Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Date of Graduation

Spring 2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Department of History


Emily Westkaemper


In the early 1900s, women pursued higher education and employment outside of the home in growing numbers. As women’s educational opportunities expanded, the need for college preparation also increased. This study examines the development of four all-girls’ college preparatory schools in Virginia from 1900 to 1930, focusing on the ways in which notions of gender influenced the creation and execution of the schools’ guiding visions and curricula. It also examines the roles students played in the development of these programs and shows students’ wide range of responses to the purpose and goals of their own education. Through the academic curricula, athletic programs, efforts at character education, and social preparation, administrators presented students with contradictory messages about what it meant to be a modern woman in the early twentieth century. Administrators promoted active and assertive leadership in many areas of school life, but they also encouraged women’s commitment to domesticity, passivity, and service to others. Students responded to the missions and programs in many ways, which included promotions of the administrators’ goals for girls’ education and challenges to their visions. The contradictions in the administrators’ views and the diversity in the students’ responses demonstrated the complexities surrounding definitions of proper femininity in the early twentieth century.



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