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To Know Her Own History

To Know Her Own History: Writing at the Woman’s College, 1943–1963

Kelly Ritter
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    To Know Her Own History
    Book Description:

    To Know Her Own Historychronicles the evolution of writing programs at a landmark Southern women's college during the postwar period. Kelly Ritter finds that despite its conservative Southern culture and vocational roots, the Woman's College of the University of North Carolina was a unique setting where advanced writing programs and creativity flourished long before these trends emerged nationally.Ritter profiles the history of the Woman's College, first as a normal school, where women trained as teachers with an emphasis on composition and analytical writing, then as a liberal arts college. She compares the burgeoning writing program here to those of the Seven Sisters (Wellesley, Smith, Radcliffe, Barnard, Vassar, Bryn Mawr, and Mount Holyoke) and to elite all-male universities, to show the singular progressivism of the Woman's College. Ritter presents lively student writing samples from the early postwar period to reveal a blurring of the boundaries between "creative" and "expository" styles.By midcentury, a quantum shift toward creative writing changed administrators' valuation of composition courses and staff at the Woman's College. An intensive process of curricular revisions, modeled after Harvard's "Redbook" plan, was proposed and rejected in 1951, as the college stood by its unique curricula and singular values. Ritter follows the plight of individual instructors of creative writing and composition, showing how their compensation and standing were made disproportionate by the shifting position of expository writing in relation to creative writing. Despite this unsettled period, the Woman's College continued to gain in stature, and by 1964 it became a prize acquisition of the University of North Carolina system.Ritter's study demonstrates the value of local histories to uncover undocumented advancements in writing education, offering insights into the political, cultural, and social conditions that influenced learning and methodologies at "marginalized" schools such as the Woman's College.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7787-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction The History of Composition Is the History of Its People
    (pp. 1-18)

    I have always been interested in local history, but until the last few years I did not envision myself becoming a scholar of the local histories of writing. In my earlier scholarship, I had focused on the present and future of writing and rhetoric, concerned with breaking new ground rather than retooling the past. In graduate school, I decided against a concentration in literary studies precisely because I believed that this field of study would require me to tread over texts and documents already explored by numerous scholars in as many settings. I did not see, in my own work,...

  2. 1 Her History Matters The United States Normal School and the Roots of Women’s Public Education
    (pp. 19-52)

    If you are a faculty member or a student at a public university that is not the “flagship” institution of your state—for example, Eastern Michigan University as opposed to the University of Michigan, or Georgia State University as opposed to the University of Georgia—then your campus was originally a teachers college, or “normal school,” in the parlance of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century educational terminology. A significant number of our public universities in the United States today are former normal schools or state teachers colleges—189, to be exact.¹ These institutions were, in many cases, geographically situated to attract rural...

  3. 2 In Her Own Words The Yearling and First-Year Writing, 1948–51
    (pp. 53-91)

    The social and intellectual traditions embedded in the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina as a former normal school quite clearly and deeply affected how and what its students were expected to do socially, versus what the somewhat progressive curriculum would ask them to do intellectually in the English writing classroom. Yet despite this contradictory earlier institutional and programmatic history, an enterprising and savvy student-led publication, theYearling, emerged from the college midcentury, enacting the college’s continued priority to educate the whole student and promote a deep intellectual engagement with the arts and humanities. To continue to follow...

  4. 3 Revisionist History General Education Reform from Harvard University to the Woman’s College, 1943–56
    (pp. 92-148)

    At the core of the modern liberal arts college or university is the shared curricular principle of general education. It informs every department in which first- and second-year core subject courses are offered. As the three juxtaposed statements opening this chapter suggest, the “general” component of the educational reform that constitutes this core has been articulated as a historically contested definition, attempting to cover a wide range of student preparations and abilities, and to simultaneously meet a wide range of departmental and institutional values regarding the nature of a liberal arts education, particularly in the writing and reading-intensive curriculum of...

  5. 4 The Double-Helix of Creative/Composition Randall Jarrell, May Bush, and the Politics of Writing Programs, 1947–63
    (pp. 149-190)

    Achieving a balance between local needs and national trends in writing instruction was a compelling quandary facing the Woman’s College postwar. The politics of this balance were powerfully affected by national movements such as general education, and by the social history of the college as a site of not only diverse writing curricula, but also properly rigorous whole-person training. Yet as much as general education, normal school traditions, and southern social culture shaped the relationship between composition and literary studies during the postwar era of the Woman’s College, the third player in the department—creative writing—emerged as a final,...

  6. 5 What’s in a Name? Women’s Writing Histories and Archival Research in Composition Studies
    (pp. 191-212)

    In the preceding chapters, I have attempted to paint an archives-based portrait of the postwar Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina by analyzing how its progressive writing pedagogies worked with, and against, its conservative social structure; how its valuation of student expository and creative writing extended to venues outside the classroom, and to the lifelong habits of some of its alumnae; and how its steadfast embrace of local curricular traditions held strong in the face of sweeping national education reforms that assumed the value of a common curriculum for the greater pedagogical good. I have also examined the...