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By Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz

Alma Mater: layout and event within the Women's schools from Their Nineteenth-Century Beginnings to the Thirties ASIN: 0870238698

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The highly visible professional first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton is a proud graduate of Wellesley. In the front rank of the Clinton administration is Laura D'Andrea Tyson, a Smith alumna, and Madeleine Korbel Albright, Wellesley '59. As they imagine their futures, girls in high school have new models for achievement. They read profiles in news accounts that point to certain women's colleges as instrumental to success. This rise in applications has not happened in a vacuum. On February 22, 1992, the New York Times reported on its front page that researchers at the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, after a thorough examination of publications and studies about girls and education, primary and secondary, found that American schools discriminate against girls.

Barnard never considered regulating its day students, who rode the streetcar to the college's urban, cosmopolitan campus. By the end of the nineteenth century a new confidence infused these women's colleges. Bryn Mawr's successful example became the salient model. The colleges ceased perceiving their students as needing protection through special systems of discipline encased in distinct building forms. Once they could look like those of men, women's colleges hired architects identified with important Page 7 buildings at prominent men's colleges.

Yet to state this is only to remind us of what we already know: that women's colleges exist within a society of real human beings. It is not to deny that women's colleges have value. At one level I am a pragmatist on women's colleges. By my lights women's colleges need to exist as long as they are useful to women. If there were perfect coeducation, perhaps women's colleges would not be as necessary: young women could get the education that they need alongside men. But in most cases coeducation remains an elusive ideal.

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