Campaigns to improve the quality of women's primary education and to ensure their access to schools of higher learning were
among some of the first reform efforts undertaken by women. Great debates raged as to the amount and content of schooling
women should receive. Women's physical and mental capacities came into question, and their struggle to gain admittance to
predominantly male schools and programs has continued to this day.
In 1804, Washington society leader Margaret Bayard Smith (1778-1844) [catalog record] lamented how her “passionate fondness for reading” was “opposed by circumstances and the friends with whom [she] lived”
who oversaw her education. She declared that “had I been a boy and conducted regularly through the paths of science-how much
more useful-how much more happy might I have been!”10
Obstacles such as those described by Smith and other aspects of women's education and their entry into the teaching ranks
may be explored in a host of collections held by the Manuscript Division. The topic, in fact, is an overwhelming one, since
more than 330 collections are identified when searching the catalog for the term “educators.” Division collections are replete
with notebooks, letters, and diaries written by girls and young women while in school. Many of the women whose papers are
described elsewhere retained documents from their school days, and these materials are usually identified in the finding aids
for those collections.
Family papers often include information on women's education. See especially the papers of the:
Bancroft-Bliss Family (5,800 items; 1788-1928; bulk 1815-75) [catalog record]
Singleton Family (900 items; 1758-1860; bulk 1829-55) [catalog record]
Willard Family (119,900 items; 1800-1968; bulk 1890-1954) [catalog record]
Various families in the Marian S. Carson Collection (14,250 items; ca. 1650-1995; bulk 1700-1876) 11 [catalog record]
Also of note are early nineteenth-century student work books kept by Bathsheba Barton (1 item; 1819); Ann Maria Churchill (3 items; ca. 1830); Sarah Hall (1 item; 1813); and Caroline Dana Jarvis (1 item; 1819).