Popular Science Monthly/Volume 64/January 1904/The Successful Women of America




IT is now half a century since a few women began with the most insistent perseverance to demand a place in the political, professional and economic world. They made this demand on the ground that woman's brain is equal to man's, and, given a fair chance, women could successfully compete with man in every field, except where physical strength and endurance were necessary. Man's opposition to this demand, though at times bitter and determined, has been so far overcome that to-day woman has every opportunity for gaining the best educational and professional training, and has already taken her place in the ranks of every profession except that of the armed defenders of her country. Either with or without the consent of her brother, she has got most of the things she has asked for, and some things which she neither asked for nor wanted. She has accomplished much, but her achievements are still looked upon with misgivings by many, as is seen in the frequent discussions of 'The New Woman,' 'The Unquiet Sex' and the 'Evils of the Higher Education.' In all these discussions there is the constant comparison of the two sexes in ability, perseverance and poise. But since they entered the race with the tremendous advantage of centuries of mental training and experience on the side of the men, it is most unjust to draw comparisons.

Putting therefore all comparisons entirely aside, it seemed worth while to make a study, as far as was possible, of those women who have achieved in public or professional life that measure of success sufficient to give them a place among the successful men and women of America, for the purpose of finding out in what lines of work the greater probabilities of success lie, and what part educational training seems to have had.

The material used as a basis of this study is found in the latest edition of 'Who's Who in America.' It would be difficult to find any two persons who would quite agree as to what constitutes success. And this book admittedly has sins of both omission and commission, still it is probably as nearly complete as a book of this kind could well be. The points considered will be found in the following table. The blank spaces and small figures show the incompleteness of data in many cases. The conclusions therefore are only tentative.

The 1902 edition of 'Who's Who in America' contains the names of 11,551 living men and women together with brief biographical sketches giving, as far as possible, birth, parentage, education, marriage and profession. Of these names 977 are women, a ratio of 1:1123. Sixteen out of this number are well-known actresses and opera singers who are Americans neither by birth nor residence; six are ladies of social prominence, wives of distinguished men; and one is a deposed queen, which leaves 954 to be considered in this paper.

A careful study of these practically self-written biographies has revealed many interesting facts and tendencies. This is especially true so far as they answer two important questions: First, what professions seem to give the greatest opportunity for success; and second, what educational preparation seems most helpful and necessary. In the order of numbers, they stand as follows: Authors, including novelist, essayist, writer, poet, historian, 487; artists, including painter, sculptor, engraver, etcher, illustrator and architect, 103; educators, including lecturers, 91; journalists, including editor, critic and correspondent, 65; actresses, 59; musicians, 43; social reformers, including club-women and settlement workers, 27; physicians, 21; scientists, including naturalists, 17; ministers, including salvation army and missionary workers, 13; philanthropists, 12; librarians, 9; lawyers, 9; miscellaneous, 3. These figures, it will be seen, amount to five more than the whole number of persons classified, because that number of women are represented as actively engaged in more than one vocation.

The accompanying table shows both the number and the per cent, of those married in each profession, the average age, so far as given, and the general education as well as the particular colleges represented.

The tendency of successful women to marriage does not seem great, the per cent, being only 54. In every case, except the minister and lawyer, the table shows less than sixty per cent, married, and it seems probable that a large number of the women in these professions married before they entered professional life. The journalist comes next in the per cent, married, while the artist falls to 43 per cent., and the educator runs very little risk—if she considers it a risk—her chances of matrimony being only 26.3 per cent, or a little over one to four. The cause of this invites speculation. Is it merely disinclination on her part, or is it because she has less opportunity for meeting congenial men; or can it be that her acquisition of knowledge and possibly the instructive habit makes her less attractive to men? At any rate, success and matrimony do not seem to go hand in hand with the educator. It will doubtless cause surprise that the table shows only about half the successful actresses married. This may be due to their omitting the fact of their marriage, because they find it to their advantage professionally to be supposed unmarried, and it may possibly be due to the fact that they seem to unmarry with so much ease.

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As to age, the table shows that only 69 per cent, gave their age, so that the conclusions drawn are not perhaps of great value. Still if a woman's inclination to tell her age does not increase with age, it would seem fair to draw the conclusion that the path to what the

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world calls success is long and full of obstacles for the woman who attempts it. The musician seems to reach the goal first, her age aging 40.7 years, and the actress and the artist stand next. They each average 44.4 years.

In the matter of education, the technical education is not considered, the object of the writer being to find the importance which general education and college training hold in the making of a successful woman. It is true, however, that most of the artists and the musicians and many of the educators studied abroad in their special lines. Where no mention whatever is made of education, the writer concludes that it must have been slight.

The table indicates that college training has played a small part in woman's success, only 148 or 15.5 per cent. The largest percentage of college bred women is found among scientists, ministers and educators, but even the number of educators who have had college training is less than half, while in all the other professions, except the ones already named, the table shows less than one fourth to be college women. Some of these women have taken more than one degree, and others have studied in one or more colleges and universities without having taken a degree in any. The question, however, is not so much what place college training has occupied in the past, as it is what the tendency toward extended study and investigation seems to be. By arranging those who gave their age in separate columns according to the date of birth, one may get a fair idea of the tendency towards a higher education, and the relative value it bears in the successful life. All those born before 1850 are classed together and the others by decades. The two columns following the date of birth show respectively the number and the per cent, of college women. Among authors there is an increase of college women who were born during the fifties, over those born before 1850. The next decade shows a further increase of ten per cent., but of those born between sixty and seventy there is a decrease of ten per cent., or from 58.3 per cent, to 47.6 per cent. Educators, as has already been said, have the largest number of college women. The last decade considered shows only four names, but they are all college bred. If, however, all the professions are considered together, the reader will see that the per cent, of college bred women born between 1860 and 1870 is less than in any preceding period.

The table also shows the chief woman's colleges represented in comparison with coeducational colleges. Vassar, Wellesley, Smith, Radcliffe and Bryn Mawr each count authors and educators of note among their daughters, but beyond these professions they are scarcely represented at all. The other colleges represented are with few exceptions, the coeducational colleges and state universities east of the Mississippi River. With the exception of the philanthropists, the number who were educated in coeducational institutions is in every case larger than that of all the woman's colleges combined. That is, the majority of these college women were educated in institutions where their instructors were almost exclusively men. If then colleges and especially woman's colleges play so small a part in the success of the women who have been invited to enter the doors of 'Who's Who,' the question naturally rises, where have they received their education?

The prevailing idea seems to be that the private school is all very well for the girl who wants some knowledge of the so-called 'accomplishments' and a sufficient amount of general knowledge to make her fairly intelligent, that they are of value only to those parents who wish the school associates of their daughters to be as nearly as possible among their own social class, but as for giving a pupil anything like thoroughness in the subjects studied, that the private school standards are far below those of the public school. A glance at the table, however, seems to tell quite another story.

The scientists educated in the public school stand to those educated in the private school in the ratio of 5:4, but in every other profession the number educated in private schools far exceeds that of the public schools. Even among educators where thorough knowledge is certainly essential to success, the ratio of those educated in the private school is to those educated in the public school as 6:5; the journalists over 3:1; the physicians 7:2 and the authors over 4:1.

While the public school should not for a moment be undervalued, these figures would seem to give one a reason to believe the private schools of the country to be a valuable educational factor in fitting a woman for a successful career.

It is greatly to be regretted that the biographies investigated are in many cases so incomplete. The results of the investigation are therefore only partly conclusive, or perhaps suggestive. But so far as they go they speak with a degree of authority and nothing is true beyond that point.