Beirut College for Women (BCW)

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Four year college for the education of women in Lebanon, now a member college of the Lebanese American University of Beirut.

In 1914, the American Mission for Lebanon and Syria discussed developing a more demanding curriculum for its American School for Girls, founded in 1860, and drafted a plan for the American Junior Women's College. In 1924 the American Protestant mission received authorization to develop the junior college, and the Presbyterian Church of America in New York supplied the faculty and administration.

During its first year, the college enrolled eight students, five of whom continued on to the sophomore year. In June 1926, three of them graduated: Munira Barbir, Saniyya Habbub, and Armenouchic Megnodichian. Both Habbub and Megnodichian went on to become doctors. During 19361937 academic year, the junior college moved to larger accommodations in Raʾs Beirut. Classes included history, sociology, psychology, chemistry, math, biology, religion, languages, and athletics. Students participated in sports, class trips, and various clubs. During the summers the college created a "village welfare camp," where student interns visited villages and taught girls and women various skills, such as literacy, childcare, and handicrafts.

After World War II, the junior college applied for four-year institutional status due to the high interest in developing education in the region. One of the most notable students to study at the college during that period was the young Princess Fatmeh, the shah of Iran's sister. On its twenty-fifth anniversary (19491950), the school was granted a provisional charter to award the degree of Bachelor of Arts as it graduated its first senior class. In March 1955, the college was granted an absolute charter as a four-year institution and changed its name to the Beirut College for Women. Soon after, the Lebanese government recognized the college's bachelor's degree and allowed its graduates to register for the examinations for major government appointments.

The college produced two newspapers. Veils Up was dedicated to the eradication of illiteracy and poverty, and to the promotion of mother-child healthcare. The College Tribune was the first attempt by young women to tackle such issues as the role of women in politics and the labor force.

In 1973, the college became coeducational and changed its name to Beirut University College. In the same year, it established the Institute for Women's Studies in the Arab World (IWSAW). The institute researches and documents women's status in the Arab world, publishing a quarterly journal called alRaʾida (The pioneer).

Improvements to the college came to a halt in 1975, when war broke out in Lebanon. From 1975 until 1990, very little quality education was available at any level. However, during that period, female enrollment rose while the number of male students declined. Also beginning in the mid-1970s, the college's administrators were Arab rather than American. During the civil war years IWSAW assumed an important, albeit informal, role as a research center and provider of services to widows and orphans, and it received significant financial support through grants from the Ford Foundation and several European governments. In 1978, Beirut University College decentralized its operations and opened a branch in the north, near Byblos, and one in the south of Lebanon, in Saida. After the war, developing and strengthening the university became a priority. In 1994, the New York Board of Regents approved another name change, to the Lebanese American University, reflecting its status as a full-fledged university. By the year 2002, it was a thriving coeducational institution and boasted more than 5,000 students, graduate as well as undergraduate.

see also gender: gender and education; lebanese civil war (1958); lebanese civil war (19751990); lebanon.


Bashshur, Munir. "The Role of Education: A Mirror of a Fractured National Image." In Toward a Viable Lebanon, edited by Halim Barakat. Washington, DC: Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, 1988.

Dodge, Bayard. The American University of Beirut: A Brief History of the University and the Lands Which It Serves. Beirut: alKhayat Publishing, 1958.

Khairallah, Shereen. The Sisters of Men. Beirut: IWSAW, Lebanese American University, 1996.

Lebanese American University. Available at <>.

Lebanese American University Academic Catalogue 1996. Beirut: Focus Press, 1996.

Roberts, Donald. The Beirut College for Women: A Short History. Beirut: Beirut College for Women, 1958.

Mirna Lattouf