How Women Have Changed The Educational Landscape

Chelsea Penney
March 22, 2022

“No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens.”- Michelle Obama

Women have always been integral to developing educated generations. From serving as the first teachers to establishing educational theory to advocating for growth, women have made their mark on education. 

Educated Women’s Impact On Society

A society’s success is determined by the strength, education and power of its women. Women build and maintain cultures. UNESCO states, “Girls’ education has been found to yield not only individual but also broader societal benefits. When girls are educated, their lives, the lives of their children, families, communities, and countries improve. Health, education, social, economic and leadership prospects increase while vulnerability to poverty, disease, exploitation and violence decreases.”

Educating women causes economic growth and empowers individuals to break the cycle of poverty. UNICEF adds, “Girls’ education strengthens economies and reduces inequality. It contributes to more stable, resilient societies that give all individuals – including boys and men – the opportunity to fulfill their potential. But education for girls is about more than access to school. It’s also about girls feeling safe in classrooms and supported in the subjects and careers they choose to pursue – including those in which they are often under-represented.”

“I can promise you that women working together – linked, informed and educated – can bring peace and prosperity to this forsaken planet.”- Isabelle Allende

It’s important to learn about the women who have shaped education to bring better representation to the field. While 76% of teachers are female, less than 33% of high school principals and senior administrators are women. There is still a disparity among those promoted to leadership roles within education. Girls need to see people like them in administration to encourage them to aspire for the same career success. 

Female Educational Influencers

Ella Flagg Young, First Female Superintendent, Chicago 1909

Ella Flagg Young, PhD, was the first woman superintendent in a major American school system, Chicago schools. Before elevating her career to principal, assistant superintendent, and professor, she started as a teacher. She authored pedagogical books and articles for the University of Chicago. During her time as superintendent, she revolutionized teacher training, expanded teacher responsibilities and added vocational and physical education to the curriculum. She was elected the first female president of the National Education Association. 

Fanny Jackson Coppin, Post-Civil War Champion of Black Students

Fanny Jackson Coppin was born into slavery. Her aunt bought her out, and she worked as a servant and attended school at a young age. In 1865, she graduated from Oberlin College. She taught Math, Latin, and Greek at the Institute for Colored Youth before ascending to principal in 1869. She was the first female African American principal in the country. Coppin created teacher and vocational training programs with the hope of lifting people from poverty and ending discrimination. 

Malala Yousafzai, Education Activist

Malala Yousafzai advocates for girls' education in Pakistan and worldwide. At 15 years old, she survived an assassination attempt and rose to notoriety. In 2014, she and Kailash Satyarthi jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize for children’s rights. Her work with the UN led to the first right to education law in Pakistan and the establishment of a $10 million education fund. She has been recognized by several notable awards, written two books, and featured in documentaries about education. 

Margaret Bancroft, Pioneer in Special Education

In 1883, Margaret Bancroft founded the Bancroft Training School for students with multiple disabilities. She educated them and brought them on field trips, providing educational equity for special education students who had no other resources. Her school still exists today as a non-profit and early childhood education center.

Ruby Bridges, Civil Rights Activist

At the young age of 6, Ruby Bridges became the first Black student to integrate into a white Louisiana school. In November 1960, she was met with media and angry protestors. White parents took their children home instead of allowing them to attend school with a Black classmate, so she was taught individually by her teacher for the remainder of the year. Bridges was the catalyst to desegregating schools. She has been the subject of paintings and books. She established the Ruby Bridges Foundation for tolerance in schools and continues to work as an advocate.

Dolly Parton, Musician, Activist, and Fundraiser

Dolly Parton is a musician and actress who uses her resources and fame to work toward better education through the Dollywood Foundation. Her work has reduced the high school dropout rate in Tennessee. The foundation also provides college scholarships for students and distributes 1 million books to children per month through its Imagination Library initiative.

Maria Montessori, Educational Theorist

Maria Montessori created a revolutionary educational system based on her theories about children’s creativity and individuality. In 1896, she was the first woman in Italy to graduate from the University of Rome’s medical program. She worked with children in a psychiatric clinic before becoming a lecturer. In 1907, she opened her first Montessori school for three to six-year-old children. There are approximately 20,000 Montessori schools around the world today using her simple materials and sensory-rich environments to foster learning in early childhood.

Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller’s Teacher

Anne Sullivan dealt with blindness herself before she taught Helen Keller. She was educated at the Perkins Institute for the Blind. Sullivan reined in Keller’s unruly behavior by teaching her how to express herself through the alphabet. The pair went on to become highly educated speakers and lecturers.

Read more about how Proximity Learning teachers educate students on Women’s History here.

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about the author
Chelsea Penney

Chelsea Penney earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Writing from University of Colorado Denver and her Masters of Science in Marketing from Texas A&M University Commerce. She loves living in Austin, TX and working on the frontline as Content Marketing Manager for Proximity Learning.

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