we call it a women's college, not a girls' school
February 1, 2013 11:00 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for books like Anne of the Island and Daddy-Long-Legs.

I think there used to be a fairly large genre of books devoted to students' adventures at women's colleges, but I'm not sure where to look or which ones are good. Romance is good, funny is good, long descriptions of studying Latin late at night are fantastic. Have you read any like this that you can recommend? Public domain is a plus.
posted by chaiminda to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: When Patty Went to College, also by Jean Webster. I loved it.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:19 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You might find this list a good starting point: it is a selected bibliography of college stories by Smith graduates. Jean Webster was a Smith grad and she's on there!

Here are the results of a Goodreads search for books shelved under "college-girls" that might interest you. You can scan down the pages (there are LOTS of results, over 400) to see which were published in the era that interests you.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:42 AM on February 1, 2013

Anne of the Island is set at a co-ed university, not a woman's college. It's still a good book and an interesting portrayal of university life for women in c1900, but I just wanted to note that in case it mattered.

Do you want more suggestions for novels about women at university, or only at women's universities? The other one I thought of was Tam Lin by Pamela Dean, which is both contemporary and at a co-ed institution, but a very interesting depiction of women at university in the early 1970s.
posted by jb at 11:52 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: You're right that she's not at a women's college! But that doesn't matter much - I'm more interested in the time period (pre-1960, let's say).
posted by chaiminda at 12:14 PM on February 1, 2013

Best answer: It's secondary school, but Miles Franklin's The Getting of Wisdom is the same sort of story - a naive girl coming of age in a female-only educational institution at the turn of the 20th century. It's an Australian classic, and rightly so.
posted by goo at 12:31 PM on February 1, 2013

Best answer: I'm going out on a limb here, but how about Cherry Ames?

Sure, it's technically Young Adult, and it was cranked out like sausage at the dawn of WWII.

It chronicles the adventures of Cherry Ames, a nursing student. My mom had a whole set that she had hung onto from her girlhood, and I loved them.

They're from the same publisher as Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, so there are lots and lots of adventures.

My favorites are Cherry Ames, Student Nurse. Cherry Ames, Senior Nurse. Cherry Ames, Visiting Nurse and Cherry Ames, Cruise Ship Nurse.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:39 PM on February 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: If you don't mind a dash of murder mystery, Josephine Tey's Miss Pym Disposes might be your cup of tea. Set at a women's athletic college, mostly depicted from the perspective of an outsider, but Tey had herself attended such a college and provides plenty of material, comic and otherwise, on student friendships and hijinks. Published in 1948, now public domain.

See also Gaudy Night, 1935, by Dorothy Sayers. Detective romance, set at an Oxford women's college (again, like the one the author attended). Lots of good period stuff on gender in academia, some of it a bit more fraught than what you're seeking. Less focussed on students, more on staff. As for studying Latin, the main characters already consider it habitual mental furniture, to be deployed during crucial love-scene negotiations.
posted by feral_goldfish at 12:42 PM on February 1, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: From hurdy gurdy girl's list, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is a good one, at least for part of it.

Savage Beauty by Nancy Milford, has some good descriptions of Edna St. Vincent Millay's time at a women's college, especially the adventures/pranks she was involved in. It's a biography though.

Alice Munro has a few short stories that are about girls in college.

But the closest books I can think of that are similar to that turn-of-the-century college environment are the four high school books in the Betsy-Tacy series. Competing in an essay contest for the school's fraternities, staying up all night to finish a botany project, etc. Great descriptions of close female friendships.
posted by book 'em dano at 12:59 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There are heaps of British girls' school books – it's an entire genre. Angela Brazil wrote a lot of them that are now public domain. Enid Blyton didn't restrict herself to school stories but there are the Malory Towers and St. Clare's series.

Arguably it's Charlotte Brontë who really started this whole thing off. Jane Eyre has a sequence at a dreadful school, and Villette is all about a young woman who runs away to Europe and ends up teaching English in a school where she encounters some very odd personalities. Those are more than old enough to be public domain.

On the American side, Susan Coolidge wrote books for girls that are all in the public domain now. "What Katy Did at School" is a classic girls' school story.
posted by zadcat at 1:01 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you're going to explore Cherry Ames, you must check out her camp persona redux Cherry Aimless in The Case of the Not So Nice Nurse and sequels (not public domain, but plenty of copies for 99 cents on alibris). Retro comic romp that is clearly steeped in its source material and provides many of the same pleasures, but with extra lightness, vivacity, and cultural historicism: the queer subtext never quite becomes text, but illuminates and restores past cultural milieux.
posted by feral_goldfish at 1:03 PM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie? It's less convivial, humorous but not haha-funny though.

And even though this is a memoir and not a novel, Testament of Friendship by Vera Brittain may be worth taking a look at as she writes about her friend Winifred Holtby, whom she met in Oxford.
posted by peripathetic at 2:54 PM on February 1, 2013

Please excuse my brainfart re my answer above: The Getting of Wisdom is by Henry Handel Richardson! My Brilliant Career is the novel by Miles Franklin - it's great but doesn't involve a school as far as I remember.
posted by goo at 3:57 PM on February 1, 2013

The Little Colonel books start when she is 6 years old and go until she gets married. Quite a few are set in women's boarding schools, although they're high school, not college.
posted by Addlepated at 7:15 PM on February 1, 2013

it's not set in college but it is about a young woman coming into adulthood, learning, maturing - Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott, a sequel to Eight Cousins, and one of my favorite books.

I loved Daddy Long Legs too, and don't think it's much read anymore - but since I loved both books you list and Rose in Bloom, I think you'll like it too.
posted by Miko at 8:30 PM on February 1, 2013

Three Vassar Girls Abroad (1883) starts at the college.
posted by betweenthebars at 10:58 PM on February 1, 2013

I'm late with this, but you may be interested in A Suppressed Cry: The Short Life of a Victorian Daughter: Life and Death of a Quaker Daughter by Victoria Glendinning. It's biography and has some detail about the protagonist's time at Newnham College in the 1880s. No to romance, no to funny, but yes to descriptions of studying Latin late at night (in general, anyway, can't swear to actual subject and time).
posted by sock of ages at 6:35 PM on June 30, 2013

« Older Superb Owl Sunday Party   |   What are some good books on post-revolution Libya? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.