Antebellum higher education for women in western New York State

Kathryn M Kerns, University of Pennsylvania


Research on women's higher education in the United States often starts with the opening of Vassar after the start of the Civil War, with perhaps a nod to Oberlin College, Troy Female Seminary, and Mount Holyoke. Research on antebellum higher education often centers on male institutions and men students. This study looks at women and their education at five schools in western New York State before the Civil War. Three were coeducational: (1) Genesee College (Methodist) founded in 1849, sharing buildings and some students with Genesee Wesleyan Seminary founded in 1832; (2) New York Central College (American Free Baptist Missionary) an abolitionist college founded in 1849, and (3) Alfred Academy and University (Seventh-Day Baptist) which evolved from a select school opened in 1836 and achieved university status in 1857. The two women's schools are (1) Ingham University founded in 1837, which became Ingham Collegiate Institute in 1852 and gained university status in 1857 and (2) Elmira College founded in 1855. Using school records, student publications, diaries, etc., and sources such as the 1850 and 1860 federal censuses and 1855 state in manuscript form, we can examine what role higher education played for these women, looking at their backgrounds, their student life, and their careers, and how all of these interacted with what the schools intended. Though the women's schools and coeducational schools come out of differing traditions, there are interesting differences within each category, as well. In most areas the schools fall along a continuum. Many of the students were coming from rural areas, but students at the women's schools were more urban. Few of the women who graduated returned to rural life, and though they married at just slightly under the rate for women in general at the time, many continued to work in teaching (often in academies or colleges), medicine, or law after marriage.

Subject Area

Education history|American history|Womens studies

Recommended Citation

Kerns, Kathryn M, "Antebellum higher education for women in western New York State" (1993). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9321418.