Woman in Paganism and Christianity
February 25, 1883 — Frobisher’s Hall, New York City
Within the last few weeks a prominent clergy man has risen in our midst to tell us all about women—their history, their duties, and their place in the world. He is a man, and other men have applauded his conduct and endorsed his views. For three Friday evenings now this divine has had his say and no one has replied to him. But, considering the extraordinary nature of his utterances, it is certainly quite time that some woman should endeavor to present the views of women on subjects they may reasonably be supposed to understand.
Now, we have no fault to find with this reverend gentleman individually. He is a man of great learning, of wide culture, and of much excellence of character, a man whose broad benevolence has made him a benefactor to many, and he is no doubt perfectly honest in his views, as well as earnest in their presentation. . But when this gentleman uses the position in which he stands, strongly intrenched with all the wealth of the wealthiest church in the country to sustain him, with his social standing, his congregation, his clerical brethren all giving him strength, -when he uses these great advantages to try to arrest the struggles of womanhood for freedom, to bind still tighter the chains she has half cast off, to stifle all her aspirations for a better life, then surely the time has come for some woman, speaking for her sex as well as her powers will permit, to re ply to this clerical dictator.
For this divine, shunning the broad light of the nineteenth century, retires within the cloistered walls of Trinity Chapel, and from thence, refusing to see the Sun at noonday, cries out, Let us live here with the past; this gentle twilight is better than the rude glare of day. Here, ladies, your silks and satins will be sheltered from all storms; let us then stop and dream in this cosy warmth and gentle shade.
Apparently the reverend doctor knows no world outside of the soft cushions of his velvet-lined pews. “Peace, prayer, retirement!” this, he says, should content all women. “Maternity is the glory of – womanhood, and in this is she redeemed.”
If from the easy chair of his study he dimly discerns the forms of women madly struggling in the great river of life, striving vainly for bread, for honest living, he says to them, Peace, retirement, these are women’s happiness. If he sees a wretched mother shuddering on the brink of the river, and clasping to her breast a miserable baby that is her shame and her disgrace, to her he says, “Maternity is your highest function!” If he hears penetrating even through his curtained windows the voices of women who cry and plead for better opportunities for their sex, he bids them be silent; meekness, forbearance, patience are the virtues which most adorn womanhood.
Ah, he is himself too late, this respectable relic of the middle ages! The chariot of progress is moving on. At its front sits awakened womanhood with the glory of hope in her starry eyes, and not even the Rector of Trinity Church is strong enough to block the wheels of that triumphant car !
Now let us analyze a little in detail what this reverend gentleman has said. He declares first that all that woman has to-day she owes to the Church. Let us look a little into this statement, and see if a man of his cultivation ought to make it in the face of the facts of history. It has been a favorite objection against woman’s emancipation to say that it was a “reform against nature,” that women have always been subordinate, and therefore always will be. There is some excuse for such an assertion from a man who has read nothing and knows nothing, but from the learned doctor it is absolutely astonishing.
We might expect the Rev. John Jasper, of Richmond, Va., who declared that the earth stood still and the sun went round it, to make some such ignorant assertions, but from the Rev. Morgan Dix they are amazing!
Women in this country to-day are only asking for the liberties they enjoyed in Egypt 4000 years ago. If we turn to that wonderful nation, whose stupendous monuments and gorgeous palaces still remain to tell what was the magnificence of their civilization, we shall find that woman occupied a position in the political, social, and business world that was equal to man’s. In that wisest of all nations there were no cruel laws against women be cause of their sex. Their twin gods were Isis and Osiris, sister and brother, wife and husband, the woman’s name always mentioned first. The queen also had equal power with the king, sometimes even greater, as Cleopatra was more influential than her husband Ptolemy, even after the Greek con quest.
The records on their monuments and the traditions of Egyptian history show men and women laboring together, dealing together in the market place, and sitting together at the council board. Property was transmitted in the female line, which was held to be the more surely legitimate. There was no thought in that land of denying to women the highest education. Wise women practised as physicians, pious women preached as priestesses, and learned women taught as the public instructors of both men and women, down to the time when the accomplished and beautiful Hypatia was torn to pieces by a Christian mob.
The position of women in Rome, too, under the emperors was in many respects better than the position of women in our boasted republic to-day. In the early days of Rome in the times of the kings women were held in great degradation. Captured, like slaves, from the Sabines, they had no rights whatsoever, no rights even to their children; they could be divorced at the pleasure of the husband; they could not travel without permission of the state, and even their wardrobe was interfered with — a woman was by law allowed only three dresses.” Think of that in these times of Saratoga trunks!
But women were no more contented with this denial of equality then than they are now. Then as now they protested against the injustice; then as now they found earnest women to represent them, as when Hortensia, the daughter of Cicero’s rival, pleaded in the forum the cause of her sisters with an eloquence that won her cause, and these continued agitations brought about great changes in the condition of women, until under the empire women were in some respects better off than they are in America to-day. They could inherit property and trans act business, and could even contract an honorable marriage, which left them complete liberty of action, and did away with all subordination even in that relation.
Maine (Gaius) says of the position of women under Roman law : “The jurisconsuls had evidently at this time assumed the equality of the sexes as a principle of the code of equity. The situation of the Roman woman, whether married or single, became one of great personal and property independence.”
The distinctions of caste were cruel indeed in that period when slavery prevailed and hopeless degradation was the lot of so many men and women, but arbitrary disabilities on account of sex had al most disappeared. Volumnia and Cornelia were revered and honored for their public counsels and services, and the superiority of the educated and noble women of that day is proved by the reflection that even to us a “Roman matron” seems a grander figure than an American wife.
Among the more barbarous nations of Europe which afterwards embraced Christianity women were also held in far greater reverence than pre vailed at a later period. On marriage the German gave to his wife a horse, bridle, and spear, emblematic of her equality, and chastity was expected from men as well as from women. Mature women were sought for in council, and Tacitus said of these Germans, “In all grave matters they consult their women.”
The ancient Britons also held women in high esteem, and Boadicea as queen led her armies to battle, while the priestesses were regarded with the greatest veneration.* All the fabled stories of the day show how morality was expected of men equally with women. “The famous legends of the Round Table show that those knights still maintained the pagan virtues of their ancestors, admired Sir Gala had for his purity, and looked upon the sin of Sir Launcelot as equal to that of Queen Guinevere.
The Scandinavians held that women were inspired by reason of their sex, no married man ventured on any expedition for war or for the hunt without his wife’s consent, and the marriage relation was held as of equal sanctity for both sexes. In all these nations women were revered as priestesses and prophetesses, from the Alruna or holy women among the Scandinavians to the priestesses of Westa, and the Bona Dea in Rome, and the inspired Pythoness at Delphi.
We find, then, women not degraded and enslaved, but enjoying equal legal rights and great power among the Romans, and regarded everywhere as the equals if not the superiors of men among the Teu tonic races. Such was their condition when Christianity was first preached.
And now let me say that I hope that no one will for one moment suppose that I have aught to say of disrespect of what is purest and best in Christianity. Dogmatic theology founded on masculine interpretation of the Bible is one thing; what is true and lovely in Christianity is another and far different. The Christian virtues of love, charity, forbearance, these have done much to redeem the world; but Christianity as embodied in a church or hampered in a creed has been perverted to many base purposes.
One is the chorus of angel voices chanting “peace on earth, good will towards men;” the other is the stern utterance of a masculine priesthood pretending that their own cruel laws are the commands of the in finite Creator. One is the beautiful green pastures by still waters, where the lion and the lamb shall lie down together, and the beggar and the prince shall walk side by side; the other is a frowning castle, within whose gloomy walls many prisoners lie in darkness and chains.
Let us then see what this man-made Church has done for women: In the early days of Christianity women and men labored together to teach the new religion. Women were preachers and deaconesses, St. Paul himself frequently speaking of their work in his epistles. Indeed, their public ministrations in the Church continued until A.D. 365, when the Council of Laodicea, in its eleventh canon, forbade the ordination of women to the ministry; and women still continued to be deaconesses until the Council of Orleans in the year 511 took from them even this privilege.
But as the years passed on, the priesthood grew in arrogance and the desire for power. The gentle teachings of the early Christians were forgotten, the usurpations of Rome increased, and the supremacy of the priesthood was established by the absorption of wealth, and, as knowledge is power, by grasping all learning.
Education was discouraged for men and denied to women, and thus this monstrous body, the Church of the middle ages, was built up to be a giant of enormous potency.
In those days books were almost wholly in the hands of priests. Charles Martel, Richard Coeur de Lion, and the greatest warriors of the day could neither read nor write. Ignorance was the universal rule, and women were, of course, uneducated and consequently degraded.
But the most grievous wrong of that day, the cause of the gradual degradation of woman, was to be found in the establishment of the celibacy of the clergy. This doctrine that a priest must not marry was the fruitful source of infinite woe to women—a doctrine which, by the way, this reverend gentleman himself preached and practised for a large portion of his life. No wonder he stands to-day as the apostle of woman’s subordination, he who for so many years advocated that priestly isolation and denial of home life which for centuries wrought such misery to our sex.
This hideous doctrine of a celibate priesthood was maintained only by a constant struggle against the better and truer instincts of the heart. In order to sustain it women were declared to be by nature inferior, to be unfit to associate with men, to be unworthy and degrading in their influence over all who approached them. With this cruel set of maxims was the human heart preached down for a thousand years, and even to-day we suffer from those teachings which were rendered necessary to prevent men from entering the natural and happy relation of marriage.
In order to excuse this theory of woman’s inferiority on account of her sex, which was utterly in conflict with pagan views, there was set up the absurd dogma that all women must be punished because of “Eve’s sin;” a dogma borrowed from the ancient Jewish writings, and which is reiterated even by Dr. Dix to-day. How absurd this theory is, how utterly without foundation on any intelligent interpretation of the story of Eden, a brief analysis of that story will show you.
The right of individual interpretation of Scripture, I suppose, even women may claim since the Reformation, and, looked at by their eyes, the the true meaning of this account is at once apparent.
There is a fable of the olden times—when, accord ng to the myths of many peoples, the lower animals were endowed with speech—which tells how a painter had portrayed a lion prostrate on the ground with a man standing in triumph over him, and having his foot on the beast’s head. A lion chancing to pass by just after the picture was complete, the painter called him in, and asked him what he thought of this delineation. The king of beasts looked at the picture with a sniff of disapproval, and then said shortly:
“Just wait till lions paint pictures!”
Hinting that in that case the position of the lion and the man would probably be reversed. *
So when women interpret the Scriptures they find a very different meaning from that which men, including Dr. Dix, give to it. Let us then analyze this account of the Creation. We find in the first chapter of Genesis, twenty-seventh verse, that “male and female,” both were created in “the image of God,” and in the following verse, that they were jointly given “dominion” over the earth, showing that they were created as absolute equals.
But in the more minute account which follows we find proof rather of man’s inferiority than his Superiority. He was made, we are told, out of “the dust of the earth,” while woman was made from his rib, superior material, certainly, to the mere dust! The portion of his body from which she was taken also was significant of her true relation to him; as she was taken not from his head, to be above him, or from his feet, to be beneath him, but from his side, to be his equal.
The creation of Adam himself was evidently a mistake, by himself he was but a wretched creature. As Dr. Dix has it, “Alone he is good for nothing, incomplete, imperfect, useless.” ” So that with woman came harmony and happiness. Adam him self was indeed ready enough to acknowledge her superiority, as he said at once, when he saw his bride:
“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife.”
He uttered no nonsense about his headship, said nothing about her cleaving to him, but at once perceived the supreme position of the wife, and his conduct at the time of the temptation indicated plainly that he looked upon her as his leader. The whole of that story indeed shows man in such a pitiable light, so entirely contemptible was his conduct in endeavoring to shield himself at the woman’s expense, that one would think men would not like to have the matter alluded to. And indeed it is so evidently the part of kindness not to speak of the story of Adam that I should be reluctant to talk of it now, had not Dr. Dix forced it upon our attention.
We find then, pursuing the story, that Eve was tempted by “a serpent,” according to the best commentators, an angel” in disguise, a superior being, not a mere mortal like herself; and when first this angel urged her to eat of the forbidden fruit she remonstrated with him, and protested that such action would be in direct opposition to the expressed commands of God. It was then that the angel finally persuaded her, by no ignoble inducement, but by the promise of knowledge; and the woman seeing that this “seraphim,” + a creature of superior attainments, assured her that no harm would come of her transgression and that the fruit was “to be desired to make one wise,” took of the fruit and ate it.
This is the account of the fall of woman. Now what did Adam do, as the “head of his wife?” Did he remonstrate with her? Did he as her “guide” denounce her conduct or even argue with her concerning the dire consequences of her act Oh, no not a word did he say, not a reminder of the terrible “warnings they had received as to the consequences of disobedience, not an argument in regard to possible advantage did he require. The simple statement is made that she “gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.”
It takes six verses to describe the fall of woman, while the fall of man is contemptuously dismissed in a line and a half.
And what makes Adam’s part in this great drama the more subordinate is the fact that he was undoubtedly present during the whole scene, as the words “her husband with her,” in verse six, plainly indicate. He, however, evidently regarding his wife as the superior, expected her to take the leading part in the transaction, and meekly followed her lead. This, indeed, makes his subsequent conduct in striving to excuse himself by blaming her a shade more pardonable. But I think you will admit that, considering the story of the “fall of man” as related in the Bible, and reading it by the light of common sense, it seems evident that there cannot reasonably be founded upon it any argument for the inferiority of woman. And yet this absurd and monstrous dogma of woman’s degradation was maintained by the Church through all the middle ages, and finds its representative even to-day in men like the Rec tor of Trinity.
How far-reaching has been the wrong this theory has inflicted upon women it is difficult for us to understand; but it is at the root and foundation of every idea of woman’s inferiority which afflicts us to-day. Every denial of education, every refusal of advantages to women, may be traced to this dogma, which first began to spread its baleful in fluence with the rise of the power of the priest hood and the corruption of the early Church.
St. Augustine, whose early life was most dissolute, was one of the first who * taught this doc trine of Original Sin, and thenceforth this doctrine was reiterated and elaborated by the “fathers of the Church” as a powerful means of maintaining the celibacy of the clergy, the repetition of this idea tending constantly to the degradation of the sex.
St. Chrysostom, whose prayer Dr. Dix reads at every morning service, maintained this doctrine, and described woman as “a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirable calamity, a domestic peril, a deadly fascination, and a painted ill.”
All association with this weak and degraded half of humanity was discouraged among men; marriage was looked upon as a species of humiliation, and the Emperor Honorius banished the learned Jovinius because he asserted the possibility that a man might be saved who lived with his wife These were the teachings of that Church to which Dr. Dix declares that women owe everything !
It was but an easy step, after marriage was declared degrading for men, to reduce women to utter subservience, to declare that all women should respect and obey all men: first the priest, then the husband, the father, the son, or indeed any man; and thus was built up that idea of man’s superiority which has so firm a hold on society to-day.
Of course such views lead to utter immorality, and the so-called celibate priesthood were really most vicious in their lives.” Where women were taught their inferiority they easily fell into slavery to all men,” and in every community was established that class which is to-day the disgrace of our sex and of humanity.
At the end of fifteen hundred years of nominal Christianity this was woman’s position. The old respect was gone. She had lost her property rights, her education, her political power. All women were in subjection to all men: they were denied the priesthood and the command of armies, in marriage they were held subordinate, and the chastity so esteemed by the pagan northern nations had given place to indiscriminate immorality.
With Protestantism, however, came the dawn of a new era, the first ray of light of the coming noonday. The right of freedom of thought, the right of private judgment, the right to criticise the Church and the priesthood, these new ideas were the harbingers of human liberty. And when Mar tin Luther took a nun in honorable marriage he struck the first blow for woman’s final emancipation from the monastic thraldom of the mediaeval period.
From that day to this the struggle has gone on, the champions of liberty claiming personal freedom which has been gradually extended to the laborer, to the slave, and last of all to woman, who is still held in bondage by the teachings of the past and the arbitrary dictates of a masculine priesthood which even to-day re-echoes the spirit of the dark ages. Within a year or two the Rev. Knox Little, a clergyman of the English Church, delivered a sermon to a large audience of ladies in Philadelphia, in which he said:
“Loving submission is one attribute of woman; men are logical, but women, lacking this quality, have an intricacy of thought. There are those who think women can be taught logic. This is a mis take.” They can never by any power of education arrive at the same mental status as that enjoyed by men; but they have a quickness of apprehension, which is usually called leaping at conclusions, that is truly astonishing. Here then we have the distinctive traits of a woman, namely, endurance, loving submission, and quickness of apprehension. Wife hood is the crowning glory of a woman. In it she is bound for all time; to her husband she owes the duty of unqualified obedience. There is no crime which a man can commit which justifies his wife in leaving him, or applying for that monstrous thing, divorce. It is her duty to subject herself to him always, and no crime that he can commit can justify her lack of obedience. If he be a bad or wicked man she may gently remonstrate with him, but refuse him never!”
These are the doctrines preached even to-day by the representatives of that Church to which this reverend doctor says that women owe their liberty, and thinks they will believe him.
Side by side with the doctrine of inferiority and submission taught to women went naturally the denial to them of all education; and when we reflect how persistently women were forbidden all instruction, it is no wonder that for centuries they have seemed utterly and abjectly inferior to men. In 1570 a learned lady was hooted through the streets of Paris for daring to propose a school for girls. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu apologized for translating Epictetus, as the study of Latin was unfit for . a woman, and advised that her granddaughter should be educated, but that the fact should be concealed that it should not interfere with her marriage Somewhat of this spirit has indeed survived almost to this day, and some of us will remember being told in solemn warning that “men do not like a learned woman.”
The good Abbé Fénélon, with all his kind-heartedness, thoroughly imbued with the spirit of the priesthood, feared that “contact with learning would be almost as fatal to a woman as vice.”
No wonder that, finding the women of his day such utter dunces, Voltaire bitterly declared that “Ideas are like beards, women and young men have none.”
Of course, as representing the Church which for centuries denied to women any education whatso ever, the Rector of Trinity is naturally foremost in trying to prevent the higher education of women. And it is well understood that Dr. Dix alone to-day prevents the opening of Columbia College to women. –
If I may be pardoned a personal allusion I will briefly narrate the story of my own application to this university in 1873, on behalf of several young ladies who were anxious to avail themselves of the benefits of the institution. These applicants were all girls of unusual promise. One of them was a valedictorian of the Normal College here, one was a graduate of Michigan University, and they were all qualified and earnest students. As two of my ancestors had been presidents of the college I felt an especial claim on it, and on turning to the charter of the university I found that this claim on be half of young women was apparently well founded.
The charter, which was granted by King George II. in 1754, declares that the college was founded for the “Education and Instruction of Youth in the Liberal Arts and Sciences.” Now “youth” is, ac cording to the dictionary, “young persons of both sexes,” so that it would seem that the original purpose of the university was to educate both young men and maidens; and this purpose appears the more proper when we find that the college was endowed by “the rector and inhabitants of the city of New York,” one half of these inhabitants of course being women, who might naturally wish to have their daughters benefited by the wealth they bestowed.
With this most reasonable foundation for the claim on behalf of my young friends I made formal application to the Faculty, and at once found that the applicants had a friend in the president of the college, Mr. Barnard, then as now an earnest advocate of co-education. But the request of the young ladies to be admitted to examination was referred to a committee of which Dr. Morgan Dix was the chairman, and was peremptorily refused.
The position which he held ten years ago this reverend stumbling-block holds to-day. A decade with all its stirring life, with all its living facts, has not advanced him one tittle or opened his eyes to the needs of the day. He says:
“Therefore, on theory first and on the principles enunciated already and not needing repetition, we protest against the system of co-education as mischievous, . . . as a practical question we hold it to be radically wrong.”*
And following this strong declaration of hostility he reiterates, as arguments against opening our universities to young women, certain dread forebodings of ill which the practical workings of the system he denounces have for years proved to be fallacious. We have only to turn to the testimony of the presidents and professors of colleges where co-education has been in use for years to prove the entire success of the experiment.
President White, of Cornell University, says: “The presence of women students has not tended to lower the standard of scholarship. Both manners and morals are improved. The language that so often disgraces places where young men are congregated together becomes impossible when lady students are present. On the whole, the effect upon the health of women has been favorable. The thoroughly educated woman obtains knowledge which enables her to preserve her health. Her education renders her less likely to ruin her health by a merely aimless, frivolous life. Our experience is that a considerable number of thoughtful women, especially those intending to devote themselves to the work of instruction, take with advantage the same studies which are given to young men. They seem to require the same food for the mind, just as they require the same food for the body. There is no rule as to the studies which lady students prefer. The student of this institution who took the Greek prize at the first inter-collegiate competition was a young woman.”
Professor J. Le Conte, M.D., late president of the University of California, says: “The presence of women has improved the manners and morals of both sexes. The young men and women are not necessarily thrown together except in the class-room; here each sex is a restraint upon the other, and the association has a good effect in manners and deco rum. There is comparatively little mingling of the sexes during recreation hours. We have a gymnasium; but separate hours are set apart for the young women. The two sexes meet on the grounds, in the library, and of course in the class-room. Many of the young women never become intimately acquainted with their, male classmates. There does not seem to be any very strong proclivity to love affairs. The imagination is not stimulated by class exercises. My experience and observation embrace the whole life of the university, from its organization in September, 1869.”
The University of Michigan was only opened to women after a struggle very similar to that going on with Columbia here to-day; but, after some fifteen years of trial, the president, Jas. B. Angell, says: “The presence of women in the college halls has doubtless been conducive to quiet and order in the buildings, because the men in the presence of women exercise the courtesies shown in this country by all well-bred men to the other sex. I was at first very solicitous as to the effect of college life on the health of young women. Now and then a woman has been admitted who was not in the proper physical condition to go on with college work. But our experience has brought us to the conclusion that a woman who is in good health on beginning her course, and who exercises a fair degree of prudence, can perform her allotted task without harm. Indeed, the regularity and pleasant excitement of the life proves conducive to health, and most women are more vigorous at their graduation than on their ad. mission. The demands made on the strength of young women by college work are certainly not so great as those made by ‘society’ on many a woman. I believe that it would be hard to find an equal number of young women in better health than the female students of the university. We have been surprised to find that the women have not shown more than men a gift for any special branch of study. Some have excelled in every branch, in the most abstract and difficult studies as well as in those which tax the mind less. They have shown the same diversity as the men.”
President John W. Beach, of Wesleyan University, Middletown, Conn., says: “It is eight years since young ladies were first admitted to equal privileges with young men in this college. At present we have in the college one hundred and eighty-four students; of these fourteen are ladies. There is no restraint put upon the freedom of association. In eight years we have seen no cause for imposing any. Our young ladies are good scholars, generally exceptionally good. In several instances they have been in the very front of their classes. Our course is a severe one, but they endure their work well. They are rarely ever on the sick list. I think in this respect they do much better than the young men. The more careful habits of their sex protect them against much of the carelessness of college life, and so against many causes of the indispositions under which the young men are often complaining. Fortified as they are by the proprieties of their sex, from which they will not and cannot well break away, they ought to be in college, and I think will be found to be, the hardier sex; with their habits they do not need the strength that the ordinary collegian does. They are forbidden to waste in the degree to which he will, and so for proper college work have all the strength that he has, and according to my observation even more than he has. I could not ask for a healthier body of students than ours would be if only the young men graded in health with the young women. As to any deterioration of scholarship resulting from co-education, we here know and think of no such effect. The system could only work to such a result through the poor scholarship of the young ladies, or through their abuse of our elective system. It is supposable that the young ladies might make such an election of studies as would in its measure tone down the rigor of our college training. But as a fact their scholarship in what they undertake has always been high; and in the choice of their electives the lady students that have graduated have almost with out exception elected the severer studies — a course that can never degrade the scholarship of a college.”
President William F. Warren, of Boston University, Boston, Mass., says: “The university makes no provision for the boarding and lodging of students. Students not living at home board and room wherever they or their natural guardians choose. A local society of ladies interested in the work of the university, the ‘Massachusetts Society for the University Education of Women,” has this year appointed a committee to assist any young women who, coming to the city as strangers, may desire advice in the selection of rooms, etc. With all the freedom of the past in this respect no in stance of improper association of the sexes has come to the knowledge of the authorities. The presence of female students has in no case depressed the standard of scholarship in any department of the university. Much of the time since the opening of the College of Liberal Arts, for the sake of restricting the size of our classes, the standard of requirements for admission has been higher than in any other American college. Meanwhile no young woman candidate has ever failed to pass the entrance examination, and no female student has ever had to take a second-class ‘examination’ by reason of failure in the first. As to the refining, elevating effect of the collegiate association of the sexes, it would be difficult for me to express my full convictions without apparent extravagance. If ever college manners and morals are reformed it will be by abolishing the unnatural sex-isolation out of which an unnatural academic life has grown. As to health I cannot recall a single instance in the nine years in which a young woman has been broken down or even set back in her course in consequence of over exertion in the effort to master the curriculum.”
This is strong testimony which directly contradicts the direful prognostications of the worthy Rec tor of Trinity, who declares that “nature herself forbids co-education,” and, in spite of those facts as to the absence of all demoralizing results from the association of the sexes in study, insults all young women who are desirous of obtaining a college education by predicting that, “the entrance of Athene into our collegiate halls will be inevitably followed by the advent of Aphrodite.” Ah, what this clerical alarmist really fears is not Aphrodite, but a divinity who has no place in the Greek Pantheon, the Goddess of Liberty the latest-born of all the goddesses, and the only one that is immortal!
But here is more testimony to the complete success of co-education, even in conservative England.
At a meeting held last spring to advocate the admission of women to Columbia College, letters were read from four eminent English teachers — Professor Henry Jackson, Vice-Master of Trinity College, Cambridge; Professor J. P. Postgate, of Cambridge and London Universities; Professor James Bryce, M.P., and J. G. Fitch, Government Inspector of Schools for England and Wales, and Member of the Senate of the London University. Extracts from these letters are given herewith.
Professor Jackson says in his letter:
“Having taken classes of ladies through the Ethics and a part of the Metaphysics of Aristotle, and the ‘Republic,’ the ‘Phaedo,” and the ‘Philetus” of Plato, I can speak in the very highest terms of their industry and capacity. I put their attention to a severe test, as I sometimes lectured for an hour and a half, and even for an hour and three quarters, without interruption. As a proof of their capacity, I may mention that at the end of the academic year 1877–78, I examined some of my lady pupils in the Aristotle papers which I was giving to the Trinity men who graduated in 1879, and the Plato papers, which I was giving to the Trinity men who graduated in 1880, and that one of the ladies was third in Aristotle and first in Plato.”
Professor Postgate says:
“The performances of women in examinations at Cambridge and elsewhere I look upon as wholly encouraging. The standard by which I should test them is an absolute one; and, judged by that, they show work which is intrinsically good and worth doing. At present there are close upon 150 women studying in Cambridge, of whom the majority are reading for honors examinations; so popular has the movement become in the country that when the Grace for admitting them to examinations was brought forward, it was carried in the largest division ever known by a majority of about ten to one. Both at Cambridge and at University College the women not unfrequently beat the men in the lists. Last year two thirds of those examined in comparative philology were women; and a wo man was easily first in the paper, beating another very good candidate, a man who has since taken a scholarship, I believe, at Oxford.”
Professor Bryce says:
“I am greatly interested to hear of the proposal made that some of the lectures at Columbia College should be thrown open to women students, and earnestly hope it may receive the approval of the college authorities. We in England are more and In Ore disposed to look to the opening of university classes to women as the best, the simplest, and the most effective means of providing higher education for women, and in raising up, in particular, a class of highly cultivated women teachers. I believe that the general feeling of those who, in England, have thought most on these matters and had the best opportunities of observing is clearly in favor of such a plan as is suggested for Columbia College.”
Inspector Fitch, in his letter, gives some particulars in regard to the results of admitting women to colleges with men. He says: “The older universities of Oxford and Cambridge took a very important step some sixteen years ago in the same direction when they determined to admit girls to the local examinations on the same conditions as boys. Little by little the schools of the country learned to avail themselves of this privilege, and this year about 4000 girls have been examined at various local centres by the authorities of the universities. This movement, however, affected only students of school age. The foundation of Girton and Newnham was a later step, and, as you well know, was designed to place a really academic education of the highest kind within the reach of women. For many years the university, acting with the traditional and not unbecoming caution that befits an ancient corporation, gave a sort of experimental and informal sanction to the plan, by simply permitting its examiners to report on the papers sent in by the students of these colleges. It is only within two years that the university has consented to give, on her own authority, to women, certificates exactly equivalent to degrees, and obtained after the same examinations as those given to men. All the other universities of the United Kingdom — Edinburgh, Dublin, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Durham, and St. Andrews — have followed the lead of the older universities in opening to girls as well as boys the full advantages of their local examinations.
“The University of London stands on a different footing from all of them. It is little more than an examining Board, though one of great authority and influence. A large number of its candidates come from no college at all, and have been prepared privately. Moreover, it is only fifty years old, and is not encumbered with ancient traditions which fetter its action. Hence it has been able to take a more decided step than any other university in the direction of improvement in women’s education. At first the experiment was made of maintaining a special examination for women, with a curriculum framed in supposed deference to special feminine needs. But, though many women availed them selves of this examination, it soon became evident that the successes they won were all achieved in the old lines, in classics, science, mathematics, literature — in fact, the subjects which belong to an ordinary course of liberal education, and not in any of the special studies which were presumed to be appropriate for them as women. Moreover, it was manifest that a special feminine examination was not what women wanted, for the public believed that it was inferior or specially lenient; whereas genuine students desired to have their knowledge and intellectual cultivation tested by the ordinary and recognized standards, and asked for no special tenderness or favor. Accordingly, after much discussion, it was determined in 1877 to obtain from the |crown a new charter, admitting women on exactly the same footing as men to all the degrees in all the faculties (arts, laws, medicine, science, music), and permitting them to receive the same honors and degrees.
“The experiment, as you see from the enclosed figures, has been decidedly successful. An increasing number of women has each year come up for matriculation and graduation, and some of the successes they have attained have been remarkable. The gold medal in anatomy — one of the chief and most coveted prizes in the medical profession — was won last year by a woman. Another lady came out first in mental and moral philosophy, and the pro portion of women who pass well in the examinations is much greater than that of the men. On the whole, I am more and more convinced that these movements have been entirely right and beneficent, and that their influence in raising the quality of education throughout the country has been enormous. What has been done is to encourage in girls’ schools and in colleges for women a more brainy and disciplined course of study; to give to female students new motives for intellectual exertion, a higher idea of work and more opportunities for self-knowledge, and, in particular, to create a large class of highly qualified lady teachers, who have given to the world the same guarantee of their possession of a liberal education that is usually afforded by holding a university degree. It is not only the few who have publicly distinguished themselves—the teachers, the students of medicine, and others who have made a professional use of their academic success—to whom the recent action of the universities, especially of Cambridge and of London, has proved a boon. Hundreds of women, now at the head of their own households, have carried into domestic life sounder knowledge, higher tastes and aspirations, stronger interest in truth, and greater power of influencing for good the lives and characters of those whom they love.
“It is, after all, by raising the general level of intelligence and of social and family life that these movements of the universities will be most completely vindicated, and not by those occasional successes in professions or in public life, which must be rather exceptional phenomena, so far as women are concerned.”
In these last sentences are contained testimony of the most valuable sort to the inestimable benefit that the education of women must bring, not only to themselves, but to their families. Every mother whose own early instruction has been neglected must have felt a pang when the boy, who had come to her for counsel in his studies, at last reached a point where she was obliged to say, “I do not know; I cannot help you.” She has seen the eager young face with a look of surprise on it, as he learned for the first time that there were limitations to the powers of this being whom he had looked on almost as a divinity. She has felt sadly that from that moment she had fallen irrevocably in her son’s reverence, and has dated from that period, per haps, the growth in the boy’s heart of a feeling per chance akin to contempt for her as “only a woman,” who could not be expected to know very much.
Contrast the position of this half-educated mother with that of one who has had all the advantages of a university course of study. How great must be her capabilities of aiding her children, how happy must she be that she can go hand in hand with her sons and daughters as they progress in their studies to the higher branches. How truly well-born should be the children of such a woman!
Why, for their own sakes one would suppose that all men would earnestly advocate the complete emancipation of women, for only as they are educated, instructed, and given equality of advantages can they be fitting companions for intelligent men. For what does a young man paint as the fair ideal of his dreams? A mere pretty doll ? A silly goose who has no ideas beyond dress? Not that I have any objection to the “gospel of good gowns;” on the contrary I quite believe in it, but dress should not be the paramount object even of a young woman’s life. And when a man in fancy sees the bride he hopes for, he thinks not of a frivolous weakling but of a woman beautiful indeed, but also strong, a woman on whom he can rely, whom he feels when he leaves home will be equal to any emergency that may arise, a woman who shall be his wife, his friend, and his companion.
Only thus worthily wedded will he have children of whom he can be proud. It is a well-admitted fact that all great men have owed much of their greatness to their mothers. There was that wonderful man who rose from humble life to be president of these United States, and fell in his prime; how much of his success he owed to that mother whose courage and energy proved her own great abilities which she transmitted to her son. And of the statesman whom France has just lost we are told that his powers he inherited from his mother. The father of Gambetta kept a small grocery store, and would fain have had his son spend his life in selling butter and cheese: it was his mother who, herself a woman of unusual capacity, discerned her son’s rare endowments, and made every sacrifice to give him an education and a career.
Such stories might be multiplied indefinitely, you have all heard them. If, then, men would wish to see their children indeed well-born let them see that wo men are given all opportunities of education and emancipation. Only as we have grand and noble women can we have grand and noble children.
Dr. Dix is fond of quoting Ruskin, but he does not go far enough; we would commend to him other words by the great critic, who, denouncing the present condition of women and its ill effect on men themselves, exclaims, “As if a man could be mated adequately with a shadow or worthily with a slave!’’
The curiously unreal way in which the rector of Trinity from his velvet easy chair looks at the questions of the day is illustrated by some of his re marks on this question of co-education. “There are domestic reasons,” he says, “for not exposing girls to the gaze and scrutiny of young men, a large part of whom are bent much more on amusement than on hard study.” ”
One would suppose that at present girls lived on an island where young men were unknown, that they now never saw them, and would, in case they went to college with them, for the first time dis cover the existence of these dangerous beings.
He says again: “There are social reasons for not throwing young men and women together at an age when the passions are strong, and the interest in each other is inevitable.”
Simple-minded rector of Trinity! He never heard of balls and parties, we must presume, of gay scenes where young men and women spend the hours of the night in dancing together in a contact far closer than would be tolerated in college halls, the girls wearing a scanty costume that would never be permitted in a class-room. Not a word against such a “throwing together of young men and wo men.” No “social reasons” against the “German,” but plenty of argument against the study of Greek!
Dr. Dix further expresses great horror at the de mands of those who would give young women all advantages of study.
“It is claimed,” he says, “that young women ought to know all that young men know, that they should not be afraid to look at anything a man may look at,” “to go with men wherever men go, to read whatever men read.”
If women had control of the morals of the world this would be only reasonable; there should be no books that may not be properly read by both men and women, there should be no public places to which men and women may not properly go together, no pictures or statuary that may not be looked at with propriety by brother and sister. Giving to women an equal voice in the control of all laws, written or unwritten, will do far more to purify the world than subordinating them to that sex of which the Doctor himself says the members are notable for “their lethargy of spirit and indifference to religion.”
Of course, with such complete misapprehension of the meaning and benefits of co-education, this reverend obstructionist continues to keep closed the doors of Columbia College. (By the way, how absurd is this feminine name for a university that refuses to admit women!)
In 1873 the excuse was made that the college buildings were too small, and that there was not room for any more students whether male or female ; but since that time great additions have been built, and the towers and battlements of this wealthy college stretch out in imposing spaciousness. Behind those ramparts this respectable fossil stands intrenched. But even as the walls of Jericho tottered and fell at the sound of a trumpet, so at the loud blast of the trumpet of progress must these gates open and admit young men and maidens, brothers and sisters, the lovely “youth” of our land who, hand in hand, shall go in together to the citadel of knowledge.
Small wonder that this man, who has done so much already to retard woman’s advancement, who represents the masculine supremacy which the priesthood has so long claimed, considers himself quite competent to tell women what they ought to do, and what is their place in the world. It would really be amusing if it were not provoking, this calm way in which men undertake to dictate to women what they shall or shall not do ; while it never seems to cross their minds that women have any right to dictate to men what they shall or shall not do. They discuss women as if they were a peculiar species of creature, without sense and without feeling. These reverend doctors and other self-constituted critics look upon us, as it were, like so many vegetables, to be classified and arranged without the slightest regard to our wishes. Class A. orchids, very delicate, must be kept under glass and carefully protected. Class B., turnips, useful domestic article, belongs in the kitchen garden. Class C., weeds, to be trampled under foot.
So they go on with their clumsy generalizations, never seeing that the orchid may be a palm tree re quiring space for its growth, that the so-called tur nip is perhaps a dahlia, and that there is hope even for weeds !
In declaring from the pulpit how women shall be educated, and what shall be their liberties, this reverend gentleman only represents the thoughts and assumptions of thousands of his sex. “I am willing to allow women to vote,” said a gentleman not long since. You will observe the lordly ego —“I” am willing to allow women to vote. How surprised he would have been had any woman said to him, “I am willing to allow men to vote.”
All history is full of just such masculine assumption. The Chinaman of a certain rank insists that the feet of all women shall be cramped and tortured till they are crippled for life, in hideous token of the slavery of their ancestresses; the Sandwich Islanders would not allow their women to eat certain fruits; the men of France refuse women admission to any of their higher colleges.
And now comes Dr. Dix to define women’s place and duties, and what does the worthy man consider should be their greatest pleasure? To adorn their minds with knowledge? To earn an honest livelihood & To make the path of life easier for others of their sex ; Oh, no, none of these. They must go to church and listen to the singing of the Magnificat!” They must not even sing themselves, but listen to the singing of this chant, intoned by a chorus of male voices. This, he says, is the touchstone to true woman hood, and he finds in the words of the anthem “Ecce Ancilla Domini,” the utterance of that “sweet submission” which is woman’s highest attribute. Ah, my friends, there is a grander hymn even than the Magnificat, as there is “a word that is dearer than mother, home, or heaven, and that word is liber ty.” ” A song that shall be sung by a grand and noble womanhood, not by a set of wretched, half-masculine creatures, such as Dr. Dix describes, miserable imitations of men striving vainly to contend with them, but educated and admirable women, who are doing women’s work in caring for women, in laboring to make the world purer and better, who are devoted to their homes faithfully, and then to that larger home which is the world in which we live and in which we have every one of us a work to do; women who will not lead lives of mere idleness and retirement, finding their occupation in the embroidering of altar cloths, and their pleasure in “listening” to the Magnificat; but women who shall lead lives of usefulness, for children, for friends, and for the state, and who in the grand chorus with their brothers shall sing that hymn to which the heart of every American is attuned.
A hymn that is as wide as our own, broad continent, and strong as the surges of the Atlantic; that sounds in the wild wind that sweeps through the pine forests of the North, and sings in the soft breezes of Southern Savannas; that swells with the rush of mountain torrents, and sings with exultant joy through the high arches of our sun-lighted sky; that is sweet as the ripple of waves, and grand as the roar of Niagara, the hymn of liberty.
Source: Woman’s Place To-Day: Four Lectures, In reply to the Lenten Lectures on “Woman” by The Rev. Morgan Dix, D.D., Rector of Trinity Church, New York, (New York John W. Lovell Company) 1883, pp. 5-51.