Educating girls apart from boys may seem like an anachronism these days, but there still are good reasons for it. Girls' schools are places where girls can focus on learning, enjoy gender solidarity, learn to be leaders, and so much else.
I know from experience because I lived for three high school years at a small girls' school, Westover School in Middlebury, Connecticut, which is still miraculously a place only for girls.
A few weeks ago I returned for alumnae weekend because alumna Laura English has turned my history of the school's first one hundred years, Westover: Giving Girls a Place of Their Own, into an audiobook, and I wanted to celebrate with her.
Returning made me remember that female communities have old roots and are sometimes fictionalized as utopias, like in Matrix by Lauren Groff, a recent novel that describes the way a clever nun turns a poor twelfth-century convent into a prosperous one.
There's also the amusing satirical novel, Herland, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman about a female utopia, which was written about the same time as Westover opened its doors in 1909.
Of course, no place is perfect, and when I attended Westover it was much stricter, more isolated, and less diverse than it is today. Now girls from many backgrounds, religions, and races study there from around the world. Nevertheless, it was where I was inspired to become a writer and learned to develop a daily writing rhythm. I even eventually settled into a village like Middlebury.
Laura English narrated the text of the audiobook while I narrated the preface, "My Westover," written in the first person. In it, I explained that despite thinking that I wasn't really "living" in a cloistered school, Westover was where I felt safe to experiment and intellectually stimulated. "Looking back," I wrote, "I'm grateful that my Real Life was delayed a few years so I could imagine the life I really wanted to live."
Listen to Laura English read from Westover: Giving Girls a Place of Their Own
(Click to find the audio sample beneath the audiobook image on the Amazon page)