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A World of Their Own

A History of South African Women’s Education
Meghan Healy-Clancy

BUY Paper · 328 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813936086 · $29.50 · Jun 2014
BUY Ebook · 328 pp. · ISBN 9780813936093 · $29.50 · Jun 2014

The politics of black education has long been a key issue in southern African studies, but despite rich debates on the racial and class dimensions of schooling, historians have neglected their distinctive gendered dynamics. A World of Their Own is the first book to explore the meanings of black women’s education in the making of modern South Africa. Its lens is a social history of the first high school for black South African women, Inanda Seminary, from its 1869 founding outside of Durban through the recent past.

Employing diverse archival and oral historical sources, Meghan Healy-Clancy reveals how educated black South African women developed a tradition of social leadership, by both working within and pushing at the boundaries of state power. She demonstrates that although colonial and apartheid governance marginalized women politically, it also valorized the social contributions of small cohorts of educated black women. This made space for growing numbers of black women to pursue careers as teachers and health workers over the course of the twentieth century. After the student uprisings of 1976, as young black men increasingly rejected formal education for exile and street politics, young black women increasingly stayed in school and cultivated an alternative form of student politics. Inanda Seminary students’ experiences vividly show how their academic achievements challenged the narrow conceptions of black women’s social roles harbored by both officials and black male activists. By the transition to democracy in the early 1990s, black women outnumbered black men at every level of education—introducing both new opportunities for women and gendered conflicts that remain acute today.


A World of Their Own offers a substantial, indeed pioneering, exploration of the social history of black female education in South Africa. This rich and coherent study of Inanda Seminary illuminates wider issues around religion, family, domesticity, female employment, racial policy, and elite transition, yet it retains a human face and voice, and a sense of the interconnecting familial networks of African women nurtured by this historic mission institution.

Deborah Gaitskell, University of London

Meghan Healy-Clancy has deftly woven theoretical arguments about social reproduction and gender into the narrative without these arguments obscuring the fascinating people and places she describes.

Sue Krige, coauthor of Soweto, 16 June 1976: Personal Accounts of the Uprising

Meghan Healy-Clancy provides us with an important new perspective on women's education through the history of of the prominent Inanda Seminary....[W]ith its revealing educational statistics and exploration of a myriad of issues in addition to missionary and state ideals (including sexulaity and protest), this work will undoubtedly serve as a foundation for future studies on women's education in South Africa.

The International Journal of African Historical Studies

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