A World of Their Own: A History of South African Women’s Education by Meghan Healy-Clancy
This book is an elegantly written social history of Inanda Seminary, embedded in the wider social and political context throughout, and skilfully brings together a vast array of information relating to 140 years of African women’s schooling.
Through the prism of Inanda Seminary, this study examines how rising numbers of African women came to attend school and the meanings of their schooling in the making and unmaking of the racialised state. The mission schools that provided nearly all African schooling before apartheid prepared girls to run homes, schools and clinics on a shoestring, in an arrangement that appealed to officials. Yet as nationalist movements developed in the first half of the twentieth century, women from Inanda and peer institutions found in their work as teachers and health workers power to shape the future of ‘the race’. When apartheid officials came to power in 1948, they needed the skills of an African middle-class to govern. But they needed to undermine this class politically to rule. These tensions came to a head in the Bantu Education Act of 1953 which sought to resolve them through a gendered strategy: officials encouraged African women’s training as teachers and nurses, even as they attempted to limit African male-led political agitation by nationalising most mission schools and limiting their curricula to preparation for semi-skilled labour. From the interstices of racialised patriarchy, the most talented African female students at Inanda and other high schools used their schooling to push at personal, professional and political boundaries – belying the gendered assumptions of ‘separate development’.
In its gendered analysis and choice of subject matter this study can make an important contribution to South African education history. There are few studies of African women’s schooling in South Africa, and none of this academic weight.
— Dr Helen Ludlow, School of Education, University of the Witwatersrand
The author has deftly woven theoretical arguments about social reproduction and gender into the narrative, without these arguments obscuring the fascinating people and places she describes. The portraits of the successive headmistresses of the school are compelling, and she writes with great sensitivity and compassion about them and the constraints and opportunities in the era in which they pursued their calling.
— Sue Krige, Johannesburg-based heritage specialist
Meghan Healy-Clancy is a social historian of sub-Saharan Africa, with a Ph.D. in African Studies (2011) and an M.A. in History (2007) from Harvard University. She holds a dual appointment at Harvard College in the Committee on Degrees in History and Literature and in the Committee on Degrees in Social Studies.