On June 30th, 1961 my paternal Grandmother was officially notified, via letter, that she had earned her Master’s Degree in Religious Education from the Princeton Theological Seminary. To put this all in perspective, she was a busy mother of two adolescent children (14 and 16), a caring North Carolinian housewife, and a fairly simple woman with generally traditional, Southern values. With my Grandfather’s support of her pursuit for further education, she began to attend classes at the Princeton Theological Seminary and was one of the first women to earn her earn a Master’s degree after a post-college teaching career.
Revisiting the context of time is essential to completely understanding this artifact. My Grandmother’s dissertation is 156 pages in length (typed by my father and uncle since my Grandmother didn’t know how to type), full of evidence from numerous studies and her analyses of them, finalizing her degree requirements. She completed her degree over an extended period of time beyond normal parameters as approved by Princeton due to her busy life as a wife and mother. While pursuing her degree, she cared for her two adolescent children, upheld her motherly roles, and ran the home. While content in her position as a wife and mother, “Someone outside myself has taken over, and step by step is teaching me into His will for my life.” she was compelled to continue her education. Not only had she felt a call from God to spread the gospel (through family religious education), but the call of society to pursue higher education, effectively relating to our prolegomenon Turner’s Frontier.
In our class discussion, we have talked about the “final frontier” being the United States’ Westward expansion but later concluded that there were many unforeseen frontiers after that. In my opinion, the rise of women in the workforce and the steady increase of highly educated women is a more abstract frontier and a continuation of the former frontier of women’s suffrage. In this sense we can compare these two phases to the multiple phases on Westward expansion over time in the United States.
Continuing on the theme of frontiers, I researched the “We Can Do It” poster campaign in relation to when my Grandmother earned her degree. The campaign, calling women to the workforce, began 18 years prior to her earning her degree. Although she was a part of the forging of a new path for independent and educated women, although she worked exhuastively through her course work, she chose to publish her dissertation under the name “Mrs. Archie B. Freeman”. It shocked me that she chose to remain so traditional rather than embracing her identity as Dorothy S. Freeman (her legal name). Thus, a competing narrative between traditional and modern: a woman who joined the workforce nontraditionally but didn’t completely embrace modernity for the sake of tradition.
The idea of the competing narrative was certainly a continuous theme through the analysis of the artifact. For instance, the dissertation is focussed on the way in which Christian families should be educated. Her thesis describes that families should be religiously educated together in church to spread the gospel effectively and to create further dialogue between adults and children on religious matters. Again, I noticed the competing narrative of traditional Christianity and the modernity of women’s education. Furthermore, I discovered through my father that her degree was a Master’s in Religious Education rather than its new title of Master’s in Divinity. This was because women were not permitted to earn Master’s in Divinity at the time, cycling back to the issue of competing tradition vs modernity. Although my Grandmother may not have been an exemplary model of the ultimately modern woman of the 60s, I remain thoroughly grateful for her resilience, paving the way for my generation to attain school unlike many women of her time.