The issues of equality of rights and adequate division of rights and obligations of both sexes in society have always been rather important for mankind. The whole history of human society is filled with different conflicts that were caused by inequality and possible oppression. Among the most important aspects of the above-mentioned inequality has always been an education for women. It is not surprising because only the recent decades bring fruitful changes to women in respect of their educational opportunities, and in the 19th century the situation was far from this point (Rudolph, 5).
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In this respect, the book by Barbara Solomon titled “In the company of educated women: a history of women in higher education in America” is one of the richest sources of information. However, in this very paper, I am going to critically reflect on this book, taking into consideration all the strong and weak points thereof, major ideas and insights that it inspired in my mind, and support this critical response with direct quotations from the book.
The first steps towards the freedom of women and equality of their rights with men were taken in the first half of the 19th century. To see and better understand the context in which those steps were taken, it would not be out of place to take a brief look at the history of that time.
The early 19th century was the time when men dominated all the major educational and employment positions in society, and women were considered to be the destined housekeepers and mothers who did not need to study and work. However, this situation was the result not only of men’s actions but of the opinions of women themselves (Thelin, 32 – 35) During that period, women considered their position in society the only acceptable one for remaining women and were afraid of change that could bring the only destruction to the way of life in that conservative society and could be perceived as an “act of non-conformity” by it (Solomon, xviii).
Moreover, that was the period when only a few women were decisive enough to take up education not as the way of becoming a good mother and teacher for their sons (Solomon, xviii), but as the way of participating and influencing the social and even political life of the society. This was the stage of history where feminism takes its roots from, and when women started thinking about their careers as parallel to family lives but not as alternatives to the latter. And all these processes and events are the subjects of the book that I am going to analyze in the following paragraphs.
Main Ideas and Insights
The book by Barbara Solomon, besides its being a great information source on the history of education and women in it, presents considerable new data about the present topic. Consequently, the work by Solomon brought certain insights and new ideas to my mind concerning the topic. I am strongly convinced that education is the privilege and innate right of both sexes. For me, as a person living in the 21st century, it is not acceptable that women are deprived of their rights and treated with the same lack of respect as slaves were in the past.
Therefore, the major new idea that I obtained from the book by Barbara Solomon was that today’s state of things with equal rights has not existed from the beginning. The information about the development of movements for the equality of rights and openings of first educational establishments that we’re able to enroll women and people of color contributed much to my understanding of the issue.
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Barbara Solomon explores the concept of the “educational dilemma” (28) and exemplifies it with the opening of the Oberlin college in 1833 which opened the path to the “joint education of sexes” (Solomon, 21). This point of her book brought another insight to me when I have read the book. From this perspective, educational opportunities for women, both white and non-white, were a kind of revolutionary change in the way of the social life of the 19th century.
It was conditioned by the moral, ethical, and purely rational ideas of the 19th-century male-dominated society:”… for most women in this period, the restriction was so ingrained that they were uncomfortable speaking in the presence of males.” (Solomon, 28) The book by Solomon added to my understanding of these issues and the full picture of the situation for women in education in the early 19th century.
Moreover, the development of feminism as shown in the book was also rather different from the information that could be found in other sources on this topic. Exemplified by the activities of Lucretia Mott, who “preached while bringing up the family, being in perfect amity with her husband who aided her in the care of the children” (Solomon, 220), this phenomenon is presented by Solomon as one of the fundamental in acquiring the equal rights at least in education.
Thus, the book by Barbara Solomon brought considerable new ideas and insights on the topic of the history of women in education. However, the book under consideration has its own strong and weak points which I will consider in the following paragraphs.
Strengths and Weaknesses
To begin with, the book by Solomon possesses many more strong points than weaknesses. Among the former, the following can be singled out as the comprehensive character of the history presented which is reflected in the manner of presenting the information in the book. It is not the dry sum of figures, historical dates, and events. The book presents the lively reflection of the development of the society in respect of equal rights for both sexes with special emphasis put on educational rights. It is supported by the references to real-life stories and skillful analysis of the events that took place.
Solomon makes respective conclusions from her analysis and presents information that is easy to understand and comprehend. Another strength is the consideration of all racially and socially distinguished groups of women. The work by Solomon turned out to be the first scholarly paper embracing the situation in all the layers of society including the equality of rights for women of color and for those whose incomes were not enough to have access to education. The overall scope of the paper allows me to state that it is a reliable and useful source of information on the history of women in education (Anderson, 3).
Finally, the appeal to the emotions and rationale of the reader at the same time is a strong point of the paper as it allows the author to reach a better understanding and concern from the reader’s side. On the contrary, the weakness, to my mind, is the only. It is a certain bias to the feminist point of view on the issue. In other words, the author presents information with the opinion which acknowledges no alternatives. I think that if this point was not found in the book, it would demand no other improvements, omissions, and additions and be a perfect work to obtain the data on the history of women in education from.
To conclude, the book by Solomon presents a rather interesting and relevant source of information on the topic of our study. It brought certain new ideas and insights to my mind and added to my understanding of the topic. My knowledge of the topic increased greatly after reading and analyzing this book. Needless to say, it has its strong and weak points, but it nevertheless is one of the most informative and reliable books that explore the overall history of women in education in all its aspects.
Anderson, J. (1988). The education of Blacks in the south, 1860-1935. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Rudolph, F. (1990). The American college & university: A history. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.
Solomon, B. (1985). In the company of educated women: a history of women in higher education in America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Thelin, J. (2004). A history of American higher education. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.