Higher Education Ph.D. Dissertations


A History of the Conferences of Deans of Women, 1903-1922

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Higher Education Administration

First Advisor

Michael Coomes (Advisor)


As women entered higher education, positions were created to address their specific needs. In the 1890s, the position of dean of women proliferated, and in 1903 groups began to meet regularly in professional associations they called conferences of deans of women. This study examines how and why early deans of women formed these professional groups, how those groups can be characterized, and who comprised the conferences. It also explores the degree of continuity between the conferences and a later organization, the National Association of Deans of Women (NADW). Using evidence from archival sources, the known meetings are listed and described chronologically. Seven different conferences are identified: those intended for deans of women (a) Of the Middle West, (b) In State Universities, (c) With the Religious Education Association, (d) In Private Institutions, (e) With the Association of Collegiate Alumnae, (f) With the Southern Association of College Women, and (g) With the National Education Association (also known as the NADW). Each of the conferences is analyzed using seven organizational variables: membership, organizational structure, public relations, fiscal policies, services and publications, ethical standards, and affiliations. Individual profiles of each of 130 attendees are provided, and as a group they can be described as professional women who were both administrators and scholars, highly-educated in a variety of disciplines, predominantly unmarried, and active in social and political causes of the era. The primary conclusions are: There was little continuity between the conferences and the NADW; the nature of the professional groups and the profiles of the deans of women suggest that the profession underwent a change around 1920; and the careers and lives of the early deans of women were filled with important accomplishments, and are worthy of study. A deeper understanding of the early deans of women and their professional activities can inform research on the history of student affairs and the roles of women in higher education. Finally, the stories of these remarkable women can provide inspiration and illumination for those who continue the work with students in higher education.