning of the semester (and last for a week or so) is written by Christina Anderson (’12), who reflects on how she came by her interest on a particular chapter in the history of women and higher education in the United States.

University of Chicago Students, 1923
University of Chicago students doing field research at Yellowstone, 1923 - University of Chicago Library

I propose to study American Midwestern home economics departments in regards to higher education for women in the 1900s in order to discover how these women pursued their higher education at a time when they were beginning to be accepted into universities, so that I can aid in the understanding of the acceptance of women into greater roles in society outside of the home. I hope to prove through this study that by gaining a higher education through the home economics departments, these women were able to move out of the “cult of domesticity,” thus modifying society’s view on gender roles.

Settling on this particular topic was a difficult task. When presented with the assignment to choose a topic for my research project, I was overwhelmed by the significance of choosing a single topic that I will then research and develop over the next three months. In my mind, I had to create the perfect topic. I came up with a list of possibilities regarding areas that interested me. One overlying theme that I am always drawn to in any research project is the role of women, so I knew that my topic had to pertain to this aspect in one way or another. The problem was now how do I develop a more specific topic. I still had the idea in my head that my topic had to be perfect, but none of the ideas I developed satisfied my interest; they felt “off.” Finally, the night before I had to present my idea for research project topic, I formulated a completely new idea that related to the study of women’s roles – women gaining higher education in the 1900s.This quickly developed topic felt “right.” I was excited to begin research and immerse myself in the topic. What excites me about researching this particular topic is that my great-grandmother was a student studying at the University of Chicago at this time, and my family still has letters she wrote to her father from when she was a student. I hope to be able to use these letters as one of my resources in gaining an insight into what life was like for a female student during this time period. My main concern is gaining enough primary sources that pertain to this topic, especially student experiences in order to be able to determine if their higher education influenced their lives.

As I begin my research project, I hope to gain a greater insight into my topic. I am settled on an overarching idea, but I am interested in seeing how it will be transformed as I work on it throughout the semester.

– Christina Anderson

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