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A New Phase of the Higher Education
of Women in America:
Barnard College

February 24, 1891 — National Council of Women of the United States, Washington DC


The affiliated college is not indigenous in America. Coming to us from other shores, it has been greeted by us as a stranger, and not a very welcome one. I purpose to-day to explain the character and genius of this stranger, and to change the cold glances and half-hearted recognition into a hearty grasp of the hand, a cordial acknowledgment that from other shores can come new s sources of stimulus and growth.

I have not assumed an easy task;  the affiliated college stands midway between the college for women the one hand and the educational college the other.  You will call it a compromise, possibly it is. The The chief difficulty with compromise is that escaping as it does the violent opposition of either adversary, it must also renounce the enthusiastic support of both. At best, it must accept the difficult platform of courteous indifference. On the one side, the co-educationalists scorn the necessity for any separation of the sexes; on the other, the believers in the college for women wax equally wroth at the acknowledged dependence upon a college for men.

The affiliated college is the outcome of two things; first , the necessity for correct standards in the education of women; second, the English University system. We all know that there is such a thing as an established standard in England; we all know that a new college, endowed there with no matter how many millions, could not hope for a very long time to obtain the rank and prestige of the two great Universities. Possibly it may reflect on the narrowness of the English mind that it cannot grasp all the potential grandeur and omniscience that lie in the young college born of yesterday; possibly it points to a deficiency in their vision that the English people cannot so readily see into the future. Or can it be that our own far-sightedness might need correcting-glasses quite as much as the myopia of the English?

As early as 1850 England had two separate colleges for women, Queen’s and Bedford. But the general hopeless condition of the girls’ schools was not materially improved by the existence of these colleges. It was not until a wave of indignation swept over the entire country , some twelve years later, insisting that the standard of female education must be raised , that a movement was started which did finally succeed not only in creating a correct standard, but, in fact, in revolutionizing the whole subject of woman’s education and in enlarging the entire sphere of woman.

This movement was the opening of the Local Examinations of the University of Cambridge, in 1863, to girls; a movement which was soon after followed by the more conservative University of Oxford. The University tests were recognized everywhere; they became current coin. The low standards and thoroughly inadequate training of the girls’ schools were henceforth to be impossible. Not only did these examinations create a much-needed standard, but they also served to prepare the public mind in the only way then possible to accept the idea of the education of women beyond that of the school. The logical outcome of this movement to open the University examinations to women was to furnish in some way the proper instruction for them  Hence, in 1869, the first affiliated college was opened, Girton College, affiliated with the University of Cambridge. At the present moment there exist two colleges affiliated with the University of Cambridge, and I think there has lately been added a third to the two at the University of Oxford. I am not reading  of he affiliated college. First we find the necessity for correct standards in the education of women; second the admission of women to the University examinations in order to create this correct standard; third, the opening of colleges to women to furnish the instruction for the examinations.

The same sequence has taken place here in America. A body of people in Boston, seeing the necessity for correct standards in the education of women, established the system of local examinations for Harvard College. These were first held in Cambridge, Massachusetts, later in New York, Philadelphia, and other large cities. After five years’ test the third stage was reached, and it was proposed to provide for the instruction as well as the examination. The Society for the Collegiate Instruction of Women by the Professors and other Instructors of Harvard College was founded in 1878, and governs what is usually dubbed the “Harvard Annex.”

The Harvard examinations doubtless have had a large influence on the girls’ schools in the cities in which they have been held; but it is impossible to expect for them the same wide-spreading influence as the English examinations. The centrifugal forces — if I may call them so — at work in our college system to-day forbid this. Where is there one college — or where are there even two colleges — the traditions of which will be accepted throughout our entire country?

We see in the Harvard Annex, in 1878, the first appearance in America of our stranger, — the affiliated college. What is an affiliated college? I suppose I can no longer put off answering that question, notwithstanding the difficulty of arriving at a definition that will accurately describe the three American affiliated colleges when each one represents a different phase of the same system. Some one has said the raison d’étre of the affiliated college is “the economy which applies to a new purpose resources already organized and tested.” I shall define the affiliated college as a college that exists in order to extend to women the advantages of some neighboring college or university for men. Educationally, the affiliated college has no separate existence from that of the university with which it is affiliated. In its chartered organization, in its financial administration, and in its physical position only is it separate. An important point remember in defining the affiliated college that it may or may not have received any official recognition from the University with which it is affiliated. Such official recognition is not an essential attribute of the affiliated college.

I shall boldly add that the affiliated college system seizes the essential principles of both the co-educational college and the separate college for women. “What,” you say, “this despised stranger this mere make-shift, dares to claim for itself the essential principles of both the co-education college and the separate college for women? This is claimed for a college which neither dares to merge itself wholly in a college for men nor yet to stand forth bravely alone, for a system which weakly holds on to the college for men, as a tender nursling to its parent’s hand! This is a disgraceful position for a woman’s college at the end of the nineteenth century, and should not be countenanced!”

But as I take it, the true essential of the co-educational college is the identity of standard in education, not the identity of sex. The co-educational college has had an immense influence in proving that women can attain to the same intellectual heights as men, in proving that the physical and mental strain is no harder on the one sex than on the other, and in silencing forever an immense amount of twaddle that used to be uttered periodically upon the subject of woman’s education. But our greatest debt to the co-educational college lies in the fact that it has created and sustained a single education standard for both men and women. I never could really believe that the boast of the co-educational college could be that the men and women receive heir instruction at precisely the same instant and in precisely the same class-room. Surely these are non-essentials, and I am right in saying that the true essential of the c-educational college is the creation of a single educational standard for both men and women. And this I claim is also the true essential of the affiliated college.

Thus we see the co-educational college and the affiliated college aiming for the same result, the creating of the one educational standard for men and women.

And in the same way, I never could bring myself to believe that the essential principle of the separate college women could prove that women can get along very well without men that women can succeed having magnificent building and large endowments.The true essential of the separate college for women, as I take it, is the simplification of the social machinery as compared with that of the co-educational college.

Now, when I speak of co-educational, I must confess that I speak from the unenlightened point of view of the Easterner. I must emphasize that I speak of the system only as I see it in the East. I understand that it is the simplest and most natural method in the West. I understand that the graduate of the separate college there is more apt to be the subject of remark than the graduate of the co-educational college. I hope some day to be able to study the effects of co-education as they appear in the Western States, but until then, and belonging as I do to what Professor Bryce refers to as the “more complex civilization of the East,” I am forced to limit my observations to co-education as it appears in my part of the country.

I am aware that I am guilty of heresy in claiming for the separate college the attributes of simplicity and unconsciousness. I know that the c-educationalists look upon their method as the only simple and natural one; I know further that they look upon the separate college as the highly artificial and unnatural result of a highly artificial and unnatural civilization. But we women are very apt to run away with an idea, and to argue upon what ought to be rather than what is. The question is not, Ought co-education to be the natural and simple method of educating men and women? not. Ought the two sexes to receive their education together in a thoroughly harmonious and natural way? but it is, Is co-education natural and simple? Do the sexes receive their education together in a thoroughly harmonious and natural way? Now, judging as well as I can from my unenlightened point of view of what I have seen and heard of co-education, it is not the most simple and natural method, — at least to-day.

It seems to me that there is really nothing more important at this stage of woman’s progress than that women should take their new privileges a little more simply and naturally, as unconsciously and with as little effort as possible. And it seems to me that the young girl pursuing her studies along with those of her sex, with the whole vexed question untouched (for, remember, I am not speaking of a part of the country where they tell me it has ceased to be a question), without the self-consciousness that must come of the self-restraint and additional restrictions that are placed upon her , and the feeling that so many critical eyes are watching the experiment, — it seems to me, I repeat, that this young girl is acquiring her education in a more simple and natural way than her sister who goes to the co-educational college. Now , if we can combine the simplicity and unconsciousness that are the essentials of the separate college for women with the identity of standard that is the essential of the co-educational college, I should think we have arrived at a very good thing, and we have the affiliated college, which, notwithstanding a tendency on the part of America to dub it an Annex, is a very good thing.

After this glance at the principle of the affiliated college, let us glance at the the three types the system they exist day in America. The first, as I have said before, is the Harvard Annex, founded in 1878 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which is governed by an incorporated society, the Society for the Collegiate Instruction Women the Professors and other Instructors Harvard College. This society has no official connection whatever with Harvard College. Go to Harvard, and the officials will tell you there that the Annex has nothing whatever to do with the College;  they will further inform you that the Annex not even affiliated with Harvard College. In this latter position some well-known educators will concur, but I am strongly of the opinion, after giving some thought and attention to the subject, that they official recognition on the part of the University does not, in any way, affect the fact of affiliation. Neither Newnham nor Girton has received official recognition from the University of Cambridge, and yet they are the founders of the system, and in some ways they possess advantages over any affiliated colleges in the world. These colleges exist in order to “extend to women the advantages of a neighboring college for men,” they are separately chartered, and they are under separate financial administration; therefore I have called them affiliated colleges. Notwithstanding the lack of official connection between Harvard and the “Annex,” there are fourteen Professors and Instructors of Harvard College in charge of the lectures given at the Annex. The University Library open courtesy the students the Annex and far possible the museums and observatory The students the Annex may take special courses without reference the regular collegiate course out the one hundred and sixty four students present one hundred and nineteen are specials.

It is important to remember that the students of the Harvard Annex did not receive any degree; they receive a degree-certificate from the governing society, which reads practically to the effect that so-and-so has met every requirement necessary to receive the degree that is granted by the University of Harvard except for the lamentable deficiency in sex.

The second affiliated college is Evelyn College, affiliated in 1888 with the University of New Jersey, at Princeton. This new affiliated college differs from the “ Annex ” in the fact that it is incorporated as a College not as a Society, and in that connection with the College men is somewhat more formal the President the University New Jersey being on its Board, although it has never received any real official recognition. Another new feature of Evelyn is that it confers its own degrees upon its graduated. Now, this is a very important feature, and one that in my eyes stamps the institution as lacking in the true essential of the affiliated college, which is the identity of standard in the education of me and women. To my thinking, this identity of standard is best accomplished by the affiliated college in maintaining for women exactly the same curriculum and examination tests as are maintained for men. The separated college eventually establish high standard own but the affiliated college that seeks extend women the advantages man college by employing instructors but that offers cheaper degree, is not doing the very best thing possible, it seems to me, to create one standard for me and women. The head mistress of Evelyn College writes to me:

“You will understand how impossible it is for girls to accomplish the same course of study in the same length of time as the boys do, if they try to do anything at Music or Art, therefore we have found it necessary to have our own, or what we call the Evelyn College Course, which differs from the Princeton course in allowing Music and Art to be pursued as regular electives, and in not insisting upon Greek.”

Not only is the Evelyn degree given for less than is demanded by Princeton, but of the students that attend Evelyn twenty-five are special students; and only seven are regular students, working for the Evelyn degree. The same lady further announces that it is very difficult to influence the students to pursue regular college work, and that they (Evelyn College) are “having a great fight against superficial education for girls.” Certainly the way to exert real influence and to carry on a real fight is to insist rigorously upon definite standards.

It is always an ungracious task to criticize the methods of a college, and especially is it so when the critic is a trustee of another college. But I have felt it off the greatest importance that the true aims and methods of the affiliated college should be rightly understood; and it is necessary to distinguish between false and true methods.

And now we come to the third and latest example of the affiliated college in America, — Barnard College, affiliated with Columbia College. Barnard College was chartered July , 1889, and is governed by a Board of Trustees consisting of an equal number of men and women. Instruction is given by Professors and Instructors designated or approved by the President of Columbia College, and its students receive the Columbia degrees. At the present moment all the instruction is given by officers of Columbia College, with the exception of one woman, a graduate of Cornell and of the University of Zürich, and a well-known specialist, who, having received official recognition from the Trustees of Columbia as Lecturer on the Physiology and Anatomy of Plants, is the head of the Department of Botany at Barnard College.

There is nothing more important to understand than that educationally Barnard College is Columbia College: its students follow the same curriculum and pass the same examinations which are prepared by Columbia College for its students of both sexes. There exists the heartiest goodwill between the two colleges, and nothing could possibly be more cordial. When the inauguration of Mr. Low took place, the students of Barnard College were present, and they rose and cheered him with the students of the other sex, I can vouch for it, as long and as lustily. I want to impress upon you all the cordial relation that exists between Columbia and Barnard, because nothing is more general than the impression that an affiliated college is always tolerated, not welcomed, and that it can be nothing ore than an undignified makeshift.

I have called my paper “A New Phase of Woman’s Education in America.” I might have referred to the comparatively new phase of education, the affiliated college; but in fact I referred to the existence of Barnard College as a new phase, because it is a new phase of the affiliated system, — Barnard College is the first affiliated college for women that has received official recognition from the parent college, and the first upon  whose graduates the degrees of the parent college will be conferred. I am sure, even if some of you are not in sympathy with the methods of the affiliate college, are of you will feel with me that this is a great gain. We have been accused of being possessed of an unscholarly worship of the degree, — I am afraid our critics cannot be said to be wholly disinterested, but I think you will free us from that imputation. The degree, of course, should not be the value of the college education, but, after all, it ought to mean just as much to a woman as to a man. And the sort of work that is not officially recognized is not only apt to be looked down upon, but I honestly thin is more liable to deterioration. Columbia has been the first of the old revolutionary colleges to confer “equal recognition for equal work,” and I think it may boast thereof with an honest pride.

I warn you that you have done a very venturesome thing in asking me to speak to you about Barnard College; you might have known that you would never get me to stop speaking. There are so many different points of view from which to speak of Barnard, — which shall I choose? Let me first stay a few words on Barnard and its relation to New York City. Probably very few of you will be willing to admit that New York is the metropolis in anything other than size; I am not so sure that the people from Chicago will even willingly grant that. The Bostonians will comfort themselves in the belief that quality is more important than quantity, and those from the Pacific coast will take refuge in the unknown and mighty future. But, however you may all look upon New York, the very fact that it does contain so many thousand souls; the very fact that it draws to it so many of our best women in the pursuance of their professions must lend an interest to the only real college for women that exists within its gates. And further, the influence that Barnard is exerting over the city may extend and be an influence for good all over the country. I sincerely trust it may.

It is evident that the existence of Barnard College is felt in New York. Parents who thought college education meant four years away from home are now willing that their daughters would have another opening in life besides society and philanthropy. Therefore training-schools all over the country are beginning to open collegiate classes, and the gap between the school and the college is slowly filling up. A general awakening is going on; low standards that were formerly accepted are being now gradually renounced. In fact, among a large number there existed such a vagueness of opinion regarding the true scope of the college, that such a thing as a real college standard can hardly be said to have existed Students that could not possibly have gained admission to our Freshman year applied for admission into our Graduate Department. Generally, the more lamentably deficient the preparation, the mor abstruse were the graduate studies called for.

It seems to me there lies food for many sermons in that plain recital of facts. I don’t mean to poke fun at those young ladies that come to us for advanced courses in philosophy; it is not their fault, they have probably done the best they could under the circumstances. It is pathetic, not laughable. You have no idea what Barnard is accomplishing in New York in the doing away with this very thing. You can have no idea of the hundreds of ill-trained, or rather untrained, women that come to us, women of all ages, women with husbands and often families, that come to use, aimless, ignorant, hopeless, with one cry, “Tell us what to do! Give us something to study! Do something for us!” And I tell you the tears come in our eyes when we answer, “Too late! we can do nothing for you!”

Is this not the tragedy of our sex? These hundreds, thousands, of women brought up in darkness, and now reaching forth with eyes whose nerves have become atrophied, asking for the light which they will never be able to see? Oh, the waste of human energy that has been going on!

Barnard has refused to be a mere refuge for dissatisfied women. It feels that it has a nobler mission; it can do nothing for these women of to-day if it wants to prevent the existence of such women in the future. Do you realize what it means to boldly make this refusal? Not only there is the pity of it, but there is the very practical side of it; it is heroic in a college one and a half years old with an endowment only partially raised, and begging for the money to pay its current expenses, to resist the temptation of having large classes when it knows crowded rooms mean success with the public. Barnard refuses special students except in laboratory work and in the post-graduate courses. It believes in fixed standards in order to correct the general diffusiveness of woman’s study, it believes in general culture before specialization. I thin it is important that both men and women in America should be less ready to specialize, particularly less ready to enter the professions without adequate preparation. I thin k it is even more important for women than for men. I believe that the real value of specialized work must lie in the university. I do not believe in the kind of so-called specialization that beings with the Freshman.

At present, Columbia demands Greek during three years. It is impossible to speak now of the Columbia of the future. We all, who know it as it is to-day, feel that it is in a transition state; we believe that under its present leadership it will rise to be a university of which our entire country will be proud. We know that wise minds and trained judgements are doing what is possible to best fit Columbia for the needs of the day. Even now, it is possible to say that Columbia is more generous in electives in the junior year that it has been before, and it has introduced a new feature in the Senior year which seems to me to be a happy solution of the great question now agitating the colleges in America, the reconciliation of scholarly training for professional life with the practical demands of to-day. The Senior class pursue their studies under any University faculties which they elect.

You will readily see that this provision for professional training in the Senior year is a most interesting one to Barnard; it opens up the whole question of professional training for women. I feel that it would be indiscreet at this early period in our history to predict just what attitude Columbia will assume towards women in the professional schools. I may express my own personal and unofficial opinion that I firmly believe in throwing open to women every profession that is open to men, that I want to see them receive the very best training for them, and that I think a true University for Women must offer such training.

I have spoken on slightly of University work at Barnard College, for we are too young to have accomplished much. At present there are ten graduate courses open to our students for which the degree of Ph.D. may be received. A student can also work at Barnard in graduate courses without taking the full requirements for the graduate degree. As I have said before, specialization is permitted in work that is really specialized. The fact that Columbia College offers its University degrees to women points to the great future usefulness of Barnard College. Many will claim that a large city is not the place for a college, but I agree with the President of Columbia that it will be an advantage for the manhood, for the educated womanhood of America, that some men and some women get their education in the midst of the atmosphere of a great city. You will remember that our great poet, Longfellow, has made answer, the “scholar should live not in the green stillness of the country where he can hear the heart of nature beat,” but in the dark gray city where he can hear and feel the throbbing heart of man.” There should the scholar live.

And a great university, perhaps I should add particularly in the professional schools, can best fulfill its mission, can best attract to it the really advanced students and the really advanced teachers in the midst of a great city.

You will ask, “How can such work be repeated? How can the precious hours of a really advance teacher be spent in repeating his lectures to women, or, if not repeated, how can double staffs of really advanced teachers be secured for one university?” I will answer that the university work that can be repeated separately for women cannot be real university work, rather but a faint shadow of it. But it seems to me that co-education means quite another thing as it is applied to university work. The spectacle of university lectures attended by mature men and women can raise no greater horror that that of the usual evening lecture, where the men and women, having purchased their tickets, sit by one another simply and naturally. It is the same thing precisely, only the word, co-education, never happens to appear.

The students of the affiliated colleges, Girton and Newnham, although entirely unrecognized by the University of Cambridge, yet are now admitted by courtesy to ninety-two of the regular University lectures, embracing forty-seven different subjects. Among the lecturers extending this courtesy are some of the best-known Cambridge men.

Now, all this is accomplished by an entirely unrecognized affiliated college, and only by the courtesy of the Professors of the University. It is easily imagined how much more could be accomplished by an affiliated college that is officially recognized, and whose students are not suffered by courtesy, but accepted as candidates for all degrees.

Barnard is only one and a half years old; it is impossible to say to-day what will be its influence on the women of this country; but I would like to say something of what I would like its influence to be, and what influences are necessary. I have spoken of the necessity for correct standards in the education of women, I also plead a necessity for the doing away with a false sentimentality in places where it has no legitimate right.

Have we quite reached the point where we can calmly and critically weigh the value of so-called new triumphs and openings for women? Are we not very apt to have a warm place in our hearts for an institution that may open its doors to women, no matter if is thereby acquires an importance that would otherwise be impossible? Are we not too ready to receive any stray crumbs that may be thrown to use, and too willing to overvalue the actual progress made?

I say that women are no longer in a pioneer state. Surely the brave struggle that has bene going on since the days of Emma Willard has put us in a position where we can refuse everything but what is worthy of us. If we hold out long enough in our refusal, the best will come to us. But I do not think women are sufficiently sincere in wanting the whole world to progress. I think many would like the world to stand still a bit, while one-half of civilization catches up with the other half. This is narrow and wrong. We cannot take one real step ahead as a sex without the entire world advancing with us. The admission of women to the future medical school of Johns Hopkins is a real step ahead; with it the whole world advances nobly.

Olive Schreiner in one of her wonderfully powerful “Dreams” has shadowed forth the destiny of Womanhood. As her Woman, after countless sacrifices, at last stands on the bank of the river that separates her form the land of Freedom, she listens to the distant tread of thousands and thousands of feet following her to the water’s edge. She asks, —

“Over the bridge which shall be built with our bodies, who will pass?

And Reason makes answer, — “The entire Human Race.”

With true prophetic insight he is not content to say merely, “The rest of your sex;” but over the bridge built by the renunciation, the courage, and the determination of Womanhood will walk the entire Human Rae. Let us look to it that we build strongly and well.



Source: Transactions of the National Council of Women of the United States, ed. Rachel Foster Avery, (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1891), pp. 178-188.