College Students

In the United States in the nineteenth century, most college students, with few exceptions, were white males from elite families. Few universities admitted women or African Americans. The nation's earliest universities were established by Christian denominations, but college education, however, often served as much to provide social and cultural capital for aspiring social elites as much as practical knowledge (Roger L. Geiger, The History of American Higher Education, 267). From their findings throughout the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, American universities exposed college students primarily to classical liberal arts curricula, including classical languages, logic, and the natural sciences, though that education expanded to broader subjects throughout the nineteenth century.

Many colleges and universities, especially but not exclusively in the South, built their schools and supported their white student populations with enslaved labor. In many universities in slave states, students brought enslaved persons with them to universities. American colleges and universities, as well as their students, therefore profited from the enslaved labor of African Americans while institutionalizing educational and wealth inequality between white and Black Americans as well as between men and women of both races. However, other colleges, such as Oberlin College in Ohio, admitted women and African Americans even in the antebellum period.

In 1862, the Morrill Land Grant Act set aside federal property to be used to establish colleges devoted to agricultural and mechanical studies, broadening both the student population and curriculum of American universities. After Emancipation, many African Americans established colleges and universities across the nation, now known as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) to increase Black Americans' access to higher education, though the full integration of higher education in the nation would not come until a century later during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s (Roger L. Geiger, The History of American Higher Education; Wikipedia).

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