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This exploration of American women's post-World War II higher education begins with three stories. These narratives reflect issues women faced when, as educators, they tried to plan curricula and programs for female students, and when, as professionals, they tried to manage their own careers in an era that frequently sent mixed messages about women's roles and opportunities. They also reveal a quiet type of activism practiced by postwar women educators, an approach which often pales in comparison to the firmer efforts of postsuffrage and World War II activists, or to the lively and boisterous work of late-1960s feminists. However, I will argue that this more muted style, when combined with the era's predilection for individualized solutions to women's concerns, marks a particular postwar approach to advocacy that may be different from other eras but that suited the contextually complicated postwar period.
In 1991 historian F. Michael Perko offered a literature review, “Religious Higher Education in America: An Historiographic Survey,” that provided a solid analysis of the state of historical work on religion and higher education, as well a discussion of issues facing historians wishing to apply that lens to collegiate history. Perko was discouraged as he reviewed the field, noting “the present bleak state of the enterprise,” where many authors “failed consistently to situate their subjects within broad frames of reference, and have ignored, for the most part, the interpretive dimensions that give historical study purpose and life.” During the 1990s, however, there has been a minor explosion in solid, creative work on various historical aspects of religion and higher education that begins to provide interpretive depth and scope. This essay extends Perko's review by discussing recent developments in certain aspects of the history of religion and American higher education.
Many of us who teach the history of American higher education likely experience an uncomfortable moment at the beginning of each collegiate term when we order for our classes a book first published in 1962: Frederick Rudolph's classic The American College and University: A History. Of course, we are somewhat heartened by choosing the 1990 republished version with its fine new introduction by John Thelin, as well as by requiring Lester Goodchild and Harold Wechsler's recently revised compendium of articles, The History of Higher Education. Nonetheless, choosing a textbook as old as Rudolph's for a basic overview of the field feels awkward to historians who are witnessing a surge of work in the history of American higher education.