Conventional wisdom and plenty of books tell a story of how the post-World War II years saw a great shift take place in elite higher education: As a result of the G.I. Bill, the civil rights and women's movements, changing demographics, and some forward thinking academic leaders, you no longer needed to have the right ancestors and the right prep school to get into the top universities. Meritocracy emerged as a dominant force.
In his landmark demographic studies of black America, W.E.B. Du Bois found that by 1880, 54 black women had earned college degrees. A new book, Black Women in the Ivory Tower: 1850-1954 (University Press of Florida), tells the stories of these women and those who followed them in the period up to the end of legal segregation in the United States. The author of the book is Stephanie Y.