History 246 Reading Guide

Women’s “Public” Activities:  Education, religion and reform

  • Kathryn Kish Sklar, “The Schooling of Girls and Changing Community Values in Massachusetts Towns, 1750-1820,” History of Education Quarterly 33.4 (Winter 1993), 511-542.  JSTOR
  • Nancy Beadie, “Emma Willard’s Idea Put to the Test:  The Consequences of State Support of Female Education in New York, 1819-67,” History of Education Quarterly 33.4 (Winter 1993), 543-562.  JSTOR

Further reading:

  • Lori D. Ginzberg, “‘Moral Suasion Is Moral Balderdash’:  Women, Politics, and Social Activism in the 1850s,” Journal of American History 73.3 (1986), 601-622.   JSTOR
  • Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, “Beauty, the Beast, and the Militant Woman,” American Quarterly 23 (1971), 562-584.  JSTOR
  • Mary Ryan, “The Power of Women’s Networks:  A Case Study of Female Moral Reform in Antebellum America,” Feminist Studies 5 (1979), 66-85.


  • According to Kathryn Kish Sklar, what were the characteristics of the communities that were most “hostile” to using public funds for schooling girls? How does Sklar account for their opposition (who made these decisions)? Was this primarily a gender phenomenon, a class phenomenon, or both? What were the consequences for young women (of all classes) of these decisions?
  • By contrast, which towns offered early and continuous support for female education? Why did these towns support female education? What role did women and families play in promoting the opportunities for girls, and why?
  • According to Nancy Beadie, why did Emma Willard believe that female institutions required state support? What situation was she trying to correct? What arguments did she make to support her cause?
  • How did young women actually benefit from state supported institutions? How did state support alter their educational (and occupational) opportunities? What were the costs to women of state oversight?

Further reading:

  • According to Lori Ginzberg, what had women, involved in benevolent work in the 1830s, seen as the source of their “power”? How did that source shape their vision of what they could achieve? How did that conviction change, and why?
  • By the 1850s, by what processes did women see social change in American society taking place? What were the immediate consequences of those changes for women’s benevolent reform efforts? What longer-term realizations accompanied those changes?