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College Girls: Bluestockings, Sex Kittens, and Co-eds, Then and Now

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  523 ratings  ·  62 reviews
A geek who wears glasses? Or a sex kitten in a teddy? This is the dual vision of the college girl, the unique American archetype born when the age-old conflict over educating women was finally laid to rest. College was a place where women found self-esteem, and yet images in popular culture reflected a lingering distrust of the educated woman. Thus such lofty cultural expr ...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published August 17th 2006 by W. W. Norton Company
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Average rating 3.83  · 
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 ·  523 ratings  ·  62 reviews

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Mar 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
I really loved this. I found it endlessly fascinating, very readable and loved the inset boxes. BT fans, it offers interesting context and anecdotes about girls at Vassar in the 1910s, and information about college attendance then in general. It was, I think, at its best when talking about the 1900-1920 years - there wasn't as much about the 19th century or mid-20th, and too much of her own experiences at the start, in the 70s. Still, it offered context for a lot of mid-century books I've read - ...more
Jul 09, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: girls in, going in, or leaving college
I picked up this book while stuck in the last chapters of The Tin Drum for a light read. I go to a school that is on the coordiante system (I technically go to an all girls school, but we share just about everything with an all boys school, minus the deans and the sports teams), so knowing the history of women's struggles through education means a lot to me.

Favorite Quote:

Over the years, "undemocratic" was perhaps the most frequent chare lobbed against Greek-letter organizations...
"Of course t
Shaenon Garrity
Jun 13, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction

An engrossing, endlessly entertaining history of women at college in America. Peril covers all the expected big isms--sexism, classism, racism, feminism--in detail, but also explores midnight snacks, gentlemen callers, smoking and drinking, quirky campus traditions, the rise and fall of women's basketball, the "college girl" in pulp fiction and movies, and an array of other issues big and small. I loved her previous book, Pink Think, but College Girls is both more carefully researched and more c
Nov 04, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: high school girls picking colleges, women in general, teachers
lyyn peril previously wrote a book i really enjoyed, called pink think, all about the marketing of femininity. she is also the author of "thirft score" fanzine. her zine credentials are probably what compelled me to read her books, but her books are actually quite good, which is much more than i can say for most zinesters who make the jump to actually writing books. this isn't really anything like "thrift score," because it's all researched & not about buying stuff at thrift stores. it is in fac ...more
May 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
I am a fan of Pink Think: Becoming a Woman in Many Uneasy Lessons, Lynn Peril's first book and this one was equally fascinating and fun. While Pink Think focused mostly on the post WWII - 1970's ideas of what femininity meant, College Girls explores education for women going back to the late 1800's when the first women were entering higher education. Having over 100 years of history to draw from, the arguments for and against and surrounding the education of women are fascinating. Additionally, ...more
Aug 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: College-educated Women
I read -Governess: The Lives and Times if the Real Jane Eyre- right before I read this book. A good order to read these books. The desire to be more equal then started as education reform which is discussed in a -College Girls-. There is an overlap in the time line, an important one not to be missed. I can see how we got from there to there to here. We have in US have sought educational equality and then back-pedaled and said we sought more compatible wives and efficient homemakers and mothers. ...more
Dec 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: People interested in education, the history of education, or feminism
Shelves: non-fiction
I had to read this book for a college writing course in the fall of this year (2014). Overall this was a pretty intriguing account of the history of women in education, primarily in the United States. Peril does a good job of working up from the beginning of the 1800s where the only thing that essentially existed for women were special women's schools, up until today where no one really thinks much of women going to college anymore. In fact, more women go to college now than men. She's very thor ...more
Mar 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2010
This is the first nonfiction book I have picked up in a while. I originally planned on reading bits and pieces of it for the purpose of some research, but I was so fascinated with the description that I felt the need to just read it cover to cover. Frankly, I'm glad I did. Never before have I felt so proud to have a college degree. Periodically my jaw dropped with surprise at the things people actually believed 100+ years ago (women should not study during their menstrual cycle because it would ...more
Susanne E
Oct 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
A fun read, with (surprise!) several references to good old Swellesley. Despite the salacious-looking cover, the author struck a great balance between funny stories and serious analysis. It was informative and pretty rigorously researched but still accessible.

After reading this book and Manly Meals and Mom's Home Cooking: Cookbooks and Gender in Modern America in 2012, I'm struck by how many different agendas society has managed to devise for women since the 1860s or so. College education is goo
Jul 27, 2007 rated it really liked it
As with her previous book, Pink Think: Becoming a Woman in Many Uneasy Lessons, Peril evidences both in-depth scholarship with a wide variety of primary sources and an approachable writing style. She covers the evolution of the identity/concept of the college girl from the 1860s or so up through the late 1960s/early 1970s. Though much has changed for women attending college over the years, it is stunning how much has not changed. It was an interesting read for someone who attended a women's col ...more
Jul 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
I found this book at my library while searching for a sex education book (this book is not a sex education book, but it popped up in the catalog with a keyword search)for a patron and I could not resist putting it on hold for myself. It looked like something right up my alley. The book covers the evolution of college girls from those at teachers' seminaries in the West in the late 1800s to those husband hunting co-eds of the 1950s to the Girls Gone Wild hotties. It covers all aspects of a colleg ...more
Emily Dahl
Mar 16, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, wost
This book was quite enjoyable - very educational and got me thinking about women and education, and my own education (what if I had gone to a women only institution?). However, Peril's writing style this time around didn't do it for me. She used pointlessly obscure vocabulary that didn't serve to further her arguments and, at times, became suddenly moralizing. I started off hanging off of her every word, but unfortunately that quickly lost steam. It would also seem that she forgot about the "and ...more
Ginny Messina
Jan 29, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
I was the first of my grandmother’s 5 granddaughters to go to college and she was absolutely horrified; she emphatically believed that the morals of all college girls were highly suspect. Grandma came of age in the 1910s, and reading this book helped me understand how she came to hold these beliefs—-and never let go of them for the next eight decades!

This is a good overview of what life was like for college girls, especially at the turn of the century, and also of societal perceptions and expec
Megan Stolz
Dec 08, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
This was an assigned text in an undergrad class on twentieth century American history. It was definitely the least "academic" of the textbooks we discussed; the writing feels more like a novel or a popular history book. But that helps to widen it's audience to more than simply history nerds, and it's an interesting subject. I particularly enjoyed reading a book that was, in some respects, about me, or at least about my fore-sisters. I attended a woman's college, one which is actually mentioned, ...more
May 30, 2007 rated it it was ok
A buoyant read – Peril discusses some interesting facets of women in higher education: from the introduction of women’s colleges to histories of women’s behaviors and habits in co-ed settings. Geared toward the general reader (i.e. it's not a dense historical text), she includes many amusing details of college curricula designed for women (laundry courses!), sexual mores, regulations for women in college, social anxieties about gender, and so forth.
Jan 11, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: how-to-be-a-girl
Great for any lady, young or old, with an inclination towards education, history, or the simple appreciation of steps taken towards sexual equality. Peril's writing is spot on delightful and digestible. She does shy away from the slew of grim aspects, ideas, and direct quotations surrounding the struggle for women's higher education. Peril also takes care to note the classist nature of women's education and employment, soothing those who are sociologically minded or easily rankled.
Jan 21, 2009 rated it liked it
Plenty of amusing stories Old Girls will enjoy, and others may too, even if they have never rolled a hoop. Peril tries to put some structure to her research, and brings a lot of primary sources into the light.

It comes to an abrupt ending without drawing any conclusions. Perhaps if you read it slowly over a long period of time that will not feel so jarring. Keep it on the sunporch and pick it up when you are out there smoking.
Feb 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, feminist
The amazing Lynn Peril has done it again. Much like "Pink Think," her "College Girls" takes us on an illuminating journey of the history of women. This time, rather than focusing on femininity as a while, she focuses on women in college in the US. Her use of period advertisements and photos only adds to the fun. Peril makes learning about changing trends and rules in the education of women both hilarious and informative. This book delivers.
Jan 06, 2014 added it
I started this book a week ago. It's a long book. Like 300 pages. However, it is so interesting that it makes you want to keep reading. The history of women in college is very interesting. I liked that she noted the different experiences between African American women and white upper/ middle class women that attended college. I wish she would introduce her citations better. Also, some of her points went on and on. Good book overall.
May 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
Not too text-booky, but not terribly dumbed down either. This book covers and discusses basic life as a college girl at the turn of the 20th century. Not only was it interesting, but it was fascinating to read about what it was like for women like my grandmother and mother to go to college. Definitely a good book for someone starting out on Women and Gender studies.
Sep 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
Excellent! Smart and fun at the same time. Makes me want to check out Peril's other books.
Nut Meg
Apr 15, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: did-not-finish
I was very disappointed with this. I specifically picked it out because I was interested in bluestockings. Given that they're specifically cited in the subtitle, I expected the topic to make up a notable portion of the book (at least a chapter). Instead, they were only discussed for a few pages. I tried to read through regardless, but I ultimately lost my patience when I got to the chapter on college fashions.
To be fair, much of it was quite informative and easy to read. However, many of the ch
Jenine Young
Apr 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was an interesting mix of advertisements and excerpts from the time and the author's voice. Historical without being dry.
I'm considering getting a copy for my niece who is currently in college.
Rhiannon Root
Dec 14, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: feminism
Women entering high education has been a hot topic since the early 1800s. Why were the women on campus? Was it to better themselves while becoming wives and mothers? Was it to husband hunt? Was it for some other reason?

Author Lynn Peril examines the history of women obtaining college degrees in deft detail in “College Girls: Bluestockings, sex kittens, and coeds, then and now.” Peril is so thorough I can hardly believe it.

The book follows a roughly linear timeline, from the colonial era until Pe
Carolyn Fitzpatrick
Aug 20, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
This is an interesting book if you are just sort of mildly curious about the different rules and stereotypes that women have been subjected to in their attempt at higher education. There were a lot of tidbits that I had never heard of before, like women being benched for the first three days of their period due to the belief that exercise would cause their ovaries to shrivel up permanently, and "Boston Marriages" being NBD until Freud ruined everything. But about half of these fun facts are not ...more
Aug 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Ok children, sit around, because I'm going to talk about the best feminist history books I've found in a long time!

Lynn Peril is my favourite author about feminist history. Especially College Girls, this book makes my history loving heart beat faster. It shows a really subjective few to the subject (the feminism isn't stuffed down your throat basically) but it just explains what women had to do and had to endure to reach the position we have now. What I enjoy MOST about Lynn Peril is that she
Nov 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A little too repetitive on the feminist aspect. It's a great history from about the mid 19th century to the sixties with very little of the history of before or after that time. It was interesting that the first degree was awarded to Piscopia in the 1600s and because of that they freaked out and barred women from entering uni. at all for a while and that women didn't start attending uni. in relatively larger numbers until the turn of the twentieth century. (If only to just go husband hunting!) I ...more
Apr 29, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: feisty feminist girls
Shelves: nonfiction
Although it was an interesting read, College Girls didn't hold my attention the way Lynn Peril's first book Pink Think did. I had to keep forcing myself to read it, though in the end I'm glad I made the effort because the crap that early college girls had to go through in order to get an education was insane. Makes me appreciate my diploma a tiny bit more.
Aug 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: any girl/ woman who has gone to or is planning to go to college or likes women's history
This was great. It took me awhile to read, only because it was so dense with information about the history of the college girl and of women's colleges and coed schools, and because I kept putting it down to read other things. It's funny & informative, and has a lot of vintage images of college girl stuff. ...more
Jul 30, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommended to Lori by: women's history readers, college women, former college women
Very readable and cool history of college women in the United States. As well as providing me with a lot of great historical background, I was also able to glean some fiction titles Peril mentioned throughout discussion of various eras. I am a fan of vintage "women's fiction" and this was right down my alley.
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Lynn Peril was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1985. She writes, edits and publishes Mystery Date: One Gal's Guide to Good Stuff, a zine devoted to her obsession with used books (particularly old sex and dating manuals, etiquette and self-help books and health, beauty and fashion guides) and other detritus of popular culture, especially that concerni ...more

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