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

by Lynn Peril
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 17, 2006 0393327159 978-0393327151 1

The author of Pink Think takes on a twentieth-century icon: the college girl.

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 expressions as Sex Kittens Go to College (1960) and a raft of naughty pictorials in men’s magazines.

As in Pink Think, Lynn Peril combines women’s history and popular culture—peppered with delightful examples of femoribilia from the turn of the twentieth century through the 1970s—in an intelligent and witty study of the college girl, the first woman to take that socially controversial step toward educational equity.

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College Girls: Bluestockings, Sex Kittens, and Co-eds, Then and Now + Major Problems in American Women's History (Major Problems in American History (Wadsworth))
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Will her B.A. ruin her chances for an M-r-s.? Will too much study endanger her procreative organs? And if higher education is truly safe for a young woman, what sort of curriculum is appropriate? Greek and Latin? Home economics? According to Peril (Pink Think), in this history of women in colleges, ever since the first young ladies went off to their "dame schools" in early America, people have been debating such questions. Underlying these mentionable fears was one more worrisome: who would protect a girl's virtue when she lived away from home, surrounded by hormonal young men? As Peril makes clear, throughout history "[a]dults inevitably get their granny-sized panties in a bunch when it comes to the sexcapades of the younger generation." True, she's focused on prescriptive material more than the actual experiences of co-eds in various eras, but it's eye-opening to see how consistently advice-givers and advertisers have played on the same few anxieties regarding the female student. The material that Peril has included on student experiences—particularly the stories of women at historically black colleges—helps balance the text. Peril's witty, irreverent style, her generous use of old advertisements and photos and her careful footnotes make this text unusually user-friendly. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Peril follows Pink Think (2002) with another witty and humorous look at women's history. This time she takes her interest in pop culture and feminism onto the college campuses of the past, and the result is a book packed with information on everything from dress codes and etiquette to sororities and "woman--oriented curriculum." In the midst of ads from companies such as Borden asking, "Do college girls make better wives?" Peril offers serious discussions of the numerous rules and regulations applied to women from the moment of acceptance until graduation and questions of race. She has also uncovered society's view of female education, coming up with such sterling quotes as this from the New York Times: "The terrors of Greek, the intricacies of mathematics, the mysteries of psychology--all pale before the laborious tolls of the laundry course, which requires good, stout muscle and a cheery heart rather than quick wits and a vocabulary." Researchers and pleasure readers alike will find a great deal to appreciate in Peril's fresh and engaging work. Colleen Mondor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (August 17, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393327159
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393327151
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 6.2 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #766,865 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Lynn Peril has been writing since she could hold a pencil. She is the author of three books, pens the long-running "Museum of Femoribilia" column at Bust Magazine, and contributes regularly to the HiLo Heroes series at Her writing has also appeared in the New York Times, London's Guardian newspaper, Ms. Blog, as well as on National Public Radio's All Things Considered. She lives in Oakland, California, with her husband and two black-and-white cats.

Come and visit me at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rah! Rah! Rah! October 1, 2006
As a longtime fan of Peril's -- from her absolutely excellent 'zine "Mystery Date" to her monthly "Museum of Femorabilia" column in BUST Magazine to her first book "Pink Think" -- I could not wait to get my hands on her latest book, "College Girls." In fact, I pre-ordered it on Amazon when I had first heard about it. And it did not disappoint. Full of facts, history, and yes -- a "we've come a long way, baby" feeling, but written in an engaging, accessible way that kept me going from the first page to the last, never feeling I was mired down in sermonizing. Peril's wit and superior knowledge (and what a reference library from which she culls!) takes us through history, with lots of fantastic anecdotes along the way. She tackles the serious (ie the first female scholars, racism, in loco parentis) and the fun (fashion, spreads, and time honored traditions). The well-chosen pictures that accompany the text are marvelous, too. It made me realize how lucky I was to be a college girl because of all the women who paved the way for me, and grateful because Peril wrote it all down. Every "sweet girl graduate" I know -- whether they are graduating from middle or high school, college, or did so long ago -- will be getting this book from me. Highly, highly rtecommended.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Never Be Sorry for Getting Educated September 6, 2007
In this interesting read, author Lynn Peril chronicles the birth and development of the college girl. Ever since she appeared on the scene in the 19th century, the college girl has been the hot topic of conversation, incurring the curiosity--and wrath--of everyone from writers and philosophers to doctors and parents to social commentators. Whether it was doctors wondering whether "too much" education "endangered" her reproductive organs (Dr. Edward Clarke, who considered himself an expert in this area, claimed that too much education would leave a female college graduate with "undeveloped" ovaries) or books and magazines ("Seventeen" and "Better Homes and Gardens", just to mention a few) advising college-educated girls and women not to be "too smart" to avoid scaring away potential suitors or schools wondering whether women should learn "male" subjects such as math, history, ancient languages, and philosophy or "female" subjects such as learning how to fix and operate an iron, the college girl has been constantly scutinized, ridiculed, and regulated over the years (and unfortunately, even today), all just for wanting to get an education.

Not only does this book contain a history of the college girl, it also contains some interesting info on the history of the women's colleges, such as Vassar, Mount Holyoke, Wellesley, and Bryn Mawr, among many others. But most importantly, I came away with an important message that's not in the book, but that I will pass on to you and that is: Never be sorry for wanting to get an education. No piece of advice, no warning, no admonishment, no outrageous medical or scientific claim should ever stop you or me.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars College girls ` March 28, 2007
I always wondered what they were doing over there in the Girls Dorms. Now Lynn Peril has written a work which traces the development of women in the college world. While she starts with a first graduate in 1631 her focus is on developments from mid-nineteenth century to the nineteen - seventies. In this the theme of women's achieving equality in freedom over their own private lives is central. The world of over- supervision, and restriction yielded in time to the not necessarily happy one of women 'hooked up' in relationships in which sexual pleasure became 'ego trip' and intimacy and love, left on the sidelines. In between however there is the realm where greater woman's freedom and autonomy were at the heart of a general liberalization of campus life.

Peril uses a wide variety of sources to trace the developments in fashion, in style, in sleeping arrangements, in attitudes towards the marital and career prospects of college women. She makes use of students handbooks and yearbooks, advice manuals, popular novels. She provides a full picture of what their lives were like, and how they were transformed through the decades.

One central question again relates to intimacy and the dignity of women, with a strong suggestion that rampant promiscuity is not a sign of liberation but rather of a new kind of enslavement. Apparently the fuddy- duddies had it a bit right when they suggest that for most women sexual pleasure must come in the context of loving and committed relationships if they are to satisfy their deepest human needs.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Super fun read September 23, 2006
Funny! All the girls on my Christmas list will be getting this book. There are a ton of important, mind-boggling, and otherwise forgotten women's history stories in it, but without the grim voice we're all so used to in feminist writing.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A RIVETING ROMP September 23, 2006
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Lynn Peril has done it again! Just as she did with her first book, PINK THINK, she's wrangled tons of research, thousands of facts, and hundreds of personal anecdotes into a concise and well-written whole. Tackling this immense topic- the history of women in college and popular culture's reaction to it -Peril makes the varsity team and wins the pennant for a facinating and funny read!
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