Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs

Lucy Townsend
Lucy Townsend

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News Release

Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-9472

June 5, 2007

Professors studying history of women's education
win grant to encourage future scholars

DeKalb — A trio of professors dedicated to women’s history is working to ensure their scholarly interests are handed down to future generations.

Lucy Townsend, professor in the NIU College of Education’s Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, and two colleagues from other universities have received a $5,000 grant from the International Society for Educational Biography in support of their “Educating Women Project.”

Plans include a 2008 conference in Chicago, a Web site with virtual mentoring, an electronic refereed journal and travel funds for women scholars from developing nations.

Townsend is joined in the project by Susan Laird from the University of Oklahoma and Susan Franzosa from Fairfield University in Connecticut.

“We all had developed courses on the philosophy and history of women’s education, but in recent years none of us has had enough students to offer the courses,” Townsend said.

“We began thinking about the next generation of scholars and whether women would be able to study the history and philosophy of women’s education if they didn’t have opportunities. We wondered if what was happening at our three universities was also happening at others.”

It’s a vital topic, Townsend said, especially for tomorrow’s teachers and their students.

“Half of the world’s population, and maybe more, are women. But the knowledge about women has historically been very limited. We have a lot to explore, especially in developing nations. Unless we can figure out how to mentor the next generation, that kind of research is not going to be very strong,” she said.

“It’s easy to make generalizations about other people – male or female, rich or poor, black or white – but their experiences may be totally different from ours,” she added. “This research gives you a perspective of the world that’s different from another. If I’m going to be an effective teacher, I don’t want to assume my students experience life as I do or think as I do. I need to accommodate my teaching to their needs.”

Grants from their department chairs – Franzosa, who is the dean of the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions, has her own budget – allowed the three to meet, plan and ponder further sources of funding.

As the trio’s ideas took shape, Townsend presented them at a conference of the International Society for Education Biography.

Leaders of the ISEB, an academic society that encourages theory and research on the lives of educational philosophers, teachers, educational reformers and students, liked what they heard.

“They offered me $5,000. They thought it was a great project,” Townsend said. “I was just totally amazed.”

The University of Oklahoma, where Laird is a professor, gave the team a grant to support the development and maintenance of a Web site for the Educating Women project.

Next summer’s conference will take place at Jane Addams Hull-House Museum on the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Papers are invited on current research into the education of women in kindergarten through high school, in higher education and in non-school settings. The conference also will promote publications about women.

Participants in the project also are encouraged to present research at the ISEB’s annual conferences and submit articles for publication in the society’s journal, “Vitae Scholasticae.”

“Surveying current research on a topic is usually how you start a research project. You have to know what other researchers are doing. It’s very informative for young scholars,” Townsend said. “Women in academia tend to publish less than men, and tend to move toward full professorships more slowly. This is a way to provide these young scholars with advice and put them in contact with journals interested in publishing this kind of work.”

For Townsend, who’s currently researching the first 200 women to earn doctoral degrees, the new work reflects her past.

“I can remember the very first time I studied educational history from a gendered perspective. Until that time, I had pretty much explored the world from the male perspective,” she said. “I never really thought that women were excluded from the experiences I was studying, but women couldn’t even get into college until the 1830s.”

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