Campaigns to improve the quality of women's primary education and to ensure their access to schools of higher learning were among some of the first reform efforts undertaken by women. Great debates raged as to the amount and content of schooling women should receive. Women's physical and mental capacities came into question, and their struggle to gain admittance to predominantly male schools and programs has continued to this day.
In 1804, Washington society leader Margaret Bayard Smith (1778-1844) lamented how her “passionate fondness for reading” was “opposed by circumstances and the friends with whom [she] lived” who oversaw her education. She declared that “had I been a boy and conducted regularly through the paths of science-how much more useful-how much more happy might I have been!”13
Obstacles such as those described by Smith and other aspects of women's education and their entry into the teaching ranks may be explored in a host of collections held by the Manuscript Division. The topic, in fact, is an overwhelming one, since more than 330 collections are identified when searching the catalog for the term “educators.” Division collections are replete with notebooks, letters, and diaries written by girls and young women while in school. Many of the women whose papers are described elsewhere retained documents from their school days, and these materials are usually identified in the finding aids for those collections.
Family papers often include information on women's education. See especially the papers of the:
Also of note are early nineteenth-century student work books kept by Bathsheba Barton (1 item; 1819); Ann Maria Churchill (3 items; ca. 1830); Sarah Hall (1 item; 1813); and Caroline Dana Jarvis (1 item; 1819).
The following "Education" collections are highlighted in these sections of the guide:
The following collection titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content, including finding aids for the collections, are included when available.