Theses Doctoral

Education in Action: The Work of Bennett College for Women, 1930 - 1960

Flowers, Deidre Bennett

This dissertation is a study of Bennett College for Women (Bennett College), one of two Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) whose mission continues to be the provision of higher education to Black women in America. It is one of just over one hundred HBCUs still operating in the United States. This dissertation tells the story of an institution founded as a day school in 1873 and its reorganization in 1926 as a college to educate Black women. The study answers the following research question: How does student participation in protest and activism at Bennett College for Women between 1930 and 1960 broaden our understanding of the experience of Black women in higher education?
Located in Greensboro, North Carolina, Bennett College began operating through collaboration between the Woman’s Home Mission Society and the Board of Education of the Methodist Episcopal Church. The College, under the leadership of David Dallas Jones and Willa Beatrice Player, revised its curriculum and developed and expanded its co-curricular offerings in a way that empowered students to raise their collective voice, and that fostered a dynamic culture of activism among its students, faculty, and the Greensboro community. Until now, little was known of the their activism and protest during the early twentieth century. This dissertation explains how the College reviewed and revised its curriculum and developed a co-curricular program designed to meet the needs of Black women during the early twentieth century, with the goal of re-envisioning their role, place, and voice in American society. It also illuminates the students’ involvement in activism over a thirty-year period to better understand Black women’s higher education experience in the twentieth century.
In addition to answering the research question, a history of the college is provided, with a focus on the early years during which David Dallas Jones and Willa Beatrice Player served Bennett College for Women as its first two presidents. I discuss how the curriculum revision and expansion of the co-curricular offerings lent itself to Bennett College re-envisioning the role, place, and voice of Black women in American society. I discuss social and gender roles, norms, and expectations of Black women during the period, as well as the rules and regulations that shaped higher education and campus life for Black women in the South generally and specifically for students at Bennett College. Bennett College publications were used to capture the student and faculty voices, in addition to the types of issues that concerned them, and around which they organized as activists, to advocate and protest. The implications of Bennett’s students’ participation in protest and activism are discussed, and how their activism challenged the gender roles, norms, and expectations for Black women in American society.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Waite, Cally Lyn
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 6, 2017