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At Wellesley College

March 7, 1943 — Wellesley College, Wellesley MA


President [Mildred H.] McAfee:

Strong emotions often tend to render one inarticulate. It is not easy for me, therefore, adequately to express my feelings today as I stand in your midst. During the years of absence from Welles ley I have often thought and wished for the moment when I would be able to re turn to these once familiar surroundings. The deep attachment that I have for my Alma Mater is not grounded solely on the four years of association with her. It is immeasurably strengthened by the many manifestations of fellowship and sympathy which Wellesley’s daughters all over the world have shown for China.

You will doubtless understand me when I say that as I look at your “faces and gaze into your eyes, I am seeing not only you, the present generation of Wellesley students, I am conscious also of all the preceding generations and all the future generations in the years to come, as Wellesley goes onward and forward. I hope, however, that what I shall tell you will be heard by college women elsewhere, for what I am saying to you is what I should also like to tell them.

But you have come here today not to listen to me indulge in sentiment — least of all in sentimentalities. What you want to hear is how you can best do your part in creating a saner world. When I was a student here the world was then weltering in rivers of blood. Today these rivers have swelled into oceans, for the advance of science makes this war more deadly, more expensive in its toll of lives and human misery than the previous Great War. What can you do to help bring about a state which would uphold peace and maintain world fellowship amongst all nations?

History tells us that human achievement is proportionate to the variety and quality of the material contributed by the past and the present and that we women, too, have had a share in building the ever-ascending pyramid of civilization. It is natural that the development of women’s increasingly high status differs in every continent. But in one point we find a striking similarity. Invariably whatever power and influence for good women have been able to exert anywhere in the world, whatever gains they have made in their respective countries as political and economic factors, sprang from a very unpretentious start. In fact, I may say that because women were content to start in a modest way and expand their work as they went along, they have gained whatever success they have been able to achieve.

When Mr. and Mrs. Durant founded our college there were few institutions of higher learning for women and fewer still coeducational colleges. Michigan in 1870, if I remember rightly, finally admitted girls after having refused to do so for nearly three decades. We smile when we remember that the president of Michigan at that time solemnly assured a visiting foreigner that “none of the ladies had found the curriculum too heavy for their physical endurance.”

At the turn of the century, however, seventy percent of American colleges and universities became coeducational. By 1900, two out of every three school teachers were women, and there were one thousand women lawyers, nearly as many dentists, more than three thousand ministers, and almost eight thousand doctors and surgeons.

Look back a moment into the lives of your grandmothers. The first seeds of social consciousness of women in America germinated during the heyday of the temperance cause. That movement was instrumental in pointing out the evils of overindulgence, and the result was a growing realization of the need for social betterment.

Again, during the economic revolution, women found their way from their homes into the factories. Inevitably there followed the sweatshop system with all its attendant evils. Nevertheless, between 1870 and 1900 the total number of women workers over sixteen years of age increased from around two millions to over five millions. Since that time the number has waxed, and because certain women foresaw the evils and fought against them, each succeeding generation has benefited from more humane legislation.

Kansas and Montana in 1887, soon followed by Iowa and Louisiana, permitted women to vote on bond issues, taxation questions and other local matters. This, to be sure, was a humble start, but the cherished goal of the feminists was attained when Wyoming in entering the Union in 1890, Colorado three years later, Utah and Idaho in 1896, allowed women the vote.

The names of Elizabeth Stanton, Susan Anthony, Anna Howard Shaw and Carrie Chapman Catt will stand forever as pioneer women leaders endowed with courage and vision. They fought for recognition that each sex had a distinctive contribution to make to public affairs and society and that failure to accept the logic of women’s altered status was an effort to “put the bird back into the egg.” Discouragements, prejudices and cheap epithets of “blue stockings” left them undismayed.

About the same time, on the other side of the Atlantic, we find that women’s education, such as it was, tended to be dreary and superficial. Classics and mathematics were generally excluded from the curriculum. The girls were al lowed no games and whatever physical exercise they had, took the form of an hour’s walk in a “crocodile.” Fortunately for England, Dorothy Beal and Frances Buss, the English prototypes of pioneers of woman suffrage made their contribution through reforms of education by establishing advanced institutions of learning for women. With persistence, good humor, and wisdom they succeeded in overcoming much prejudice and ridicule.

The status of British women took an other step forward when the Married Women’s Property Act of 1882, later amended in 1893, placed a wife in regard to her property upon the same footing as the unmarried woman. Perhaps you will recall that in the leading case of Regina v. Jackson, the British Court of Appeal set aside earlier decisions and ruled that a husband cannot legally detain his wife in his house.

In passing, let me mention that the two oldest and most enduring institutions the world has ever known are the Chinese Examination Academy and the Catholic Church. The latter has had immense, and lasting influence in the Occident and its contiguous lands, in the realm of that most potent weapon, ideas — ideas of both government and social progress. It is particularly interesting, therefore, to note the influence that women have exerted on Catholicism and its development. The noxious practices indulged in by the church during some periods of its long history were particularly menacing, including that baneful theory of probabilism by which directors were trained to transform all major sins as murder and other iniquities into venial offenses by employing casuistry. Such a step indubitably led to hypocrisy and deceit.

It was during those darkest days that light began to penetrate the ominous shroud. Catharine Cybo, the niece of Pope Clement, recognized the dangers of this depraved lassitude and sought to counteract its effects by forming a circle of highly intellectual and deeply pious women to inspire responsible men to work for the resurrection of the church. Marguerite of Navarre, Vittoria Colonna and others all worked for the reformation of the Roman Curia and the elevation of social ideals far beyond the limits of the Italian Peninsula. It may be added that it was a woman, Isabella Roser, who made it possible for Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit Order, to continue his studies. The group of Meaux in France, amongst whom was the famous William Farel, a friend and mentor of Calvin, largely received its impetus from women like Marguerite of Navarre.

Now let us go on to China. In my native land, throughout her long chronicle of human endeavor, we see illuminating flashes in the pages where women made lasting contributions to the epistemological advancement of our civilization. Pan-chao, the sister of the court historian of the Hah dynasty, some two thousand years ago, became the continuator after the death of her brother, and completed his works. She acted as the tutoress of the impress and her ladies-in-waiting. It was also she who wrote “Precepts for Women.” To us of this generation they make quaint reading but for her time, I suppose, they were suitable.

Coming nearer to the modern age, we find Chiu-chin, the woman revolutionist who was an educator as well. She was killed by the Manchu Government because she took an active part in helping to overthrow the decadent Ching dynasty and advocated the rights and responsibilities of women and inspired others to do likewise.

Cloistered and sheltered up to the time of our Revolution, Chinese women have stepped out into a new world — a stark world — stripped of the amenities and comforts which generally surrounded the inner court (the women’s apartments). From the highest to the lowliest the change has been marked although among the farmer and laboring classes Chinese women have always had more freedom than their more affluent sisters.

When the first Parliament convened in 1912 following the success of the revolution, a woman’s suffrage group stormed the Parliament to demand “votes for women,” on the ground that since women had proven their willingness to risk their lives for the liberation of the country they should be given equal franchise with men. It was not until the First National Congress convened in 1924, nevertheless, that the Kuomintang took cognizance of woman suffrage by recording that: “Universal suffrage should be carried out. Class suffrage based on property qualification should be abolished.”

Chinese women entered civil service for the first time in 1927, and two years later in the postal service they received equal treatment with men. More astounding yet, the National Government promulgated a law entitling daughters and sons to equal inheritance.

In 1936, in the Draft Constitution also promulgated by the National Government, article 5 reads as follows:

“All races of the Republic of China are component parts of the Chinese nation and shall be equal before the law.”

You, as students, will be particularly interested to hear that article 132 reads:

“Every citizen of the Republic of China shall have equal opportunity to receive education.”

Chinese women during the past five and a half years of war have made even more rapid strides toward true equality. In every province of China — occupied China included — there is a Women’s Advisory Council usually headed by the wife of the provincial governor. All these branch councils come under the supreme direction of the National Council. The work extends throughout each province and comprises relief for refugees, care of the wounded, whether military or civilian, and of war orphans, and stimulation of production — which is so necessary since China is now in toto cut off from the rest of the world except through air transport — training of women sent to various areas to bring home to the local women the meaning of the war, the importance of continued resistance, the consciousness of our great responsibility toward other peoples of the world. The noteworthy point is that whereas a woman’s position of yore was gauged by the social, economic and political position of her husband, the Chinese woman of today stands on her own feet and is acknowledged for what she is.

You doubtless are wondering why I have picked out as examples the women I have referred to above rather than other women who probably were more prominent and better known. I answer that, whilst it is necessary to have prominent individuals, it is not necessarily the prominent individuals who apply them selves with results of greater beneficence to their country and society. The women I have selected exemplify what can be done not by the individual but by individuals working as a group having power to project their personalities, enthusiasm and spirit into the lives of others. Whatever an individual can do is picayune as compared with what a group can accomplish.

We of Wellesley know and realize that our tradition and all that it stands for is the summation not of one factor but of divers factors integrated: The spirit of the founders of our college, the ideals of the trustees and presidents, the devotion of the faculty, the loyalty of the alumnae, combined with the rich intellectual, spiritual and emotional possibilities of the student body in perpetuating Wellesley ‘s watchword: “Non ministrari sed ministtare.”

To you who are assembled in this hall, and to others who are listening to me, I should like to give you my exegesis of this motto in accordance to the light which has guided me in my work. First comes cooperation, that common and much-used word which seems to convey so little and yet should mean so much. For is it not true that human progress is but a mighty growing pattern woven together by the tenuous single threads united in a common effort? Brilliant generalship may be all paramount, yet no army would be an army were the individual soldiers who compose it to follow the whims which happen to dictate their momentary fancy.

Second stands the spirit of humility. Loyola, whom I have mentioned, was not chagrined to learn Latin at the age of thirty from mere boys although that language in his day was as universal as English is today. One of the greatest essayists China produced, Su Hsin, oftentimes known as Old Su, did not learn to read or write until after he had passed his twenty-seventh birthday. Confucius said: “Amongst any trio I find a teacher.”

Last, but not least, ranks probity in thought and in action. It is transcendent thinking and the translating of these thoughts into deeds worthy of the name of human progress which differentiates men from beasts. Always have we frowned on moral turpitude, yet intellectual and mental dissipation are no less culpable of disdain. The tartuffes and the mentally lackadaisical, have had more than their share in nurturing the evils of our day.

With the riches of the ages within your grasp, with the wide field of specialized branches of knowledge to be had at your will, with the maturity of mind to be gained in your contacts with your professors and advisers, you should beware of machine-made processes of thinking. Do not be afraid to strike out and explore the fertile realm of your own minds and let them lead you in your conclusions to what they will so long as you are true and honest to yourselves. Nor do I counsel you to concur to shallow and supercilious omniscience.

This present world struggle is a battle of light against darkness, of justice and right dealing against selfishness and greed. Indehiscence and mawkish maunder will not equip us for our battle through life. Stern days are still ahead. Yet within these very portals is the cenote of learning. It is here where your strength could be reinforced.



Source: Madame Chiang Kai-shek, Addresses Delivered Before the Senate of the United States and the House of Representatives on Thursday, February 18, 1943, together with Other Addresses Delivered During Her Visit to the United States, (Washington: US Government Printing Office) 1943, pp. 5-7.