Molding Gendered Citizens: The Moral Formation of Women and Men at Progressive Era State Universities

Thursday, January 2, 2014: 1:00 PM
Maryland Suite C (Marriott Wardman Park)
Andrea L. Turpin, Baylor University
This paper analyzes the causes and effects of how American university administrators pursued the moral formation of their coeducational student bodies during the rise of the modern research university. Historical discussion of the implications of the changing role and type of religion in universities during this critical period has almost entirely overlooked the simultaneous broad-scale entrance of women into higher education. Drawing on the records of presidents, deans of women, and student religious groups at the Universities of Michigan and California, I argue that how university leaders navigated these two changes created divergent experiences of moral formation for male and female students. This in turn contributed to distinct approaches female and male graduates took to Progressive Era reform activities. Colleges had long grounded the formation of virtuous citizens in Protestant training. The shift in focus within American Protestantism from cultivating an individual relationship with God to Christianizing the social order then led university officials to place greater emphasis on articulating exactly how male and female graduates would respectively fit into that order. Meanwhile, administrators’ choice to shift religious training from the curriculum to the extra-curriculum further gendered moral training, as student extracurricular life increasingly divided along lines of sex. Particularly dominant were the pan-Protestant YMCA and YWCA, and these organizations also articulated distinct visions for graduates’ future moral contributions. Students often echoed the language of their leaders in both the administration and campus religious groups and many made choices upon graduation shaped by their calls to service. The dominant notes of the moral message emerging from their spiritual formation channeled students into male or female areas, or styles, of service, but counterpoints within that message also inspired some women to stretch the boundaries of useful work available to them and inspired some men to pursue service areas increasingly gendered female.
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