Introduction: The Exhibition
Taking Her Place:
Women’s Journey through Education from the Private to the Public Sphere
This exhibition illuminates the story of women’s successful struggle for access to the public realm through education, the key channel through which women expanded their sphere beyond the confines of their homes. Taking Her Place explores the world of female learning from the late eighteenth to the mid-twentieth century by deploying the substantial holdings of the Bryn Mawr College collections to illustrate both wider debates and individual accomplishments. The premise of this exhibition is that women’s ‘place’ is rightfully wherever they wish it to be, and that education is necessary no matter what role in society they fulfill.
The fight for women’s access to education spanned the struggle for literacy to their entry into the world of higher education, as students and eventually as scholars. The discussion that emerges across the texts featured in this exhibition centers around the question of whether education might threaten women’s traditional position in society. As women became a viable literary audience in the nineteenth century, society imagined what a female reader might look like and what role she might play in the broader culture, raising many questions for those interested in women’s education: what should women learn? What kinds of reading were suitable? Would serious study leave them infertile? Could women fulfill professional roles in society? This exhibition looks at the diverse histories of women on Bryn Mawr’s campus, from the first women of color to the first women graduates entering the professions who became pioneers in their fields. Taking Her Place offers merely a glimpse into the rich history of women’s educational journey, itself a field of myriad possibilities and narratives too large for this gallery space.
This digital exhibit is an adaptation of the exhibition that was installed in the Rare Book Room of Canaday Library at Bryn Mawr College from January 28 through July 19, 2013. This exhibit follows the same narrative as the exhibition and includes all of the items that were displayed in the Rare Book Room gallery. However, the new online accommodates more text, which allowed us to give more information about the items. It also meant we were able to include some items that didn't make it into the physical exhibition: enjoy browsing layout designs from before the show was constructed (shown below), links to additional oral history interviews, and images that we did not have space for in the gallery.
Taking Her Place is curated by Jennifer Redmond and Evan McGonagill of The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education. This digital exhibit was compiled by Evan McGonagill in July, 2013.
The Albert M. Greenfield Foundation has provided substantial support for the exhibition and for the ongoing work of The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education. The Friends of the Bryn Mawr College Library provide additional support for exhibitions and programs.