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Boundaries, Bridges, and the History of Education: An Australian Response to Maxine Schwartz Seller

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 February 2017

Marjorie Theobald*
Institute of Education, the University of Melbourne


In her published 1990 presidential address to the American History of Education Society, Maxine Schwartz Seller contends that much research on the history of education in the United States, including the history of women's education, “treats the nation as though its boundaries were impenetrable walls.” She poses the question: “What happens to the history of education in the United States—women's education in this case—when we see the United States not as a self-contained unit, but as part of an interconnecting, interacting North Atlantic, or Western hemisphere, or Pacific rim community of nations?”

Copyright © 1993 by the History of Education Society 

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1 Seller, Maxine Schwartz, “Boundaries, Bridges, and the History of Education,” History of Education Quarterly 31 (Summer 1991): 197.

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2 Kerber, Linda K., “Daughters of Columbia: Educating Women for the Republic, 1787–1805,” in The Hofstadter Aegis: A Memorial, ed. Elkins, Stanley and McKitrick, Eric (New York, 1974), 3659. See also Kerber, Linda K., Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1980).

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3 Davidoff, Leonore and Hall, Catherine, Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780–1850 (London, 1987).

4 There is a small, but growing, body of work outside the United States that takes a more scholarly look at this earlier form of women's education. See, for example, Prentice, Alison and Theobald, Marjorie R., eds., Women Who Taught: Perspectives on the History of Women and Teaching (Toronto, 1991); Theobald, Marjorie R., “The Accomplished Woman and the Propriety of Intellect: A New Look at Women's Education in Britain and Australia, 1800–1850,” History of Education 17 (1988): 21–35; McDermid, Jane, “Conservative Feminism and Female Education in the Eighteenth Century,” History of Education 18 (1989): 309–22; Binfield, Clyde, Belmont's Portias: Victorian Nonconformists and Middle-Class Education for Girls (London, 1981).

5 This is by no means a comprehensive list, but for Britain, see Bryant, Margaret, The Unexpected Revolution: A Study in the History of the Education of Women and Girls in the Nineteenth Century (London, 1979); Burstyn, Joan N., Victorian Education and the Ideal of Womanhood (London, 1980); Dyhouse, Carol, Girls Growing Up in Late Victorian and Edwardian England (London, 1981); Fletcher, S., Feminists and Bureaucrats: A Study in the Development of Girls' Education in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, 1980). For Australia, see Fitzpatrick, Kathleen, PLC Melbourne: The First Century, 1875–1975 (Burwood, 1975); Thomson Zainu'ddin, Alisa G., They Dreamt of a School: A Centenary History of Methodist Ladies' College Kew, 1882–1982 (Melbourne, 1982); Kelly, Farley, Degrees of Liberation: A Short History of Women in the University of Melbourne (Parkville, 1985); Mackinnon, Alison, One Foot on the Ladder: Origins and Outcomes of Girls' Secondary Schooling in South Australia (St. Lucia, 1984); idem, The New Women: Adelaide's Early Women Graduates (Netley, 1986); Jones, Helen, Nothing Seemed Impossible: Women's Education and Social Change in South Australia, 1875–1915 (St. Lucia, 1985); Kyle, Noeline, Her Natural Destiny: The Education of Women in New South Wales (Kensington, 1986); Chambers, Coral, Lessons for Ladies: A Social History of Girls' Education in Australasia, 1870–1900 (Sydney, 1986).

6 Prentice, Alison, “Scholarly Passion: Two Persons Who Caught It,” Historical Studies in Education 1 (Spring 1989): 9.

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7 Clifford, Geraldine Jonçich, “Saints, Sinners, and People: A Position Paper on the Historiography of American Education,” History of Education Quarterly 15 (Fall 1975): 262.

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8 Darwin, Erasmus, A Plan for the Conduct of Female Education in Boarding Schools (Derby, 1797); Gisborne, Thomas, An Enquiry into the Duties of the Female Sex (London, 1808); Smith, Sydney, Essays, by Sydney Smith: Reprinted from the EdinburghReview, 1802–1818 (London, 1874); Broadhurst, Thomas, Advice to Young Ladies on the Improvement of the Mind, and the Conduct of Life (London, 1810); More, Hannah, Strictures on the Modern System of Education: With a View of the Principles and Conduct Prevalent among Women of Rank and Fortune (Hartford, Conn., 1801); idem, Hints towards Forming the Character of a Young Princess (London, 1805); Chapone, Hester, Letters on the Improvement of the Mind: Addressed to a Lady (London, 1822); Barbauld, Anna Laetitia, The Female Speaker; or, Miscellaneous Pieces, in Prose and Verse, Selected from the Best Writers, and Adapted to the Use of Young Women (London, 1816); Hamilton, Elizabeth, Letters Addressed to the Daughter of a Nobleman, on the Formation of Religious and Moral Principle (London, 1806). Many of these authors wrote several books on female education, and the treatment is much wider than suggested by the titles.

9 Hopkins, Mary Alden, Hannah More and Her Circle (New York, 1947).

10 Windschuttle, Elizabeth, “Educating the Daughters of the Ruling Class in Colonial New South Wales, 1788–1850,” in Melbourne Studies in Education 1980, ed. Murray-Smith, S. (Melbourne, 1980), 105–33. Windschuttle's work was anticipated one year earlier by Hammerton, A. James, Emigrant Gentlewomen: Genteel Poverty and Female Emigration, 1830–1914 (Canberra, 1979), a study of the “redundant” women who were sponsored by the London female emigration societies to come to Australia as governesses and teachers.

11 Noble, Gerald W., “Secondary Education in Van Diemen's Land, 1820–1857” (M.Ed. diss., University of Melbourne, 1972).

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12 Theobald, Marjorie R., “Women and Schools in Colonial Victoria, 1840–1910” (Ph.D. diss., Monash University, 1985).

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13 For a sustained argument concerning institutional form and purpose in female colleges, see Horowitz, Helen Lefkowitz, Alma Mater: Design and Experience in the Women's Colleges from Their Nineteenth-Century Beginnings to the 1930s (New York, 1984).

14 All quotations and other information on this school are from documents in the Vieusseux family papers (copies in possession of the author). For a fuller account, see Theobald, Marjorie R., “Julie Vieusseux: The Lady Principal and Her School,” in Double Time: Women in Victoria—150 Years, ed. Lake, Marilyn and Kelly, Farley (Melbourne, 1985), 7885.

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15 Solomon, Barbara Miller, In the Company of Educated Women: A History of Women and Higher Education in America (New Haven, Conn., 1985), 4748; see also Schwager, Sally, “Educating Women in America,” Signs 12 (Winter 1987): 333–72.

16 At the University of Sydney the first women did not actually enroll until 1882.

17 Gardiner, Lyndsay, Janet Clarke Hall, 1886–1986 (Melbourne, 1986).

18 Hole, W. Vere and Treweeke, Anne H., The History of the Women's College within the University of Sydney (Sydney, 1953).

19 For a fuller discussion of this point, see Theobald, Marjorie R., “The PLC Mystique: Reflections on the Reform of Female Education in Nineteenth-Century Australia,” Australian Historical Studies 23 (1989): 241–59.

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20 Pearson, Charles, The Higher Culture of Women (Melbourne, 1875), 1617.

21 PLC Annual Report, 1877, 56.

22 Zainu'ddin, , They Dreamt of a School, 2730, 60.

23 McCarthy, Rosslyn and Theobald, Marjorie R., eds., Melbourne Girls' Grammar School: Centenary Essays, 1893–1993 (Melbourne, 1993), 3149.

24 See, for example, Hoffman, Nancy, Woman's “True” Profession: Voices from the History of Teaching (Old Westbury, N.Y., 1981).

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