Popular Science Monthly/Volume 66/March 1905/Higher Education of Women and Race Suicide

1422790Popular Science Monthly Volume 66 March 1905 — Higher Education of Women and Race Suicide1905Arthur Lapthorn Smith




EDUCATION on the continent of America, and more especially in the United States, has reached a point of perfection which hardly leaves room for any further development.[1] At first sight, this would seem to be a very satisfactory state of affairs and, to the ordinary observer, the question of still higher education would seem to be deserving of all praise. 'You can not have too much of a good thing' they say, and the very highest possible degree of education for women is none too good or too great for them. But to those who look beyond the present and only a little way into the future a great danger is gradually arising, a danger which will go on increasing until it brings about a revolution the signs of which are already beginning to be seen and which will effectually put an end to the evil which is to form the subject of this paper. The author will limit himself principally to a discussion of the harm resulting from too high an education of women, because on that part of the subject he has had exceptional opportunities for observation and for drawing accurate conclusions; but, incidentally, he will take the liberty of questioning the advisability of affording higher education freely to the people at large, of the male, as well as of the female sex.

The author regrets to be like a voice crying in the wilderness, a note of warning against what the majority of people consider to be an unalloyed blessing; and some will no doubt say that he is going back to the time of the great preacher who said 'he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.' And yet all the facts on which his conclusions are based are known to many thousands, and even millions, of people in America, and even, though to a lesser extent, in England, where the same disastrous results are following the same apparently innocent cause. The author would crave the indulgence of his readers, if, at times,-he is obliged to speak of delicate matters in rather a plain way; but where this has to be done he will endeavor to do it in such a manner as not to offend the sensibilities of any scientific reader.

In the human race, as among every species throughout creation, as every well-informed person knows, there is constantly going on a struggle for existence—not only for the existence of the particular individual, but for that of his progeny, which is of far greater importance in nature, because when the individual is wiped out, only one person disappears; but when his progeny ceases to exist, an end is put to countless thousands, who are thus prevented from ever being born. He will endeavor to show, as he believes to be the case, that the higher education of women is surely extinguishing her race, both directly by its effects on her organization, and, indirectly, by rendering early marriage impossible for the average man.

First of all, is education being carried on at present to such a degree as to at all affect the bodily or physical health of women? This is a very important question, because the duties of wifehood, and still more of motherhood, do not require an extraordinary development of the brain, but they must absolutely have a strong development of the body. Not only does wifehood and motherhood not require an extraordinary development of the brain, but the latter is a decided barrier against the proper performance of these duties. Any family physician could give innumerable cases out of his experience of failures of marriage, directly due to too great a cultivation of the female intellect, which results in the scorning to perform those duties which are cheerfully performed, and even desired, by the uneducated wife. The duties of motherhood are direct rivals of brain work, for they both require for their performance an exclusive and plentiful supply of phosphates. These are obtained from the food in greater or less quantity, but rarely, if ever, in sufficient quantity to supply an active and highly educated intellect, and, at the same time, the wants of the growing child. The latter before birth must extract from its mother's blood all the chemical salts necessary for the formation of its bony skeleton and for other tissues; and in this rivalry between the offspring and the intellect how often has not the family physician seen the brain lose in the struggle. The mother's reason totters and falls, in some cases to such an extent as to require her removal to an insane asylum; while in others, she only regains her reason after the prolonged administration of phosphates, to make up for the loss entailed by the growth of the child. Sometimes, however, it is the child which suffers, and it is born defectively nourished or rickety, and, owing to the poor quality of the mother's milk, it obtains a precarious existence from artificial foods, which at the best are a poor substitute for nature's nourishment. The highly educated woman seems to know that she will make a poor mother, for she marries rarely and late and, when she does, the number of children its very small. The argument is sometimes used that it is better to have only one child and bring it up with extraordinary care than to have six or eight children brought up with ordinary care because in the latter case the mother's attention is divided. But this is a fallacy. Everybody knows that the one child of the wealthy and highly educated couple is generally a spoiled child and has as a rule, poor health; while the six or eight children of the poor and moderately educated woman are exceedingly strong and lusty. But even supposing that the highly educated woman were able and willing to bear and rear her children like any other woman, she has one drawback from having a fairly large family, and that is the lateness at which she marries, the average being between twenty-six and twenty-seven years. Now, as a woman of that age should marry a man between ten and fifteen years older than herself, for a woman of twenty-seven is as old as a man of forty for the purpose of marriage, both she and her husband are too old to begin the raising of an ordinary sized family. Men and women of that age are old maids and old bachelors. They have been living their own lives during their best years; they have become set in their ways, they must have their own pleasures; in a word, they have become selfish. And, after having had one or at the most two children, the woman objects to having any more, and this is the beginning of the end of marital happiness. The records of our divorce courts show in hundreds of instances, that there was no trouble in the home while the woman was performing her functions of motherhood, but that trouble began as soon as she began to shirk them. Hundreds of thousands of men at the present day are married, but have no wives; and while this sad state of affairs occurs occasionally among the moderately educated, it exists very frequently among the highly educated.

Is the health of the women at the present day worse than it was in the time of our grandmothers? Are the duties of wifehood and motherhood really harder to perform now than they were one hundred years ago? Without hesitation the answer to both questions is 'Yes.' Not only are the sexual and maternal instincts of the average woman becoming less and less from year to year; the best proof of which is later and later marriages and fewer and fewer children; but, in the writer's opinion, the majority of women of the middle and upper classes are sick and suffering before marriage and are physically disabled from performing physiological functions in a natural manner. At a recent meeting of a well-known society of specialists for obstetrics and diseases of women, one of the fellows with the largest practise in the largest city on this continent stated that it was physically impossible for the majority of his patients to have a natural labor, because their power to feel pain was so great, while their muscular power was so little. On these two questions the whole profession is agreed, but I am bound to say that there is a difference of opinion as to the reason. Several of the most distinguished fellows of the above society claim that the generally prevalent breakdown of women is due to their inordinate pursuit of pleasure during the ten years which elapse between their leaving school and their marriage. This includes late hours, turning night into day, insufficient sleep, improper diet, improper clothing and want of exercise. The writer claims that most of the generally admitted poor health of women is due to over education, which first deprives them of sunlight and fresh air for the greater part of their time; second, takes every drop of blood away to the brain from the growing organs of generation; third, develops their nervous system at the expense of all their other systems, muscular, digestive, generative, etc.; fourth, leads them to live an abnormal single life until the age of twenty-six or twenty-seven instead of being married at eighteen, which is the latest that nature meant them to remain single; fifth, raises their requirements so high that they can not marry a young man in good health.

There is another aspect of the question, which is not often discussed, but which has an important bearing upon it. The very essence of cultivation of intellect to its highest point consists in raising the standard of one's requirements. A contented mind makes a man happy. Does a high education make one's mind contented, or does it make it discontented with the present, and ever struggle towards a higher ideal in the future? Is the woman who is versed in art and literature contented with a simple home, or must she be surrounded with objects of art and more or less costly books; and, if so, is she satisfied with her lot when she marries an average man, who is able to provide for her all the necessaries of life, but is not possessed of sufficient wealth to provide those things which would be useless luxuries to a woman of ordinary education, but which are necessities for her? Not only must the highly educated woman have an artistic home, large enough to hold her artistic and literary collections, and roomy enough in which to entertain her artistic friends, but she must have a certain number of expensive and highly trained assistants, to keep these large collections in proper order. In plain language, she must have servants to clean them and move them about without destroying them. Can such a woman, anxious and worried over the care of several thousands or hundreds of objects of art, devote the same care to the bearing and bringing up of her family as the woman whose ordinary education has made her feel no need of possessing such objects, but who, on the contrary, is content with a home and furniture which she herself is oftentimes alone capable of taking care of?

We all want to be happy, and to that end we all want to be good; and, I have already said, we want our children, especially our boys, to be good and happy. But those who know anything about virtue in the male know that the marriage of our young men under twenty-five, to a woman with a sound body about eighteen years of age, is almost, if not the only, means of preserving the virtue of the rising generation of men. People, and even mothers, speak lightly of their daughters at twenty-six or twenty-seven marrying men who have sown their wild oats; but one must reap what he sows and do they realize what an awful misfortune such a harvest has brought to the character of the man, and will almost surely bring to the health of the innocent woman? If one has any doubts on this subject they would soon be set right by the testimony of any physician who has made a specialty of attending men, or who has devoted his practise especially to women.

Just as there are occasionally cases where a divorce becomes necessary, but very much fewer than those actually granted, so, occasionally, the life of an unborn child must be sacrificed to save the life of the mother. But will anybody pretend for a moment that there is any excuse for the two million of child-murders which is a fair estimate of the number occurring annually on the North American continent? The crime has become so general that public opinion has ceased to condemn it, and among the few who do condemn it we certainly do not find those women who claim that wifehood and motherhood are degrading and should be reserved to the lowest class of the population. It is well known that were it not for the enormous immigration pouring into America day by day and week by week, the population of this continent would have died out ere now. And it is generally admitted that the original American people have almost died out. Even the foreigners who are so quickly assimilated soon learn the practise of race-suicide, although never to the appalling extent of the native-born Americans. As far as my experience goes, the crime is most prevalent among the highly educated classes, while it is almost unknown among those with an ordinary education.

Another way in which the higher education is making people unhappy is in the cultivation of the powers of analysis and criticism. When the power of analysis is applied to one's own self it is especially unfortunate, for then it becomes introspection, a faculty which is carried so far with some women that their whole life is spent in looking into themselves, caring nothing for the trials or troubles of those about them. This produces an intense form of egotism and selfishness. These people are exceedingly unhappy, very often suffering from what is wrongly called t nervous prostration,' but which should rather be called 'nervous prosperity.' When the wonderful power of criticizing is applied to others it takes the form of fault-finding. Such a woman must have many victims; will she make them happy?

One of the greatest objections to the higher education of women, namely, the interference with outdoor exercise, no longer can be raised, because the universities and boarding-schools have within the last ten years foreseen this danger and met it by special courses of instruction in athletics and the encouraging of girls to spend a good deal of time in outdoor sports. But even these universities and schools cannot avoid the charge of fostering a condition of intellectual pride, which is in exact proportion to the success of the school or college. There is no doubt that women can do everything that men can do, and a great deal more; but the knowledge of their ability brings with it an aggressive, self-assertive, independent character, which renders it impossible to love, honor and obey the men of their social circles who are the brothers of their schoolmates, and who in the effort to become rich enough to afford the luxury of a highly educated wife have to begin young at business or in the factory, and for whom it is impossible to ever place themselves on an intellectual equality with the women whom they should marry. These men are, as a rule, refused by the brilliant college graduate, and are either shipwrecked for life and for eternity by remaining single, or are only saved by marrying a woman who is their social inferior, but who, by reason of her contented mind, in the end makes them a much better helpmate than the fault-finding intellectual woman who is looking for an impossible ideal.

The catholic church has, for many centuries, realized the importance of marriage and maternity in the upbuilding and strengthening of religious life in the community; and if the protestant churches are not to be emptied of their male attendance, the protestant clergy must speak out in no uncertain tone against the present methods of education, which are turning out women by the thousands, with requirements so varied and so great that no young man can afford to marry them; a step, moreover, which he is deterred from taking by the discouraging report of those of his friends who have ventured to marry the women of their own class, and who have advised them, in the words of Punch: 'To those about to marry, don't.' Whether a man should marry or not is too often spoken of lightly and as a joke. But to those who believe in the immortality of the soul, and that the whole world avails nothing to a man if he loses it, the possibility of early and happy marriages becomes a question of the vastest importance and one which students of sociology, and the fathers of the nation should study with the most intense anxiety and care.

Occasionally a college graduate goes through the ordeal[2] of a high education, which has developed her intellect without ruining either her body or her natural instincts; but, as far as the writer can see, she is decidedly an exception. To the average highly intellectual woman the ordinary cares of wifehood and motherhood are exceedingly irksome and distasteful, and the majority of such women unhesitatingly say that they will not marry, unless they can get a man who can afford to keep them in luxury and supply them with their intellectual requirements. The gradual disappearance of the home, which any thoughtful observer must deplore, is, to a large extent, the result of the discontentment of the educated woman with the duties and surroundings of wifehood and motherhood, and the thirst for concerts, theaters, pictures and parties, which keep her in the public gaze, to the loss of her health and the ruin, very often, of her husband's happiness.

Fortunately, nature kills off the woman who shirks motherhood, but, unfortunately, it takes her a generation to do it; and in that short lifetime she is able to make one or many people unhappy.

What about the supply of female school teachers? Is not the very highest education possible necessary for them? From the writer's point of view most of the women who are now teaching school should have been married at eighteen and in a house of their own which might have been the schoolmaster's home. The profession of teaching was once exclusively in the hands of the men, and it can not be denied that they have achieved some great results. But as education rendered an ever-increasing number of women unsuited for marriage, that is, unwilling to marry the available men, they invaded the schoolmaster's rank to such an extent that his salary has been cut down one half, and now he is unable to marry at all. Two well-known consequences have followed this state of affairs; first it is impossible to get men in sufficient numbers to become teachers for the boys' schools; and secondly, even big boys being taught by women, the effeminization of our men is gradually taking place. Although there are some instances of a mother alone having formed her son into a manly man, yet as a rule the boys require the example of a man's character to make them manly men. This subject has recently been dealt with in several elaborate papers by well-known educationalists, to whom it appears to be a real danger to the coming generation.

What about the men? If the higher education prevents the women from being good wives and mothers, will it not prevent the men from being good husbands and fathers? To some extent it does, and in so far it is a misfortune, but to a much less extent than among women, for the simple reason that the man contributes so little towards the new being; while, on the other hand, high intellectual training enables him to win in the struggle for existence much better than if he were possessed of mere brute force. But nature punishes the man who has all the natural instinct cultivated out of him, just as it does {he woman, namely, by the extinction of his race. For the struggle for existence among the highly educated men has become so keen, because there are so many of them, that great numbers of them are unable to earn a living even for themselves; while the supporting of a highly educated woman, with her thousand and one requirements, is simply out of the question. A president of a great company recently informed the writer that he had, in one month, applications from eighty-seven university graduates for a position equivalent to that of an office boy at fifteen dollars a month while out of one hundred millionaires, at least ninety-five of them are known not to have been highly educated; but, on the contrary, to have left school between fourteen and sixteen years of age. So there is such a thing as learning too much, without knowing how to do anything. Just as athletes may be overtrained, so men mav be overeducated.

This great question has received the attention of one of the brightest men of our age—no less than the chief magistrate of the United States; while quite recently, in the British House of Lords, the Eight Reverend Dr. Boyd-Carpenter, Bishop of Bipon, from his seat in that august assemblage, has called attention to the lateness of the age for marriage and the diminishing birth-rate, foreseeing, no doubt, that these two factors would soon be followed by the emptying of the churches and the lowering of the high standard of British morals and character.

The writer feels certain that, before long, this subject will receive the attention which it deserves from those who love their country and have the forming of its destiny in their hands. If he succeeds, by this or any other means, in drawing their attention to it, he will have fulfilled the object of his paper.

  1. The American boy is generally admitted to be the smartest on earth, while the American girl is still more clever and brilliant than her brother.
  2. The following subjects from the curriculum of a well known girl's college: Latin, Greek, French, German, English, mathematics, physics, chemistry, astronomy, history, sociology, economics, logic, psychology, philosophy, literature, fine arts, biology, physical training, physiology.