Popular Science Monthly/Volume 62/November 1902/Some Reflections Upon the Reaction from Coeducation
|SOME REFLECTIONS UPON THE REACTION FROM COEDUCATION.|
UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO.
THE authorities of many of our great coeducational universities have been of late much perplexed and depressed at the astonishing number of young women who insist on patronizing these institutions. Taken in moderation the coeducational young woman has succeeded in approving herself to a considerable majority of her instructors. But she has recently shown a disposition to outnumber the young men in her classes, and this is resented by certain of her mentors as an obvious impropriety. The occasion has been seized upon by reactionaries here and there to magnify the drawbacks of coeducation, and there can be no question that many members of the faculties of institutions committed to this system are restive under the extant conditions, and apprehensive for the future. A few, especially certain of those educated in eastern non-coeducational institutions or in foreign universities, are severely, not to say bitterly, critical in their attitude, and eager for anything so it be a change. We may therefore expect in the near future much experimentation, and more discussion, upon the coeducational program. As a symptom of the educational development of the country at large, the present agitation possesses an interest and significance quite beyond the limits of the regions immediately affected.
In order to see the present situation in its just perspective one must bear in mind the remarkable educational development which has occurred in recent years in those parts of the country where coeducation is indigenous. The decade from 1890 to 1900 witnessed a growth wholly unprecedented in most of the strong coeducational colleges and universities of the central and western states. Academic standards were raised, equipments were lavishly provided in accordance with modern demands, faculties were enlarged and admirably trained specialists were secured in every department. In many institutions graduate courses of high merit were developed. The increase in the number of students was equally remarkable. The University of Minnesota leaped from 1,183 to over 3,000. The University of California from 763 to 3,024. The University of Wisconsin rose from 966 to 2,619. Cornell had 1,390 students in 1890, and 2,458 in 1900. At the University of Michigan the figures for the same period were 2,420 and 3,482. Moreover, in this same decade two coeducational universities were founded, Leland Stanford, Jr., University and the University of Chicago, which at once took rank with the foremost institutions of the country. In the year 1900 the former reported 1,389 students, the latter 3,520. Many other universities might be cited, such as the State Universities of Iowa, Ohio, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Illinois, but they all tell the same story of the tropical development of higher education throughout this central and western region.
In 1890 there was but one of the large coeducational colleges in which women constituted over a third of the student body. This was true even in the courses grouped under the departments of literature, science and the arts. In institutions possessing schools of law and medicine the percentage of women in the total student body was very small. Even at this early date, however, Oberlin College was enjoying the fruits of its pioneer policy in first opening the doors of a man's college to women by finding 53 per cent, of its students women. It is not without interest to those nervous prophets who foresee a tidal wave of women sweeping the helpless men before it out of the coeducational institutions, that the percentage of women in the department of liberal arts at Oberlin has remained almost stationary for ten years, having, as a matter of fact, fallen somewhat toward the end of the period. Oberlin is in this particular also an exception, however. In all the other important universities the percentage of women has materially increased, and in some instances passed the fifty-per-cent. mark. Thus in 1900 the course in literature, arts and general science showed at the University of California 55 per cent, women; at Minnesota 53 per cent.; at Chicago 47 per cent.; at Michigan 47 per cent; and at Northwestern 44 per cent.
If professional schools are included in the computations, the figures take on a very different complexion. Thus at Michigan, for instance, in 1900 the law school with nearly 900 male students and the medical departments with over 600 served, together with the engineering school of 350, to keep the proportion of women to men in the whole institution within 3 per cent, of what it was in 1890, the figures being 16 per cent, and 19 per cent, for the beginning and end of the decade respectively. In almost every case the increase in the percentage of women occurred in the face of an unparalleled increase in the number of male students. Indeed, a recent writer has presented statistics to prove that the increase in the number of men in coeducational institutions has for some years past been relatively more rapid than the increase in the colleges for men alone. This, too, is a hard saying for those who maintain that women are driving men out of the coeducational institutions. But it does not mean, as we shall presently see, that women and men are increasing with equal rapidity in the same courses of study.
One finds his natural anticipations fulfilled in the almost entire absence of women from the courses in law and technology. Medicine attracts a small quota, but to all intents and purposes the serious embarrassments of the present situation may be treated as if the women were all segregated in the department of liberal arts. When one pursues the matter behind the face of the commonly published statistics, he finds that the process of segregation extends much further than these indicate. So far has the process of differentiation gone that certain courses are essentially preempted by women, whereas in others the men reign solitary and supreme. There is, to be sure, no rigid uniformity among the various institutions as regards the particular courses which are thus apportioned. But the phenomena of segregation is practically universal, so that in many glasses the spirit of coeducation is buried under the substance of a female seminary or a man's college, as the case may be. Thus it will be found that the classes in English literature have been largely appropriated by women. History, the modern languages and classical studies show in many institutions a large invasion of women, while mathematics, geology and biology, together with the philosophical and social sciences, furnish a transition to the exact sciences and to studies of an advanced character immediately preparatory for law, medicine and technology, in which the men have things almost to themselves. The distribution
of the women as regards the relative numbers pursuing the several subjects offered by the curriculum, seem to be closely similar to that obtaining in the courses in women's colleges, so far as statistics are available and elective conditions comparable. It will be understood of course that these rough classifications refer solely to elective work taken in the broad sense, and not to such courses as are specifically prescribed for every academic degree.
One inevitably questions what this tendency means, what its final outcome is to be, and whether it is to be regarded as a welcome sign or not. It is clear, as regards the first point, that two influences are predominantly responsible for the general result. The first is found in the disposition to mold collegiate work from the earliest possible moment in such a manner as most effectively to assist in the preparation for a professional career. The second is found in the tendency to cultivate established tastes and to foster spontaneous intellectual interests.
The efficacy of the first consideration in the case of men is not open to doubt. In those parts of the country where collegiate coeducation is the prevailing system, the great mass of the young men are expecting immediately after graduation to enter upon a business or professional career, and this intention frequently leads them early in their college course to desert the humanities and the more purely cultural studies, so called, in favor of what they, or the faculties of the professional schools, consider the branches of immediately practical value. Literature and the classics rapidly surrender their claims upon these young men to economics, political science, constitutional history, physics, chemistry, biology, etc. In every large undergraduate body there is naturally always a considerable group of men who conceive of their educational opportunities in a more liberal manner than this, and another group cherishing more or less definite intention of graduate specialization in some of the departments of collegiate work other than those allied with the professional schools. Taken together these groups supply a considerable masculine leaven to what might otherwise in many of the courses in the humanities be a hopelessly feminine lump.
The women taken in mass are also widely controlled by professional considerations. However it may be in the colleges exclusively for women, there can be no reasonable question that up to the present time, at least, large numbers of the women in coeducational institutions have been looking forward to self-support. Or, at all events, if this were not an explicit purpose in their collegiate course, it was a very comforting possible consequence, exercising an indirect influence over their selection of studies. By common consent medicine and teaching are the two professions really open to women. Consequently the average college woman who intends to live by her brains feels that she must choose between the two. The opportunities open to women in a business career have hitherto been too precarious or too purely clerical to attract extensive attention from college-bred women. It is not necessary to point out the reasons which lead the vast majority of college women, who are looking to self-support, to choose the profession of teaching, nor yet to dwell upon the further reasons which practically confine the larger number of them to work in the secondary schools, whose fate is already largely in their hands. Admitting the facts, we at once have a reason why large numbers of women elect the courses they do in college. It is the old familiar process of demand and supply. In no small measure, then, the educational phenomenon from which we started, i. e., the segregation of the sexes in pursuit of different subjects, is attributable to social and economic causes.
Women will probably continue their plethoric patronage of the courses in literature and the humanities at coeducational institutions as long as the secondary schools offer them smaller salaries than are paid to properly trained men, and as long as other vocations requiring a college education are closed to them. It is possible that some relief may be found through the dawning of the halcyon days, so longed for by certain eminent educational reactionaries, when required curricula will supersede the elective system, and the humanities once more come to their own. The wandering male sheep would thus be brought back into the fold. Certainly the progressive suicide of the elective system now going on in many institutions under the influence of professional tendencies is most interesting and suggestive. Moreover, there are reasons for thinking that if the opportunities for women teachers of physics and chemistry were larger, and the collegiate courses in these subjects arranged with less of reference to ulterior professional interests of a technological character, the number of women in such courses would be materially increased. Tradition is in these matters of some consequence, and men have so long conducted this work in the high schools that a rapid change is in no case a probability. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule even now.
When one comes to speak of the influence of native abilities, native tastes and intellectual interests in the election of courses, the available data are altogether less tangible. The prevalent doctrines concerning the mental differences of men and women are matters of dogma readily susceptible of neither proof nor disproof. In polite letters, as in society, woman has long figured as the adorable parent of men, not of ideas; as the repository of delicate sentiment rather than of accurate knowledge and in general, as the residuary legatee of all those interests which men do not care to cultivate. The evidence adducible in support of the correctness of this view is often proclaimed as conclusive; and ranged behind it is the authority of sundry notable physiologists, psychologists, sociologists and gentlemen of fashion. The contrary view in accordance with which women are allowed to possess ideas, some of them even original, is supported by evidence almost as intelligible and by partisans quite as eminent and quite as confident. The fact seems to be that it is extremely difficult to demonstrate how much of a woman's intellectual bent is due to the sexual bias of her mind, and how much to the influences which surround her from cradle to grave. It may be, for example, that literature is intrinsically feminine in its character, and that exact science is dominantly masculine. In the meantime it must certainly be granted that the conditions environing many girls are from childhood on such as tend to cultivate a mild but definite variety of sentimentalism. It has been suggested that some of the methods of studying literature current in these days tend also to sentimentalism, and so appeal to established habits of the feminine mind, while repelling the masculine temper. Courses dealing with the more emotional and esthetic forms of literary criticism and appreciation must necessarily be exposed to some danger from this source. Possibly a slight corrective and palliative for the excessive cultivation of such courses by women might be found in a larger emphasis upon more masculine points of view.
It seems improbable, however, that the relatively small number of men in the courses in belles-lettres in coeducational institutions is due in any considerable degree to this asserted fact regarding native masculine tastes, nor in any indisposition on the part of the men to sit in classes with women. For, as regards the second point, it must be remembered that there are many courses in which both men and women are well represented, and in which the ratio of the sexes to one another has changed but little throughout considerable periods. This is true, for example, of certain courses in history. The first point gains an interesting side light from the observation that in several important eastern institutions for men, where the modes of exposition and instruction in literature do not differ absolutely from those in vogue in western coeducational colleges, the attendance upon such courses shows in recent years no extreme shrinkage, and, as regards certain courses in English, even exhibits a marked development. The most obvious explanation of this difference between the east and the west (over and above the influence of the stimulating personality of certain successful instructors) is unquestionably to be found in the social conditions of which we have already spoken. The appreciation of the educational value of literature is necessarily more circumscribed in new and less wealthy communities than in those which have been long established, and the pressure toward the obviously practical is inevitably far greater. The astonishing development of technological schools in western universities affords striking confirmation of this last named tendency—a tendency by the way which finds a counterpart in the rapid growth of the so-called scientific schools in great eastern universities.
The final explanation which some misogynists would offer for the predominance of women in English courses, i. e., that English literature is ordinarily the easiest of college courses unhappily proves too much. Such statistics as are available tend to show that were this generally conceded, women would rarely preponderate in such classes. On the whole, therefore, it seems probable that although the taste for literature is more largely developed in the women of our coeducational colleges, while the taste for exact science is largely the property of the men, the factor which has produced the most extreme and anomalous conditions of sex segregation, is, especially as regards the men, professional, economic and social in character. Moreover, that which passes as native taste is itself often a mere expression of social and domestic pressure, emphasizing with relentless insistence certain interests as sexually appropriate or practically valuable.
Opinions are somewhat divergent touching the desirability of this educational situation. The instructors of the classes largely dedicated to women are sometimes a trifle violent in the expression of their views. The instructors of the men's sections are, on the other hand, generally complacent. The unbiased spectator is perplexed and baffled. Evidently the advantages and disadvantages of these extreme cases must be weighed in terms of the general educational effects of the system as indicated by its results throughout these institutions as a whole. It is necessary, therefore, to review briefly the current criticisms upon the system, most of which, be it said, are hallowed by age, and many of which are evidently trivial.
A warning hand must be held out at this point against the amiable and ubiquitous inconsequentialist who insists on confusing the problem of coeducation with the problem of the higher education of women. The two are indeed connected, but by no means identical. Collegiate coeducation as a system assumes as a premise that women are to receive collegiate education, if they so desire, and a study of the curricula of women's colleges indicates that women generally wish to pursue those branches offered in the colleges for men. The coeducational problem is not, however, fundamentally one of curricula. It is a problem of determining the conditions under which men and women shall study in any curriculum whatsoever.
The criticisms of the present day upon coeducation dealing in part with strictly educational questions, and in part with general social considerations, differ in a somewhat suggestive manner as concerns one particular from those which were most commonly encountered in the early days of coeducation. The most frequent probably of all criticisms was the hygienic one. Although it was a matter of prehistoric knowledge that women could work all day in the field, many learned persons predicted a speedy decline for the audacious young female who attempted to follow the same collegiate course as her brother. The young person referred to has, however, both in coeducational colleges and in colleges for women, generally insisted on the retention of oppressively good health. And she has done even worse things to discredit the general calling of prophet by discovering numbers of educated men who were willing and eager to attempt matrimony with her assistance. Worst of all, when she has married, she has had a normal number of vigorous children. The irreconcilables on these points generally deny themselves the luxury of the available statistics. This is by no means to call in question the possibility held out to an injudicious girl of ruining her health by social and mental dissipation at a coeducational college. She can in this way undoubtedly emulate some of her sisters at women's colleges and certain of her brothers at men's universities.
But the intelligent contemporary opponent of coeducation has largely lost interest in the health of college women, and he has of late more often turned his attention to the baleful influence of the sex on social and intellectual standards. It is maintained, for instance, by an occasional instructor that women lower the level of scholarship in his classes. He finds it impossible to make such rigorous exactions of them as he would of men, and in consequence the whole tone of his class is contaminated. There seems reason to believe that this opinion is largely subjective in its basis, and it is suggestively rare on the lips of instructors educated in coeducational institutions. The instructor may have allowed himself to secure from his classes what he deemed the best work by the aid of a class room manner which he properly considers incompatible with the presence of ladies. In such cases one may fairly question the propriety of the pedagogical method. He may cherish a purely sentimental attitude toward women. This is a not infrequent circumstance in the case of young men brought up in men's colleges, and exposed for the first time to the ravages of coeducation. In this case time or matrimony or both are likely to cure his complaint. Certainly there are plenty of instructors who have taught in men's colleges without detecting any such decline of standard upon transferring the scene of their labors to coeducational institutions. Indeed, a contrary opinion has been not infrequently expressed, and one even hears the antithetical argument soberly advanced that women inevitably outstrip the men in mere class room exercises, and that the latter should consequently be spared such depressing competition. A few eminent Harvard professors have even gone so far as to rank their students at Radcliffe higher than the men in the corresponding Harvard classes. This may of course be the exception which proves the rule. One may safely surmise that there are no wider differences in point of scholarship between coeducational institutions as a class and men's colleges, than there are among men's colleges themselves. Indeed, in elective courses, in which the men and women are represented in anything like equal numbers, a common verdict of instructors concerning their relative merits is that the women are on the average the better students. They seldom attain the eminence of the ablest men, but the ablest men are excessively rare. There is certainly no palpable proof and not even good circumstantial evidence to convict women of lowering the undergraduate standards of scholarship.
A subtler form of this same criticism aimed at American education in general, but especially applicable to coeducational institutions, is the assertion that women exercise a repressive influence upon the spirit of research for which they have as a sex neither capacity nor appreciation. Inasmuch as a real university must get its highest inspiration from the spirit of investigation it is obviously a matter of paramount importance to prevent women from securing any considerable influence in university life. This argument can be made rhetorically effective, but it begs the whole question and will carry no conviction to one not already convinced.
The disrespect for women's intellectual capacity, indicated in the above criticisms, sometimes takes still another form in the charge that as a class women are not serious-minded in their work. For many of them, it is said, life is a game with matrimony as its principal stake, and college work is but an amusing episode. Coupled with another frequent criticism based upon the professional tendencies of which we have already spoken, i. e., that the intellectual horizon of college women is too often bounded by purely utilitarian considerations of the bread and butter world of pedagogics, this leaves women in possession of few academic virtues. Apparently they are either too strenuous or too flippant, and both characteristics are institutionally undesirable.
It must be remembered that coeducational colleges inconsiderately differ very widely from one another, and so render the task of the generalizer extremely hazardous. Unquestionably one could find institutions where the frivolous society girl is overmuch in evidence, whereas in others the uncomely drudge doth too much abound, and probably neither of these young persons is wholesome in excess. But it is needless to say that in every coeducational university of importance there is a group larger than either of these groups made up of young women who are neither hopelessly flippant nor distressingly utilitarian in their intellectual interests. Moreover, if the venue be changed from the mere fact of sex to the possession of such characteristics as have been described, it would require a buoyant and oblivious nature to deny the counterpart of just such persons in the male portion of any large undergraduate body. It is certainly a cheering thing to think that no considerable number of young men in our colleges for the male sex are ever guilty of frivolity in their attitude toward academic opportunities. But such thinking has no special connection with fact, and is of a speculative rather than of a scientific character. Nor are there lacking in men's colleges those who toil unprofitably and overmuch to the end of attaining some mundane prize not wholly superior to the school teacher's stipend. Even the women's colleges produce these types.
Coeducation is often charged with an insidious suppression of freedom of expression in the class room. Academische Freiheit is endangered, therefore, by other enemies than college presidents and boards of trustees. Some subjects are evidently ill qualified for discussion in mixed classes. But it may be doubted whether the restrictions emanating from this source have been unmixed evils. The meritricious and obscene jests of literature, which some eminent scholars in men's colleges delight to dwell upon, can perhaps be spared. Surely there is no serious reason to fear that the male youth of the land will fail to secure outside the class room all the really indispensable development on this side of his appreciation for humor. In the fields of biology, where embarrassments might be supposed most inevitable, the difficulties have by no means proved so serious as anticipated. Nevertheless it must be admitted without scruple that women cause some restraint upon freedom of speech as charged in the indictment.
Although we have had constantly in mind undergraduate conditions, a word may be dropped in passing as regards the criticisms upon graduate work. There is undoubtedly an almost universal willingness among even the most acrimonious critics of coeducation that the few women who desire it shall be allowed the best possible opportunities for graduate work. The only exceptions are found among the small but aggressive group of interesting pre-raphaelite dogmatists who would do away with all collegiate education for women. There are plenty of scholarly men who insist that women will never become investigators of any consequence, but who admit their capacities for assimilation and who feel that as there must under existing conditions be some women teachers in both schools and colleges, it is desirable that they should receive the most thorough possible discipline. Women must expect to find themselves occasionally received on these terms, therefore, if they aspire to scholastic specialization in graduate schools. It will be remembered that the undergraduate courses constitute for many of those who plan to teach in the secondary schools the sole opportunity for specialization. For them the undergraduate curriculum affords essentially a professional training, and subserves exactly the same function as does the graduate school for those who are preparing for collegiate positions.
It behooves us to hurry on to a rehearsal of some of the more seditious social tendencies for which coeducation is held responsible. Foremost among these charges in point of fatuity—for some of them are not fatuous at all—is the asserted blight upon college spirit caused by coeducation. Now college spirit is a capricious plant which blooms profusely in the light of athletic victories and often leads a sickly life of hibernation at other periods. As commonly set forth, it consists in the belief that one's own college is the best on earth, which in some particulars is to an intelligent person always patently untrue, and at times of overwhelming athletic defeat, a thing extremely difficult for even a partisan to formulate with vivacity. Conceived more seriously, it consists in respect and affection for one's alma mater, and in earnest devotion to her welfare. It is unquestionably assisted by the accumulation of institutional legend and tradition. These things come slowly and with age. It is helped into a condition of self-consciousness by all vital student organizations which do not forget their dependence upon the college. Secret societies in many colleges are certainly injurious to college spirit, not because they work consciously against it, but because they absorb wholly into themselves sentimental interests which should include the institution, and because too often they stir up vicious animosities among themselves in a manner which necessarily detracts from the solidarity of interests in the student body at large. The elective system, with its disintegration of classes, has, wherever it has gained an extensive foothold, apparently modified almost to the point of extinction the old-time forms of college spirit. These considerations affect coeducational colleges neither more nor less than other colleges. On the more serious side of respect and affection for one's college, it is certainly difficult to see why coeducation should be disastrous to college spirit in the case of students to whom the system had always seemed the natural thing, unless it can be shown, as it certainly can not, that all coeducational institutions are intrinsically inferior to institutions for the separate sexes. Sufficient insistence upon the shame and ignominy of sitting in classes with the weaker vessels may undoubtedly undermine respect for his college in the mind of a lad brought up in a preparatory school for boys. Other lads could undoubtedly be occasionally influenced in this way. No boy likes to be called effeminate, whether the charge be true or false. In these interesting methods of undermining college spirit, many enthusiastic persons are now engaged. The feeling which they are attempting to arouse and play upon rarely or never occurs spontaneously to a boy brought up in coeducational schools. It is only as one finds a constituency reared in non-coeducational schools that any extensive and sincere antipathy of this sort can be counted upon. Specific instances illustrative of this fact would be easy to mention. Elsewhere the animosity of the men toward the women, if it exists at all, is an evident pose so transparent and unreliable as to deceive no one. In some institutions it has gained a specious prominence through resentment that the women support male student organizations and interests so feebly. Depleted athletic treasuries have been active ferments in this form of anti-woman agitation. Meantime, if one wishes college spirit in its more demonstrative and vocal forms, he must, in young colleges, at least, arrange for athletic victories, and women have not proved a serious impediment to these.
A vaguer form of this same criticism is often met with in the charge that women exercise a deleterious effect on that impalpable something known as academic atmosphere. When this objection is run to ground it is generally found to refer to the depreciation of scholarship already sufficiently mentioned, or to certain social complications of which we shall speak in a moment, or to the fact that the spirit of an institution differs in some other important but unnamable particular from that peculiar to Oxford or Yale or Harvard. Needless to say, the last form of this criticism is quite beyond controversy. It only remains to point out that all attempts to imbue with this spirit the occasional men's colleges found in the coeducational region have failed, in the judgment of competent observers, quite as completely to secure this desired result as have the efforts in coeducational institutions. The difficulties involved are referable much more certainly to the absence of tradition due to the youth of these colleges and to geographically determined social conditions, than to coeducation. Moreover, it is questionable if these difficulties will ever be wholly removed, and still more questionable whether this would be desirable even if it were possible.
The asserted violation of reasonable social proprieties constitutes one of the most frequent and important sources of annoyance to the advocates of coeducation. To behold the campus dotted with couples, billing and cooing their way to an A.B., is a thing, it is said, to rejoice Venus or Pan rather than Minerva, and were it the frequent or necessary outcome of coeducation, the future of the system would certainly be in jeopardy. No university can safely become a matrimonial bureau, nor yet a clearing house for flirtations. With the entire absence of supervision, which characterizes the attitude of many coeducational institutions toward the social life of students, it is not to be wondered at that an occasional silly boy and an occasional silly girl should occasionally do some extremely silly thing. It only remains to remember that the same boy and girl will, with remarkably few exceptions, do equally silly things whatever educational surroundings may be given them. Furthermore, institutions which have attempted to control these matters by fixed rules of deportment seem on the whole to have succeeded in producing rather more risqué escapades than those which eschew restrictions altogether. Public opinion has generally proved a safe guide in this direction. It would be folly to pretend that no social transgressions have occurred, but on the whole judged by any standard reasonably applicable to the situation, the relations of the men and women in the majority of such colleges seem to have been wholesome and unobjectionable. Instances of actual immorality have been so extremely rare as fairly to be considered pathological. That the future has some very serious perplexities in store on this score, however, for some peculiarly situated institutions of which we shall speak presently, seems more than probable. A very little injudicious conduct of the character under consideration goes far to create an atmosphere of a very obnoxious kind, and it is such infrequent but pervasive cases which cause anxiety to the friends and give courage to the foes of coeducation. Even though actual flirtation is avoided, many critics insist that boys' interests are stimulated in other boys' sisters at a time when it would be quite as well if they could be diverted into entirely different channels, even football. Girls, it is said, are unduly excited by masculine attention at a critical time in their physiological development, when they might better be engaged in storing their minds with useful learning. On the other side of this account it is to be observed that the shock of the class room goes far to shatter the traditional masculine idol in the feminine mind. This destructive process is in the case of most young women in such coeducational colleges begun in the primary schools and carried without interruption up to the academic level. By means of this anti-romantic treatment girls are spared much painful disillusionizing, and they are brought through a difficult period with probably a minimum of silliness and mawkish sentimentality. Moreover, they are often spared certain highly morbid experiences familiar to the authorities of girls' colleges. In the case of the boy there is abundant evidence to warrant the opinion that the grosser forms of vice to which he falls an occasional prey are rendered distinctly less alluring by daily contact with women of refinement and intelligence. That he ordinarily becomes effeminized by such contact is a fantastic theory of some critics which finds absolutely no tangible evidence upon which to rest. Certainly his manners leave much to be desired at times on the side of polite usage and suggest very remotely the adoption of feminine habits, and judged by athletic prowess, which is under the circumstances a very ambiguous index, the facts tell quite another story. At all events, athletic teams of western coeducational colleges have not infrequently defeated the representatives of eastern colleges for men, e. g., Yale, Princeton, Harvard, Brown, etc.
The complementary criticism that women necessarily suffer a loss of refinement and feminine nicety seems equally difficult of proof. It is certainly hard to point out any unavoidable features of coeducation which should inevitably preclude the development or retention of good manners and fine feeling. If the psychologists are correct, the acquirement of what we call manners belongs largely to a period antedating college life, and although a coarsening of the moral and esthetic fiber during this period would unquestionably appear in less refined conduct, it is not obvious that any such change commonly occurs, much less must occur under coeducational conditions. The fact seems rather to be that the college must inevitably expect to reflect in large measure the manners with which its students come already supplied, and these which are often admirable will be determined by the social standards prevailing in the families and communities from which they come. To be sure, the conditions of collegiate life afford an opportunity for throwing into vivid relief acquired social habits. They further afford admirable facilities for the discouragement of extreme variations from the accepted norm. But it is altogether problematic whether they can radically alter the level of the mass, at least this is doubtful under the prevalent conditions in most coeducational institutions where little or no supervision is exercised over students outside the class room. That the general tendency in all such colleges is toward a greater nicety of appreciation for social cultivation, can hardly be questioned. But the process of social leveling up is a slow one. There are no courses in the conventionalities, and no one should confuse the merits of such an institution with those of the young ladies' finishing schools of a great metropolis.
Much was said a few years ago of the certainty that the immediate future in university education belonged to the great urban institutions. It certainly seems probable that some of the most difficult problems in the near future belong to such of these institutions as are coeducational. If there is any serious menace contained in a predominance of the number of women over men in a college, these urban institutions are especially exposed to it. The number of girls in any city of 500,000 people who possess means and leisure sufficient to permit attendance upon a college is very large. If the college opens its doors directly in the faces of these young women, it can arouse no astonishment that many of them should walk in. Moreover, in the western cities which enjoy a practical monopoly of the coeducational system among city institutions, the brothers of these young women will not regularly come with them, or indeed go to any college. They are many of them drafted into the ranks of business life, and the natural balance of the sexes, which is displayed in the lower grades of the coeducational public school, is here entirely to seek. The families which will chiefly serve as recruiting grounds for these young women will be those in which wealth or comfortable means have been acquired in the present generation. In families where college traditions go back a generation or two, both boys and girls, if they go to college at all, will go to institutions determined as a rule by other than merely geographical considerations. But the stronger the local college, the more will it invade the ranks of this latter class, and it will probably draw upon the girls more largely than upon the boys, because of the indisposition to allow girls to leave home and because of the lesser significance for them of collegiate family tradition.
It will be strange if among these city-bred girls of leisure, many of whom will enjoy ample means, there should not be found a goodly number who go to college inspired with the same noble sentiment that now animates a considerable number of young men preparing for college—the disposition to have a good time and do the correct thing. Young women of this variety have already found their way into a number of the coeducational institutions, even those located outside the cities, and their coming even in small numbers has been attended by a distinct change in certain features of the college atmosphere. Judged by its external and most palpable fruits, the condition thus produced suggests at times its counterpart as already recognized in men's colleges—undue leisure unwisely spent, injudicious amusements and too many of them. Seen from the inside, it more often means on its positive side, an ingenuous interest in the more distinctly social phases of college life, and on its negative side, a freedom from the more imperious and sordid cares of the impecunious. We are assured on high authority that in at least one of the great universities for men, the idle and unprofitable class of rich boys has been awakened to a sense of responsibility and opportunity which is bringing splendid returns to the life of the institution. This is a comforting doctrine, and if confirmed in the progress of time, it furnishes ample ground for a confident optimism in the solution by the women themselves of any difficulties which may develop in coeducational institutions from these or similar sources. In any event women have in the century just past shown a disposition to lead, rather than to follow, in the furtherance of social reforms. Meantime it is clear that the urban coeducational university is exposed in larger degree than its rural neighbor to the perplexities mentioned.
It becomes increasingly evident as one surveys the situation that the antagonistic views of coeducation which are at present so conspicuous do not rest upon any radical disagreement as to the facts in the case, but depend almost solely upon the educational ideals and the social creeds which are applied in interpreting the facts. Much of the current discussion of the system is rendered futile by the obliviousness of the protagonists to this obvious consideration. If the life and spirit of Oxford or of Yale or of Harvard constitute one's sole standard of educational excellence, then the average coeducational institution will indeed seem a desolate waste. If one's ideal of social salvation for young women involves matrimony as its only god, and the chaperone as his prophet, then the coeducational regime must generally be condemned as a pagan system marking a barbarian stage of culture. Needless to say, such standards exist tacitly or explicitly in the minds of many cultured men and women who sincerely believe coeducation to be a vulgarizing retrograde influence in both social and intellectual life. It is ridiculous to pretend that the coeducational university can meet satisfactorily the demands laid upon it by such standards. This is not tantamount to admitting that the best coeducational institutions can not cope successfully at any point with Oxonian excellencies, much less is it equivalent to denying the possibility of developing refined and noble men and women under coeducational surroundings. But it is an admission of—nay an insistence upon—the fact that the only standards by which coeducation can pretend to be justified and by which it can be justly judged, are those intrinsic to the social and economic conditions which have produced it, and of which it is an integral part.
One may feel toward these conditions contempt, distrust, hatred—what one will—but one must take them into account if he will pass intelligent judgment upon coeducation. One may deplore the fact sincerely, as every lover of established order does, but he can not gainsay that the development of American social and economic life is rapidly carrying increasing numbers of women out of the beaten path of the domestic treadmill with its everlasting insistence upon the incident of sex into fields where social service is gauged by other standards than those of child-bearing, house-keeping and adorning pink teas. Efficiency is certain to be the touchstone by which women are tried in these new fields, and they will go or stay in proportion as they do better or less well than men. The picture which one learned professor has recently drawn of an uprising of men to force by violence a return of women to their proper sphere, is the product of an inflamed imagination attempting to portray an oriental Utopia. In reality men are chiefly responsible for the changes now going forward, but they are neither the doctrinaires of academic dignity nor yet the leaders of cotillons; they are the seekers after commercial, industrial and professional efficiency. So long as the economic situation remains what it is as regards the principles and motives that control in it, no amount of merely hysterical criticism and opposition is likely seriously to modify the case. And so long, therefore, as many women prefer self-support to marriage on the terms they find the latter offered to them, women will remain primary items in the economic situation, and they cannot be treated in this realm from the merely sexual point of view.
Coeducation is a reflection, often unconscious, of the tendencies which have produced this condition. It represents historically, as well as intrinsically, the democratic disposition to offer equal educational opportunities so far as possible to every human being. The touchstone by which it tests worthiness for such opportunities is social service. So long as women show themselves worthy by this standard to receive the highest forms of education, they will be given opportunity to obtain it, and moreover they will probably, in western institutions at least, obtain it under coeducational auspices. Justly or unjustly the western mind is suspicious of a fallacy lurking in the proclaimed equality of instruction in women's colleges and annexes, with that given in men's colleges. Then, too, if there were no other considerations, the economic waste involved in supporting separate institutions for men and women would tell heavily in favor of coeducation in many western communities. 'Equal but different' is not in educational matters a generally palatable doctrine away from the Atlantic seaboard. If the male is intellectually an altogether superior individual, the female ought on democratic principles to be given a chance for improvement by contact with him.
As a matter of fact coeducation is one of the most characteristic expressions of the social evolution of modern and especially western life. It is not now, and is not likely soon to become, an adequate or satisfactory expression of social and educational ideals in old communities or at all events in the conservative strata of such communities, inheriting as these do directly and easily the traditions of the past, and consequently clinging tenaciously to custom. The few instances in which the system has made its way into New England institutions of collegiate rank are essentially sporadic and serve rather than otherwise to emphasize the truth of this assertion. This fact is still further brought out by the observation that the hostility to the system is greatest in those institutions which are most intimately in contact with older ideals. If one follows the history of the development of the system, one is impressed with the fact that in its inception anyhow the movement possessed the true spirit of robust frontier democracy. It originated in the democratic impulse to give women the highest educational opportunities and to test their fitness for such opportunities by the use made of them, and not by à priori notions of the sexually appropriate. Its typical virtues are earnestness, honesty and vigor. It is frequently crude, but it is rarely shallow. It is often obtuse, but it is seldom perverse. It springs from a deep-seated social conviction that men and women are in the first instance human beings, and only secondarily devices for continuing the race. It involves in practice, whatever the theory, a vital scepticism concerning the sexuality of intellect, a position which finds interesting though generally unintentional confirmation in the curricula of women's colleges and annexes. Even under the guidance of learned men and women, it does not seem to have proven possible to better materially the curricula of the men's colleges, to which even the extremest variants are now approximated. Individual preference operating under a liberal elective system has almost everywhere displaced curricula developed under preconceived notions of the sexually fit. Upon the catholic range of these feminine preferences, we have already commented.
Coeducation assumes that if, as is apparently the case, men and women are to be thrown into increasingly intimate contact in relations that do not involve reference to sex, it is desirable that the formal educational process, so often falsely severed from the rest of life, should recognize this fact by bringing boys and girls into contact with one another all their lives.
Like all other influences making for the higher education of women, coeducation is necessarily opposed to the view that woman's only function is maternity, and that her only proper attainments are either of a domestic or sexual character. The condition of women in continental and oriental countries in which this view of woman has prevailed, and the social consequences which have sprung from it, leave no question in the western mind as to the preferable extreme, if one must have an extreme in this matter. On the other hand, the advocates of coeducation regard maternity as a function for which no education is too high nor too broad.
When one brings to bear upon coeducation standards that can fairly be considered intrinsic to it, one can but admit that in the past anyhow its operation has been remarkably successful. The register of graduates from coeducational institutions shows that as a class the young men and women trained under these auspices are filling with honor the functions of the various stations to which life has called them. The beauty and sanctity of domestic life does not appear to have been shattered nor indeed shaken. In public station, to which large numbers of them have been summoned, they appear to have acquitted themselves with eminent credit. There is no great interest of any kind throughout the west in which men and women of this type will not be found important factors. This result may of course be in spite of their education, rather than because of it, and a different form of education might have produced better results. Admitting this, however, it remains to point out the fact, that in any event for the vast majority of these persons coeducation has not resulted in the disastrous fashion which it ought, if its critics were wholly correct. It must in this connection be remembered that there are many thousands of these graduates of coeducational colleges, so that the volume of contamination which disturbs the critics should be considerable and not difficult of recognition.
Coeducation has a monopoly of neither the virtues nor the vices of the educational world. It is a safe assertion that many young men and women would be better off in colleges of some other variety. Experience certainly suggests that a coeducational university is a dangerous place to send certain young men and especially certain young women, brought up in schools for boys or girls severally. The sending of certain girls to such coeducational institutions without providing for guardianship of any kind is often in the highest degree reprehensible. But for the average young person brought up in coeducational nurseries and secondary schools the university of this type is capable of supplying a peculiarly valuable training, and one which could be discarded only at great cost. The system represents so much that is intrinsic to the noblest and best spirit of democracy in the commonwealths where it flourishes, that its immediate overthrow would be hardly feasible even were it thought desirable. The state institutions, which furnish much the larger part of the coeducational constituency, could probably take no extreme measures without legislative endorsement, and this would certainly be very slow in coming. Private institutions are less hampered, and we may look to them for experimental research. Leland Stanford in the west has already discovered that while 500 women in an institution are tolerable and even valuable, 501 are not to be endured. Wesleyan University in the East has also seen a light, but one of a different hue from that seen at Stanford. At Wesleyan twenty per cent, of the student body may be women, but educational propriety draws the line at this point.
Turning to the present and the future, and applying standards properly applicable to the coeducational system, it must be admitted that on the instructional side only one difficulty of serious import appears to exist. This is the tendency toward sex segregation in certain courses of which we have already spoken at length. The most unequivocal advantages of coeducation spring from the fact of joint instruction, and any influences which tend to preclude this are unfortunate. For the various other alleged shortcomings of the system on this side, there is no conclusive evidence and opinion is hopelessly diverse. Furthermore, the criticisms which are advanced, so far as they are capable of satisfactory proof, concern the merely incidental and obviously remediable excrescences of the system, and not its fundamental principles. On the other hand there is almost complete unanimity of opinion regarding the difficulties actual and possible on the social side of coeducational college life.
This fact itself is altogether significant—essential unanimity of opinion regarding one class of difficulties, with radical and complicated differences regarding the other class.
It does not seem chimerical to hope that the first difficulty may at an early date in large measure take care of itself without artificial assistance. Despite the common assertion of the educational rhapsodists that women's native tastes are all in emotional and esthetic lines, even her religious bent included, a study of the elections made by women in the courses of both coeducational and women's colleges suggests, as we have already seen, a much more equitable and catholic distribution of her interests. As wider academic and professional fields open to women, and as the number of women increase who are not obliged to conform their collegiate work to immediate bread and butter interests, there will certainly be a less proportion of them found in the literary courses than at present. And on the other hand, as regards the men, there seems some reason to believe that we may see a reaction from the present extreme tendency to cater to a purely technical preparation for professional life. Certainly it is hard to believe that in the long run the racial confidence in the value of the humanities, shown by educational history, should not secure wider recognition than it often does at present from some of the builders of required curricula for the professions. It seems not improbable, too, that the reconstruction of the work of professional preparation both in school and college with its tendency toward a shortening of the collegiate course, will be accompanied by a disposition to include more of literature in the early part of the training than is now the case. And, as in the case of women just mentioned, there will unquestionably be an increasing number of men in coeducational institutions whose means will permit, and whose tastes will dictate, a less hasty and slavish subserviency to the demands of professional training, and a longer dalliance with arts and letters. This disposition will be rapidly augmented by a wider appreciation of the educational value of these subjects on the part of the communities whence these young men come. Should these various influences cooperate, there can be no question that the present anomalous conditions would be extensively modified. At all events it would set the tide of men back into the humanities. It seems improbable that women will find it tempting or profitable in the near future to attempt extensively entrance upon law or technology or theology. But many of the courses involved in preparation for these careers will undoubtedly appeal to them in increasing measure.
Far and away the most serious problem which coeducation has to face is unquestionably that involved in maintaining proper social relations between the sexes, and this must, if solved permanently, gain its solution from the action of public sentiment in the student body itself. Faculty counsel and administrative suasion will do much, but in the last analysis the suppression of unprofitable and excessive social intercourse on the one hand, and the elimination of irrational sex prejudice on the other, must be accomplished through the force of sincere and enlightened student opinion. This is an altogether hopeful circumstance, although it points to a corrective which is necessarily slow in development and susceptible of temporary error. To distrust its final success is to repudiate the lesson of every liberalizing step which has resulted in making the American college student so completely his own master. Whether the method adopted will involve the social ostracism of women which exists in a mild form at several important coeducational universities, and in a pronounced form at one, it is difficult to say. Certainly the result at this last institution should commend itself to many opponents of the system, for it seems to have materially retarded the increase in the attendance of women such as has been experienced by other coeducational colleges. Evidently this method is calculated to correct only one form of excess in the relations of the sexes. Stupid prejudice is not likely to die under this treatment. Indeed, it will hardly die under any system, for there will probably always be men as there are now, both among faculty and students, who simply dislike personally to have women about. This feeling is moreover warmly reciprocated by some women. Such persons, if in coeducational institutions, should seize an early opportunity to transfer the scene of their labors. Nothing can be socially more unwholesome and more insidious in its effects upon personal dignity than life in a community where such forms of contempt and antisocial sentiment are general and sincere.
The deepest and truest ethical tendencies of the time emphasize not divisions of sex or creed or party, but the unity of social service. And this is social service not in the moralistic, goody-goody sense, but in the sense of actual social function. If men and women are to be fitted for life with this ideal in its broadest implication as a primary determinant of curriculum and method, then coeducation, judged either by its fruits or by its promise, and acknowledging frankly its defects, is unquestionably a hopeful system. When it shows itself clearly disastrous to the solidarity of the highest social interests, it will unquestionably be discarded. But it will not be discarded upon any purely doctrinaire considerations of sexual functions and capacities. Meantime each one of us in the last resort tests it all by his own social creed, and with most of us this is at bottom largely a matter of feeling and not a matter of carefully rationalized judgment, a reflection of our own training and surroundings and not a product of our purely logical processes. Complete agreement, therefore, upon the merits of coeducation is hardly to be looked for in the near future.
- These figures cannot be regarded as absolutely accurate, owing to the method of cataloguing found in the reports of certain institutions. The peculiarities of organization in a few institutions must also be taken into account. Northwestern University, for example, has a large conservatory of music, chiefly patronized by women. This is not taken into account in our figures, which are meant to render comparative statements as nearly as possible reliable and significant. The figures quoted are believed to be entirely trustworthy for this purpose.