Philadelphia, City of Women, a class in Women’s Studies at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute

Cynthia Little

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Temple University

Instructor: Cynthia Little, Historian

Elizabeth Quigley


Cynthia Little has been a welcomed addition to the OLLI 2021/2022 class year, where she deftly braided the early political awakenings realized by American women from the 1600’s to the freedoms we enjoy today.


Ms. Little first came to Philadelphia in 1969 to accept a position at Bucks County Community College. Here she first discovered Betty Friedan’s, The Feminine Mystique, a life-changing read that converted Ms. Little to become an out-front feminist. She attended consciousness-raising groups and paid attention to the protests and issues coming forward. She realized women were being left out of the story of life. In 1971 Ms. Little decided to explore aspects of the history of women in South America, which became the basis of her doctorate. When a professor told her the women of South America did not have a history, Ms. Little replied, “Well, I think they probably do. They’ve been there the whole time, so there is something.”


She resigned her position at Bucks County Community College to go full time at Temple, and  attended one of the first women’s history courses taught at Temple by Dr. Allen F. Davis. This  course strengthened her focus on American women’s history. He suggested Ms. Little, and a co-student with mutual interests, do something to generate interest in women’s history on the streets. They created what became Feminist Tours of Philadelphia. They did not think anyone would show interest, but “all of these people showed up!” They raised money for the women’s political caucus while doing something they both felt strongly about.


Ms. Little found the Library of Congress and the Pan American Union Library to be incredible sources of material, and ended writing a paper on the women of Argentina in the early 20th century, focusing on their demands for civil rights and on women’s suffrage. Not too different from what was going on in this country at the same time.  


Ms. Little has always been very partial to the 1830’s, forties and fifties and has had a longtime interest in the women’s anti-slavery movement. Her reading of The Berkley Sisters of South Carolina, along with The Feminine Mystique, made it clear to her these women were doing things hardly ever put into the history books. She sees a huge contrast for women between then and now. Women today are responsible for themselves, and are able to get credit or open their own bank accounts. Things we’ve forgotten were not once part of our fabric of life. She is glad so many of us did stand up in various ways and help make substantial changes. It is quite tragic, really, that we are having some of the same discussions now, fifty years later.


Ms. Little is considering something on the same topic for 2022/23, but doing a more recent period of 1970-1985, adding to the format some “mover and shaker” speakers who are still with us. We can’t wait to see what’s next from her.