The education of young women is a thought relatively new to world history. The first proposals for such training only began rumbling around in early 18th century France. Yet it was almost a century before more formal plans were presented to the National Convention of France. In April 1792, Marie Jean Caritat, the Marquis de Condorcet, argued that women are citizens and should have the same educational opportunities as men. He favored a co-educational system and noted that an ignorant woman was fit neither to be a wife of a mother. A year later, in August 1793, Antoine Lavoisier, presented his plan to the National Convention for educational reform that made provisions for girls to attend primary and elementary schools (Savin & Abrahams, 1957). While we may look at these men as “advanced thinkers,” others of their times considered them “revolutionary.”
Similarly, Colonial America did not offer many educational opportunities for girls. While there were a few private girls’ schools (e.g. the Moravian Seminary established in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in 1741), it was widely believed that girls could not be educated beyond the very basics of reading, writing and math or given a higher education.
However, the success of the Moravian school encouraged men like Drs. Benjamin Rush and John Morgan, who were to give their enthusiastic help in creating a girls academy. Thus, in June of 1787, Harvard graduate John Poor, established the Young Ladies’ Academy of Philadelphia. Five years later, the Young Ladies’ Academy became the first chartered institution for the higher education of young women in the United States and, perhaps, the world (Rise and Progress, 1794).
The course of study included reading, writing, spelling, arithmetic, English grammar, composition, rhetoric, geography, history, and vocal music. In a speech delivered at the Academy on July 28, 1787, Dr. Rush noted “the elevation of the female mind, by means of moral, physical and religious truth, is considered by some men as unfriendly to the domestic character of women. But this is the prejudice of little minds…”
The success of the Young Ladies’ Academy and other girls’ schools were influential in the creation of women’s colleges such as Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in 1837. And it can be argued that the education provided by these and other schools helped win women the right to vote in 1920.
Rise and Progress of the Young Ladies Academy of Philadelphia. (1797). Philadelphia: Stewart & Cochran
Rush, B. (1787). Thoughts Upon Female Education. Philadelphia: Prichard & Gall. Full Text: http://cw.routledge.com/textbooks/9780415997119/downloads/ch9-4.pdf
Savin, M. B., & Abrahams, H. J. (1957). The Young Ladies’ Academy of Philadelphia. History Of Education Journal, 8(2), 58-67. Full Text: http://0-www.jstor.org.www.consuls.org/stable/3692597