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The Harvard Examination for Women

Harvard began organizing special examinations for women in 1874 after being lobbied by the Women's Education Association of Boston to expand educational opportunities for women. For seven years, Harvard instituted exams based on a similar program of tests given in England by Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Only 107 women presented themselves for the examinations, and just 36 received certificates, which led Harvard to change the type of exams administered to women. In 1881, Harvard began giving women the opportunity to take its standard entrance examination in order to pursue the equivalent of a collegiate education at the "Harvard Annex."

The Harvard Examinations for Women were tests jointly administered by the Woman's Educational Association and Harvard University at Cambridge, New York, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and other cities across the United States for women who wanted advanced education. Women were examined on subjects required for admission to Harvard College, and the methods of examination were the same as used for testing men applying for admission to Harvard. If a woman passed an examination for a particular subject, she received a certificate with the signature of Harvard's president verifying that she had achieved a passing mark in that subject.

Although passing a Harvard Examination for Women did not entitle a woman to enroll in courses at Harvard College, it did entitle her to be taught by Harvard Professors under the aegis of the Society for the Collegiate Instruction of Women. Instruction took place in the "Harvard Annex," a building located on the corner of Garden and Mason Streets in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Mrs. Louis Agassiz, wife of the eminent Harvard zoologist, was president of the of the Annex corporation, Mrs. Alice Longfellow Thorp was the treasurer, and twelve Harvard professors were overseers.

Because the Annex had no official relationship with Harvard, its female students were not official Harvard students and thus did not receive Harvard diplomas. However, over 40 members of the university faculty were under contract by the Annex to teach the same classes and subjects that they taught at the university. At the end of the year, students received a certificate for each course they had completed satisfactorily. Students received another certificate if they completed coursework for a subject that roughly corresponded to the amount and caliber of work a male Harvard student must complete for a B.A. in that subject at the end of four years.

The Harvard Examinations for Women ended in 1896, two years after the Harvard Annex was given a charter by Massachusetts to become Radcliffe College, which would remain one of the leading American colleges for women until it fully merged with Harvard College in 1977.

Publications Digitized for Women Working

Bush, George Gary. History of Higher Education in Massachusetts.. Washington: G.P.O., 1891, pp. 176-178.

Dunbar, Charles Franklin. Reply to Dr. Stillé's Strictures on the Harvard Examinations for Women. Philadelphia: 1878.

The Education of American Girls. New York: G.P. Putnam and Sons, 1874, pp. 258-261.

McCabe, Lida Rose. The American Girl at College. New York: Dodd, Meade & Co., 1893, pp. 11-14.

Meyer, Annie Nathan, ed. Woman's Work in America. New York: H. Holt and Co., 1891, p. 25.

Papers and Letters Presented at the "Woman's Congress of the Association for the Advancement of Woman..." Mrs. William Ballard, Book & Job Printer, 1874, p. 91.

Robinson, Mabel Louise. The Curriculum of the Woman's College. Washington: G.P.O., 1918, pp. 33-41.

Thomas, Martha Carey. Education of Women. Albany, NY: J.B. Lyon Co., c1904. See footnotes on pp. 25-26.

Zimmern, Alice. Methods of Education in the United States. London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co.; New York: Macmillan & Co., 1894, pp. 160-161.

Other Resources