Evans chronicles the stories of African American women who struggled for and won access to formal education, beginning in 1850, when Lucy Stanton, a student at Oberlin College, earned the first college diploma conferred on an African American woman. In the century between the Civil War and the civil rights movement, a critical increase in black women's educational attainment mirrored unprecedented national growth in American education. Evans reveals how black women demanded space as students and asserted their voices as educators--despite such barriers as violence, discrimination, and oppressive campus policies--contributing in significant ways to higher education in the United States. She argues that their experiences, ideas, and practices can inspire contemporary educators to create an intellectual democracy in which all people have a voice.
Among those Evans profiles are Anna Julia Cooper, who was born enslaved yet ultimately earned a doctoral degree from the Sorbonne, and Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of Bethune-Cookman College. Exposing the hypocrisy in American assertions of democracy and discrediting European notions of intellectual superiority, Cooper argued that all human beings had a right to grow. Bethune believed that education is the right of all citizens in a democracy. Both women's philosophies raised questions of how human and civil rights are intertwined with educational access, scholarly research, pedagogy, and community service. This first complete educational and intellectual history of black women carefully traces quantitative research, explores black women's collegiate memories, and identifies significant geographic patterns in America's institutional development. Evans reveals historic perspectives, patterns, and philosophies in academia that will be an important reference for scholars of gender, race, and education.