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Present Tendencies
in Women’s College
and University Education

November 5-9, 1907 — Quarter-Centennial Meeting of the Association of Collegiate Alumnae, Boston MA


Anniversaries like this, which compel us to pause for a moment and review our progress, come with a peculiar significance to women of my generation. I doubt if the most imaginative and sympathetic younger women in this audience can form any conception of what it means to women of the old advance guard, among whom you will perhaps allow me to include myself, to be able to say to each other without fear of contradiction that in the twenty-five years covered by the work of the Association of Collegiate Alumnae the battle for the higher education of women has been gloriously, and forever, won.

The passionate desire of the women of my generation for higher education was attended through its course by the awful doubt, felt by women themselves as by men, as to whether women as a sex were physically and mentally fit for it. I think I can best make this clear to you if I refer briefly to my own experience. I cannot remember the time when I was not sure that studying and going to college were the things of all others which I wished to do. I was always wondering whether it could be really true, as every one thought, that boys were cleverer than girls. Indeed. I cared so much that I never dared to ask any grown-up person the direct question — not even my father or mother — because I feared to hear the reply. I remember often praying about it, and begging God, if it were true that because I was a girl, I could not successfully master Greek and go to college and understand things, to kill me at once, as I could not bear to live in such an unjust world. When I was a little older I read the Bible entirely through, with passionate eagerness, because I had heard it said that it proved that women were inferior to men. Those were not the days of the higher criticism. I can remember weeping over the account of Adam and Eve, because it seemed to me that the curse pronounced on Eve might imperil girls’ going to college; and to this day I can never read many parts of the glorious Pauline epistles without feeling again the sinking of the heart with which I used to hurry over  the verses referring to women’s keeping silence in the churches and asking their husbands at home. I searched not only the Bible, but all other books I could get, for light on the wo man question. I read Milton with rage and indignation. Even as a child I knew him for the woman-hater he was. The splendor of Shakespeare was obscured to me then by the lack of intellectual power in his greatest women characters. Even now, it seems to me that only Isabella in Measure for Measure thinks greatly and weighs her actions greatly, like a Hamlet or a Brutus.

I can well remember one endless, scorching summer’s day, when, sitting in a hammock under the trees, with a French dictionary, and blinded by tears more burning than the July sun, I translated Michelet’s famous — were at not now forgotten, I should be able to say in famous — book on woman, La Femme. I was beside myself with terror lest it might prove to be true that I myself was so vile and pathological a thing. Between that summer’s day in 1874 and a day in the autumn of 1904, thirty years had elapsed. Although during those thirty years I had read in every language every book on women that I could obtain, I had never chanced again upon a book that seemed to me so to degrade me in my womanhood as the seventh and seventeenth chapters, on women and women’s education, of President Stanley Hall’s Adolescence. Michelet’s sickening sentimentality and horrible over-sexuality seemed to me to breathe again from every pseudo-scientific page.

But how vast the difference between then and now in my feelings, and in the feelings of every woman who has had to do with the education of girls! Then I was terror-struck lest I, and every other woman with me, were doomed to live as pathological invalids, in a universe merciless to women as a sex. Now we know that it is not we, but the man who believes such things about us, who is himself pathological, blinded by neurotic mists, unable to see that women form one-half of the kindly race of normal, healthy human creatures in the world; that women, like men, are illumined and inspired by the same great traditions of their race, by the same love of learning, the same love of science, the same love of abstract truth ; that women, like men, are immeasurably benefited, physically, mentally and morally, and are made vastly better mothers, as men are made vastly better fathers, by subordinating the distracting instincts of sex to the simple human fellowship of similar education and similar intellectual and social ideals.

It was not to be wondered at that we were uncertain in those old days as to the ultimate result of women’s education. Before I myself went to college, I had seen but one college woman. I had heard that such a woman was staying at the house of an acquaintance. I went to see her with fear. Even if she had appeared in hoofs and horns, I was deter mined to go to college all the same. But it was a relief to find this Vassar graduate tall and hand some, and dressed like other women. When, five years later, I went to Leipzig to study, after I had been graduated from Cornell, my mother used to write me that my name was never mentioned to her by the women of her acquaintance. I was thought by them to be as much of a disgrace to my family as if I had eloped with the coachman. Now, women who have been to college are as plentiful as blackberries on summer hedges. Even my native city of Baltimore is full of them, and woen who have in addition studied in Germany are regarded with becoming deference by the very Baltimore women who disapproved of me.

During the quarter of the century of the existence of the Association of Collegiate Alumnae two generations of college women have reached mature life, and the older generation is now just passing off the stage. We are, therefore, better prepared than ever before to give an account of what has been definitely accomplished, and to predict what will be the tendencies of women’s college and university education in the future.

I think I can be tell you in a concrete way what has been accomplished in women’s education by describing to you the condition of affairs which I found in 1884, when I returned from Germany, and set about planning the academic organization of Bryn Mawr. The outlook was discouraging except for the delight women were beginning to show in going to college. No one knew at all how things were going to turn out. The present achievement was small; the students were immature and badly trained; the scientific attainments of the professors teaching in colleges for women, with a few shining exceptions, were practically nil. Women were teaching in Wellesley, Mount Holyoke, and Smith without even the elementary training of a college course behind them. Men in general, including highly intelligent presidents of colleges for women, as well as highly intelligent presidents of colleges for men, held in good faith absurd opinions on women’s education. When I protested to the president of the most advanced college for women in regard to this lack of training, he told me that we could never run Bryn Mawr if we insisted on the same scholarly attainments in women professors as in men professors. He — and I think he will forgive me for quoting his opinion in those early days, because I am sure that he has since changed it — and the president of perhaps the greatest university for men in the United States, both told me that there was an intuitive something in ladies of birth and position, which enabled them to do without college training, and to make on the whole better professors for women college students than if they had themselves been to college.

Everyone I consulted prophesied disaster if we carried out our plan of appointing to our professorships young unmarried men of high scientific promise. They said: in the first place, such men will not be content to teach women in a women’s college; in the second place, fi they should consent, their unmarried students will distract their minds; and in the third place, if by chance they should be able to teach coherently, then surely such will be the charm of their bachelor estate that their girl students will compete with each other for proposals out of the classroom rather than for marks in the classroom.

The president of Harvard College, when he visited Bryn Mawr a few years after its opening and found that our students were governing themselves and going away for the night, or the week end, as they saw fit, said to me: “If this continues, I will give you two years, and no more, in which to close Bryn Mawr College.” From that day to this Bryn Mawr College students have had free and unrestricted self-government, and have proved that women of the age our mothers were when we were born are old enough to govern themselves. Student self-government is now working well in thirteen eastern colleges where women study, and is, I believe, destined to spread to all other colleges for women.

And so it has been with many other questions in women’s college education which were experiments only five and twenty years ago. Our highest hopes are all coming gloriously true. It is like reading the pages of one of Grimm’s fairy tales. The fearsome toads of those early prophecies are turning into pearls of purest radiance beyond our very eyes.

The curriculum of our women’s colleges has steadily stiffened. Women, both in separate and in coeducational colleges, seem to prefer the old fashioned, so-called disciplinary, studies. They disregard the so-called accomplishments. I believe that today more women than men are receiving a thorough college education, even although in most cases they are receiving it sitting side by side with men in the same college lecture-rooms.

The old type of untrained woman teacher has practically disappeared from women’s colleges. Her place is being taken by ardent young women scholars who have qualified themselves by long years of graduate study for advanced teaching. Even the old-fashioned untrained matron, or house mother, is swiftly being replaced in girls’ schools, as well as in women’s colleges, by the college-bred warden, or director.

Unmarried men are now teaching in all colleges for women. The experience of Bryn Mawr has proved that men of the highest scholarly reputation are not only willing to accept positions in a college for women, but that they decline to resign them except for the most tempting posts in colleges for men. This year, after respectively twenty-one and eighteen years of service, we are losing to the Johns Hopkins University, which creates special chairs for them, our senior professors of teutonic philology and history. No college for men or women, as slenderly endowed as are all our women’s colleges, can hold for a lifetime the few productive scholars in any given science. Such men are entitled to the highest salaries and the best positions their country can bestow. Bryn Mawr has also proved that a faculty composed of such men has no hesitation in working under a woman president, or under women scholars as heads of departments when they too are eminent. In the world of intellect eminence is so rare, and excellence of any kind so difficult to attain, that when we are dealing with intellectual values, or genuine scholarly, literary, or artistic excellence, the question of sex tends to become as unimportant to men as to women.

We did not know when we began whether women’s health could stand the strain of college education. We were haunted in those days by the clanging chains of that gloomy little specter, Dr. Edward H. Clarke’s Sex in Education. With trepidation of spirit I made my mother read it, and was much cheered by her remark that, as neither she, nor any of the women she knew, had ever seen girls or women of the kind described in Dr. Clarke’s book, we might as well act as if they did not exist. Still, we did not know whether colleges might not produce a crop of just such invalids. Doctors insisted that they would. We women could not be sure until we had tried the experiment. Now we have tried it, and tried it for more than a genera ion, and we know that college women are not only not invalids, but that they are better physically than other women in their own class of life. We know that girls are growing stronger and more athletic. Girls enter college each year in better physical condition. For the past four years I have myself questioned closely all our entering classes, and often their mothers as well. I find that an average of 60 per cent. enter college absolutely and in every respect well, and that less than 30 per cent. make, or need to make, any periodic difference whatever in exercise, or study, from year’s end to year’s end. This result is very different from that obtained by physicians and others writing in recent magazines and medical journals. These alarmists give gruesome statistics from high schools and women’s colleges, which they are very careful not to name. Probably they are investigating girls whose general hygienic conditions are bad. The brothers of such girls would undoubtedly make as poor a showing physically when compared to Harvard and Yale men, or the boys of Groton, or St. Paul’s, as their sisters make when compared to Bryn Mawr students. Certainly their sisters who have not been to high school or college would in all probability be even more invalided and abnormal. Seventy per cent. of the Bryn Mawr students come from private schools, and from homes where the nutri tion and sanitary conditions are excellent. They have undoubtedly been subjected up to the age of nearly nineteen to strenuous and prolonged college preparation, yet their physical condition is far above that of the girls of these other investigations. One investigation yields the shocking result that 66 per cent. of college freshmen are practically invalids during certain times in each month, and another that 73 per cent. of high-school girls are in a similar condition. If such results are to be credited, the explanation must be found, as I have said, in the general malnutrition and unsanitary life of such girls. Here, as so often when women are investigated, causes which would produce ill-health in boys are not excluded. Surely the Bryn Mawr students approach much more nearly to the normal type. Those other girls are horribly abnormal.

We did not really know anything about even the ordinary everyday intellectual capacity of women when we began to educate them. We were not even sure that they inherited their intellects from their fathers as well as from their mothers. We were told that their brains were too light, their fore heads too small, their reasoning powers too defective, their emotions too easily worked upon to make good students. None of these things has proved to be so. Perhaps the most wonderful thing of all to have come true is the wholly unexpected, but altogether delightful, mental ability shown by women college students. We should have been satisfied if they had been proved to be only a little less good than men college students, but, tested by every known test of examination, or classroom recitation, women have proved themselves equal to men, even slightly superior. It is more like a fairy story than ever to discover that they are not only as good, but even a little better. When this came to be clearly recognized, as was the case early in the movement, we were asked to remember that those first women students were a picked class, and could not fairly be compared to average men students. But now in many colleges, such as Chicago, the numbers of men and women are practically equal, and many of the women who attend college today have not the bread and butter incentive of men to do well in their classes, yet the slight superiority continues. Year after year, for example, Chicago reports fewer absences and fewer conditions incurred by women than by men in the same classes. This success of women in college-work is producing a curious situation in men’s education which is beginning to make itself felt in coeducational colleges.

We did not really know anything about even the ordinary everyday intellectual capacity of women when we began to educate them. We were not even sure that they inherited their intellects from their fathers as well as from their mothers. We were told that their brains were too light, their fore heads too small, their reasoning powers too defective, their emotions too easily worked upon to make good students. None of these things has proved to be so. Perhaps the most wonderful thing of all to have come true is the wholly unexpected, but altogether delightful, mental ability shown by women college students. We should have been satisfied if they had been proved to be only a little less good than men college students, but, tested by every known test of examination, or classroom recitation, women have proved themselves equal to men, even slightly superior. It is more like a fairy story than ever to discover that they are not only as good, but even a little better. When this came to be clearly recognized, as was the case early in the movement, we were asked to remember that those first women students were a picked class, and could not fairly be compared to average men students. But now in many colleges, such as Chicago, the numbers of men and women are practically equal, and many of the women who attend college today have not the bread and butter incentive of men to do well in their classes, yet the slight superiority continues. Year after year, for example, Chicago reports fewer absences and fewer conditions incurred by women than by men in the same classes. This success of women in college-work is producing a curious situation in men’s education which is beginning to make itself felt in coeducational colleges.

We are now living in the midst of great and, I believe on the whole beneficent, social changes which are preparing the way for the coming economic independence of women. Like the closely allied diminishing birth rate,” but unlike the higher education of women, this great change in opinion and practice seems to have come about almost without our knowledge, certainly without our conscious co-operation. The passionate desire of the women of my generation for a college education seems, as we study it now in the light of coming events, to have been a part of this greater movement.

In order to prepare for this economic independence, we should expect to see what is now taking place. Colleges for women, and college departments of coeducational universities are attended by ever-increasing numbers of women students. In seven of the largest western universities women already outnumber men in the college departments.

A liberal college course prepares women for their great profession of teaching. College women have proved to be such admirably efficient teachers that they are driving other women out of the field. Until other means of self-support are as easy for women as teaching, more and more women who intend to teach will go to college. Such women will elect first of all the subjects taught by women in the high schools, such as Latin, his tory, and the languages. They will avoid chemistry, physics, and other sciences, which are usually taught by men. Until all women become self supporting, more women than men will go to college for culture, especially in the West, and such women will tend to elect the great disciplinary studies which men neglect because they are intrinsically more difficult and seem at first sight less practical. For these obvious reasons certain college courses are therefore already crowded by women and almost deserted by men in many of the coeducational universities.

Certain college presidents and professors are busily at work drawing conclusions as to the primary difference between men’s and women’s minds because different electives are chosen by men and women in coeducational colleges. But, if we compare the electives of men and women in the best separate colleges in the East where more men are studying for culture, we find that the same electives are chosen by men at Harvard and Yale and Princeton, and by women at Vassar, Wellesley and Bryn Mawr. I was greatly struck by this similarity in the elective charts of men’s and women’s colleges at the St. Louis Exposition in 1904. If we exclude all required work and examine the group studies chosen by all the women who have been graduated from Bryn Mawr, up to and including June, 1906, we find that each of the 783 graduates had the option of two group studies to be pursued five hours a week each for two years after election. Thus there were open to the 783 graduates 1,566 possible group choices, of which Latin has obtained 35 per cent.; economics, 29 per cent.; history, 26 per cent.; Greek, 19 per cent.; English, 16.73 per cent.; French, 16.34 per cent.; German, 13 percent.; chemistry, 12 per cent.; biology, Io percent., and soon. These choices, and others like them, should suffice to refute the often-repeated statement that women desert economics, chemistry, mathematics, and such supposedly masculine subjects, and crowd into English literature and foreign language courses because they are women. As so frequently happens in women’s education, external circumstances have been mistaken for a-priori causes. In western state universities, where it has been observed that women do not as a rule elect economics and science, such subjects are said by women students — at least if I may credit what has been repeatedly told me by many of our western graduate students—to be taught very differently from the way in which they are taught at Bryn Mawr, or of course, at any eastern college for men or women, where general culture and intellectual training are the chief objects of a liberal college course. I am told that economics in many western colleges is simply applied economics and deals almost exclusively with banking, railroad rates, etc., and is therefore, of course, not elected by women who are at present unable to use it practically, whereas in the eastern colleges for women theoretical economics is perhaps their favorite study. In the same way, chemistry, which is a close second at Bryn Mawr to German as an elective study, is taught in the college departments of many western universities, as it is taught in many industrial or trade schools in the East, as a preparation for pharmacy or dyeing industries, and, equally of course, is not elected by women who cannot yet make practical use of such training. Surely this is a more reasonable explanation for the different choices of electives by women in the East and West than what seems to me the improbable one that women will not elect certain subjects, even if they would otherwise desire them, because they dislike to work in classes with men. Still more improbable seems the statement that men, who are eager to study literature and French and German, deny themselves because there are too many women in the classroom. The fact seems to me to be that women and men in the West as in the East elect what suits their needs best. If the present practical tendency in teaching certain large and important groups of studies continues in state universities, I believe that not only western women but also western men who wish a liberal college education in science, economics, mathematics, and other subjects must seek it in eastern colleges.

These three developments in women’s college education have brought about a situation which is much misunderstood and yet is perfectly natural. Women are beginning, as I have said, to outnumber men in college departments. Women elect in larger numbers than men, for the reasons I have already given, certain very important disciplinary studies, and many such courses contain almost no men. Women do slightly better than men in daily recitations; in spite of their supposedly less good health they are absent less often from their college classes; and they get an average of higher marks in the examinations. None of this is very pleasing to men students, especially in the East where young men have been taught to look down on women. Men are said in consequence — with some truth I think— to show a tendency to prefer separate colleges. This preference would be only human — annoying as it is. Men teaching in eastern colleges undoubtedly sympathize with, and sometimes encourage, this feeling. Women students also resent this attitude on the part of professors and students, and seem to prefer women’s colleges where they feel that they have rights, and where they are the chief, instead of only the secondary, interest of their professors. Every now and then we hear mutterings of discontent from one or another coeducational college. Usually it is some eastern man called to teach in a western coeducational college, thrown off his balance by the shock, running amuck through the pages of some eastern magazine.

There have been, however, but few visible manifestations of this feeling. Western Reserve University is, I believe, the only western college which has separated out its women into an annex. At Leland Stanford and Wesleyan the number of women is now limited. At Chicago the recent separation of men and women in the freshman and sophomore years was undoubtedly due to the great increase of women and to the fear that because of it men would begin to leave the college. President Hamilton of Tufts College, which has long been open to women, in his last president’s report argues the whole question dispassionately and concludes that both men and women are diminishing in numbers in Tufts because of each other’s presence. He recommends an annex for women. In a lecture-room at Tufts last spring I saw about twenty girls and five or six boys. The boys were huddled together in a corner just as we women used to huddle together in the old days of coeducation at Cornell. I foresaw then that there would come at Tufts in the near future what is so unjustly called a “setback” for women’s education.

We need not disturb ourselves over these readjustments to new conditions. They have no significance for the main question. Women’s college education has succeeded too well — that is the whole trouble. And its overwhelming success makes its continuance sure. No institution which has begun to educate women has yet thought of giving up educating them. Instead, each year more colleges for men are assuming fresh responsibilities toward women. Undoubtedly the form of women’s college education may change somewhat. Affiliated colleges or annexes will tend to increase, as well as separate colleges for women. Sporadic cases of segregation, as at Chicago, will tend to occur. All forms of education are good, if not equally good. The main thing we are concerned with is to get these thousands of women educated by any method at all.

And just because women have shown such an aptitude for a true college education and such delight in it, we must be careful to maintain it for them in its integrity. We must see to it that its disciplinary quality is not lowered by the insertion of so-called practical courses which are falsely supposed to prepare for life. Women are rapidly coming to control women’s college education. It rests with us to decide whether we shall barter for a mess of pottage the inheritance of the girls of this generation which the girls of my generation agonized to obtain for themselves and for other girls.

Up to this time women’s colleges have been wisely conservative. They have not been led away by the fallacies of the free elective system. At the present time all of the more important colleges for women except Vassar — which, however, requires twenty-one disciplinary hours out of the entire college course of fifty-six hours — are working under the group system. One by one men’s colleges and coeducational colleges are swinging into line and adopting some form of the group system in the recoil from the elective system, which is fast becoming a stampede. Even Harvard held up both hands last year when it adopted the so-called “bachelor’s degree with distinction.”

Vast intellectual harm has been done to this generation of college students by unrestricted free electives. On account of their conservatism the present generation of college women is really better educated and will, I believe, prove themselves to be more efficient than college men.
and Barnard (which really ought not, one would think, to presume to vary from their parent universities), have steadfastly maintained the four years’ college course. As in the case of the free elective system, men’s colleges will, I feel sure, return from following after false gods. There is, however, one grave peril which must be averted from

Likewise women’s colleges, including the affiliated colleges of Radcliffe and Barnard (which really ought not, one would think, to presume to vary from their parent universities), have steadfastly maintained the four years’ college course. As in the case of the free elective system, men’s colleges will, I feel sure, return from following after false gods.

There is, however, one grave peril which must be averted from women’s education at all hazards. Most of the universities of the West and many eastern universities, like Cornell, Columbia, and Pennsylvania, are boring through their academic college course at a hundred places with professional courses. In many colleges everything that is desirable for a human being to learn to do counts toward the bachelor’s degree— ladder work in the gymnasium (why not going upstairs?), swimming in the tank (why not one’s morning bath?), cataloguing in the library (why not one’s letter home?).

People who used to believe in the free elective system used to believe also that all studies one could elect were equally good for purposes of mental training and discipline. Indeed, the free elective system could not have existed for a moment on any other hypothesis. There never was any real reason given for this belief. The presidents of Harvard and of other free elective colleges just said so, and said so over and over again, until everyone came to think that it must be so.

Now, however, we have been trying the experiment of acting as if it were so in our men’s colleges for over a generation, and we know that it is not so. No one can read the educational articles and addresses based on practical experience with college students which have appeared, say since 1900, and not become convinced of this.

Indeed, I personally have come to regard this vitally important question in education as now settled for most truly intelligent and open-minded people by the very costly method of practical experiment. I am in con sequence astounded to see the efforts which have been made within the past few years, and perhaps never more persistently than during the past year, to persuade, I might almost say to compel, those in charge of women’s education to riddle the college curriculum of women with hygiene, and sanitary drainage, and domestic science, and child-study, and all the rest of the so-called practical studies.

The argument is a specious one at first sight and seems reasonable. It is urged that college courses for women should be less varied than for men and should fit them primarily for the two great vocations of women, marriage or teaching, the training of children in the home, or in the schoolroom. Nothing more disastrous for women, or for men, can be conceived of than this specialized education for women as a sex. It has been wholly over looked that any form of specialized education, which differs from men’s education, will tend to unfit women in less than a generation to teach their own boys at home, as well as of course, other boys in the schoolroom. Women so educated will eventually be driven out of the teaching profession, or confined wholly to the teaching of girls. But there is a more far-reaching answer to this short-sighted demand for specialized women’s courses. If 50 per cent. of college women are to marry, and nearly 40 per cent. are to bear and rear children, such women cannot conceivably be given an education too broad, too high, or too deep, to fit them to become the educated mothers of the future race of men and women to be born of educated parents. Somehow or other such mothers must be made familiar with the great mass of inherited knowledge which is handed on from generation to generation of civilized educated men. They must think straight, judge wisely, and reverence truth; and they must teach such clear and wise and reverent thinking to their children. And we have only the four years of the college course to impart such knowledge to women who are to be mothers. If it is true—and it is absolutely true—that all subjects do not train the mind and heart and intellect equally well, it is also true that sanitary and domestic science are not among the great disciplinary race studies. The place for such studies, and they undoubtedly have an important place, is after the college course, not during it. They belong with law, medicine, dentistry, engineering, architecture, agriculture in the professional school, not in the college. If they are introduced into the college course of liberal training in any guise whatsoever, our present efficient college woman, like the old-fashioned type of efficient college man, will become a tradition of the past.

And for college women who may be teachers as well as for those who may be mothers, any form of special education is also highly objectionable. If the education of women is directed mainly, or exclusively, toward the profession of teaching, such specialized training will drive women who must support themselves into the teaching profession without regard to their special qualifications for teaching, which will be an overwhelming misfortune for the women themselves as well as for the children they teach. If women are to support themselves, even as generally as they do now, they must be trained so as to find ready admission into the professions and into different kinds of business activity. Their education must be at least as varied, and open to modification, as men’s education.

But the indications of successive editions of the census in all civilized countries, and many other signs of the times, lead us to believe that in two or three generations practically all women will either support themselves, or engage in some form of civic activity. I have said that about 50 per cent of college women will marry. We know now that college women marry in about the same proportion, and have about the same number of children as their sisters and cousins who have not been to college. We know also that no one nowadays has more than about two children per marriage— neither college men, nor college women, nor the brothers or sisters of college men and women who have not been to college, nor native white American families, nor American immigrant families in the second generation. This great diminution in the birth rate has taken place notably in the United States, France, Great Britain, and Australia, and is manifesting itself in lesser, but ever increasing degrees, in all other civilized countries. In bringing about this great social change college women have borne no appreciable part. Indeed, only one-half a college woman in every 1,000 women is married, the ratio of college women to other women being as I to 1,000. Although this diminishing birth rate is wholly independent of women’s college education, it cannot fail to affect it greatly. If it is true, as it seems to be, that college women who marry will have on an average only two children apiece, they could not if they wished, spend all their time in caring for the two rapidly growing-up children, who, moreover, after ten years will be at school, unless they perform also the actual manual labor of their households. In such cases college women will presumably prefer to do other work in order to be able to pay wages to have this manual labor done for them. No college-bred man would be willing day after day to shovel coal in his cellar, or to curry and harness his horses, if by more intellectual and interesting labor he could earn enough to pay to have it done for him. Nor will college women be willing to do household drudgery if it can be avoided. Such married women must, therefore, also be prepared for self-support. Likewise the increasingly small proportion of the married 50 per cent. who will marry men able to support them and their two children in comfort will not wish to be idle. They too must be prepared for some form of public service. Of course, the 50 per cent. of college women who do not marry, that is, all, except the very few who will inherit fortunes large enough to live on throughout life, must be prepared for self-support.

It seems, therefore, self-evident that practically all women, like practically all men, must look forward after leaving college to some form of public service, whether paid, as it will be for the great majority of both men and women, or unpaid, does not matter. Liberally educated women, like liberally educated men, should fit themselves after college for their special work. When their life-work is more or less determined, let those women who expect to marry and keep their own houses (after all, the women householders will be only about half even of those who marry, say 25 per cent., of all college women) study domestic and sanitary science. But it is as preposterous to compel all women to study domestic science and child psychology, irrespective of their future work, as it would be to compel all men to study dentistry, or medicine. It is the same with child-study, pedagogy, and all other special studies. One and all, for women as for men, they belong in the graduate professional school.

Everything seems to indicate, as I have already pointed out, that women will not only make their way into all except a few of the trades and professions, but that they will be compelled by economic causes beyond their control to stay in them after marriage. Already in teaching, nursing, library work, typewriting, bookkeeping, telephoning, telegraphing, they are steadily taking possession and driving men before them. Such women must of course be specially trained. It is already clear that all existing professional and trade schools must admit women. No separate schools for women will be founded. The few university professional schools of law, medicine, theology, and architecture, now closed to them, will open, probably within the next decade. Separate professional schools for women are an anachronism. The expense of maintaining them is too vast. Indeed, women’s medical schools were brought into existence only by the savage prejudices of many men physicians. They are now almost all extinct.

All university graduate schools of philosophy, with two comparatively unimportant exceptions, admit women. The only great graduate school closed to women, the graduate school of the Johns Hopkins University, opened this autumn. Forty-one out of 453 universities and colleges maintain graduate schools, and of these only 24 have conferred more than 7 doctors’ degrees apiece. Of these 24, which alone are to be seriously considered, only 4, Virginia, Princeton, and 2 Catholic universities, exclude women. But Virginia and Princeton taken together have conferred only 54 doctors’ degrees out of 2,715, the total number of degrees conferred. Of the remaining 17 universities conferring less than 7 degrees apiece, the 5 which exclude women have no organized graduate work and only one has conferred in all 4 degrees.

Among these 41 universities conferring the Ph.D. degree there is only one woman’s college, Bryn Mawr. Bryn Mawr ranks sixteenth in the attendance of graduate students and nineteenth in the number of degrees conferred. It is the fourth largest graduate school for women in the United States, only Columbia, Chicago, and California containing more graduate women. It has twice as many women as Yale or Cornell.

This brings us squarely face to face with a vitally important question in women’s education. Shall our colleges for women maintain graduate schools of philosophy and confer Ph.D. degrees? The experience of Bryn Mawr has shown that women will choose to pursue graduate work in such schools if they come into existence, and it has also shown that a Ph.D. from a women’s college has a commercial value equal to that given by the oldest and most richly endowed men’s universities. I regard the question as to all other professional schools as settled. It would be unwise and harmful to women’s professional standing for women’s colleges to maintain them. They must be coeducational. Is this the case also with schools of philosophy? I think not. The conditions are wholly different. From one-third to one-half of all the students studying in our women’s colleges expect to teach. They must be prepared by advanced work in their special subjects beyond the B.A. degree. Only one-seventh of the men and women studying in graduate schools take the doctor’s degree. The remaining six-sevenths are studying only for a year or two to prepare themselves for teaching. Many more women will go on with advanced work if they can go on at the college where they have taken their under graduate work. The experience of men’s colleges has proved this. Far more women are now taking college courses in Smith, Wellesley, Vassar, Mount Holyoke, Bryn Mawr, Radcliffe, and Barnard than anywhere else in the East, and far more than in any seven colleges in the West. In only three of the seven, Bryn Mawr, Radcliffe, and Barnard, can women really fit themselves for teaching. It seems to me inevitable that the other four colleges for women will provide these opportunities.

But it is not only for the graduate students that the graduate school is needed. It is needed most of all for the undergraduate students. I do not believe that the best undergraduate teaching is ever given in a college where the professors do not also conduct research and investigation courses. In no other way, I believe, can a faculty of enthusiastic scholars, abreast of modern scientific methods, be maintained. Such scholars make infinitely better teachers for college students, and even for children in a kindergarten, if they were obtainable. It is impossible for a teacher of any kind to know too much. Also, a progressive graduate school weeds out non productive scholars from a college as nothing else will. Already there are signs of the great colleges for women taking on this true university function. Vassar, Wellesley, Smith, and Mount Holyoke have already created a few resident graduate scholarships and fellowships.

I believe also that every women’s college ought to maintain not only a graduate school of philosophy of the highest grade, but also, for holders of the bachelor’s degree only, a purely graduate school of education connected with a small practice school like the famous practice school of the University of Jena. Only so can we make true and inspired teachers of this vast throng of women going out of our women’s colleges into the schoolrooms of the country. The fate of the next generation of children is in their eager hands. It is our mission to see to it that they are as enlightened, and as truly wise, as they are eager. I know of no way except by teaching them in our graduate schools to reverence abstract truth.

But there is still another and, as it seems to me, more cogent reason for our women’s colleges maintaining graduate schools of philosophy. The highest service which colleges can render to their time is to discover and foster imaginative and constructive genius. Such genius unquestionably needs opportunity for its highest development. This is peculiarly the case with women students. As I watch their gallant struggles I sometimes think that the very stars in their courses are conspiring against them. Women Scholars can assist women students, as men cannot, to tide over the first discouragements of a life of intellectual renunciation. Ability of the kind I am speaking of is, of course, very rare, but for this reason it is precious beyond all other human products. If the graduate schools of women’s colleges could develop one single woman of Galton’s “X” type — say a Madame Curie, or a Madame Kovalewsky born under a happier star — they would have done more for human advancement than if they had turned out thousands of ordinary college graduates.

The time has now come for those of us who are in control of women’s education to bend ourselves to the task of creating academic conditions favorable for the development of this kind of creative ability. We should at once begin to found research chairs for women at all our women’s colleges, with three or four hours a week of research teaching and the rest of the time free for independent investigation. We should reserve all of the traveling fellowships in our gift for women who have given evidence, however slight, of power to do research work. We should bring pressure on our state universities to give such women opportunities to compete for professors’ chairs. In the four woman-suffrage states this can be accomplished in the twinkling of an eye: it will only be necessary for women’s organizations to vote for university regents with proper opinions. The Johns Hopkins University situated in conservative Baltimore has two women on its academic staff who are lecturing to men. Why cannot all chairs in the arts departments of universities, that is, in the college and school of philosophy, be thrown open to the competition of women P. This is the next advance to be made in women’s education—the last and greatest battle to be won.

But have women ability of this highest kind to be developed? Can they compete successfully with men in the field of original and productive scholarship P Before this pertinent question even our dearest friends among college presidents and professors who are generously educating women balk and shy and lose themselves in a maze of platitudes about women’s receptive and unoriginative minds.” But what do we ourselves, what do we women, think? I for one am sure that women possess this ability. My opinion has been greatly strengthened by the scientific and sociological investigations of the past few years. Recent studies in heredity, including the work on Mendel’s law, seem to me to show conclusively that boys and girls inherit equally from both mothers and fathers in mathematical proportion, that a woman’s place in the inheritance and transmission of physical and mental and moral qualities is precisely the same as a man’s, that she is discriminated against in no way. Sociological investigations such as Professor Odin’s exhaustive study of 6,382 French men and women of talent, Mr. Havelock Ellis’ study of 902 British men and women of genius, Professor Cattell’s statistical study of 1,000 American scientific men, and other studies show us for the first time that favorable conditions of intellectual life are immensely important factors in the manifestation of men’s genius and talent.” In many parts of our own country a man of great intellectual ability has scarcely any chance at all of emerging. Massachusetts, for example, has 108.8 eminent men of science for every million of its population, while my own adopted state of Pennsylvania has only 22.7 per million; in Georgia the proportion dwindles to 2.8, and in Mississippi to 1.3 per million.

But only the women in this audience know how true it is that in the development of the highest scientific and scholarly qualities women have today far less favorable conditions than even men in Mississippi.

Mr. Havelock Ellis found that in Great Britain women of genius formed only one-twentieth of the whole number. Professor Odin found that in France women of talent formed precisely the same proportion — also only one-twentieth of the whole number; but that women furnished 29 per cent of eminent actors, and 20 per cent of all prose writers of distinction. In Great Britain likewise 53 per cent of all women of genius were authors, and 30 per cent actors. The explanation is clear. Women of genius and talent had more opportunity to come to the surface in these two professions. In all probability, the same proportion of women of genius and talent were born, with aptitude for scientific research or for productive scholarship, but were crushed by their unfavorable environment.

It seems to me, then, to rest with us, the college women of this generation, to see to it that the girls of the next generation are given favorable conditions for this higher kind of scholarly development. To advance the bounds of human knowledge however little is to exercise our highest human faculty. There is no more altruistic satisfaction, no purer delight. I am convinced that we can do no more useful work than this—to make it possible for the few women of creative and constructive genius born in any generation to join the few men of genius of their generation in the service of their common race.



Source: Publications of Collegiate Alumnae Magazine, February 1908, Series  III, No. 17, pp. 45-62.