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ICOS 2008 Conference Abstract

Name Histories of U.S. Women's Colleges: Local Imprint, Global Impact

C De Vinne
B D Johnson
Ursuline College, United States

From the nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries, U.S. women’s colleges grew in size and number. Since the 1960s, most have closed or gone coed, the latter a decision that prompted many to adopt a new name. This study examines the name histories of 191 U.S. women’s colleges, with data from three sources: 1947-48 Educational Directory (U.S. Education Office); U.S. Department of Education (1993); website of Women’s College Coalition (2007).

Four historical trends appear:
1. Originally, institutions favored ‘academy’ or ‘seminary’ as generics. ‘College’ did not appear until 1850; ‘university,’ not until 1970.
2. Early names, 25 % in 1947 vs. 19% in 2007, more often included geographical markers; those with place names were more likely to retain their original name.
3. Gender-markers steadily declined. In 1947, 35.1 % had explicitly female names; by 2007, only 3 used ‘women’ and 18 retained female gender-markers.
4. Coed institutions dropped all specific gender-markers. Colleges named after women were most likely to change their name, although those with strong reputations tended to retain their original name.

New names help colleges claim new identities and, in higher education’s increasingly competitive, multi-cultural marketplace, create global impact through name recognition. This paper highlights the importance of names to institutional self-image and the potential, real or imagined, for names to attract both students and donors.

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