Women's Education


To the Editors of The Crimson:

As a feminist, an historian, and a Wellesley graduate, I write in response to Gay Seidman's February 9 review of Livia Baker's book, I'm Radcliffe, Fly Me!: The Seven Sisters and the Failure of Women's Education, and in defense of women's colleges.

Your disheartening observations and the author's discouraging thesis about the state of women's education seem to reflect your experience as Radcliffe undergraduates rather than that at schools which have remained independent. As Baker points out, Radcliffe, unlike the other Seven Sisters, was never self-sufficient; it was always an "Annex," overshadowed if not over-whelmed by Harvard. Even its special contributions to contemporary scholarship and feminism, like the Schlesinger Library and the Radcliffe Institute, are little noticed.

In contrast, unaffiliated women's colleges, of which there are about 150 remaining in the United States, including religious institutions, provide a positive alternative to male-dominated coeducation. Because women usually make up more than 75 per cent of the faculty and administration of a women's college, students are provided with role models for achievement. Because all the leadership positions are held by women, female students gain experience as Presidents and Editors and Captains. Because intellectual ability is emphasized, and academic competition is accepted, students gain a sense of self-confidence and self-worth. Because these women's schools seek to create a community of scholars, young women grow in appreciation of the talents of other women.

Baker's assertion that the Seven Sisters have failed because they are not hot-beds of the women's movement lacks supporting evidence. Deference is not characteristic of women's colleges. Indeed, most of the recognized leaders of today's women's movement are alumnae of women's colleges who credit their alma maters for shaping their feminism. Graduates of these schools who are public officials or corporate officers--in greater numbers than women from coeducational schools--did not succeed against de facto or de jure discrimination by being ladylike. Such education is hardly a failure.


The advantage, it seems to me, of single sex education for women, is that it exposes women to positive role models and encourages them to succeed. Until coeducational institutions like Harvard/Radcliffe have more equal numbers of men and women professors and professionals, until their budgets reflect an equal commitment to male and female athletic activities, until there is equal respect, encouragement, and opportunity for the achivements of women students, the option of women's colleges must be maintained. Elisabeth Griffith   Fellow, Institute of Politics   John Fitzgerald Kennedy School of Government