The Winning of Educational Freedom
February 8-14, 1900 — 32nd Annual Convention. National Woman Suffrage Association, Washington DC
Abigail Adams said of the conditions in the early part of the nineteenth century: “Female education in the best families went no farther than reading, writing and arithmetic and, in some rare instances, music and dancing.” A lady living in the first quarter of the century relates that she returned from a school in Charleston, where she had been sent to be “finished off,” with little besides a knowledge of sixty different lace stitches. . .
The majority of women were content, they asked no change; they took no part in the movement for higher education except to ridicule it. This, like every other battle for freedom which the world has seen, was led by the few brave, strong souls who saw the truth and dared proclaim it. In 1820 the world looked aghast upon “bluestockings.” Because a young woman was publicly examined in geometry at one of Mrs. Emma Willard’s school exhibitions, a storm of ridicule broke forth at so scandalous a proceeding. It was ten years after Holyoke was founded before Mary Lyon dared to have Latin appear in the regular course, because the views of the community would not allow it. Boston had a high school for girls in 1825, which was maintained but eighteen months, Mayor Quincy declaring that “no funds of any city could stand the expense.” The difficulty was that “too many girls attended.” . . .
In 1877 President Charles W. Eliot of Harvard protested against the opening of the Boston Latin School to girls, saying: “I resist the proposition for the sake of the boys, the girls, the schools and the general interest of education.” Nearly twenty years later, he said to the Radcliffe graduates: “It is a quarter of a century since the college doors were open to women. From that time, where boys and girls have been educated together, it has become a historical fact that women have taken a greater number of honors, in proportion to their numbers, than men.” It is to be hoped that the next twenty years may work further conversion in the mind of this learned president, and lead him to see that equality in citizenship is as desirable as equality in education.
One learned man prophesied that all educated women would become somnambulists. Another declared that the perilous track to higher education would be strewn with wrecks. There are now over thirty thousand of these college-educated wrecks, the majority of them engaged in the active work of the world. It was found in 1874, when Dr. E. H. Clarke’s evil prophecies as to higher education were attracting attention, that at Antioch, opened to women in 1853, thirteen and one-half per cent. of the men graduates had died, nine and three-fourths per cent. of the women. This did not include war mortality or accidental death. Three of the men then living were confirmed invalids; not one of the women was in such a condition. The Association of Collegiate Alumnae has compiled later and fuller statistics. The results show an increase during the college course of from three to six per cent. in good health, and the health after graduation to be twenty-two per cent. higher among graduates than among women who have not been in college. . .
Elizabeth Blackwell applied to twelve colleges before she gained admittance to the Geneva (N. Y.) Medical School in 1846, and secured the first M. D. ever given to a woman in this country. To-day 1,583 women are studying medicine. Not so full a measure of freedom has been won in law or theology. In 1897, 131 women were in the law schools, 193 in the theological schools, but women are still handicapped in these professions. . .
Unfortunately, educational freedom has not been followed by industrial freedom. Of the leading colleges for women but four have women presidents; but one offers a free field to women on its professional staff. In the majority of co-educational colleges which give women any place as teachers, they appear in small numbers as assistant professors and, more often, as instructors….
With educational freedom partially won has come general interest among collegiate and non-collegiate women in furthering the movement. Large gifts have been bestowed for scholarships and for colleges, both co-educational and separate. Within the last year thirty-four women have given $4,446,400 to the cause of education. Mrs. Stanford’s munificent benefactions, and other lesser ones, swell the amount to more than fifty millions from women alone. As a result of the struggle for educational freedom, we have 35,782 women in the colleges of the country.
Educational freedom without political freedom is but partial. Minerva sprang fully armed from the head of Jove; not only had she wisdom, but she had the spear and the helmet in her hands — every weapon of offense and defense to equip her for the world’s conquest. Standing on the threshold of the new century, we behold the woman of the future thus armed; we see the fully educated woman possessed of a truer knowledge of the fundamental principles of government; we see her conscious of her responsibilities as a citizen, and doing her part in the making of laws and in the fulfilment of the ideal of democracy. Educational freedom must lead to political freedom.
Source: History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. IV, ed. Susan B. Anthony and Ida Husted Harper, (Indianapolis: The Hollenbeck Press) 1902, pp. 354-356.