by Mary Goljenboom
A can-do spirit marked the generation of young women attending college in the 1920s. They’d witnessed women’s great power and influence in enacting prohibition and voting rights. They’d seen how, during World War I, women not only had filled jobs traditionally held by men, but had excelled in them. They believed deeply that their success—in school or in their future careers—depended on their own determination and hard work.
This ambitious generation wanted to shape their futures: earn a living by performing meaningful work, live independently in apartments instead of in the family house, make their own decisions about friends and activities. The lives of their mothers and grandmothers, limited to the home, were too restricted for these independent young women.
But figuring out how to get the most from life raised many questions, offered many paths, and required many decisions. For the three thousand female students enrolled at Boston University in 1925, Lucy Jenkins Franklin, the university’s first dean of women, was there to help. “I’m here as an advisor, to make college, if possible, a happier and more beneficial place for our girls, and to make life more glorious.”
Franklin was familiar with the questions and decisions that perplexed her students. They weren’t that different from ones she and her classmates had twenty-five years earlier when Franklin was an undergraduate. She’d made choices in the ensuing years: studying oratory (public speaking) at Ohio Wesleyan University, where she earned a BA in 1904 and an MA three years later. Choosing a career in academia supplemented with occasional public performances created from popular works of the day, like Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. She’d married another academic, a professor of English, and had a child. She put together a life that included both career and family.
The current generation had opportunities in fields and professions that, twenty years before, Franklin and her cohorts could only dream of. Franklin believed modern young women needed to be educated differently than she and her classmates had been. “They must be trained for leadership whereas in the past they [young women] were merely protected and given an appreciation of the cultural advantages of an education,” she told the Boston Globe soon after starting at the university in December 1924.
Modern young women needed to be prepared to take an active part in life, Franklin believed, and that preparation started at the university. Franklin’s duties as dean of women included vocational advising to help students choose a field and take the classes necessary to get a job upon graduation.
Books, bibliographies, and brochures supplied the information, produced by individuals (like Catherine Filene who published Careers for Women in 1920) and organizations. Franklin used resources from the Bureau of Vocational Information (BVI), an educational research group headed by Emma P. Hirth. BVI collected data about fields that employed college-educated women. That data included: training required for the field; personal qualifications; best methods of entering the field; kinds of positions available and their duties; working conditions; salary ranges; and opportunities for advancement.
“I keep in touch with the bureau, so that I’ve a prospective job for every girl who wants one,” Franklin explained to a news service reporter in early 1925. “I’m here to suggest openings for girls who haven’t any idea of what they’d like to do.”
She also had a suggestions for young women grappling with the question of career or marriage and family. “My advice to girls who are contemplating matrimony and wavering between housework and business is, Try them both. If you are a competent enough woman, you can swing them. If they’re too much for you, give up the job.”
Franklin believed that every woman ultimately wanted “love, husband, home, and babies” and should, therefore, prioritize home life. “When a woman marries, her home, I feel sure, must mean more to her than this matter of economic independence.”
But room could be made for a career. Franklin had continued to work after her 1910 marriage but, when her son was born four years later, she stayed home. “I gave up five years to him and went back to work again. He was old enough then to leave in the care of my maid.”
A schedule, a cooperative husband who didn’t object to her working, and a maid to handle housework and childcare allowed Franklin to join Evansville College’s faculty in 1919 and Boston University’s five years later (her husband was also a faculty member at both schools). She scheduled breakfast and dinner as family time, although sometimes her work obligations (meetings, speeches, etc.) forced her to miss the family’s evening meal. At her son’s bedtime, one of the parents, usually Lucy, told him a story.
Franklin assumed without question that it was her responsibility—and that of every other married woman—to manage the household and family. She also assumed that a married woman’s income could be lost without deeply damaging the family’s financial wellbeing. Consequently, women had to find supports (like she did) or make trade-offs. “If hustling off to business each morning and coming home all weary to a disordered home and a delicatessen meal takes all the romance out of business, then my advice is stay home, young woman, and put your house in order,” she said in 1925. “But if you can keep your place well-ordered and your husband happy, and your children good, and rate a pay envelope on the side, then all power to you!” That remained her advice until she retired from BU in 1945.
Lucy Jenkins Franklin firmly believed in women’s education and ability to shape their futures. She helped Boston University’s female students plan careers and find meaningful work to support the independent lives they desired. She also advised her students to make choices that prioritized husband, home, and family, advise that many acted on. Above all, she believed that “there’s precious little a woman can’t do if she wants to badly enough.”
“Modern Girl All Right, Says New Dean of B.U.,” Boston Globe, 14 December 1924, accessed via Newspapers.com
“The First Dean of Women in American Education,” Tacoma (WA) Sunday Ledger, 8 February 1925, accessed via Newspapers.com [Note: Contrary to what the article’s title might suggest, Lucy Jenkins Franklin was not the first woman appointed dean of women at an American college. She was Boston University’s first dean of women.]
“Mrs. George B. Franklin Now Winning New Laurels,” Atlanta Constitution, 18 August 1912, accessed via Newspapers.com
“Lucy D. Jenkins Impersonator. Will Give Interpretative Recital at Euclid Avenue Friday Evening,” Zanesville (OH) Times Recorder, 9 April 1907, accessed via Newspapers.com
Career & Family: Women’s Century-Long Journey Toward Equity by Claudia Goldin (Princeton University Press, 2021)
Beyond the Typewriter: Gender, Class, and the Origins of Modern American Office Work, 1900—1930 by Sharon Hartman Strom (University of Illinois Press, 1992)
Lost Girls: The Invention of the Flapper by Linda Simon (Reaktion Books, 2017)
Boston University Annual Report of the President of the University for the Year 1924-1925, v.14 no.32 presented Nov. 24, 1925, accessed via Haithi Trust Digital Library https://hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015076485054?urlappend=%3Bseq=62%3Bownerid=13510798895575182-66
A history of the Position of Dean of Women in a Selected Group of Co-Educational Colleges and Universities in the United States by Lulu Holmes, PhD (Teachers College, Columbia University, 1939), accessed via Haithi Trust Digital Library https://hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015022406600
Training for the Professions and Allied Occupations; Facilities Available to Women in the United States by The Bureau of Vocational Information, (1924) accessed via Haithi Trust Digital Library https://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc1.$b45940
Careers for Women, edited by Catherine Filene (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1920) accessed via Haithi Trust Digital Library https://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc1.$b385238
A Guide to the Study Of Occupations: A Selected Critical Bibliography of the Common Occupations with Specific References for Their Study by Frederick J. Allen prepared under the auspices of the Bureau of Vocational Guidance, Graduate School of Education, Harvard University (1921) accessed via Haithi Trust Digital Library https://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc2.ark:/13960/t8mc93z6g
Library Work: An Opportunity for College Women by American Library Association (1920) accessed via Haithi Trust Digital Library https://hdl.handle.net/2027/umn.31951000935317e
“The New Position of Women in American Industry,” Bulletin of the Women’s Bureau, no.12, (US Dept of Labor, 1920) accessed via Haithi Trust Digital Library https://hdl.handle.net/2027/hvd.hl28l4
“Married women in industry” by Mary N. Winslow, Bulletin of the Women’s Bureau, no.38 (US Dept. of Labor, 1924) accessed via Haithi Trust Digital Library https://hdl.handle.net/2027/uiug.30112104139842
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