The Florida State College for Women, in addition to being the predecessor institution of modern-day FSU, was once one of the largest all-female centers of higher learning in the United States. From 1905 to 1947, thousands of young women from the American South attended and graduated from FSCW. These women were, generally, from affluent Southern families and were, exclusively, White. The liberal arts and professional education curricula offered by FSCW appealed to many of the ideals of the so-called “Progressive Era” of United States history, but also existed in tandem with the intense racial oppression and inequalities found throughout the post-Reconstruction South. The institution was also steeped in highly-regulated gender roles that ascribed White women a narrow set of areas in which they could study and explore professional lives beyond being wives, mothers, and “Southern belles.” As noted by the scholar Shira Birnbaum, FSCW offered new educational opportunities for women and “credentialed white women [sic] for participation in modern life” but did so “inside repressive Southern conventions of female subordination and racism” (p. 239).
This complex lattice of gendered and racial hierarchies undergirded the formation and development of FSCW, its student population, and the kinds of scholarship its students undertook. The historical records associated with FSCW, in particular the scholarly publications produced by its students, offer us a window into this world where certain classes of White women were given limited agency to pursue academic and professional development within a deeply segregated, patriarchal society.
In an effort to make this rich history more accessible to researchers, instructors, and students, FSU Libraries has begun the process of digitizing and electronically publishing theses and other academic writing produced by FSCW students. These fragile, original documents are currently held by Heritage & University Archives, and this effort is the first comprehensive, cross-departmental initiative to provide unprecedented digital access to these materials via FSU’s institutional repository, Diginole.
While progress on this project (and many others across the University) has been hampered by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, FSU Libraries has completed the first batch of 55 theses produced by FSCW students, written between 1908 to 1935. You can access these materials directly here and can sort by date to see this particular set of theses. These represent a broad array of subjects and research areas, some which do suggest deviations from the restrictive academic environment described by Birnbaum. Topics explored range from analyses of Renaissance poets to studies in entomology to sociological investigations of racial relations in early 20th century Florida. Through these works, we are offered a tremendous amount of insight into both the history of FSU as an educational institution and the greater cultural and societal roles of women in the American South. Below are a few highlights and excerpts from this initial batch of theses. We invite you to explore this fascinating collection and look forward to making more of these historic records available to all.