What Are The Seven Sisters?

Before 1835, colleges did not admit women. As women were increasingly interested in pursuing higher education, feminist advocates opened co-educational colleges like Oberlin and exclusively women’s colleges. Wesleyan College was the first women’s college to open, and there were approximately 230 women’s colleges in the 1960s. Perhaps the most famous of these colleges would be The Seven Sisters consortium, which initially included only Wellesley, Smith, Mount Holyoke, and Vasser, and later Bryn Mawr, Radcliffe, and Barnard. These colleges were named The Seven Sisters after the Greek myth of The Pleiades, where the seven daughters of the Titan Atlas and sea-nymph Pleione were referred to as The Seven Sisters.

These institutions were comparable to many of the all-male Ivy League colleges in terms of education and some were even affiliated with each other. Despite this, the campuses and rules were quite different. Male colleges often mirrored traditional campuses today with multiple buildings centered around some sort of courtyard-type space. However, female colleges were confined to one building to ensure the faculty could carefully control the students. There were many concerns that women would reject traditional femininity and that it was dangerous to educate them. Yet, these restrictions were never enough to restrain women from cultivating communities, creating traditions, and finding independence. With the establishment of Bryn Mawr college in 1885, this one-building style ended as Bryn Mawr built quadrangles, demonstrating a shift in architecture. The success of Bryn Mawr’s quadrangles helped establish the fact that there was little risk to educating women. As a result, graduates of The Seven Sisters had numerous opportunities to pursue new ventures and previously unattainable jobs, reinforcing the importance of access to higher education

As the number of co-educational universities increased, women’s colleges would either dissolve or combine with another men’s college. Today, Vassar is co-educational, and Radcliffe merged with Harvard College in 1999, with the rest still being women’s colleges. Fewer than 5% of undergraduate students attend women’s colleges. Yet, they still boast many benefits: small class sizes, liberal arts curriculum, inclusive campus environments, a high percent of female faculty, high retention and graduation rates, and student-centered teaching styles. While these institutions historically only admitted white, wealthy, Christian students, they now consistently value racial and socioeconomic diversity. The Seven Sisters, with the exception of Radcliffe, remain highly regarded and continue to work together, maintaining their connections and community.


Guest Writer at The City Voice

I am a senior at City and a guest author with the City Voice! I am passionate about women's rights and am also involved with Girl Up, NHS, band, and Student Ambassadors.

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