Choosing the Best Course: Cultural and Social Influences on the Female Mathematics Graduate Students at the University of Kansas in the 1890s
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The interpretive plan for the exhibit, “Choosing the Best Course: Cultural and Social Influences on Female Mathematics Graduate Students at the University of Kansas in the 1890s” covers women’s education and women in STEM fields in the nineteenth century. While many historians focus on exceptional women scholars who never married, this exhibit discusses a few women who got advanced degrees and then married. This exhibit explores the social and cultural influences of gender on women in academia by examining the experiences of Annie MacKinnon, Bessie Growe and Mary Rice, who studied at the University of Kansas in the 1890s. They were exceptional students in an era with limited life choices for women. This exhibit concludes that these women’s lives exemplify issues facing women in academia in the nineteenth century. Their stories demonstrate that in academia, scholarly research, and professional choices, women faced bias because of their gender. This bias was mainly based on society’s ideal of women and womanhood. This ideal focused on women being dependent on men and having children. Social ideas gave women fewer life choices and made it impossible for them to be truly independent. This played a role in what they studied in terms of field of study and degree level. This exhibit’s 12 panels use materials from the University of Kansas and other institutions to discuss nineteenth century women’s education through the stories of Annie MacKinnon, Bessie Growe and Mary Rice’s successes and struggles.