Female Pioneers in Higher Education

I want to expand here a bit on the work of Fatima Al-Fihri and her founding of The University of Al Quaraouiyine in Fes, Morocco in 859 CE. This was glanced over in a previous post about the structure of educational institutions and their history, but I do not feel it was given enough emphasis. For those of you who do not grasp the importance of this let me reiterate: THE FIRST EVER UNIVERSITY WAS FOUNDED BY A FEMALE. It is incredible to me how backwards we went as a society since that moment. It would be much more believable in my mind if the struggle for educational access after Al Quaraouiyine was a male struggle; if it took men more than a millennium to earn their right to equitable education in a female dominated domain.

Instead, our patriarchal society took hold of a female’s brainchild; and the men in charge managed to keep women out of the fold. It was not until 1840 that Catherine Brewer earned the first female bachelor’s degree in the United States from Wesleyan College in Georgia. At Virginia Tech, women did not enroll until 1921, nearly half a century after the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute was founded. In 1923, Mary Brumfield was the first woman to receive a degree. Even today when male and female enrollment and admission in colleges and universities are more equal than they have ever been, I have to ask myself- what would Fatima Al-Fihri have thought. Could we have skipped those 1160 years of educational inequity if we only acknowledged the genius of her gender from the very beginning of higher education’s existence.