A Timeline of Notable Women in the History of Education

Women have always played an important role in various areas, including education, but the role they have played has not always been fully appreciated. This is not surprising, considering the marginalization of the history of women’s education, but if one is willing to devote the time necessary to learn about the role women have played over the centuries in education, there are scores of notable women deserving praise and study. We have written a small timeline dedicating to honouring these pioneering women.


Timeline of the Great Women in Education

  • 1237: BettisiaGozzadini becomes the first woman to hold a chair at a university, teaching jurisprudence at the stadium of Bologna sometime after graduating from the same institution. This accomplishment would open doors for women in education for centuries to come.
  • 1709: With the help of Lady Catherine Jones and Lady Elizabeth Hastings, Mary Astell founds a charity school for girls in Chelsea, England. In her book entitled Some Reflections on Marriage, she wrote, “If all Men are born free, how is it that all Women are born Slaves?” Mary Astell is often credited as being one of the first women in history to advocate for equal opportunity in education.
  • 1792: Sarah Pierce establishes the Litchfield Academy for Girls in Litchfield, Connecticut. The Litchfield Academy was one of the earliest schools for girls in the history of the United States.
  • 1831: Prudence Crandall, a Quaker from Canterbury, Connecticut, opens a school for young white girls. Three years later, she admits Sara Harris to the school, an African American, making this the first integrated school in the United States.


Prudence Crandall

Prudence Crandall

  • 1848: Savitribai Phule and her husband established the first school for Indian women in history that was solely run by Indians. Savitribai Phule was one of the first people in India to fight for the civil rights of women and those oppressed by the Caste System.
  • 1862: Marry Jane Patterson becomes the first African American female to receive a bachelor’s degree. She would go on to become a prominent teacher, helping to educate African American children.
  • 1876: The UK Medical Act of 1876 is passed by Parliament, allowing women to study in medical universities. The Act of Parliament was passed thanks to the help of the Edinburgh Seven, seven women who were not allowed to graduate with a medical degree several years earlier due to gender discrimination. This law would greatly improve circumstances for women in education in Great Britain.


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  • 1878: Kate Douglas Wiggins establishes the first free kindergarten in San Francisco, California. In this period of history, the lives of children had little value to society, and they were often seen as a source of cheap labour.
  • 1887: Anne Sullivan is hired to teach Hellen Keller, who was blind and deaf, beginning a 49-year special relationship between the two. Anne Sullivan was an early pioneer in special education.


Anne Sullivan and Hellen Keller

Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan

  • 1921: Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander becomes the first African American woman in the United States to receive a PhD in economics. She also became the first African American woman to be awarded a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania.
  • 1970: Catherine of Siena becomes the first woman in the history of the Catholic Church to be made a Doctor of the Church. Her 14th Century writings about Christian theology helped to pave the way for future generations of women in education wanting to study theology.
  • 1975: Marva Collins establishes the Westside Preparatory School in Chicago for underprivileged African American students. She took in students that the Chicago public school system rejected as learning disabled, successfully educated them, and helped to dispel the myth that children with learning disabilities are beyond help.


As you can see, women have made many great contributions to education and to the betterment of humankind. That is why the importance of women in education should never be overlooked. The next time you greet your old teacher, remember those great educators who came before her (or him), and give your teacher a hug and a thank you!


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