March is Women’s History Month. This year’s activities and exhibits will carry the theme, “Women’s Education- Women’s Empowerment” by looking at the history of education and its opportunities in women’s lives. It’s worth understanding; it was not so long ago that women’s education was a very domestic and had limited offering.
In the United States, the idea of education for all emerged around the time of the Revolution. Democracy was on the rise and with it, the idea that smart mamas equal smart baby boy leaders. Women became literate and well read. Patriot women organized their own consumer boycotts, started businesses, and created cause-related organizations.
Today, the very city that birthed the nation and the idea of women’s education carries an enormous spectrum of education within it. We have 300,000 college students and the 8th largest school district in the country. Within that we offer some of the best ranked institutions in the nation to the some of the worst rated as well.
Within this wide array of opportunity, we find that education for women takes on different forms – it is not only the classroom that develops the mind. Looking at some of the women that have made Philly proud, we see how diverse education can really be:
For painter Mary Cassatt, education was self-carved path – when doors were closed, she found others to open. As a student at the Pennsylvania Academy for the Fine Arts, Cassatt recognized that she was not being treated equally, and took matters into her own hands. She the left school for Paris, where art school was not available to her gender. She then applied for private instruction under Master Impressionists that helped to inspire her priceless works.
Anthropologist Margaret Mead was born in Philadelphia in 1901, going on to make world-renowned contributions to cultural anthropology and popularizing the field of study as way to understand global connectedness. Mead was able to leverage and thrive in all academic opportunities available to her: degrees, professorships, research and publications.
Poor and African-American, young Billie Holiday did not have many opportunities available to her. No formal education appears in her history, but she is undoubtedly one of the most celebrated voices of our time. Sultry Billie Holiday was born in Philadelphia in 1915 and for her, the education that served her best was to listen to herself and do what she needed to survive.
Philly native songstress Jill Scott attended Girl’s High and Temple University. With that foundation, Scott has done tremendous things for herself and others. In fact, she believes so much in the opportunities that come with education, she has established the Babe Blues Foundation that helps minority students attend college.
We are raising little girls who inevitability will become women. We are raising little boys who will become the men that live and work beside them.
Who is on your list of Philly’s great women? What has education and empowerment meant to the long line of women who preceded you? What does it mean for the girls in your life who are destined to become Philly’s next generation of women?