Category Archives: Research Reflections

This Week in Research: Women’s Work to Women’s Studies

When I went to the archives on Tuesday, I found a course catalogue from 1912 with the overview of credits needed for a young woman to get a teaching degree at Keene Normal School:


Requirements to Become a Teacher: 1912

Among the course requirements were to be expected: pedagogy (the methods of teaching), school law, and sociology. However, this overview also included courses under the heading of “Household Arts.” These courses covered cooking and sewing. Most of the women attending this institution were straight out of high school, likely unmarried, so they needed an education in how to manage a household after they married and ended their teaching career.


Fifty years later, when Keene became a Teacher’s College, women were still attending the institution to become teachers (even though men were now attending as well). In the 1964 course catalogue, there were more degrees with specifications in subject matter. One of these degrees was in Home Economics.


Bachelor’s in Home Economics: 1964

This degree program included student teaching, sociology, and principles of education. It also included classes towards the required skills needed of a female “Baby Boomer,” such as interior decorating and the operation of household machinery. My maternal grandmother graduated with a degree in Home Economics from Keene State College in 1968–and she had my mother a month after her Commencement.

One hundred years after the first course catalogue I found, Keene State College offered a Bachelor’s of Arts in Women and Gender Studies. This liberal arts degree is a stark transition from the Home Economics degree.

The BA in Women and Gender Studies in 2011: one of its first years as a four-year degree program.

The BA in Women and Gender Studies in 2011: one of its first years as a four-year degree program.

According to the Keene State website, Women and Gender Studies focuses on “the social origins and related politics of identity.” A student at Keene State is also eligible to add this major to his or her education degree.

These three degrees, each offered fifty years apart, show both transitions in education and a woman’s role in society. I’m very interested in studying the intersections of gender and education and how it relates to this college. This project is going to focus on stories which made Keene State what it is today, and women play an integral role in that.

How the Public Becomes Personal and Vice Versa

Reading about the necessity for liberal arts and history in a public context echoes much of what I’ve already said and heard during the development of this project.

In Sheila Brennan’s essay, “Public, First,” she discusses the importance of accessibility in the digital humanities. With this project, I’m taking on the role of a facilitator of the liberal arts, and my responsibility goes beyond just putting words on a screen. Online doesn’t always equal public, so making sure people know about what I’m doing and are able to easily access the project.

Accessibility isn’t the only feature of a strong digital humanities/public history exhibit. It’s also about welcoming a specific audience who otherwise may have not stumbled upon the site.

I occasionally have a challenge with realizing that Keene State isn’t an integral part of everyone’s family legacy. Because of that, I have a special responsibility to show people, especially those who participate in our school’s community and culture, what I know and what I am learning.

Further on in the collection of works on the structure of the digital humanities, Rachel Buurma and Anna Levine talk about the importance of research strategies and skills in “The Sympathetic Research Imagination: Digital Humanities and the Liberal Arts.

Much of digital humanities is being the middle point of research between the primary sources and what becomes secondary sources. In this project, I am searching and sorting information to create a gathering of personal narratives. This decision of which pieces of history I include are small decisions, but to each person who accesses this site, they could be monumental.

It’s unfortunate that I only have two and a half more months to create this archive, but I believe that the process of researching and gathering is as important as the finished project.

The GI Bill, Higher Education, and Race in a Post-War Enviroment

As an avid student of social justice and political science, I’m fascinated by the role of a male veteran in American society. I’ve been having a surprisingly difficult time finding scholarly sources on my own institution’s role in the recuperation of young World War II veterans. However, the amount of primary sources available through the United States government provides me with a first-hand account at how education policy intervened when a generation of men returned from the battlefields.

While college enrollment increased in the late 1930s, education for all young men was interrupted at the start of World War II. Boys in secondary school, too young to be drafted, dropped out to work in industries which supported the American forces (Stanley 677). Young men in postsecondary institutions had to leave their studies when they were drafted. Because one could not volunteer for the armed forces until later on in the century, young men were unaware of when they would be sent off to fight (Stanley 676).

The amount of men returning to build the post-war economy was so vast, politicians needed to find a way to readjust these new, young veterans in to society. The GI Bill (formally known as Servicemen’s Readjustment Act) passed in 1944, which dramatically changed the accessibility and prevalence of post-secondary education. About seventy percent of men who turned 21 between 1940 and 1955 essentially had a free four-year degree waiting for them at whichever institution they chose–as long as they were Caucasian (Stanley 671).

The federally funded GI Bill Act makes it clear that it is separating itself from state legislature. The state legislature in the Jim Crow states, as well as the Southern Congressional leaders in D.C., worked the ensure that the GI Bill only helped White students (Kotz). Because of this, returning Black veterans were denied loans, mortgages, certain career paths, and college acceptances (Kotz).

The prevalence of African-American veterans looking to take advantage of their right to higher education overfilled the only Black colleges. Black veterans were being turned away from their own schools because of overcrowding (Perea 595).  While the White Americans under the GI Bill were able to build a new, prospering middle class with their post-secondary educations, the African-Americans were blatantly excluded both in government policy and personal discrimination.

Although Keene State is, was, and most likely will be, a predominantly Caucasian institution, it is still vital for race to be included with my story and research on higher education in this country.

Works Cited

Kotz, Nick. Rev. of “When Affirmative Action Was White” New York Times 28 Aug. 2005: n. pag. Web. 25 Sept. 2016.

Perea, Juan F. “Doctrines of Delusion.” University of Pittsburgh Law Review 75 (2014): n. pag. Google Scholar. Web. 25 Sept. 2016.

Stanley, M. “College Education and the Midcentury GI Bills.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 118.2 (2003): 671-708. Web. 25 Sept. 2016.

The Beginnings of Keene Normal School

In the late nineteenth century, the high quality of southern New Hampshire public grammar schools lead to a need for accomplished and well-rounded educators (Smart 3). There was a bold discrepancy between teachers in different parts of New Hampshire, therefore Keene Normal School was designed in 1845 to elevate the standards of teacher education (5). At this time, there were only three normal schools in the country (6).

The crisis of teacher incompetence nationwide lead to a race between the municipalities of Plymouth and Keene, New Hampshire at the end of the 1800s, ending with Plymouth creating the first normal school in New England in 1871 (Smart 7).

The creators of Keene Normal School still worked towards forming their institution. The City of Keene was able to raise $19,000 to support the construction of the facility on Main Street (Smart 30). Keene Normal School officially opened in 1909 and began educating young women in the area in education, pedagogy, and the liberal arts and sciences. The students were also able to practice teaching in and around Keene, which lowered the taxpayers’ contribution to public education for children.

The earliest students created the first motto: Service (Smart 41) . It was liberal icon Margaret Sanger who inspired Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve while giving a speech at the school (Smart 50).

Though Keene Normal School was flourishing in its first decade, World War I called women away from teaching and towards nursing (Smart 70). This created enrollment problems that continued even post-Armistice. The educational revolt in the 1920s implemented governmental policies which insisted on limiting the liberal arts and focusing instead on trades (78).

The following years worsened the prognosis of the school, with a hurricane, an economic collapse, and typhoid fever striking Keene (Smart 131). From 1930 to 1939, the student body and employees of the school were diminished by fifty percent (112).

The struggles with the first part of the twentieth century lead Keene Normal School to consider a rebirth. The school was a burgeoning college already, with its developed liberal arts program. It officially transitioned to Keene Teachers’ College in 1939 (Smart 135).

The very formative years of the institution now known as Keene State College developed a precedent of constant change. This continued into the twentieth century and still is in existence today, as the college enters its second century.

Work Cited

Smart, James G. Striving: Keene State College, 1909-1984: The History of a Small Public Institution. Canaan, NH: Phoenix Pub., 1984. Print.