Now located on the Chicago campus of the University of Illinois and under the direction of Lisa Yun Lee, the original, now historic site of Jane Addams’s Hull-House remains a lively center of activity around social issues, as you will see if you check out the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum. On May 22-23, 2008 the old Hull-House dining room and renovated conference facility were filled to capacity with about eighty participants in the inaugural gathering of a new international, intergenerational community of learning and inquiry on women, gender, and education—of which, without doubt, Jane Addams herself would have approved heartily. The Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, the International Society of Educational Biography, the Blackwell History of Education Museum at Northern Illinois University, the University of Oklahoma, and Fairfield University hosted the event and provided scholarship aid for some participants. The brainchild of Lucy Townsend (2008 conference chair), Susan Douglas Franzosa (2009 conference chair), and myself, this new community goes by the name Educating Women. That name’s double entendre refers deliberately to women as both subjects and objects of educating.
True to that name, this inaugural conference brought together professors, students, teachers, activists, researchers, and concerned citizens from North America, Africa, Asia, and Europe around the theme, Educating Women: The Status of Research on the Education of Girls and Women. Consonant with that theme, those in attendance both surveyed and proposed such research, demonstrating the myriad rich possibilities of the scholarship in educational women’s and gender studies that has emerged only within the past two or three decades. Addressing education in infancy and throughout the human lifespan in highly various educational institutions both rural and urban, presenters’ topics included coeducation, single-sex schooling, teacher education, and women’s studies, as well as women’s instructive folklore, women’s educative social movements and friendships. Participants presented studies of girls’ and women’s education in Pakistan, Botswana, Kenya, Japan, the Soviet Union, and the American South. They discussed research on Mexican-American, African-American, Chinese-American, and Italian-American girls’ and women’s education; on education in visual arts, music, athletics, sexuality, gardening, sustainable agriculture, home economics, and the legal profession; on education about pain, for peace and other sorts of activism, and for living wisely and well; on women’s anger and artistry in teaching; on the teaching, learning, and curricular resources of mothers; on the particular educational challenges of pregnant teens and of both women with disabilities and mothers of children with disabilities. Some sessions argued for the value of studying women’s literary representations of teaching and learning; many others argued for the value of recovering knowledge about the past work or thought of significant educating women—such as Frances Wright, Elizabeth Sherwood, Betty Kirby, Flora White, Sarah Raymond, Ellen Swallow Richards, Catharine Macaulay, Christine de Pizan, Emma Goldman, Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, Roberta Abney, and founders of women’s studies programs—not to mention the sessions on Jane Addams. Selected papers presented at Hull-House will appear in forthcoming special issues of Educational Studies and Vitae Scholasticae. Meanwhile the community is preparing also to publish its own refereed journal, Educating Women, online, with password-protected spaces for discussing its articles.
Four keynote speakers called attention to issues of recurring concern throughout the conference. Ruth Sweetser, president of the American Association of University Women, opened the Hull-House conference with a lecture concerning the history of that organization’s research on girls’ and women’s education—including its most recent report, Where the Girls Are, which debunks the myth of a “boys’ crisis” in U.S. education and concludes that understanding race/ethnicity and family income levels are critical to understanding girls’ and boys’ achievement. Kolawole Babatunde, representing Nigeria ActionAid International, opened the first afternoon’s session with a lecture on “Major Factors Affecting Girls’ Education in Northern Nigeria: A Grassroots-Based Approach,” which illuminated strong points of resonance with issues affecting North American girls’ education, including critical concern about a narrow focus only on academic learning and achievement, and thus signaled possible directions for future collaboration in behalf of Nigerian girls’ education. The first day closed with a lecture by Lisa Yun Lee and a film, on Hull-House itself, along with a tour of the museum. Jane Roland Martin, whose John Dewey Lecture became one of her many books, Cultural Miseducation, opened the second day with a lecture, “Making Research on Women Count,” critiquing the “hidden” curriculum of misogyny witnessed during the recent U.S. Presidential primary campaign season as a signal of much educational work yet to be done and drawing imaginative inspiration from the concept of the land grant university to envision new approaches that Educating Women might take in the twenty-first century. Gaby Weiner, now of Edinburgh University, Stirling University, and Manchester University in the U.K., formerly of the University of Umeå in Sweden, opened the final afternoon’s sessions with a lecture, “Too Much Talk and Too Little Action: Trends in Research on Gender and Education in Europe and the Anglophone World,” comparing so-called “second wave” and “third wave” feminisms there with a content analysis of journals that suggested important possible future directions for Educating Women.
This conference and the publications following from it do not tell the whole story about the community of learning and inquiry that Educating Women aims to become. A project initially conceived in informal conversation over dinner in Charlottesville, VA during the American Educational Studies Association conference in 2005, and developed by its three founders at subsequent conferences and through carefully planned meetings and retreats in 2006 and 2007, Educating Women responds to a perceived generation gap in scholarship on women and education and also to a situation felt to be presently so limiting as to be stifling the field’s growth. In general, the educational women’s and gender studies field’s senior scholars seem to lack opportunities for collaborative work, while interested junior scholars often lack access to mentors and to sufficiently diversified, advanced studies to feel confident pursuing research on women, gender, and education. Moreover teachers, parents, and community educators often have no access to the research that is published in academic venues, even when it might be useful to them. Besides organizing conferences and publishing an online journal, therefore, this project will—as funds raised permit—utilize distance-education technologies, organize special interest groups within other existing organizations, construct an online archive of the field’s development, connect people with mentors, facilitate mutual communications and collaborations among scholars and teachers, and provide online a researchers' and teachers’/parents’ resource center that may work something like a virtual extension service. This trans-institutional, trans-associational project’s aim is to make unprecedented opportunities for novice, mid-career, and senior scholars to undertake advanced learning and inquiry in this new field and, also, just as importantly, to make their work available to a global audience of educators who can and will inform and inspire the work of scholars, use it, and improve upon it to make a difference in the learning and living of women, girls, and all other gender-troubled people. The founders are currently organizing Educating Women’s Board of Advisers, and welcome new participants in this culturally diverse community who care about girls’ and women’s education and about gender and sexuality education, who are also eager to learn and to teach. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.