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The Rise of Women's Education in the United States and Korea: A Struggle for Educational and Occupational Equality

The Rise of Women's Education in the United States and Korea: A Struggle for Educational and Occupational Equality
Rowe K.E.Byong-Suh K.
Ewha Authors
Issue Date
Journal Title
Asian Journal of Women's Studies
1225-9276JCR Link
Asian Journal of Women's Studies vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 30 - 93
Document Type
When, why, and how did women in the United States and Korea become educated? Although independent studies have documented the rise of education for women in each country, no analysis has yet compared how in these seemingly dissimilar cultures education became not an oddity for women bur a modern necessity. Although the revolution in women's education resulted from and gave rise to profound ideological shifts in both countries, it took its roots as well in radical political and economic changes that accompanied industrialization. In the United States women's education began in the post-Revolutionary period (1780-1835) with the growth of public town schools and private seminaries devoted primarily to inculcating domestic ideals, morality, and civic virtue. Mary Lyon's founding of the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in 1837 marked the advent of higher education for women, which then accelerated the push for other women's colleges, co-education, and the opening of teaching as a "feminized" profession during the mid- to late-nineteenth century. Excluded from formal education under the Yi Dynasty (1392-1910), Korean women were modestly educated in feminine morality and virtue based upon Confucian doctrines that strictly limited their roles to the domestic household. When Methodist missionary Mary Scranton founded Ewha Hakdang in 1886 for one student, it became Korea's first formal educational institution for women, subsequently offering the first college-level program in 1910, providing almost the exclusive access to higher education under Japanese colonial rule until 1945, and awarding 97% of its degrees between 1948 and 1985. Although deriving from fundamentally different backgrounds, Puritanism or evangelical Protestantism in the United States and the Confucian philosophy in Korea, the early rationales for women's education involved a similar blend of religious prescriptions, democratic and domestic imperatives, and eventually arguments for socioeconomic utility. But within the overt agendas articulated by educational leaders or prescribed by the state lay hidden the seeds of what would become the twentieth-century goals for women: the right to an education, the demand for equal education for women, the pursuit of independence and personal autonomy, and the push for economic security through occupational opportunity and mobility. How the women's movement has changed the destiny and mission of women's colleges, without denying the heritage that shaped these institutions from their founding, provides a textbook example of the shifts in women's education that have occurred over nearly 200 years in the United States and 100 years in Korea. This comparative analysis, therefore, begins by examining the historical and ideological roots of women's education, then focuses specifically on the rise of Mount Holyoke and of Ewha Womans University as the first women's colleges in the United States and Korea respectively. By examining career and employment patterns of women graduates, we begin to see how education altered women's lives and occupational choices and how women's aspirations have been met or frustrated by labor force trends, entrenched economic structures, and socio-cultural mores. Although differences surely emerge, what is more striking is the similarity in patterns of development and in the spirit of the pioneering women and men who opened the doors to education for women - doors to minds that can never be closed.
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