Why Should a Woman Be Learned or Wise? The Rise of Women's Colleges

Why Should a Woman Be Learned or Wise? The Rise of Women's Colleges
Lucy Hayes: Education, Arts, Letters and Ideas

Skill: High School/College
Time Required: One to several class periods


Lucy Webb Hayes was the first First Lady to graduate from college (1850).  In her early adulthood, it was still very unusual for women to have advanced academic educations. As time went by, however, more and more colleges for women (and colleges that accepted women) were founded.  Today, something over 50% of all colleges students are women.


Students participating in this activity will learn something about the struggle of women to obtain a higher education and will gain experience in historical research and the development of written or media presentations.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet. Women's Colleges timeline link. Access to computer media programs (or, lesson can be done with posters, or other hand-made media). Books and other materials on colleges for women.


1.  Ask students to explore the web sites listed below; then select either a particular woman’s college or an aspect of the arguments for or against the higher education of women as a topic.
2.  Depending upon their selection, students may:

  • Write a paper on the history of a particular college
  • Prepare a PowerPoint or other media presentation on a topic
  • Taking on the persona of a student in an early women’s college, write a series of letters to home describing the experience.
  • Write a series of news accounts on the founding of a particular college
  • Write a series of newspaper commentaries on the proposition that women should receive a higher education.

3.  Time should be allocated for students to share their findings and their presentations.

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson can be extended by researching the experiences of women in co-educational schools and universities in the last half of the 19th century.

Sources & Resources:


History of Women's Colleges

A Brief History of Women's Colleges

A Look at Women's Colleges Since 1792

Early College Women: Determined to Be Educated



This lesson was developed by Averil McClelland, Kent State University.