Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

A challenge to excel: Creating a new image for elite women's colleges in the 1970s
by Hewitt, Vicki L., Ed.D., University of Pennsylvania, 2015, 175; 3704008
Abstract (Summary)

When elite men's colleges began to open their doors to women in the late 1960s, elite women's colleges were faced with a dilemma that threatened their institutions' continued existence. These colleges needed to redefine their purpose and communicate a new image in order to remain successful in a challenging environment. To investigate this process, I studied how three elite women's colleges responded to the challenging landscape of the 1970s, particularly the specific challenge of responding to elite men's colleges' conversion to coeducation. These elite women's colleges were successfully able to promote a new image of their institutions that argued for their validity, and the women's movement was an important influence on that process. Mount Holyoke, Smith, and Wellesley decided to remain single-sex colleges for women after the elite men's colleges moved to coeducation, and I argue that they were able to do so because student opinion drastically changed in the early 1970s due to the influence of the women's movement. Despite similar goals, the elite women's colleges and the women's movement have not always supported each other. Although their relationship was strained, women's colleges benefited from the women's movement, not only because it changed students' opinions, but also because the women's movement opened up career opportunities and encouraged women to pursue them. This made it possible for women's colleges to successfully create and disseminate a new image based on the assertion that they best prepared young women for professional careers. This new image, grounded in an attack on coeducation that also borrowed from the women's movement, made it possible for women's college to justify their continued existence.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Gasman, Marybeth
Commitee: Eisenmann, Linda, Gasman, Marybeth, Hartley, Matthew
School: University of Pennsylvania
Department: Higher Education
School Location: United States -- Pennsylvania
Source: DAI-A 76/09(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Higher Education Administration, Education history, Higher education
Keywords: Admissions, Coeducation, Feminism, Image, Women's colleges, Women's movement
Publication Number: 3704008
ISBN: 978-1-321-76150-4
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