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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 65/August 1904/Three Decades of College Women



THE following statements relate to the occupations, careers and matrimonial condition of the graduates of the first thirty classes of Vassar College, from 1867 to 1896, inclusive. The records of 1,302 women are included. The information is taken from the last general catalogue, which gives the history of all the classes to the end of the century; but the last four, 1897-1900, are not considered in this article.

The first question that everybody asks is, Do college women marry? The first ten classes, 1867-76, contain 323 members. Of this number 181, or 56.03 per cent., have married. The average age of a college woman at graduation is 22 years. Hence the age of these classes in 1900 averaged from 46 to 56 years—most of the members old enough to be grandmothers. It is quite possible that some of the living members may marry yet, for two instances were found in one class where marriage occurred 24 years after graduation; but making allowance for sporadic cases of this sort, 60 per cent, would probably include the complete marriage record of the graduates of this period.

These figures would seem to confirm the worst fears of those who, forty years ago, opposed the admission of women to college. It is difficult to make comparisons, because so many circumstances enter into the question of marriage. College women come from all sections of the country and from the most diverse social and pecuniary environment. The rate here given is undoubtedly less than that for the whole female population of the country, but perhaps not less than might be expected for a specialized and highly educated class.

The tendency of civilization seems to be toward comparatively late and few marriages. One can almost judge of the advancement of a people as a whole (the isolated villages of Miss Wilkins's stories are exceptional) by the number of single women. Females among savage races, as in the animal kingdom, are not allowed to remain unmated. It is an unusual thing in these days for a well-bred girl to marry under twenty. In our mothers' day such a course was eminently proper, and in our grandmothers' time girls married at fifteen or sixteen and afterwards bore that number of children.

As soon as a country becomes settled and its inhabitants used to material comforts and social privileges, the care and support of a family become a serious matter and early and hasty marriages are discouraged. Whenever a variety of occupations is open to women, they need not marry for a livelihood and the ethical standard is raised. I think, however, the fact that a woman has an occupation is a less certain hindrance to marriage than many suppose. As will presently be seen from these records, the graduates who have taken up the most advanced work are quite as likely to marry as those who have not, and many of those who are best known to the outside world are both wives and mothers.

Still another fact may comfort the pessimists: Although less than three fifths of the first decade of Vassar women have entered matrimony, no other profession in any decade has attracted nearly so large a number. If marriage is not universal among college women, neither is teaching.

In the second decade, including the classes '77-'86, there are 378 graduates. The members of these classes in 1900, accepting the average age, ranged from 36 to 46 years. As might be expected, the marriage rate is somewhat less than for the preceding decade. Out of the whole number 191, or 50.53 per cent., have married. The next general catalogue would probably show a larger proportion. The third decade, 1887-96, contains 601 members. As '95 was the first Vassar class to graduate 100 members, a rate which since then has been steadily exceeded, it can readily be seen that half the members of this period were under thirty years when the census was taken. Its marriage rate has no value for general statistical purposes. Of the 601 members 169, or 28.12 per cent., were married in 1900.

The number of children next claims attention. These statistics are particularly valuable, for it is the first time any on this subject have been collected. The general catalogues of 1883 and 1890 contain no information on this point. The 181 marriages of the first decade have produced 361 children, or two to a marriage, a typical American family of the present day. In the second decade there are 191 marriages and 295 children, or 1.54 children to a marriage. It is fair to assume that this proportion will be increased. In the last decade there are 169 marriages and 135 children, an obviously incomplete record.

Although the number of children seems small in the first decade, which is the only one where the record may be regarded as measurably established, it must not be inferred that there are no large families among the alumnae. The banner record in this respect belongs to a member of the class of '75, a widow with eight children. There are three graduates who have seven children each, in the classes of '71, '79 and '80, respectively. The member in '71, a small class of 21 members, 12 of whom have married, has nearly one quarter of the whole number of children (29) in the class. In the class of '79 three mothers claim 19, or more than half of the 35 children which have resulted from the 18 marriages. In the family of the member from '80 six of the seven children are sons. There are nine mothers who have six children each, one in '69, '73 and '74 and two in '76, '78 and '79, respectively. In three of these families, the one in '69 and one of the two in both '76 and '78, the children are all boys. All this goes to show, what has so often been stated, that there is no such thing as an average person.

Now comes the most surprising fact in the whole record of this catalogue, and that is the preponderance of boys among the children. In the first decade there are 204 sons and 157 daughters, making the excess of the former nearly 30 per cent. At first this proportion seemed accidental, but though not so large in the succeeding decades, it appears constant. In the second decade there are 160 sons to 135 daughters, making the excess of the former 18y 2 per cent.; and in the third decade there are 73 sons to 62 daughters, or 19% per cent, more boys than girls.

It is a well-known fact that in the normal birth rate the number of males slightly exceeds the females, by about five per cent. This is explained because of the greater mortality among boy babies. It is the intention of nature that the sexes upon arriving at maturity shall be about equal in numbers. But the fact that to any class of mothers should be born nearly one third more sons than daughters, as in the first decade, or almost one fifth more, as in the other two decades, suggests an interesting problem to the physiologist and the sociologist. Climate or material environment can not account for it.

Before leaving these matrimonial statistics, it may be worth while to compare them with those of the Harvard graduates, as set forth by President Eliot in his report of last year, which has not yet ceased to echo around the country. Dr. Eliot gave the records for six classes, 1872-77. Of the 881 members in those classes 634, or 72 per cent., had married. Though the proportion is considerably larger than that (56 per cent.) of the 323 Vassar women in the classes 1867-76, President Eliot considers it regrettably small. It is interesting to note that the average number of children is precisely the same, both in the Harvard and in the Vassar families, two to each. The 634 Harvard fathers report 1,262 living children. College women as a class have often been sneered at because so many of them do not marry, but if less than three fourths of college men marry, perhaps higher education may have an effect upon the individual quite as much as upon the sex.

Of the 1,302 Vassar graduates, 1867-96, there were 541 married in 1900. In the whole list there are but three second marriages, two of them in the class of '81, and no divorce indicated as such. But one other fact remains to complete this record of vital statistics. In the first decade 63 members, or 19.19 per cent., have died. Of this number 36 were married and 27 unmarried, a ratio of four to three. This might indicate that matrimony is slightly unfavorable to longevity, as the ratio of those marrying to those not marrying is 14 to 11. But this impression is corrected in the following decades.

In the second decade the number deceased is 39, or 10.31 per cent. Of these 16 were married and 23 unmarried, a ratio of about two to three. As the number of married and single women in this decade is about equal, the death rate is decidedly in favor of the married. In the last decade 16, or 2.66 per cent., have died, four of them married, making the rate one to three, whereas the marrying rate is about seven to 18. This again shows a small balance in favor of the married. The whole number of the graduates who have died is 118, or 9.06 per cent.

Next to matrimony the profession that claims the greatest number of the alumnae of Vassar is teaching. In this schedule are included all those who have recorded themselves as teaching, if only for a year. This may give an exaggerated impression of the number following teaching as an occupation; but I know of no way of establishing a definite professional record for a woman, because all roads, sooner or later, are likely to lead, if not to matrimony, to the domestic circle. From my own observation I should say that probably two thirds of every class at Vassar, immediately upon graduation, experiment more or less with pupils. Members of school boards will probably say that fully three thirds seek positions. My estimate may be more nearly correct, however, and of this two thirds, I doubt if more than one sixth, or one ninth of the whole, follow the profession for a considerable length of time, say ten or fifteen years.

Here are the records: In the first decade 128 of the 323, or 39.62 per cent, of the whole number, are recorded as teaching or having taught. Out of this list 46, or more than one third, have married, which in most cases, not all, has ended their public teaching. Several have resumed or taken up teaching on the death of their husbands, and sometimes when the husband is living. In the second decade there are 154 teachers, or 40.70 per cent, of the whole number. In this list 59, or again more than one third, have married. In the last decade, where we naturally expect to find the greatest number who have not severed their connection with the school-room, there are 304 teachers, or but 50.58 per cent, of the whole list, and even out of this half 52, or 17.10 per cent., were married in 1900.

A considerable number of these teachers have done advanced work. In the first decade there are twenty professors, officers and instructors in institutions belonging to the Association of Collegiate Alumnæ, an organization which admits no colleges but those of the first rank. There are fifteen professors and instructors in other institutions. There are also thirteen principals, either of their own private schools or of endowed academies. This makes a list of 48; excluding ten duplicates, 38, or nearly 30 per cent., of the 128 teachers are of collegiate or principal rank.

This proportion of advanced rank holds good in the second decade, which contains 28 professors and teachers in colleges belonging to the Association of Collegiate Alumnæ. There are 21 professors, officers and instructors at other colleges and seven principals and preceptresses. Of the 56 just mentioned, excluding 11 duplicates, there are 45, or more than 29 per cent., of the 154 teachers of this decade, of collegiate or principal rank.

In the last decade it is not surprising to find that no graduate has yet attained to a professorship in a college belonging to the Association of Collegiate Alumnae. There are, however, 26 teachers in the Association of Collegiate Alumnæ colleges, one principal and 14 professors and teachers in other colleges. These 41 instructors make 13.48 per cent, of the 304 teachers of this decade.

Next to imparting knowledge Vassar alumnæ seem to be fond of acquiring it. After the teaching profession no occupation or pursuit enlists so many graduates as that of advanced study. In the first decade 35 have taken the degree of A.M.; three, that of S.B.; and two, that of Ph.D. The strictly professional degrees will be mentioned later. There are also three fellows and three who have done graduate work at universities without degrees. Excluding ten duplicates, 36 members of the first decade have done graduate work. This is 11.11 per cent, of the whole number for this period.

In the second decade 29 have taken the degree of A.M.; one, that of S.B.; one, Ph.M.; and six, Ph.D. There are also two fellows and six who have pursued advanced studies at universities without taking degrees. Excluding ten duplicates, 35 members of the second decade, or 9.26 per cent., have done graduate work at colleges and universities.

In the third decade 36 have thus far taken the degree of A.M.; thirteen, that of Ph.D.; there are eight fellows and 42 advanced students. The Ph.D. 's are accredited as follows: Yale, 4; Cornell, Chicago and Bryn Mawr, two each; University of Geneva (Switzerland), Columbia and Harvard, one each. The last is recorded, not granted, as Harvard University, almost alone among the colleges of this country, does not yet confer degrees upon women. Excluding 13 duplicates out of the foregoing 99 names, 86 alumnae of this decade, or 14.31 per cent., have done graduate work at American and foreign colleges and universities. In the class of '91, numbering but 36 members, there are five Ph.D.'s, almost one seventh of the whole.

The average of those doing graduate work for the whole thirty years is 12.05 per cent. The large proportion in the last decade is due, not so much to increase of scholarly ambition among the alumnae of Vassar as to the fact that men's universities in America did not afford postgraduate study to women until the nineties. The first Ph.D. received from a great university by a Vassar woman came from Yale in 1894. The two women in the first decade who are Ph.D.'s did not attain that degree till about twenty years after graduation.

Next to imparting and acquiring knowledge from the teacher's desk the greatest desire among Vassar women appears to be to inform the public through the medium of printers' ink. The contributors to periodicals number 23 in the first decade, 25 in the second and 31 in the third, a total of 79. The writers of miscellaneous publications are 6, 20 and 22 for their respective decades, a total of 48; and the authors are five, four and five for the same periods, a total of 14. The combined lists make 141, or 10.83 per cent, of the whole number of graduates. In this entire register there is no name that would be instantly recognized by the general public, but the publications in the mass represent a very considerable amount of creditable and successful work. The periodicals to which so many contribute include journals of various rank. There is no important magazine or paper in this country, popular, literary, critical, political, scientific or religious, except possibly some technical journal of very limited scope, which does not number Vassar women among its contributors. Their names have appeared in some foreign periodicals as well.

In the next department surprise may be expressed at the lack of quantity. It seems strange that the medical profession does not attract more college women. As medicine is the only one of the so-called learned professions which women have entered in considerable numbers, and as it is a most honorable and lucrative one, it would be expected to appeal strongly to women graduates who are looking for a career. The only explanation seems to be that women who are attracted toward the healing art may not have the time and money for a preliminary college course. As the medical schools are constantly raising their requirements, this condition will probably be changed in time.

In the first decade twelve Vassar women have taken the degree of M.D., two of them at foreign universities. Of these nine are registered as physicians. In the second decade fourteen graduates have taken the degree of M.D., two at foreign universities. Of these twelve are registered as physicians. In the third decade there are so far twelve M.D. 's, ten of whom are announced as physicians, one being a missionary physician to China. There is also one medical student.

The total number of those taking a medical degree is 38, or a little less than three per cent, of the whole number of graduates. The num number of practising physicians is 31, or about one for each class. This number is, however, quite irregularly distributed, the classes of '77 and '93 having four and some others two each. As there are twelve M.D.'s in the first and in the third decades, while the member of graduates in the latter decade is almost double that in the former, it would seem at first sight as if the rate of those studying medicine must be steadily declining. It is hardly probable, however, that such is the case, for the third decade contains so many who have recently graduated that it is of little value for statistical purposes.

The literary writers have already been mentioned. A few alumnæ have done good work as writers of text-books or of scientific papers. There are fifteen writers of text-books, eleven in the first, and two each in the second and third decades. The fact that nearly three fourths of the writers belong to the first decade seems to show that it requires considerable experience as well as maturity of mind to write a textbook. This apparently does not hold when it comes to publishing scientific papers; researches are quite as likely to be conducted by recent graduates.

There are four writers of scientific papers in the first decade and their subjects are astronomy, logic and mathematics, chemistry and mineralogy, wasps and spiders. There is one writer in the second decade (biology) and five in the third decade—two writers on astronomy and three on what the present writer fondly believes are biological subjects, but is not sure. For instance, 'Dinophilus Gardineri'; is it a mastodon or a microbe?

It was hoped by considering the miscellaneous occupations in decades to discover some tendency of the times, some drift of educated women toward new work, but this is observable in but two or three instances. Though there are many more kinds of work registered in the third decade than in the first, there are some occupations in the first decade that are not filled in the others, showing that much depends upon the individual. Again, women of the first decade often entered into modern pursuits in middle life. Thus library work, which has only recently become a profession, has drawn graduates of all ages.

In the list of librarians, cataloguers and assistants there are five in the first decade, four in the second, eight in the third. There is also a student in a library school from the first decade and two students from the third decade. Among the 17 already in library work several hold or have held positions in colleges, Columbia, Vassar, Wellesley, Bryn Mawr and Bates. Most of the librarians are of comparatively recent training, but in the first and second decades the work has often been undertaken after years of teaching. In the third decade it is usually begun immediately upon graduation, showing that as a possible profession library work is assuming increased importance in the eyes of the undergraduates.

The two occupations in which the increase of recent graduates is most noticeable are secretarial or clerical and philanthropic, notably college settlement, work. Of the 18 secretaries, there are three in the first decade, three in the second and 12 in the third decade. Several of these hold positions in colleges. Philanthropic work as a profession belongs wholly to the second and third decades. In the second decade are four graduates: three missionaries, two to Japan and one to India, and a Salvation Army worker; in the third decade are eight: five settlement workers, including one head resident; one missionary to China, one district agent of organized charities and one assistant secretary, State Charities Aid Association, making twelve in all. This list includes those only who seem to be devoting their whole time to the work; hence many holding prominent offices in the Women's Christian Temperance Union and various missionary organizations are not mentioned.

Under the somewhat liberal term of executive work are grouped three members of the first and three members of the second decade, though the members of the first might almost be classed in the philanthropic list. They are the matron of a reformatory home, the manager of a children's home and the secretary of a Young Women's Christian Association. In the second decade are an assistant to the lady principal of Vassar, a bursar of Barnard College and a worker at Pratt Institute.

Music and art have attracted eight graduates each. The artists are four in the first, and two in each of the other decades. Some of these have attained more than local note. The musical people are thus divided: In the first decade are two organists; in the second, an organist, a concert pianist, a professional singer and an assistant supervisor of music, New York schools; in the third decade are an organist and a professional accompanist; making eight in all.

It may surprise some readers to know that eight of the graduates have engaged in agricultural operations. In the first decade two are registered as farmers, a third as a dairy farmer and a fourth as manager of the Kingwood herd for the making of sterilized milk; there is also a fruit grower. In the second decade are a stock farmer and an orange grower. In the third decade is a rose grower. Let us hope that these educated women may wrest wealth as well as health from their contact with the soil.

Five graduates have engaged in business, three in the second and two in the third decade. In the second decade two are managers of manufacturing concerns and one is in the lumber business. In the last decade one has been business manager of a newspaper and is treasurer of a publishing company and one is in the jewelry business.

Vassar has always had a decided leaning toward astronomy, due probably to the influence of Maria Mitchell, who for nearly a quarter of a century made the college observatory her throne room, whence her magnetic personality radiated far and wide. Here was trained her able successor, Professor Mary W. Whitney, '68. Besides those teaching astronomy, who are included in the general list of teachers, and those who have published astronomical papers, four have engaged in other forms of astronomical work. In the second decade one has been a computer at the Yale observatory; in the third decade are three, a lecturer, for six years worker at the Harvard observatory, a computer at the Yale observatory and a computer on the Nautical Almanac.

No Vassar woman has yet been ordained a minister, but the legal profession is beginning to attract a few graduates. There are three in the third decade. A member of '88 has taken the degrees of LL.B. and LL.M., was admitted to the New York state bar in 1895, and is registered as a lawyer. She is also married and has two children, but her marriage occurred previous to her legal studies and soon after graduation from Vassar. A member of '89 was admitted to the Illinois bar by examination in 1896, and was thereupon married. She has one child. She is not registered in the catalogue as a lawyer, but she has published the 'Municipal Code of Macomb, Ill., Eevised and Codified.' A member of '95 is registered as a clerk and student in a law office in Chicago. Besides these three, two Vassar women have acquired the degree of LL.B., evidently for the purpose of general culture and not for legal practice. In 1887 the honorary degree of LL.D. was conferred upon Mrs. Christine Ladd Franklin of '69 in recognition of her attainments in mathematics and logic.

We now come to the twos and ones. In the first decade are two bookkeepers; in the second decade, two lecturers; in the third decade, two regents' examiners for the state of New York. A chemist is catalogued in the first and in the third decade, and a water analyst for the Massachusetts State Board of Health in the second. Two graduates have undertaken nursing, one in the second decade becoming a trained nurse; and one, Miss Reubena H. Walworth, '96, acting as a volunteer nurse in the Spanish War, dying in the service of her country. In the second decade are a draughtsman, a government clerk and a life insurance agent; and in the third decade are a translator from the French, an actress, a kindergartner, a canvasser, a director of a gymnasium, a director of a domestic science department, and a promising student of chemistry who has been an assistant, lecturer and docent at the University of Geneva, Switzerland.

An unusual record is that of a member of '83, a young woman of brilliant literary gifts, who chose the life of a Salvation Army worker. After laboring for twelve years amid the slums of London and attaining the rank of Major, she became converted to the Roman Catholic faith, returned to New York, and in 1900 entered the novitiate of the Dominican Sisters at Albany. Another individual career is that of Miss Stematz Yamakawa, '82, the only Japanese girl ever graduated from a college. Upon her return to her native land she married the Marquis Iwao Oyama, a field marshal commanding the second army of the empire. Closely associated with the Empress, and the only Japanese woman of rank familiar with occidental civilization, she has had a wide social and educational influence in her native land.

The amount of club, philanthropic and general educational work done by the graduates of Vassar has never been computed. As members of school boards, trustees of various colleges, organizers and directors of important societies, officers of charitable institutions, their influence has been felt in every part of the land. Happily, work of this kind by educated women is now so common as to call for little comment. If the college has as yet produced no famous genius, it has sent forth more than 2,000 daughters (2,332 in 1904) with welltrained minds, accompanied in most instances by sound bodies, who have quietly and gradually helped to raise the status of women wherever the English language is spoken or read.