Thursday, July 17, 2008

Today, you can learn something new

I have my laptop back - far earlier than I was anticipating it. In celebration, I offer you a random history of higher education tidbit. It's a bit of academic history that seems to never have received its share of scholarly attention. Seriously, this would be prime material for a historian in this field, but alas I am not one.

Remember the good old days when women went to "finishing school"? I was wondering about finishing schools, specifically, whatever happened to them? You never hear them mentioned by name. Did they close? Turn into "real" colleges? I finally got curious enough to do some searching around.

Wikipedia tells us that American finishing schools were primarily on the East Coast and included the Seven Sisters. There's one more reason not to trust Wikipedia: Finishing schools were distinguished in part by not offering baccalaureate degrees, or by offering no degrees at all, while the Seven Sisters were pioneers in offering education to women equal to that of men. But I couldn't find any article willing to name names, at least for American institutions; there were and are finishing schools in Europe. Finally I found a 1924 article from the American Journal of Sociology comparing marriage rates for Vassar grads to those of finishing and preparatory school grads. It named the five comparison schools:
  • Lasell Seminary for Young Women: Now a co-ed baccalaureate-granting institution, but it didn't become one until the 1980s. It didn't even offer associates degrees until the 1940s. Its degrees are vocationally oriented.
  • Brearley School: Sounded familiar. This would have qualified as a prep school rather than a finishing school; today it is still an elite private school for girls.
  • Ossining School: Can't find anything on it, which suggests it is now closed. Presumably it was in Ossining, New York.
  • Bennett School: Transformed from a two-year to a four-year school and became a victim of the 1970s. (During this decade a lot of private colleges closed. In fact, the policy wonks were worried it was the end of private higher ed.)
  • Dana Hall: This name I knew because children's author Cynthia Voigt graduated from there. It remains an elite boarding school for girls.


The upshot of this is that only Lasell and Bennett were actually finishing schools - although we can't tell about Ossining.

2 comments:

Rebecca said...

I threw Ossining into books.google.co and found a bunch of reviews and advertisements for the school up through the 20s, but not after. Those ads made it sound like a high school...that the diploma would be accepted by colleges.

One from 1913 (http://books.google.com/books?id=M2BzX5MQUGEC) mentions post graduate work, but that's about it.

Yes, this is what I was doing when I should have been working.

Eve said...

The moral of the story is: You know you're a grad student in education when even your procrastination involves learning more about education.