UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The experience of women at the University of British Columbia, 1906-1956 Stewart, Lee Jean


This study of the coeducational experience of women at the University of British Columbia from 1916 to 1956 is threefold. It examines how the institution adapted to the female presence, the ways women assimilated or accommodated themselves to their environment, and the relationship of the changing climate of social expectations of women to the purposes of women's education and their experience at university. The study is placed in both a thematic and a regional context. The thematic framework is suggested by the historiography concerned with women's admission to universities in the nineteenth century. This literature establishes the role of the "uncompromising" and "separatist" feminists, partisan politics, public opinion, social definitions of femininity, and institutional structures in determining the form and content of women's education. The social, economic and political factors that account for the development of higher education in the province define the regional context. This study finds that separatist feminists exerted a significant influence in defining women's education in the early part of the twentieth century. However, social, political and economic considerations guided the establishing of Nursing and Home Economics Departments at UBC. Institutional modifications such as the appointment of a Dean of Women and the building of women's residences, similarly depended on practical economic solutions to appease feminist agitation. Irrespective of the equality that is implied by coeducation, social expectations of women continued to act as obstacles to women's participation in higher education and ensured their secondary status. Female students devised strategies to ease the contradictory expectations of the academic and the social community. They chose nonconformity to gender expectations, conformity to standards of femininity, the precarious balance of double conformity to academic and feminine standards, and separatist feminism to redress the inequity of women's secondary status within higher education.

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