Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching & Learning


Statement of the problem. This historical-philosophical study examines the role of women in education. Currently women hold few positions of leadership or prestige in this profession. While women have long had an important role in education, that role has seldom been a high status position.

Purpose of the study. Understanding the role of women in education requires understanding the influences that have helped to shape that role. Those influences and antecedents are to be found in the subject-matter fields of history, psychology, sociology, philosophy, and education. The explanation and description of this background material provides a philosophical and theoretical base for further research, and for improving the status of women in education.

Background of the problem. Women have long been involved in education. A number of women have been great scholars. Few have enjoyed adequate recognition for their scholarly efforts, but there can be no doubt that women are capable of high scholarship. Women have been students and teachers for at least two thousand years. While they have long been accepted as teachers, and during the last hundred years have been accepted as college students, women have never been equally represented in high status positions in education.

The psychological interpretation of women's roles shows a gradual enlightenment during the last century. An understanding of the prevalent attitudes toward women and the expected roles that men and women carry out can be provided by an examination of this development. Beginning with Freud's assumption of female inferiority, the thinking of psychologists has developed through several stages of accepting female intellectual and sexual maturity. Many psychologists now advocate an androgynous personality for men and women, that is, behavioral characteristics that utilize the best of both male and female characteristics.

The sociological interpretation of women's roles shows that until recently there has not been a great deal of interest in examining women's roles, that the homemaker and mother roles were assumed to be natural and unquestioned. Within that traditional role, women's status has fluctuated considerably, from nearly equal to men to no better than a slave. Women's status is higher when women have a greater part in essential production, as in hunting-gathering societies, and less when her role is confined to the home and care-giving activities, as in industrial societies. The industrial society is of recent vintage, and it is only during this period that the idealized picture of the happy family with father breadwinner and mother caregiver has been true, and then it was true only for those who could afford it. Prior to the industrial age, both men and women had to be productive workers, simply for survival purposes. At all times during the industrial age at least a third of the female population of the world has been working, and for these women the stereotype was (or is) a hollow ideal.

Numerous studies and philosophical essays have presented convincing evidence that sex-role socialization is the cause of the lack of women in positions of leadership or prestige in education. Higher status positions have been sex-typed male, and women have been discouraged and prevented from aspiring to and/or acquiring these positions.

Describing inequities merely delineates symptoms. The next step, and it is important, is prosocial change. Several change strategies have been described; they must be applied individually according to each situation and circumstance.

Conclusions. It is important that women and men in education understand the problems associated with women's roles, and that efforts be made to improve the status of women. Women need to learn about change strategies, and then do something positive about getting out of the victim role and into a position of control over some of the time and space in their professional lives.