Gender, education and modernization : women school teachers in the late Ottoman Empire
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This dissertation offers a case study on the intersection of gender and modernization in the Middle East within the context of the 19th century Ottoman modernization project. It analyzes the position of Muslim/Turkish women in the Ottoman Empire between the years of 1870 and 1922 through a prosopographic study of the first professional women in Turkish history, the schoolteachers known as the muallimat. In 1870 Ottoman educational reformers opened Darülmuallimat, the Women Teachers' Training College, to train female instructors for the recently established girls' middle schools. This training and employment opportunity created by the government provided favorable conditions for Muslim women to fashion a respectable career for themselves as teachers and to forge a new definition of femininity which was based on the convergence of the traditional and the modern. This study provides a multi-faceted portrait of the muallimat by examining their respective socio-economic profiles, educational backgrounds, income levels, living standards and family lives. It also offers a revision of the official Republican narrative which claims that the "universally suppressed" Muslim/Turkish women were emancipated only under the auspices of Atatürk's secular westernization reforms. The experience of the muallimat clearly defies the oversimplified conception of "Islamic patriarchal oppression" and demonstrates that Ottoman women teachers played a significant role in shaping their own future and the future of the society at large. My study relies primarily on the records of the Ottoman Ministry of Education. To supplement the official sources, I also utilize material from the Ottoman women's press as well as the biographies and autobiographies of women writers of the period and various other late Ottoman literary works. Together, the archival and other primary material help to illuminate major aspects of the late Ottoman era women school teachers' professional and personal experiences.