WHERE GIRLS COME FIRST: The Rise, Fall and Surprising Revival of Girls' Schools

Ilana DeBare, Author
Ilana DeBare, Author . Putnam/Tarcher $24.95 (392p) ISBN 978-1-58542-289-0
Paperback - 400 pages - 978-1-58542-394-1
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Journalist DeBare offers a combination general history of girls' schools in America and the particular history of cofounding an all-girls middle school in Oakland, Calif. Beginning with the early 19th century, "when educating women was a gutsy act," DeBare traces the evolution of girls' schools from middle-class to elite institutions, with particular attention to Emma Willard (a prominent early- and mid–19th-century advocate of girls' education) and to Clara Spence, Lucy Madeira and Miss Sarah Porter (founders of eponymous schools). She also covers public, Catholic and African-American girls' schools, finding similarities and differences. The historical account gives way to a psychological and sociological report, as DeBare treats psychologists Richard Kraft-Ebbing and Havelock Ellis, who cast "a shadow over the kinds of romantic female relationships that had been accepted as normal through most of the 1800s." Then there's groundbreaking Carol Gilligan and Myra and David Sadker, along with AAUW (American Association of University Women) studies that would "ultimately change the entire image and mission of girls' schools" by teaching educators about girls' psychological development and unearthing sex discrimination in coed schools. By the end of the 1990s, girls' schools, which two decades earlier had "seemed headed for extinction," were enjoying a revival, DeBare notes. Although what's best for girls continues to be controversial, DeBare presents a workmanlike but cogent history of how single-sex schools have survived and thrived. Photos. (Mar. 8)

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