In Behalf of Female Education in Greece
January 8, 1833 — St. John’s Church, Troy NY
[Speech read by the Reverend Mr. Peck]
It will not, I hope, be deemed indecorous, that I presume to address a few words, to this respected assembly, on the subject which has called us together. In conversing with my neighbors in regard to it, some, (and they are among those whom I love and respect, have appeared to look at me as though they thought I was possessed of a kind of infatuation, to interest myself so deeply in a subject. Methought they would have said, “What are the Greeks to you? You have already enough to do — why assume an additional burden in caring for this distant people?”
To justify my conduct to these, to move others to feel as I feel — I would briefly state the circumstances by which I have been led, and the reasons which actuate my conduct.
The cause of the Greeks has heretofore appealed to us, as that of a struggling and suffering nation. They have bled at every pore in the cause of liberty and the rights of man. We, as inheritors of a freedom b[r]ought about by the blood of our fathers, felt the appeal. Our deeds proved that we truly felt it. Again our domestic sympathies were touched. We heard of the Grecian widow, wandering with her helpless offspring over the devastated hills of her now barren country. She had no protector — for her husband had been butchered before here eyes: she had not shelter — for her cottage had been burned: and now her babes were hungry and cold — and she had neither food nor clothing to give them. As women, we fel the appeal, and our hands ministered to their necessities. We recollect the good work with satisfaction; and the circumstance that we have cared for them; that we have laboured for them, gives us a continued interest in their welfare.
With me, this interest was greatly increased, by the statements made by my respected fried, the Rev. Mr. Robertson, on his return from Greece. He travelled on foot over a considerable part of the country. The nescsities (sp) of the Greeks, their humble and earnest desires to be instructed — to be instructed by Americans; the people who had aided them in distress, and to whom they looked as models, were no hearsay stories with him. He had seen them with his eyes, and heard them with his ears, and his heart was moved to devote all his powers — his very life to their service.
A little incident occurred while he was relating to my family circle the circumstances which had thus greatly affected him, that made an impression on my mind, not less abiding than his moving descriptions. The evening he spent with us, he brought with him a young Greek, named Peter Santorinaos, who had accompanied him to America in the capacity of a servant. Peter modestly took a seat at a distance from the social circle, which was mostly composed of the teachers of our school. A map of Greece was produced, and Mr. Robertson showed us his route. On such and such spots, crowds had assembled around him, who, forgetting their bodily wants, were crying out for knowledge. “We are dark,” said they, “enlighten us — we are ignorant, teach us!” The theme interested the feelings of his auditors. Our conversation was animated, and our remarks on Greece — her former state and her political relations — were calculated to bring forth what little knowledge we might possess. Peter was a profound listener, and I observed the singular changes of his countenance from pleasure to grief. Mr. Robertson afterwards informed me that he wept much after he left us on that evening, and the next day — and when at length he was prevailed upon to reveal the source of his grief, he said, “I weep to see these American ladies ad think of my own countrywomen. Yet nature has made them equal. Would that they too could be instructed!”
The Rev. Mr. Richmond has returned among us with a zeal in this cause not less than that of Mr. Robertson, and he can bet detail the circumstances that have moved him, and should move us to feel it.
In journeying to this place, he met a former pupil of mine, Miss Phillips, of Cherry Valley. In speaking to her of the wants of the Greeks, he mentioned their need of a school to instruct female teachers. She proposed that my present and former pupils, chiefly the latter, should found one at Athens, and call it by my name, and she made at once a small donation to begin the undertaking. Mr. Richmond came to visit us with the proposal. I was absent, but my school was called together. Warmed with zeal for the Greeks, and pleased that honor should be done to me, they immediately commenced a collection, and this little fund of sixteen dollars is now in my hands. When I learned what had been done, I felt the love of my pupils, as well as the necessities of the Greeks; and with the project now before me, it became not only the cause of a distressed nation, but that of my sex — of female education — a cause in which I believe, (I speak it with solemnity,) God has specially called me to labor, and when I see important work to be done here, which it is in my power to do, I dare not refuse to undertake it — my conscience forbids me. This is also the cause of Christianity, in which all Christians are called to unite, for it will be our first object to teach the Greeks to read the word of God, the channel of his grace to man. With these views I told Mr. Richmond, that I was wiling to lend myself to the project, if any reasonable hopes of success could be entertained, but in the outset I objected to the name proposed. Could the three thousand pupils whom I have educated be summoned together by some charm, that they might again stand within the walls where they have stood, and listen together to a voice to which they have at different times given affectionate heed; then I doubted not, they might easily be persuaded to give the necessary aid to effect this project, for they have influence and wealth; and if in such a case it pleased them that the school should be called after my name, so it might be. But no such charm could be found; and if they were to be appealed to, it must be by my active exertions; and I would not that my good should be evil spoken of. I would not indeed, that an impulse to do good, should be mingled at its source with the base allow of selfishness. We should need, too, assistance from other quarters, before we could complete so great a work.
Mr. Richmond left Troy for Schenectady, and there he found Mr. William F. Walker, a pious student, nearly through with the collegiate course, and then successfully engaged in teaching a school. The mind of this young man had long been tuned to Greece, as the spot of all the earth, where labourers could do most good, and where duty called him to go. He returned to Troy with Mr. Richmond, and offered his services in the accomplishment of our project. I wrote to Schenectady and obtained form Dr. Nott and Professor Potter, recommendations highly satisfactory respecting him. Sometime since he turned his attention to the ministry, and he has performed the office of lay reader in several different churches, having received a license for this purpose form the late Bishop Hobart as well as form the present Bishop of this diocese. But feeling the desire to devote himself to the cause of Greece — having also turned his thoughts to the special importance of educating their women, he is wiling to go forth and begin his labors, now that there appears a call for his exertions. I engaged to send with him a well qualified lady. A person of the male sex is required in this enterprise, as it is to be a boarding establishment, and of course one of ours, as the young women need as much to be instructed in the domestic arts as in the rudiments of literature, and the ladies already in Greece (I know them and can answer for them) will give us every aid in their power. Mr. Walker, for aught he now knows, may be willing to devote his life to Greece, if his efforts in her service are found useful, and can be sustained. But we dare not promise to support a school for a long period of years, although we earnestly hope that should it succeed, the same Being, who has put it into our hearts to begin a good work, will enable us to continue it, or raise up others who will. We, who form this society, do not intend to pledge ourselves at this time for a period beyond two years. The experiment will by that time be fairly made, and our course thenceforward will be guided by events as we then find them. I was aware in the outset, of the importance of undertaking nothing prejudicial to what had been already done. I this respect I felt myself fortunately situated, from the personal confidence which subsists between myself and some of the members of the Greek mission. Mrs. Robertson is among the most pious and most esteemed of my former pupils; and for the series of years for which I have known her husband, not one but has added proofs to my mind of his possessing the most exalted of Christian virtues. When I was at the south, Mr. and Mrs. Hill were at considerable pains to pay me a visit. From the short interview I had with them, and from the representations of a mutual friend, I felt for them the liveliest esteem. This has since been heightened by the many proofs which they have given of zeal and ability in the cause of that people, for whose distresses my heart has so often bled. With these individuals is associated the Reverend Mr. King, with whom I have no personal acquaintance, but whose ability and pious zeal no one can doubt, and whose information concerning Greece — her wants, and the means most proper to supply them, must form the length of time he has been engaged in her service, be equal at least to that of any other person; — Mrs. King, a Grecian lady of Smyrna, who is ranked very high for learning and intelligence; — and Miss Milligan, a sister of Mrs. Hill, who is said to be a woman of mind, of heart, and of piety.
With these gentlemen I thought it best that our society should communicate directly; but I would not do even this, without the approbation of the Missionary Society, to which they look for protection. And by the mediation of Mr. Richmond I have received from the Sec. of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society at Philadelphia, a letter expressive of their approbation to the undertaking. Here then is a machine contrived to do good, but the power to move it is not yet created. It is thought that three thousand dollars will effect the object. I offer it to give a manuscript of my European Journal, which, when printed, I expect will sell for a dollar each copy. It seems not an extravagant supposition that three thousand copies of it may be sold; a number equal to that of my former pupils. We want now the money to pay for the publication of this book. I would not (as some of my neighbors have reproached me, and I hope all are of the same spirit) be so selfish as to desire to do all the good myself. They feel not less zeal; and I doubt not they will manifest it. There is no danger that we shall have too much money. We should be glad to have it in our power, by raising a larger fund than that named, to engage in the undertaking for a longer period than two years.
As our brother Richmond can tell us, it is not alone the fertile minds of the Greeks that lie waste for want of cultivation; their fields are barren too. Why? are the Greeks unwilling to labor? Is their soil unfruitful? No, but alas! They starve because they are too poor to buy oxen and ploughs, or even spades and hoes to move the soil; and their naked hands cannot break up the solid ground, and encounter the thorns and briars with which it is overrun. Forty-eight of the most wealthy, or rather the least destitute, of their citizens have petitioned that money may be lent them to procure these necessaries; and they have offered to give security for the payment of an annual interest of eight per cent. Should the missionaries now in Greece, whom we propose to make the Trustees of our school, find their offered security unquestionable, and could we raise money enough to have a sum to invest for the advantage of the contemplated school, we should delight to make it answer the purpose of this double charity. The principal, to cultivate their fields and give them their daily bread the interest, to improve their minds, that they may find through the blessed word of Inspiration, “that bread of God which cometh down from above, and giveth life to the world.”
But if a fund is to be raised, who are to be its recipients, and to whom are we to look that it shall be faithfully expended for the purposes for which it is given? For this we propose that a Female Society be organized. The ladies of Troy have recently done much good, through much toil and exertion, but they are not yet weary of well doing. At the close of this meeting subscription papers will be handed to all those who are disposed to aid us in this work. We propose that the ladies meet to-morrow afternoon at the Female Seminary, to organize the society, and that it be named “A Society for the advancement of Female Education in Greece.”
Some may think that the missionary society, might be the proper disposers of our fund; but they are distant, and to burden ourselves with the task of communicating with them, while we depend on ourselves to raise the fund, would seem a needless trouble to them and to us. But there is another reason of considerable moment why a Female Society should be formed. It is important that the young king of Greece should be favorable to our undertaking, and it is probable that a letter in behalf of our school from a Ladies’ Society, would appeal more forcibly to him than one from a Missionary association. The letter we could doubtless procure to be (sp) sent to the German Government, through the American department of state. The king might be moved not only to tolerate our project but to give it effectual aid. When Bolivar was at the heght (sp) of his power I ventured to write to him, urging the importance of female education to his rising empire. I received an elegant answer throngh (sp) the minister of the interior, and I have since learned that a female institution, with five female professors, is established at Bogota.
When our society is formed it will be proposed to them to make Messrs. Robertson, King and Hill trustees of our school; and, as our agent is yet young and inexperienced, especially in the affairs of Greece, that we place our fund in the hands of these gentlemen to dispose of in the manner which they shall deem expediency to promote the best interests of our school. Perhaps our society may think fit as formerly, when the ladies of Troy sent the Greeks supplies of clothing, to appeal to the ladies in other places to aid in our good work. We shall doubtless seek to devise the best means to advance it. In ancient story we are told that one of our sex remaining in Troy wrought harm to the Greeks. In modern recital may it be said, that women of American Troy have done them lasting good.
In further considering the subject of benefiting the Greeks, all will acknowledge that if we would impart to them the blessings of education, we must begin with those in the nation who are now young. The half of these are females. There are many reasons for considering their education at least of equal importance with that of the other sex. But I wish not to exhaust the subject of female education, for I know that there are those among us of the other sex, more capable than myself to do it justice, who are convinced of its importance; and I see in this circumstance the most consoling hopes of the future accomplishment of what has long been the leading motive of my life. Justice will yet be done. Woman will have her rights. I see it in the course of events. Though it may not come till I am in my grave — yet come it will; for men of the highest and most cultivated intellect, of the purest and most pious hearts, now perceive its necessity to the well being of the world, where it is their glory to be workers together with God, to produce a moral revolution.
When these take up our cause in earnest, they will with ease effect what we desire; and they will find their reward even while performing the noble work. It is theirs in the order of nature to protect our public rights; ours, to show our gratitude by gladdening with smiles and heart-felt kindness, their domestic and social exis tence.
But what if men neglect our rights? The history of the present time answers the question, and some of our greatest evils may be traced to this source. What but the neglect of our moral and intellectual education, is the cause that the tender being whom God made capable of being morally the best, becomes in so many horrid instances morally the worst of our race.
In speaking of the faults of my own sex, I would not by any means exculpate them, or lay all the blame upon the other. But when men in their legislative capacity, forget our rights — when in expending millions for the education of male youth, they bestow not a thought on us — when in some cases, as might be shown, they make laws oppressive to us, it is not strange that some among us of impetuous spirits, madly seek to break the social order, and dissolve that golden link which God himself has instituted, and in which woman, in obedience to her nature, and the express commands of God, acknowledges man as her head. Men of disordered minds, or ambitious views, have encouraged the phrenzy. Hence the ravings of Mary Wolstoncraft, of Frances Wright and Robert Owen; and hence the frantic sect which are now denouncing marriage, and disturbing Paris, under the name of St. Simoniens. But there are women who can feel for their sex, as patriots feel for their country. If such an one steps forward in defence of their rights, she must indeed have the spirit of a martyr. While she resists the impulse of her own sensitive and shrinking nature, she must encounter from the men, the imputation of having cast off that feminine sensitiveness which is what most recommends her to them. Thus situated, most women of the finest minds, muse in pensive silence on the injustice they cannot but feel; and often, when such women are found moody, and are thought capricious, it is this which is the cause of their ill humour and dejection; and hence the delight they feel when men step forward to advocate their cause.
Again I say, it is because our men perceive this, that I have hopes for the future. When I assert that it is hard for a woman to step forward in public vindication of the rights of her sex, my assertion will have some weight, because in this case it is testimony. Men see this, and their generous minds will be moved, themselves, to undertake the work of kindness and of justice, graceful in them and grateful to us.
Societies of women, too, will doubtless hereafter be formed to aid in its accomplishment; and what is the society now proposed but a society for this noble purpose?
That the system of female education commenced among us, is incomparably better than the systems of public education for our sex in the old states of Europe, I could say much to prove. I could bring forward the testimony of some of the most distinguished women of France, expressed in letters which I have had the honor to receive from them. I could adduce conversations with some of those of Great Britain; but time would fail, and the subject will be treated in the book which I have given to aid the project now before us. Besides, I doubt not you are already convinced of the fact. We would that we could impart to those nations, sounder views on this subject, and better systems. But they would not receive them from us. Grown old in their ways, and regarding us as young, they would turn with supercilious contempt from any efforts of ours to improve them. Not so with Greece; she looks to us and solicits us to teach her. Should we impart to her the elements of moral vigor, she will increase in strength as in years, and when at length their vices shall have sunk them to the grave of nations, — when society shall with them, as now with the Greeks, be dissolved to its original elements, then Greece may impart to them what she now receives from us. But, if we are to undertake this work, the present is the time. A little money, as Mr. Richard can inform us, will now do much; and small means may now effect what could not be done at all, should we wait till female schools on the old European plan are established. The schools which first take root, will grow with the growth of the nation; and as we confidently hope, they will ere long be supported by the Greeks, if we defray their first expenses.
At the same time that I thus plead for Greece, I must frankly say that I consider it still more important to the cause of female education to give permanency to the improvement which Tory herself has begun. But that requires means beyond any effort of mine to produce. All that I can do has been done to aid in rearing our institution. Once, my health has failed in consequence of sustaining the burden, and now there are times when I feel that it is sinking again. But the good which God puts it in my power to do, that let me do cheerfully, without repining that I cannot do more. By educating numbers, by bringing up teachers, and scattering them abroad, I may diffuse widely what I believe to be correct views of female education. Some of the seed thus scattered, may take root and flourish permanently, though what is done here may roll back, when the spirit that sustained it has fled. But all things are in the hand of God. He may open a way where human eyes see none; and if we truly serve hi, his gracious promise is, that light shall spring up for us even in darkness.
What could be more discouraging than were the prospects of Greece? From a train of disastrous circumstances, she lost for a long and dark period, even her national existence. Now, politically born again, she has, like her own Hercules, strangles in her cradle the serpent that writhed himself around her with murderous pressure; and with the meek lineaments of dependent childhood, she now stands with imploring eyes, and asks for guidance and instruction. And as far as she is allowed the liberty of choice, she chooses America for her guardian. Our hearts are touched by the appeal; and let not our hands refuse to act in obedience to the generous impulse. Let us adopt and educate her, as far as is practicable; and we shall hereafter have cause to rejoice with material pride, over the child of our adoption. Where is a nation so noble in its lineage as Greece? Where does the sun shine upon a people so bright in native intellect? With the advantages of instruction; with the renovating light of pure Christianity; Greece may again lead the nations of Europe, not merely to eminence in arts and arms, but by moral regeneration, to the glorious liberty of the sons of God!
But I must close. I have already too long trespassed on your patience. If I could farther dilate, it would be on the duty which we owe as Christians, to teach this race, highly gifted by nature, but darkened in their mind by ignorance; this people who ask it at our hands, to read the words of eternal life. To ancient Athens we owe much. We are indebted to her for the purest system of uninspired morality which the world has yet seen; and concerning which a celebrated philosopher has said, “If I were not a Christian, I would be a stoic.” Yet how does this light face wholly away, when compared with the brightness of Christianity! Could we send the Bible to the modern Athenians and teach them to understand it, how greatly should we have overpaid our debt! Nay, many a single page — thousands of single texts — going forth in the power which dictated them, are worth incomparably more than all their vaunted science. As the vault of heaven exceeds the domes of their boasted temples, so does the plan of God’s salvation, exceed the puny efforts of man, to renovate a fallen world.
If it be infatuation to be zealous in such a cause, I desire to be infatuated. If it be infatuation to be moved with compassion for degraded and imploring humanity, who of us, my brothers and sisters, would not wish to follow through such infatuation, the steps of our blessed Master? Oh! had not the Saviour of the world been moved with compassion for us, what had bene our condition! Where our consolations in this life — where our hopes of a better!
Source: Troy Press, Jan. 17, 1833.
Also: Episcopal Watchman (Hartford), Feb 9, 1833.
Also: American Ladies’ Magazine (Boston) 6, May 1833, pp. 232-36.
Also: Advancement of Female Education: or a Series of Addresses In Favor of Establishing At Athens, in Greece, a Female Seminary Especially Designed to Instruct Female Teachers, by Emma Willard (Troy: Norman Tuttle), 1833, pp. 3-13.