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Give the Work of the Woman Head of a Household
the Status of a Profession

Meeting of Alumnae Association, Assembly Hall, Reunion at Vassar College, Poughkeepsie NY


Are some of you thinking that, after all, wisdom makes its own contribution through the individual to the home finally; that good parents — the only numerous class of parents — create good households; and that the natural devotion of mothers can still be trusted?

May I reply that mother love can be trusted but that we presume upon it. Maternal affection is the most precious survival of instinctive life. By its motive power millions of women daily perform miracles of patient toil but Nature has withdrawn from the human mother the instinctive wisdom which, as Fabre has shown, she bestows so lavishly upon the hymenoptera.

What may we not hope for the culture of the race when we put at the service of the human mother’s intelligence the continually growing discoveries of research?

I do not propose a small thing nor a cheap thing in urging that the present status of the education of women demands a new specialization to be signalized by the creation of centers of study and research in the service of family life. It means not only great endowment of money, it means the greater endowment of trained minds set to the task of working out the expedients of fashioning the tools of expression by which that profound maternal instinct, reinforced by intelligence, may freely work out the destiny of the young of the race.

It is no less than a revolution which is implied. Its aim is to give the work of the woman head of a household the status of a profession. The change in this direction has already begun and I have referred to the many beginnings of teaching applied household economics as a sign of the coming change. The question is whether the women of the higher education shall strengthen the movement directly and avowedly.

Earlier, when individual development was the goal of education, how often was it said of a woman, “Now she is married. What good will all that education do her?”

With the highest education creating great centers of study through which to utilize and coordinate the observations of mothers, do we not begin to see at once a new application for the higher education?

Mothers of the next generation will not need to resign themselves to the limitations of their fate but rather to equip themselves for its illimitable opportunities. Instead of being isolated by the narrow life of home, through it the mother allies herself to the highest studies and makes invaluable contributions as a sheer by-product of her daily cares.

The legal emancipation of women is coming fast. The rapidity of her further educational emancipation rests with herself. Now it is partial: the recognized professions she may enter — those which will always invite a small minority of women. It is for her to make the great occupation of women a profession, to see that the highest education trains those who shall contribute toward that profession’s success.

The initiative for the highest education applied to the service of the family rests with women. The carrying out must be done jointly by men and women since, diverse as may be their daily tasks, the interests of men and women cannot be separated; both are joined in the great onward march of the race toward that mysterious end which we love to call justice.



Source: Addams, Jane, My Friend, Julia Lathrop, (Macmillan Company), 1935, pp. 30-31.