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Service as Mandate: How American Land-Grant Universities Shaped the Modern World, 1920–2015

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Democracy's colleges promised higher education opportunities to the sons and daughters of America's working classes. Many land-grants had incorporated that promise in their degree programs by establishing majors aimed specifically at one sex. At their inception, home economics and engineering were among the disciplines considered discrete by gender. This bias remained well into the 1970s, about a hundred years later, before that supposed assumption came under strenuous attack. Bix's essay provides a necessary corrective. She shows that a not negligible portion of both curricula contained members of the opposite sex almost from their beginnings. Students chose to major in what they wished rather than in some curriculum designated appropriate for them. These gender-benders did not escape notice. Sometimes they endured ridicule and questioning. But their successes in receiving the degrees of their choice proved the persistent flexibility of land-grants as well as their openness to change. By permitting students to take courses of study initially designed for members of the opposite sex, land-grants ultimately helped weaken barriers traditionally raised to keep men and women in separate spheres.


This is a chapter published as Amy Bix, “Men in the Food Lab, Women in the Engine Shop: Gendered Stereotype Breaking in Land-Grant Technical Programs,” Service as Mandate: How Land-Grant Universities Shaped the Modern World, Alan Marcus, ed., (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2015): 19-57. Posted with permission.

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University of Alabama Press



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