Popular Science Monthly/Volume 51/June 1897/Woman Suffrage and Education


IN 1848 a Woman-Suffrage Convention, called by Mrs. Stanton. Mrs. Mott, and others, issued a "Declaration of Sentiments," which was an imitation of the famous Declaration of Independence. It constituted an elaborate indictment of man as the oppressor of woman, and the suffrage leaders of to-day still hold to it as their broad exposition of principles. The seventh count in the indictment was, "He has denied her facilities for obtaining a thorough education, all colleges being closed against her."

Among the resolutions passed in an early suffrage convention was one demanding "equal rights in the universities," and the first petition presented by suffrage advocates contained a clause asking that entrance to men's colleges be obtained for women by legal enactment. We note that this is far from being a demand for education for women equal to that given to men in the universities. Men have founded colleges for women, men and women have worked together in securing for woman every facility and opportunity for education of the highest grade; but the "barrier of sex" is not broken down in education. Bat few of the older colleges for men admit women, and those few, so far as I have learned from conversation with members of their faculties, speak of the arrangement as an experiment, and give the need for economy, combined with a desire to assist women, as a reason for making that experiment. Meantime the knocking at men's literary portals by suffrage advocates has gone on as vigorously as if women could obtain education in no other way.

In the first suffrage convention ever held in Massachusetts these two resolutions were adopted: "That political rights acknowledge no sex, and therefore the word 'male' should be stricken from every State Constitution"; and "that every effort to educate woman, until you accord to her her rights, and arouse her conscience by the weight of her responsibilities, is futile, and a waste of labor." The State in which these sentiments were uttered abounded in fine schools for girls, among which were Mount Holyoke and Wheaton Seminaries.

A rapid survey of some of the educational conditions that led to the state of things existing when suffrage associations were formed will be in place. Learning seemed incompatible with worship early in the Christian era. The faith that worked by love was "to the Jews a stumbling-block and to the Greeks foolishness." That great battle between the felt and the comprehended, which in this era we have named the conflict between science and religion, was decided in the mind of the apostle to the Gentiles when he wrote: "We know in part, and we prophesy in part; when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away." He recalled the accusation, "Thou art beside thyself, much learning hath made thee mad," and he hastened to assure the unlettered fishermen and the simple and devout women who were followers of Christ, that "all knowledge" was naught if they had not love; that even faith was vain if it led to the rejection of the diviner wisdom that a little child could understand.

The great learning of Augustine and the Fathers brought into the Church pagan speculations of God and morality, as well as pagan knowledge in art, science, and literature. The Church became corrupted, and a great outcry was made against the learning itself, which was falsely supposed to be the cause of the degeneration of faith. Symonds says that during the dark ages that followed upon this first battle between faith and sight, the meaning of Latin words derived from the Greek was lost; that Homer and Virgil were believed to be contemporaries, and "Orestes Tragedia" was supposed to be the name of an author. Milman says that "at the Council of Florence in 1438, the Pope of Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople being ignorant, the one of Greek and the other of Latin, discoursed through an interpreter." It was near the time of the Reformation that a German monk announced in his convent that "a new language, called Greek, had been invented, and a book had been written in it called the New Testament." "Beware of it," he added, "it is full of daggers and poison."

But the tradition of the love that book revealed had crept into the heart of the world, and now awoke. Through what struggles the "spirit of all truth" promised by Christ was leading, and would lead the world, the history of civilization can tell. Women shared in some degree the outward benefits of the revival of learning. They became in not a few instances doctors of law and professors of the great universities that sprang up, as well as teachers, transcribers, and illuminators in the great nunneries. I could give a long and honorable list of names of woman writers and artists, in many lands, from mediæval to modern times; and one of the interesting things revealed by such a record would be the number who were working with or were directly inspired and helped by a father or a brother. The court had some names of women who, like Lady Jane Grey, upheld the model of purity while taking the learning that naturally accompanied wealth. But elegant letters had again become the associate of moral and religious corruption in the courts, and the "ignorance of preaching "arose to combat it in Cromwell, the Roundheads, the Dissenters, the Covenanters.

Yet sound learning was not to die that Christian truth might live. Of the band of Pilgrims and Puritans that came first to our shores, about one in thirty was college bred. While subordinating book knowledge to piety, they had learned scarcely less the dangers of ignorance. Their first college was founded because of "the dread of having an illiterate ministry to the churches when our ministers shall lie in dust." Charles Francis Adams says, in regard to the establishment of Harvard College, "The records of Harvard University show that, of all the presiding officers during the century and a half of colonial days, but two were laymen, and not ministers of the prevailing denomination." He further says that "of all who in early times availed themselves of such advantages as this institution could offer, nearly half the number did so for the sake of devoting themselves to the gospel. The prevailing notion of the purpose of education was attended with one remarkable consequence—the cultivation of the female mind was regarded with utter indifference."

It was attended with still another remarkable consequence, the effect of which is felt up to this hour. Only men who were fitted for a profession were given a college education. It is well within my memory when it began to be seriously said: "A college education is good for a boy, whether he intends to follow a profession or not; it will make him a better business man, or even a better farmer." The country girl is now, as a rule, better educated than her brother. It also happened in those earlier days that the artist and the musician were expected to attain knowledge by intuition, save in technical branches.

During the first two hundred years of our existence it would have been almost absurd to expect that women would be extensively educated outside the home. The country was poor, and struggling with new conditions, and great financial crises swept over it. There were wars and rumors of wars. Until after 1812–’15 American independence was not an assured fact. Whatever may be said of the present, woman's place in America then was in the home, and nobly did she fill that place. That she had not been wholly uninstructed in even elegant learning is evidenced by the share she took in literature and in the discussion of religious and public matters, and in such personal records as that of Elder Faunce, who eulogized Alice Southworth Bradford for "her exertions in promoting the literary improvement and the deportment of the rising generation." Dame schools were early established for girls, and here were often found the sons of the farmer and the mechanic. These were established in Massachusetts in 1635. Late in 1700 girls were admitted through the summer to "Latin schools" where boys were taught in winter, and in 1789 women began to be associated with men as teachers. In 1771 Connecticut founded a system of free schools in which boys and girls were taught. In 1794 the Moravians founded a school for girls at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Here were educated the sisters of Peter Cooper, the mother of President Arthur, and many women who became exponents of culture.

New England began before this to have fine private schools for girls, but no great step was taken until Miss Hart (afterward Mrs. Willard) had become so successful with her academy teaching in her native town of Berlin, Connecticut, and in Hartford, that three States simultaneously invited her to establish schools within their borders. She went to Massachusetts, but afterward, at the solicitation of Governor Clinton, of New York, she removed her school to Troy in 1821. It was a new departure, and there was ignorant prejudice to overcome. Governor Clinton, in an appeal to the Legislature for aid, said, "I trust you will not be deterred by commonplace ridicule from extending your munificence to this meritorious institution." They were not deterred. An act was passed for the incorporation of the proposed institute, and another which gave to female academies a share of the literary fund. The citizens of Troy contributed liberally, and the success of an effort for woman's high education was assured.

As early as 1697 the Penn Charter School was founded, and it has lived until to-day. Provision was made "at the cost of the people called Quakers" for "all children and servants, male and female, the rich to be instructed at reasonable rates, the poor to be maintained and schooled for nothing." They also provided for "instruction for both sexes in reading, writing, work, languages, arts, and sciences." The boys and girls have been taught separately, the girls' school being much behind the boys, neither Latin nor other ancient language forming a part of their curriculum. Friends are just beginning to discuss giving higher education to girls. This is a fact especially significant in our discussion, because it has always been claimed that the Quaker doctrine that "souls have no sex" led them to place woman on an "equality" with man before other sects had thought of allowing that they were equals. Lucretia Mott, Susan Anthony, Abby Kelley, and a great body of the women who adopted the resolution that set forth the uselessness of educating woman until she could vote, and who clamored for her entrance to men's institutions, were all of this sect that has kept its women generally far behind in the acquisition of knowledge.

In 1845 Mrs. Willard was invited to address the Teachers' Convention that met in Syracuse. She prepared a paper in which she set forth the idea that "women, now sufficiently educated, should be employed and furnished by the men as committees, charged with the minute cares and supervision of the public schools," but declined the honor tendered her of delivering it in person. Sixty gentlemen from the convention visited her at the hotel, and at their earnest request she read the essay, which met with their emphatic approval of the plan she proposed. The employment of women in the common schools and the system of normal schools were projected by her.

A teachers' convention was held in Rochester in 1852. Miss Anthony, though a teacher, was not in attendance upon it, but she records that she went in and listened for a few hours to a discussion of the causes that led to their profession being held in less esteem than those of the doctor, lawyer, and minister. In her judgment the kernel of the matter was not alluded to, so she arose and said, "Mr. President." She writes that "at length President Davies stepped to the front and said in a tremulous, mocking tone, "What will the lady have?" "I wish, sir," she said, "to speak to the question." "What is the pleasure of the convention?" asked Mr. Davies. A gentleman moved that she be heard; another seconded the motion; whereupon, she says, "a discussion, pro and con, followed, lasting full half an hour, when a vote was taken of the men only, and permission was granted by a small majority." She adds that it was lucky for her that the thousand women crowding that hall could not vote on the question, for they would have given a solid "No." The president then announced, "The lady can speak." "It seems to me, gentlemen," said she, "that none of you quite comprehend the cause of the disrespect of which you complain. Do you not see that, so long as society says a woman is incompetent to be a lawyer, minister, or doctor, but has ample ability to be a teacher, every man of you who chooses this profession tacitly acknowledges that he has no more brains than a woman? Would you exalt your profession, exalt those who labor with you. Would you make it more lucrative, increase the salaries of the women engaged in the noble work of educating our future Presidents, Senators, and Congressmen."

Several thoughts arise in regard to this scene, which was so strongly in contrast with the conduct of Mrs. Willard or any of the great educators. Miss Anthony gave no reason for her belief that the entrance of woman upon the other professions would raise either the status or the wages of those engaged in the teacher's profession, and as a matter of fact it has not done so. It was not the society that cast scorn at woman's "lack of brains" which assisted to remove the natural prejudice against her assuming duties that had been deemed unsuited to her physique and her necessary work.

Meantime, one year before the Rochester meeting was held, the first college for women had been chartered at Auburn, N. Y., under the name of "Auburn Female University." In 1853 it was transferred to Elmira, and it was formally opened in 1855. It was placed under the care of the Congregational Church, but its charter required that it should have representative trustees from five other denominations. Its course of study for the degree A. B. was essentially the same that was then pursued in the men's colleges of the State. It was expected to rely upon endowment, which put woman's education upon a new and more secure footing.

Suffrage leaders lose no opportunity to represent the Church as an enemy to woman's advancement. Nothing can be further from the truth; and in striking evidence stand the colleges, which, while unsectarian in spirit and in method, have been established and cared for by special religious denominations. Dr. Jacobi, in her book Common Sense, takes up the tale and says, "The Mount Holyoke Seminary, the immediate successor of that at Troy, was opened in 1837 by Miss Lyon, in spite of the opposition of the clergy." Many besides the clergy were opposed to the plan for which Miss Lyon was endeavoring to raise money. Her idea that the entire domestic work of the establishment could be done by pupils and teachers was thought unwise and hopeless; and it was simply this feature that they disapproved, not the school itself. In that noble school, where thousands of women have been educated, a great number have become missionaries. When a suffrage convention in session in Worcester wrote to Miss Lyon, asking her to interest herself in the wrongs of her sex, she answered, "I can not leave my work." Neither was Vassar College founded from any impulse or suggestion of suffrage agitators, but in a spirit exactly the opposite. The real impetus to its founding came from Milo Parker Jewett. He suggested to Mr. Vassar an endowed college for women, and visited the universities and libraries of Europe with a plan of organization in mind. Mr. Vassar gladly accepted this great enlargement upon an idea that had lain dormant in his own mind, and Vassar College was founded, Dr. Jewett becoming its first president in 1862. I may claim to have been beside the cradle of Vassar College; for when Dr. Jewett resigned the presidency in 1864, my father named the successor, who was appointed, Dr. John H. Raymond, his lifelong friend. Dr. Raymond came to Rochester to discuss a plan of work, and, knowing my father's interest, I was on tiptoe to hear about the new college. At my earnest solicitation he and Dr. Raymond and President Anderson permitted me to be present at their discussions. I learned to comprehend the value of womanliness to the world by the estimate that those noble educators put upon it. It was evident that they were arranging for those for whose minds they felt respect. They made no foolish remarks about the superiority, inferiority, or equality of the sexes, and had no contempt to throw upon the old education of tutor and library and young ladies' seminary. They did not sneer at the "female mind," but they did talk of the feminine mind as of something as distinct in its essence from the masculine mind as the feminine form is distinct in its outlines. To "preserve womanliness" was a task they felt they must fulfill, or the women for whose good they labored would one day call them to account. The dictum so frequently in the mouths of suffrage leaders, "There is no sex in brain," would have been abhorrent to them. In their view, there was as much sex in brain as in hand; and the education that did not, through cultivation, emphasize that fact, would be a lower and not a higher product. They laid that intellectual corner stone in love, and in the faith that the same womanly spirit which, when there was not college education enough to go round, had said, "Give it to the boys, because their work must be public," would find, through the glad return the boys were making, a way to teach the world still higher lessons of womanly character and influence. Since that time college after college has arisen without a dream on the part of the founders, faculties, or students that "every effort to educate woman, until you accord to her the right to vote, is futile and a waste of labor," and it may well be that the women educated in these colleges will decide that, because political rights do acknowledge sex, therefore the word "male" should not be stricken from any State Constitution.

Before the committee of the New York State Constitutional Convention in 1894, Mr. Edward Lauterbach, who was arguing in favor of woman suffrage, said: "It was only after the establishment of the Willard School at Troy, only after its noble founder, believing that women and men were formed in the same mold, successfully tried the experiment of educating women in the higher branches, that steps for higher education became generally taken." If Mr. Lauterbach imagines that Mrs. Willard was in the most distant way an advocate of woman's doing the same work as man in the same way, he is unfamiliar with her life and work. Mrs. Willard, in setting forth her ideal of woman's education, said: "Education should be adapted to female character and duties. To do this would raise the character of man. . . . Why may not housewifery be reduced to a system as well as the other arts? If women were properly fitted for instruction, they would be likely to teach children better than the other sex; they could afford to do it cheaper; and men might be at liberty to add to the wealth of the nation by any of the thousand occupations from which women are necessarily debarred." Old-fashioned wisdom, but choicely good.

In a woman's club, last winter, a New York teacher. Miss Helen Dawes Brown, a graduate of Vassar College, founder of the Woman's University Club and also one of the founders of Barnard College, in a speech said in part: "The young girl who doesn't dance, who doesn't play games, who can't skate and can't row, is a girl to be pitied. She is losing a large part of what Chesterfield calls the 'joy and titivation of youth.' If our young girl has learned to be good, teach her not to disregard the externals of goodness. Let our girls, in college and out, learn to be agreeable. A girl's education should, first of all, be directed to fitting her for the things of home. We talk of woman as if the only domestic relations were those of wife and mother. Let us not forget that she is also a granddaughter, a daughter, a sister, an aunt. I should like to see her made her best in all these characters, before she undertakes public duties. The best organization in the world is the home. Whatever in the education of girls draws them away from that, is an injury to civilization."

At the close of an article in The Outlook, written by Elizabeth Fisher Read, of Smith College, she said, speaking of their last adaptation of athletics: "From the beginning, the policy of Smith College has been, not to duplicate the means of development offered in men's colleges, but to provide courses and methods of study that should do for women what the men's courses did for them. Emphasis has been put, not on the resemblances between men and women, but rather on the differences. The effort has not been to turn out new women, capable of doing anything man can do, from walking thirty miles to solving the problems of higher mathematics. Instead of this, the college has tried to develop its students along natural womanly lines, not along the lines that would naturally be followed in training men."

This sounds strangely like Mrs. Willard, who would be the first to rejoice in the new education and in the old spirit that it can develop. Of course, suffrage claims to have the same end in view. Every college woman must decide for herself where she will stand on the question. So far, there never has been any open affiliation between the colleges and the suffrage movement. The kind of education best suited to the idea of suffrage is a training in political history and present political issues; but the women who have talked loudly and vaguely of the right of suffrage for years have been the last to present such knowledge. I have read their History, attended their conventions, glanced at their magazines, but never have come upon the discussion of a single public issue. I think those most familiar with it will bear me out if I make the statement that their principal periodical, The Woman's Journal, edited by Mary A. Livermore, Julia Ward Howe, Mr. Blackwell, and Alice Stone Blackwell, has not contained any presentations of questions of public policy in the past ten years.

One of the grievances of the suffrage leaders lay in the fact that the literary women of the country would express no sympathy with their efforts. Poets and authors in general were denounced. Gail Hamilton, who had the good of woman in her heart, who was better informed on public affairs than perhaps any other woman in the United States, and whose trenchant pen cut deep and spared not, always reprobated the cause. Mrs. Stowe stood aloof, and so did Catherine Beecher, though urged to the contrary course by Henry Ward Beecher and Isabella Beecher Hooker. In a letter to Mrs. Cutler, Catherine Beecher said: "I am not opposed to women's speaking in public to any who are willing to hear, nor am I opposed to women's preaching, sanctioned as it is by a prophetic apostle—as one of the millennial results. Nor am I opposed to a woman's earning her own independence in any lawful calling, and wish many more were open to her which are now closed. Nor am I opposed to the organization and agitation of women, as women, to set forth the wrongs suffered by great multitudes of our sex, which are multiform and most humiliating. Nor am I opposed to women's undertaking to govern boys and men—they always have, and they always will. Nor am I opposed to the claim that women have equal rights with men. I rather claim that they have the sacred superior rights that God and good men accord to the weak and defenseless, by which they have the easiest work, the most safe and comfortable places, and the largest share of all the most agreeable and desirable enjoyments of this life. My main objection to the woman-suffrage organization is this, that a wrong mode is employed to gain a right object. The right object sought is, to remedy the wrongs and relieve the sufferings of great multitudes of our sex; the wrong mode is that which aims to enforce by law instead of by love. It is one which assumes that man is the author and abettor of all these wrongs, and that he must be restrained and regulated by constitutions and laws, as the chief and most trustworthy methods. I hold that the fault is as much, or more, with women than with men, inasmuch as we have all the power we need to remedy the wrongs complained of, and yet we do not use it for that end. It is my deep conviction that all reasonable and conscientious men of our age, and especially of our country, are not only willing but anxious to provide for the good of our sex. They will gladly bestow all that is just, reasonable, and kind, whenever we unite in asking in the proper spirit and manner. In the half a century since I began to work for the education and relief of my sex, I have succeeded so largely by first convincing intelligent and benevolent women that what I aimed at was right and desirable, and then securing their influence with their fathers, brothers, and husbands, and always with success."

Miss Beecher, like Mrs. Willard and Mrs. Phelps, made textbooks for the use of her own seminaries, and her Arithmetic, and Mental and Moral Philosophy, and Applied Theology were among the educational forces of her day. It is one of the significant signs of the times that science and education, as well as philanthropy, are occupying themselves just now with childhood and motherhood and housewifery. Mrs. Willard's high ideal of womanliness is beginning to be set forth by the electric light of modern thought.

  1. From Woman and the Republic. By Helen Kendrick Johnson. In press of D. Appleton & Co.