Female education
Female education is a catch-all term for a complex of issues and debates surrounding education (primary education
Primary education
A primary school is an institution in which children receive the first stage of compulsory education known as primary or elementary education. Primary school is the preferred term in the United Kingdom and many Commonwealth Nations, and in most publications of the United Nations Educational,...

, secondary education
Secondary education
Secondary education is the stage of education following primary education. Secondary education includes the final stage of compulsory education and in many countries it is entirely compulsory. The next stage of education is usually college or university...

, tertiary education
Tertiary education
Tertiary education, also referred to as third stage, third level, and post-secondary education, is the educational level following the completion of a school providing a secondary education, such as a high school, secondary school, university-preparatory school...

 and health education
Health education
Health education is the profession of educating people about health. Areas within this profession encompass environmental health, physical health, social health, emotional health, intellectual health, and spiritual health...

 in particular) for females. It includes areas of gender equality
Gender equality
Gender equality is the goal of the equality of the genders, stemming from a belief in the injustice of myriad forms of gender inequality.- Concept :...

 and access to education, and its connection to the alleviation of poverty
Poverty is the lack of a certain amount of material possessions or money. Absolute poverty or destitution is inability to afford basic human needs, which commonly includes clean and fresh water, nutrition, health care, education, clothing and shelter. About 1.7 billion people are estimated to live...

. Also involved are the issues of single-sex education
Single-sex education
Single-sex education, also known as single-gender education, is the practice of conducting education where male and female students attend separate classes or in separate buildings or schools. The practice was predominant before the mid-twentieth century, particularly in secondary education and...

 and religious education
Religious education
In secular usage, religious education is the teaching of a particular religion and its varied aspects —its beliefs, doctrines, rituals, customs, rites, and personal roles...

, in that the division of education along gender
Gender is a range of characteristics used to distinguish between males and females, particularly in the cases of men and women and the masculine and feminine attributes assigned to them. Depending on the context, the discriminating characteristics vary from sex to social role to gender identity...

 lines, and religious teachings on education, have been traditionally dominant, and are still highly relevant in contemporary discussion of female education as a global consideration.

While the feminist movement
Feminist movement
The feminist movement refers to a series of campaigns for reforms on issues such as reproductive rights, domestic violence, maternity leave, equal pay, women's suffrage, sexual harassment and sexual violence...

 has certainly promoted the importance of the issues attached to female education, discussion is wide-ranging and by no means confined to narrow terms of reference: it includes for example AIDS
Acquired immune deficiency syndrome or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome is a disease of the human immune system caused by the human immunodeficiency virus...

. Universal education, meaning state-provided primary and secondary education independent of gender, is not yet a global norm, even if it is assumed in most developed countries.

Current trends

In the developed world, women have surpassed men at many levels of education. For example, in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 in 2005/2006, women earned 62% of Associate's degrees, 58% of Bachelor's degrees, 60% of Master's degrees, and 50% of Doctorates.

Education for women with handicaps has also improved. In 2011, Giusi Spagnolo became the first woman with Down Syndrome to graduate college in Europe (she graduated from the University of Palermo
University of Palermo
The University of Palermo is a university located in Palermo, Italy, and founded in 1806. It is organized in 12 Faculties.-History:The University of Palermo was officially founded in 1806, although its earliest roots date back to 1498 when medicine and law were taught there...

 in Italy.)

Improving girls' educational levels has been demonstrated to have clear impacts on the health and economic future of young women, which in turn improves the prospects of their entire community.In the poorest countries of the world, 50% of girls do not attend secondary school. Yet, research shows that every extra year of school for girls increases their lifetime income by 15%. Improving female education, and thus women's earning potential, improves the standard of living for their own children, as women invest more of their income in their families than men do.Yet, many barriers to education for girls remain. In some African countries, such as Burkina Faso, girls are unlikely to attend school for such basic reasons as a lack of private latrine facilities for girls.

Higher rates of high school and university education among women, particularly in developing countries, have helped them make inroads to professional careers and better-paying salaries and wages. Education increases a woman's (and her partner and the family's) level of health
Health is the level of functional or metabolic efficiency of a living being. In humans, it is the general condition of a person's mind, body and spirit, usually meaning to be free from illness, injury or pain...

 and health awareness. Furthering women's levels of education and advanced training also tends to lead to later ages of initiation of sexual activity and first intercourse, later age at first marriage, and later age at first childbirth, as well as an increased likelihood to remain single, have no children, or have no formal marriage and alternatively, have increasing levels of long-term partnerships. It can lead to higher rates of barrier and chemical contraceptive use (and a lower level of sexually transmitted infections among women and their partners and children), and can increase the level of resources available to women who divorce or are in a situation of domestic violence. It has been shown, in addition, to increase women's communication with their partners and their employers, and to improve rates of civic participation such as voting or the holding of office.

Islamic history

Women in Islam
Women in Islam
The study of women in Islam investigates the role of women within the religion of Islam. The complex relationship between women and Islam is defined by Islamic texts, the history and culture of the Muslim world...

 played an important role in the foundations of many Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

ic educational institutions, such as Fatima al-Fihri
Fatima al-fihri
Fatima al-Fihri was the daughter of Mohammed al-Fihri, with whom she migrated to Fes, Morocco from Qairawan, located in present-day Tunisia and came earlier from west Arabia of Fihrids family origin...

's founding of the University of Al Karaouine
University of Al Karaouine
The University of Al-Karaouine or Al-Qarawiyyin is a university located in Fes, Morocco which was established in 1947. Its origins date back to 859, when it was founded as a mosque school or madrasa...

 in 859. This continued through to the Ayyubid dynasty
Ayyubid dynasty
The Ayyubid dynasty was a Muslim dynasty of Kurdish origin, founded by Saladin and centered in Egypt. The dynasty ruled much of the Middle East during the 12th and 13th centuries CE. The Ayyubid family, under the brothers Ayyub and Shirkuh, originally served as soldiers for the Zengids until they...

 in the 12th and 13th centuries, when 160 mosque
A mosque is a place of worship for followers of Islam. The word is likely to have entered the English language through French , from Portuguese , from Spanish , and from Berber , ultimately originating in — . The Arabic word masjid literally means a place of prostration...

s and madrasah
Madrasah is the Arabic word for any type of educational institution, whether secular or religious...

s were established in Damascus
Damascus , commonly known in Syria as Al Sham , and as the City of Jasmine , is the capital and the second largest city of Syria after Aleppo, both are part of the country's 14 governorates. In addition to being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Damascus is a major...

, 26 of which were funded by women through the Waqf
A waqf also spelled wakf formally known as wakf-alal-aulad is an inalienable religious endowment in Islamic law, typically denoting a building or plot of land for Muslim religious or charitable purposes. The donated assets are held by a charitable trust...

 (charitable trust
Charitable trust
A charitable trust is an irrevocable trust established for charitable purposes, and is a more specific term than "charitable organization".-United States:...

 or trust law
Trust law
In common law legal systems, a trust is a relationship whereby property is held by one party for the benefit of another...

) system. Half of all the royal patrons
Patronage is the support, encouragement, privilege, or financial aid that an organization or individual bestows to another. In the history of art, arts patronage refers to the support that kings or popes have provided to musicians, painters, and sculptors...

 for these institutions were also women.

According to the Sunni scholar Ibn Asakir
Ibn Asakir
-Name:His full name was Ali ibn al-Hasan ibn Hibat Allah ibn `Abd Allah, Thiqat al-Din, Abu al-Qasim, known as Ibn `Asakir al-Dimashqi al-Shafi`i al-Ash`ari.-Works:...

 in the 12th century, there were opportunities for female education in the medieval Islamic world
Islamic Golden Age
During the Islamic Golden Age philosophers, scientists and engineers of the Islamic world contributed enormously to technology and culture, both by preserving earlier traditions and by adding their own inventions and innovations...

, writing that women should study, earn ijazah
An ijazah is a certificate used primarily by Sunni Muslims to indicate that one has been authorized by a higher authority to transmit a certain subject or text of Islamic knowledge...

(academic degree
Academic degree
An academic degree is a position and title within a college or university that is usually awarded in recognition of the recipient having either satisfactorily completed a prescribed course of study or having conducted a scholarly endeavour deemed worthy of his or her admission to the degree...

s), and qualify as scholars
Ulama , also spelt ulema, refers to the educated class of Muslim legal scholars engaged in the several fields of Islamic studies. They are best known as the arbiters of shari‘a law...

 and teachers. This was especially the case for learned and scholarly families, who wanted to ensure the highest possible education for both their sons and daughters. Ibn Asakir had himself studied under 80 different female teachers in his time. Female education in the Islamic world was inspired by Muhammad's wives: Khadijah, a successful businesswoman, and Aisha
Aisha bint Abu Bakr also transcribed as was Muhammad's favorite wife...

, a renowned hadith scholar and military leader
Battle of Bassorah
The Battle of Bassorah was a battle that took place at Basra, Iraq in 656 between forces allied to Ali ibn Abi Talib and forces allied to Aisha , who wanted justice on the...

. According to a hadith
The term Hadīth is used to denote a saying or an act or tacit approval or criticism ascribed either validly or invalidly to the Islamic prophet Muhammad....

 attributed to Muhammad
Muhammad |ligature]] at U+FDF4 ;Arabic pronunciation varies regionally; the first vowel ranges from ~~; the second and the last vowel: ~~~. There are dialects which have no stress. In Egypt, it is pronounced not in religious contexts...

, he praised the women of Medina
Medina , or ; also transliterated as Madinah, or madinat al-nabi "the city of the prophet") is a city in the Hejaz region of western Saudi Arabia, and serves as the capital of the Al Madinah Province. It is the second holiest city in Islam, and the burial place of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, and...

 because of their desire for religious knowledge:
While it was not common for women to enroll as students in formal classes
Class (education)
A class in education has a variety of related meanings.It can be the group of students which attends a specific course or lesson at a university, school or other educational institution, see Form ....

, it was common for women to attend informal lecture
thumb|A lecture on [[linear algebra]] at the [[Helsinki University of Technology]]A lecture is an oral presentation intended to present information or teach people about a particular subject, for example by a university or college teacher. Lectures are used to convey critical information, history,...

s and study sessions at mosques, madrasahs and other public places. While there were no legal restrictions on female education, some men did not approve of this practice, such as Muhammad ibn al-Hajj (d. 1336) who was appalled at the behaviour of some women who informally audit
The general definition of an audit is an evaluation of a person, organization, system, process, enterprise, project or product. The term most commonly refers to audits in accounting, but similar concepts also exist in project management, quality management, and energy conservation.- Accounting...

ed lectures in his time:

Ancient Rome

In ancient Rome
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

, upperclass
During the Roman Republic, nobilis was a descriptive term of social rank, usually indicating that a member of the family had achieved the consulship. Those who belonged to the hereditary patrician families were noble, but plebeians whose ancestors were consuls were also considered nobiles...

 women seem to have been well-educated, some highly so, and were sometimes praised by male historians of the time for their learning and cultivation. Cornelia Metella
Cornelia Metella
Cornelia Metella was the daughter of Q. Caecilius Metellus Pius Scipio Nasica . She appears in numerous literary sources, including an official dedicatory inscription at Pergamon....

, for instance, was distinguished for her knowledge of geometry, literature, music, and philosophy. In the wall paintings of Pompeii
The city of Pompeii is a partially buried Roman town-city near modern Naples in the Italian region of Campania, in the territory of the comune of Pompei. Along with Herculaneum, Pompeii was destroyed and completely buried during a long catastrophic eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius spanning...

, women are more likely than men to be pictured with writing implements. Some women had sufficient knowledge of the law
Roman law
Roman law is the legal system of ancient Rome, and the legal developments which occurred before the 7th century AD — when the Roman–Byzantine state adopted Greek as the language of government. The development of Roman law comprises more than a thousand years of jurisprudence — from the Twelve...

 and oratorical training to conduct court cases on their own behalf, or on behalf of others. Among occupations that required education, women could be scribes and secretaries, calligraphers
Calligraphy is a type of visual art. It is often called the art of fancy lettering . A contemporary definition of calligraphic practice is "the art of giving form to signs in an expressive, harmonious and skillful manner"...

, and artists.

Some and perhaps many Roman girls went to a public primary school. Boys and girls were educated either together or with similar methods and curriculum. One passage in Livy
Titus Livius — known as Livy in English — was a Roman historian who wrote a monumental history of Rome and the Roman people. Ab Urbe Condita Libri, "Chapters from the Foundation of the City," covering the period from the earliest legends of Rome well before the traditional foundation in 753 BC...

's history assumes that the daughter of a centurion
A centurion was a professional officer of the Roman army .Centurion may also refer to:-Military:* Centurion tank, British battle tank* HMS Centurion, name of several ships and a shore base of the British Royal Navy...

 would be in school; the social rank of a centurion was typically equivalent to modern perceptions of the "middle class". Girls as well as boys participated in public religious festivals
Roman festivals
In ancient Roman religion, holidays were celebrated to worship and celebrate a certain god or divine event, and consisted of religious observances and festival traditions, usually with a large feast, and often featuring games . The most important festivals were the Saturnalia, the Consualia, the...

, and sang advanced choral compositions that would require formal musical training.

Medieval period

In medieval Europe
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

, education for girls and women was at best patchy, and was controversial in the light of pronouncements of some religious authorities. Shulamith Shahar
Shulamith Shahar
Shulamith Shahar is an Israeli historian. Shahar's 1981 study Fourth Estate: A History of Women in the Middle Ages was the first to specifically examine the role of women in the medieval period. The book is used as a text for gender studies and medieval history classes. This, and her subsequent...

 writes, of the situation in the nobility, that Among girls there was an almost direct transition from childhood to marriage, with all it entails.

Education was also seen as stratified in the way that society itself was: in authors such as Vincent of Beauvais
Vincent of Beauvais
The Dominican friar Vincent of Beauvais wrote the Speculum Maius, the main encyclopedia that was used in the Middle Ages.-Early life:...

, the emphasis is on educating the daughters of the nobility for their social position to come.

Educational opportunities for women were poor. Girls were only allowed to receive elementary instruction from their mothers, while boys could go off to be tutored, go to church-run schools, or join a guild or burger school to learn an occupation. Mostly the only schools for girls were associated with convents. However some aristocratic women were educated in palace schools during the age of chivalry in household duties, good manners, music, and conversation. In medieval Frankish society, however, women were given a more equal education and the education of the average lay women was comparable to that of her husband.

The majority of the most educated women in the middle ages were nuns. The nuns ran convent schools where they taught young girls chants and singing as well as reading and writing; and domestic arts like cooking, weaving, and spinning wool. One of the most notable educated nuns of the middle ages was Hildegard of Bingen
Hildegard of Bingen
Blessed Hildegard of Bingen , also known as Saint Hildegard, and Sibyl of the Rhine, was a German writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, Benedictine abbess, visionary, and polymath. Elected a magistra by her fellow nuns in 1136, she founded the monasteries of Rupertsberg in 1150 and...

 (1098–1179), who given permission by the pope to preach and write books on theology.

Early modern period, humanist attitudes

In early modern Europe, the question of female education had become a standard commonplace one, in other words a literary topos
Literary topos
Topos , in Latin locus , referred in the context of classical Greek rhetoric to a standardised method of constructing or treating an argument. See topos in classical rhetoric...

 for discussion. Around 1405 Leonardo Bruni
Leonardo Bruni
Leonardo Bruni was an Italian humanist, historian and statesman. He has been called the first modern historian.-Biography:...

 wrote De studies et letteris, addressed to Baptista di Montefeltro, the daughter of Antonio II da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino; it commends the study of Latin, but warns against arithmetic
Arithmetic or arithmetics is the oldest and most elementary branch of mathematics, used by almost everyone, for tasks ranging from simple day-to-day counting to advanced science and business calculations. It involves the study of quantity, especially as the result of combining numbers...

, geometry
Geometry arose as the field of knowledge dealing with spatial relationships. Geometry was one of the two fields of pre-modern mathematics, the other being the study of numbers ....

, astrology and rhetoric
Rhetoric is the art of discourse, an art that aims to improve the facility of speakers or writers who attempt to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations. As a subject of formal study and a productive civic practice, rhetoric has played a central role in the Western...

. In discussing the classical scholar Isotta Nogarola
Isotta Nogarola
Isotta Nogarola was an Italian writer and intellectual. She was passionate about her education, and became one of the most famous female humanists of the Italian Renaissance, inspiring generations of female artists and writers...

, however, Lisa Jardine
Lisa Jardine
Lisa Anne Jardine CBE , née Lisa Anne Bronowski, is a British historian of the early modern period. She is professor of Renaissance Studies and Director of the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters at Queen Mary, University of London, and is Chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority...

 notes that (in the middle of the fifteenth century), ‘Cultivation’ is in order for a noblewoman; formal competence is positively unbecoming. Christine de Pisan's Livre des Trois Vertus is contemporary with Bruni's book, and sets down the things which a lady or baroness living on her estates ought to be able to do.

Erasmus wrote at length about education in De pueris instituendis (1529, written two decades before); not mostly concerned with female education, in this work he does mention with approbation the trouble Thomas More
Thomas More
Sir Thomas More , also known by Catholics as Saint Thomas More, was an English lawyer, social philosopher, author, statesman and noted Renaissance humanist. He was an important councillor to Henry VIII of England and, for three years toward the end of his life, Lord Chancellor...

 took with teaching his whole family. Catherine of Aragon
Catherine of Aragon
Catherine of Aragon , also known as Katherine or Katharine, was Queen consort of England as the first wife of King Henry VIII of England and Princess of Wales as the wife to Arthur, Prince of Wales...

 "had been born and reared in one of the most brilliant and enlightened of Europen courts, where the cultural equality of men and women was normal". By her influence she made education for English women both popular and fashionable. In 1523 Juan Luis Vives
Juan Luís Vives
Juan Luis Vives , also Joan Lluís Vives i March , was a Valencian Spanish scholar and humanist.-Biography:Vives was born in Valencia...

, a follower of Erasmus, wrote in Latin his De institutione foeminae Christianae. This work was commissioned by Catherine, who had charge of the education of her daughter for the future Queen Mary I of England; in translation it appeared as Education of a Christian Woman. It is in line with traditional didactic literature, taking a strongly religious direction. It also placed a strong emphasis on Latin literature.

Elizabeth I of England
Elizabeth I of England
Elizabeth I was queen regnant of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana, or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty...

 had a strong humanist education, and was praised by her tutor Roger Ascham
Roger Ascham
Roger Ascham was an English scholar and didactic writer, famous for his prose style, his promotion of the vernacular, and his theories of education...

. She fits the pattern of education for leadership, rather than for the generality of women. When Johannes Sturm
Johannes Sturm
Johannes Sturm, Latinized as Ioannes Sturmius was a German educator, influential in the design of the Gymnasium system of secondary education.- Biography :...

 published Latin correspondence with Ascham centred on the achievements in humanist study of Elizabeth and other high-ranking English persons, in Konrad Heresbach
Konrad Heresbach
Konrad Heresbach was a German Reformer, Calvinist, humanist and educator.-Biography:Konrad or Conrad Heresbach was born in Manor Herzbach near Mettmann as the youngest of seven children to the wealthy holder of the Herzbach estate. In 1503, he left Mettmann to attend the Latin ecclesiastical...

's De laudibus Graecarum literarum oratio (1551), the emphasis was on the nobility of those tackling the classics, rather than gender.

Schooling for girls was rare; the assumption was still that education would be brought to the home environment. Comenius
John Amos Comenius ; ; Latinized: Iohannes Amos Comenius) was a Czech teacher, educator, and writer. He served as the last bishop of Unity of the Brethren, and became a religious refugee and one of the earliest champions of universal education, a concept eventually set forth in his book Didactica...

 was an advocate of formal education for women. In fact his emphasis was on a type of universal education making no distinction between humans; with an important component allowed to parental input, he advocated in his Pampaedia schooling rather than other forms of tutoring, for all.

Modern period

The issue of female education in the large, as emancipatory and rational, is broached seriously in the Enlightenment. Mary Wollstonecraft
Mary Wollstonecraft
Mary Wollstonecraft was an eighteenth-century British writer, philosopher, and advocate of women's rights. During her brief career, she wrote novels, treatises, a travel narrative, a history of the French Revolution, a conduct book, and a children's book...

, who worked as a teacher, governess, and school-owner, wrote of it in those terms. Her first book was Thoughts on the Education of Daughters
Thoughts on the Education of Daughters
Thoughts on the education of daughters: with reflections on female conduct, in the more important duties of life is the first published work of the British feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. Published in 1787 by her friend Joseph Johnson, Thoughts is a conduct book that offers advice on female education...

, years before the publication of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects , written by the 18th-century British feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, is one of the earliest works of feminist philosophy. In it, Wollstonecraft responds to those educational and political theorists of the 18th...


The Commission of National Education in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was a dualistic state of Poland and Lithuania ruled by a common monarch. It was the largest and one of the most populous countries of 16th- and 17th‑century Europe with some and a multi-ethnic population of 11 million at its peak in the early 17th century...

, founded in 1777, considered the first Ministry of Education in history, was a central, autonomous body responsible for nationwide, secular and coeducational training. In the late 19th century, in what was then the Russian province of Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

, in response to the lack of higher training for women, the so-called Flying University
Flying University
Flying University was the name of an underground educational enterprise that operated from 1885 to 1905 in Warsaw, the historic Polish capital, then under the control of the Russian Empire, and that was revived between 1977 and 1981 in the People's Republic of Poland...

 was organized, where women were taught covertly by Polish scholars and academics. Its most famous student was Maria Skłodowska-Curie, better known as Marie Curie, who went on to win a Nobel Prize
Nobel Prize
The Nobel Prizes are annual international awards bestowed by Scandinavian committees in recognition of cultural and scientific advances. The will of the Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, established the prizes in 1895...


Much education was channelled through religious establishments. Not all of these educated women only for marriage and motherhood; for example, Quaker views on women had allowed much equality from the foundation of the denomination in the mid 17th century. The abolitionist William Allen
William Allen (Quaker)
William Allen FRS, FLS was an English scientist and philanthropist who opposed slavery and engaged in schemes of social and penal improvement in early nineteenth century England.-Early life:...

 and his wife Grizell Hoare set up the Newington Academy for Girls
Newington Academy for Girls
The Newington Academy for Girls, also known as Newington College for Girls, was a Quaker school established in 1824 in Stoke Newington, then north of London. In a time when girls' educational opportunities were limited, it offered a wide range of subjects "on a plan in degree differing from any...

 in 1824, teaching an unusually wide range of subjects from languages to sciences.

Actual progress in institutional terms, for secular education of women, began in the West in the nineteenth century, with the founding of colleges offering single-sex education to young women. These appeared in the middle of the century. The Princess: A Medley, a narrative poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson, is a satire of women's education, still a controversial subject in 1848, when Queen's College
Queen's College, London
Queen's College is an independent school for girls aged 11–18. It is located in central London at numbers 43-49, Harley Street. Founded in 1848 by F. D. Maurice, Professor of English Literature and History at King's College London along with a committee of patrons, the College was the first...

 first opened in London. Emily Davies
Emily Davies
Sarah Emily Davies was an English feminist, suffragist and a pioneering campaigners fore women's rights to university access. She was born in Southampton, England to an evangelical clergyman and a teacher in 1830, although she spent most of her youth in Gateshead...

 campaigned for women's education in the 1860s, and founded Girton College in 1869, as did Anne Clough
Anne Clough
Anne Jemima Clough was an early English suffragist and a promoter of higher education for women.Clough was born at Liverpool, the daughter of a cotton merchant. She was the sister of Arthur Hugh Clough, the poet and assistant to Florence Nightingale. When two years old she was taken with the rest...

 found Newnham College in 1875. W. S. Gilbert
W. S. Gilbert
Sir William Schwenck Gilbert was an English dramatist, librettist, poet and illustrator best known for his fourteen comic operas produced in collaboration with the composer Sir Arthur Sullivan, of which the most famous include H.M.S...

 parodied the poem and treated the themes of women's higher education and feminism
Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities for women. Its concepts overlap with those of women's rights...

 in general with The Princess
The Princess (play)
The Princess is a blank verse farcical play, in five scenes with music, by W. S. Gilbert which adapts and parodies Alfred Lord Tennyson's humorous 1847 narrative poem, The Princess: A Medley. It was first produced at the Olympic Theatre in London on 8 January 1870.Gilbert called the piece "a...

in (1870) and Princess Ida
Princess Ida
Princess Ida; or, Castle Adamant is a comic opera with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. It was their eighth operatic collaboration of fourteen. Princess Ida opened at the Savoy Theatre on January 5, 1884, for a run of 246 performances...

in 1883.

Once women began to graduate from institutions of higher education, there steadily developed also a stronger academic stream of schooling, and the teacher training of women in larger numbers, principally to provide primary education. Women's access to traditionally all-male institutions took several generations to become complete.

Educational reform

The interrelated themes of barriers to education and employment continued to form the backbone of feminist thought in the nineteenth century, as described, for instance by Harriet Martineau
Harriet Martineau
Harriet Martineau was an English social theorist and Whig writer, often cited as the first female sociologist....

 in her 1859 article “Female Industry” in the Edinburgh Journal. Despite the changes in the economy, the position of women in society had not greatly improved and unlike Frances Power Cobbe
Frances Power Cobbe
Frances Power Cobbe was an Irish writer, social reformer, and suffragist. She founded a number of animal advocacy groups, including the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection in 1898, and was a member of the executive council of the London National Society for Women's Suffrage.Frances was...

, Martineau did not support the emerging call for the vote for practical reasons.

Slowly the efforts of women like Davies and the Langham group started to make inroads. Queen's College
Queen's College, London
Queen's College is an independent school for girls aged 11–18. It is located in central London at numbers 43-49, Harley Street. Founded in 1848 by F. D. Maurice, Professor of English Literature and History at King's College London along with a committee of patrons, the College was the first...

 (1848) and Bedford College (1849) in London started to offer some education to women from 1848, and by 1862 Davies was establishing a committee to persuade the universities to allow women to sit for the recently established (1858) Local Examinations, with partial success (1865). A year later she published “The Higher Education of Women.” She and Leigh Smith
Leigh Smith
Leigh Smith is an American athlete who qualified for the 2008 Olympics in javelin throw. Although he finished 5th at the U.S. Olympic Trials, he was one of only two Americans to meet the Olympic A standard and so was chosen for the U.S. team. He threw a personal best 83.74 m at Athens, Georgia on...

 founded the first higher educational institution for women, with 5 students, which became Girton College, Cambridge
Girton College, Cambridge
Girton College is one of the 31 constituent colleges of the University of Cambridge. It was England's first residential women's college, established in 1869 by Emily Davies and Barbara Bodichon. The full college status was only received in 1948 and marked the official admittance of women to the...

 in 1873, followed by Lady Margaret Hall at Oxford in 1879. Bedford had started awarding degrees the previous year. Despite these measurable advances, few could take advantage of them and life for women students was very difficult.

As part of the continuing dialogue between British and American feminists, Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman in the US to graduate in medicine (1849), lectured in Britain with Langham support. They also supported Elizabeth Garrett’s
Elizabeth Garrett Anderson
Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, LSA, MD , was an English physician and feminist, the first woman to gain a medical qualification in Britain and the first female mayor in England.-Early life:...

 attempts to assail the walls of British medical education against strong opposition; she eventually took her degree in France. Garrett's successful campaign to run for office on the London School Board in 1870 is another example of how a small band of determined women were starting to reach positions of influence at the level of local government and public bodies.


The history of female education in India has its roots in the British Regime. Women’s employment and education was acknowledged in 1854 by the East India Company’s Programme: Wood’s Dispatch. And thus slowly after that, there was progress in female education – although initially this tended to be focused on the primary school level, and related to the richer sections of society. Looking at the statistics, the overall literacy rate for women increased from 0.2% in 1882 to 6% in 1947.

In 1878, the University of Calcutta
University of Calcutta
The University of Calcutta is a public university located in the city of Kolkata , India, founded on 24 January 1857...

 became one of the first universities
A university is an institution of higher education and research, which grants academic degrees in a variety of subjects. A university is an organisation that provides both undergraduate education and postgraduate education...

 to admit female graduates
Graduation is the action of receiving or conferring an academic degree or the ceremony that is sometimes associated, where students become Graduates. Before the graduation, candidates are referred to as Graduands. The date of graduation is often called degree day. The graduation itself is also...

 to its academic degree
Academic degree
An academic degree is a position and title within a college or university that is usually awarded in recognition of the recipient having either satisfactorily completed a prescribed course of study or having conducted a scholarly endeavour deemed worthy of his or her admission to the degree...

 programmes, before any of the British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 universities had later done the same. This point was raised during the Ilbert Bill
Ilbert Bill
The Ilbert Bill was a bill introduced in 1883 for British India by Viceroy Ripon that proposed an amendment for existing laws in the country at the time to allow Indian judges and magistrates the jurisdiction to try British offenders in criminal cases at the District level, something that was...

 controversy in 1883, when it was being considered whether Indian
Indian subcontinent
The Indian subcontinent, also Indian Subcontinent, Indo-Pak Subcontinent or South Asian Subcontinent is a region of the Asian continent on the Indian tectonic plate from the Hindu Kush or Hindu Koh, Himalayas and including the Kuen Lun and Karakoram ranges, forming a land mass which extends...

 judges should be given the right to judge British offenders. The role of women featured prominently in the controversy, where English
English people
The English are a nation and ethnic group native to England, who speak English. The English identity is of early mediaeval origin, when they were known in Old English as the Anglecynn. England is now a country of the United Kingdom, and the majority of English people in England are British Citizens...

 women who opposed the bill argued that Bengali
Bengali people
The Bengali people are an ethnic community native to the historic region of Bengal in South Asia. They speak Bengali , which is an Indo-Aryan language of the eastern Indian subcontinent, evolved from the Magadhi Prakrit and Sanskrit languages. In their native language, they are referred to as বাঙালী...

 women, who they stereotyped
Stereotypes of South Asians
Stereotypes of South Asians are oversimplified ethnic stereotypes of South Asian people, and are found in many Western societies. Stereotypes of South Asians have been collectively internalized by societies, and are manifested by a society's media, literature, theatre and other creative expressions...

 as "ignorant", are neglected by their men, and that Indian men should therefore not be given the right to judge cases involving English women. Bengali women who supported the bill responded by claiming that they were more educated than the English women opposed to the bill, and pointed out that more Indian
Indian subcontinent
The Indian subcontinent, also Indian Subcontinent, Indo-Pak Subcontinent or South Asian Subcontinent is a region of the Asian continent on the Indian tectonic plate from the Hindu Kush or Hindu Koh, Himalayas and including the Kuen Lun and Karakoram ranges, forming a land mass which extends...

 women had degrees than British women did at the time.


After India attained independence in 1947, the University Education Commission was created in order to recommend suggestions to improve the quality of education. However, their report spoke against female education, referring to it as: "Women's present education is entirely irrelevant to the life they have to lead. It is not only a waste but often a definite disability". - Report of the University Education Commission, Government of India, 1948-49, Vol. (i), Chapter XII, pp.401.

But the fact that the female literacy rate was at 8.9% post-Independence could not be ignored. Thus in 1958, a national committee on women’s education was appointed by the government, and most of its recommendations were accepted. The crux of its recommendations were to bring female education on the same footing as offered for boys.

Soon after that, committees were created which talked about equality between men and women in the field of education. For example, one Committee on differentiation of curricula for boys and girls (1959) recommended equality and a common curricula at various stages of their learning. Further efforts were made to expand the education system, and thus the Education Commission was set up in 1964, which largely talked about girl's education. And owing to the commission’s recommendations, aA national Policy was developed by the Government in 1968, providing increased emphasis on female education.

Current policies

Whether it is pre- Independence or post, India has been taking active steps towards women’s status and education. The 86th constitutional Amendment Act, 2002, has been a path breaking step towards the growth of education, especially for females. According to this act, elementary education is a fundamental right for children between the age of 6-14 years. And the government has undertaken to provide this education free of cost, and made it compulsory for those in that age group. This government undertaking is more widely known as Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan
Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan
Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan , is an Indian Government programme aimed at the universalization of elementary education "in a time bound manner", as mandated by the 86th amendment to the Constitution of India making free and compulsory education to children of ages 6–14 a fundamental right...


Since then, the SSA has come up with many schemes for inclusive as well as exclusive growth of Indian education as a whole, including schemes to help foster the growth of female education.

The major schemes:
  • Mahila Samakhya Programme: This programme was launched in 1988 as a result of the New Education Policy (1968). It was created for the empowerment of women from rural areas especially socially and economically marginalized groups. When the SSA was formed, it initially set up a committee to look into this programme, how it was working, and to recommend new changes that could be made.
  • Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya Scheme(KGBV): This scheme was launched in July, 2004, to provide education to girls at primary level. It is primarily for the underprivileged and rural areas where literacy level for females is very low. The schools set up have 100% reservation: 75% for backward class, and 25% for BPL (below Poverty line) females.
  • National Programme for Education of Girls at Elementary Level (NPEGEL): This programme was launched in July, 2003. It was an incentive to reach out to the girls who the SSA was not able to reach through other schemes. The SSA called out to the “hardest to reach girls”. This scheme has covered 24 states in India. Under the NPEGEL, “model schools” have been set up to provide better opportunities to girls.

Catholic tradition

In the Roman Catholic tradition, concern for female education has expressed itself in the foundation of religious order
Religious order
A religious order is a lineage of communities and organizations of people who live in some way set apart from society in accordance with their specific religious devotion, usually characterized by the principles of its founder's religious practice. The order is composed of initiates and, in some...

s, with ministries addressing the area. These include the Ursulines
The Ursulines are a Roman Catholic religious order for women founded at Brescia, Italy, by Saint Angela de Merici in November 1535, primarily for the education of girls and the care of the sick and needy. Their patron saint is Saint Ursula.-History:St Angela de Merici spent 17 years leading a...

 (1535) and the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary
Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary
The Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary are a global Roman Catholic community of about 900 apostolic religious women, connected by personal contact, local, provincial and general meetings, telephone, e-mail and many websites to one another with a hope of promoting the integral development and...

 (1849). A convent education is an education for girls by nuns, within a convent
A convent is either a community of priests, religious brothers, religious sisters, or nuns, or the building used by the community, particularly in the Roman Catholic Church and in the Anglican Communion...

 building. This was already being practised in England before 1275 and later become more popular in France during the seventeenth century, and thereafter spread worldwide. Contemporary convent schools are not restricted to Catholic pupils. Students in contemporary convent education may be boys (particularly in India).

See also

  • Gender and education
    Gender and education
    Gender and education, from a sociological perspective, refers to the idea that the educational system does not offer the same type of opportunities for upward mobility to both genders equally...

  • Society for Promotion of Female Education in the East
    Society for Promotion of Female Education in the East
    Society for Promotion of Female Education- in the East was a Protestant Christian missionary society that was involved in sending workers to countries such as China during the late Qing Dynasty....

  • Project Exploration
    Project Exploration
    Project Exploration is a not-for-profit educational program whose goal is to "change the face of science" by encouraging interest in science among students—especially girls and minorities—who traditionally have not found effective career routes into scientific disciplines...

Historical literature

  • Bathsua Makin
    Bathsua Makin
    Bathsua Reginald Makin was a proto-feminist, middle-class Englishwoman who contributed to the emerging criticism of woman’s position in domestic and public spheres in 17th-century England. Herself a highly educated woman, Makin was referred to as “England’s most learned lady,” skilled in Greek,...

     (1673), An Essay to Revive the Ancient Education of Gentlewomen, in Religion, Manners, Arts & Tongues
  • Anna Julia Cooper (1892), The Higher Education of Women
  • Alice Zimmern
    Alice Zimmern
    Alice Zimmern was an English writer, translator and suffragist.-Background and education:Zimmern was born in Nottingham, the youngest of the three daughters of the lace merchant Hermann Theodore Zimmern, a German Jewish immigrant, and his wife Antonia Marie Therese Regina, née Leo...

     (1898), Renaissance of Girls' Education in England
  • Thomas Woody (1929), A History of Women's Education in the United States, 2 vols.
  • Jon Lajoie (1980), "http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqXi8WmQ_WM"


  • Barry Turner
    Barry Turner (journalist)
    Barry Turner is a British author, editor, journalist.Barry Turner started his career as a teacher before turning to journalism with The Observer and making many appearances on radio and television. His first book, a study of British politics in the early twentieth century, was published in 1970...

    (1974), Equality for some: The story of girls' education

External links

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