As of 2021, there are around 31 women’s only colleges in the United States. During the 1960s, the number of women’s colleges peaked at 281. Over the years, more and more of these institutions have been taken over by coeducation, but there may be some benefits to attending a single-sex college in the modern era.
History of Women’s Colleges
It is only within the past couple of centuries that women have been allowed into America’s colleges and universities. Catherine Brewer, the first woman to graduate with a bachelor’s degree, earned her degree at the Georgia Female College in 1840.
Prior to the 1800s, women of means were sent to finishing schools where the curriculum was centered around being a society woman and entertaining. Eventually, schools began opening their doors to women and opening exclusively women colleges. However, that doesn’t mean that women were treated equally or given access to the same education as men. For example, in 1837 at Oberlin College, women were dismissed from class early every Monday so they could do the laundry of their male counterparts.
When it came to education, practically everywhere women turned they met resistance. This was especially true among Ivy league schools which were the last to allow education. In many cases, this didn’t happen until the 1960s and 70s.
To try to come to some sort of compromise that would still keep the sexes separate, some colleges started “sister” institutions. For example, Harvard opened Radcliffe where women could be taught by Harvard professors. Again, women were still treated as second class and by no means received the same caliber of education.
Meanwhile, more and more private colleges were opening with the goal of providing women with a competitive education. Unfortunately, many of these institutions don’t survive today. Today, Wesleyan, which began as the Georgia Female College in 1837, is the oldest women’s college that remains open.
Benefits of Single-Sex Colleges
The arguments for and against single-sex colleges and universities are practically as old as time. Proponents of single-sex education models make the case they students are less distracted and more willing to participate and share ideas. They aren’t as self-conscious, which is more conducive to learning and allows for the free exploration of ideas.
In a society where women are still being socialized to defer to men, single-sex colleges could encourage women to be more outspoken. Over time, this helps with self-esteem and confidence. It may also make women more likely to pursue fields that have been traditionally male-dominated.
Ultimately, it all comes down to the individual and their learning styles and preferences. If you are looking for a unique learning environment, you may want to consider looking into one of the remaining women’s colleges in the United States.
If you’re looking for other women’s colleges, check out the Find Your Perfect “U” tool. You can search over 6,000 colleges and universities with 11 different filters to find the perfect school for you!