Popular Science Monthly/Volume 24/January 1884/Female Education from a Medical Point of View II
|←The Morality of Happiness II||Popular Science Monthly Volume 24 January 1884 (1884)
Female Education from a Medical Point of View II
By Thomas Smith Clouston
|The Control of Circumstances→|
End of series
AS the result of my inquiries among pupils and teachers in the advanced schools for young ladies, I find that about five or six hours of actual school-work, and from two to four hours of preparation at home, may be taken as the time that is each day occupied in education. Many of the ambitious, clever girls, in order to take high places and prizes, work far longer than the time I have mentioned in preparing at home, especially if the musical practicing is taken into account. At certain times of the year, before examination, some of these girls will work twelve and fourteen hours a day, and take no exercise to speak of, and but little fresh air. For those who attend the day-schools a somewhat solemn walk to and from school is the chief means the body has of keeping healthy at all. To satisfy the requirements of the brain, and the blood, and the muscles, and the digestion, and the nutrition, and the general growth, we have a girl getting up at seven o'clock in the dark winter morning, dressing, eating a hasty breakfast (as if that was a secondary matter that was too unimportant to waste much time over), having a revise of some special subject learned the night before, walking to school in perhaps thin-soled boots, and doing the most physiologically profitable thing of the day in the chat and gossip on the way. School and lessons from nine o'clock till two or three, or four often, in questionably aired, overheated, and dull class-rooms, with not a bright bit of paint or color in them to counteract the sunless gloom of our Scotch winter weather. Who ever saw a class-room in a school where taste had been exercised in the decoration and painting? In my opinion our school-rooms should be made at least as nice as our drawing-rooms. Then the walk home, a hurried dinner, a little rest, and to work till nine or ten o'clock at night in gas-light. That is the sort of life, and these are the conditions, under which we expect not only prodigies of learning in all the sciences, but sweet tempers and sweetly healthful bodies to be developed. That is the actual treatment to which thousands of our girls are subjected during the most momentous period of their lives, physiologically; when the growth of the body is being completed, its symmetry and perfection are being reached, when the latent energies for a life's work are being or should be accumulating, and when a certain amount of joy and fun and play is Nature's best aid to health of body and mind.
There is another class of young women who have even a harder lot in many cases, and these are the pupil-teachers in the board-schools. Their work is, in some cases, simply continuous all day, and part of it is irksome, uninteresting drudgery; their homes are often far from being cheerful, and their food far from being very abundant. I know as a fact that the lives of some of our female pupil-teachers are such that as melancholy a "Song of the School" could be sung of them as Hood's "Song of the Shirt."
In both these cases—the scholars in the higher class of girls' schools and the female pupil-teachers—the range of subjects to be learned at the same time is often enormous. Six, seven, eight, nine, and even ten different subjects, all being learned at once, is no uncommon thing! I am glad to say that this is being corrected in the best schools, and only four or five subjects are allowed to be taught at the same time. This is surely enough.
If I had a school to construct on ideal principles, I should have it placed on the north side of a large space of ground. I should have it one story only, and every class-room lofty, and with roof-lights to let in as much as possible of our scanty Scotch sunlight. I should have the walls of the class-room painted in light, cheerful, tasteful colors, to produce a cheering effect on the minds of the pupils. I should have big, open fireplaces to cheer and to ventilate the rooms, I should have, as an essential adjunct, a great room, where gymnastics, romping, dancing, and play should all have full scope, when the weather did not admit of the girls going out. I should not restrain romping and play, even in girls of eighteen, between classes. Girls between thirteen and twenty will romp well, if they are in health, and there is no pressure put on them that it is not the thing for them to do. I should not have more than four hours of good hard work at school, and two of preparation at home. The fact is, that our scholars lose the benefit for their health of the best part of our Scotch winter days, the forenoon, when we sometimes have both sunshine and dryness in the air. By the time school is over, the day is done.
One of the practices most energetically relied on in the higher class of girls' schools is that of the competition of one scholar with another. In some of them this competition is terrific. It extends to every subject; it becomes so keen as to put each girl who is in the foremost rank in a fever-heat of emulation before the examinations. In some cases it overmasters every other feeling for the time being. No doubt, from the schoolmaster's point of view, it is the very thing he wants. In his professional enthusiasm he aims at the highest mental result. He is not professionally interested in the health or the special nervous constitution of his girls; he does not regard them as each one a medico-psychological entity and problem. I don't say this by way of reproach. All good men try to attain the highest result in their special departments. The educator has no means of knowing the constitution and hereditary weakness of his girls—that the mother of one died of consumption, that the father of another was insane, that neuralgia is hereditary in the family of a third, that one has been nervous, another had convulsions when a baby, another has been threatened with water in the head, etc. His own education and training have not taught him to notice or know the meaning of narrow chests, or great thinness, or stooping shoulders, or very big heads, or quick, jerky movements, or dilated pupils, or want of appetite, or headaches, or irritability, or back-aches, or disinclination to bodily exertion. But all these things exist in abundance in every big school, and the girls handicapped in that way are set into competition with those who are strong and free from risks. It is the most nervous, excitable, and highly strung girls who throw themselves into the school competition most keenly. And they, of course, are just the most liable to be injured by it. All good observers say the intensity of feeling displayed in girls' competitions is greater than among lads, and that there is far more apt to arise a personal animus. Girls don't take a beating so quietly as boys. Their moral constitution, while in some ways stronger than that of boys, especially at that age, suffers more from any disturbing cause. The whole thing takes greater hold of them—is more real. It is more boys' nature to fight and forget, and take defeat calmly. Girls, I believe, suffer, when the competition in schools is too keen, in their tenderness of feeling and in their charity. They tend to attribute unfairness of motive to their teachers far more than boys, just because their affective nature is and should be stronger than their reasoning power. A man's idea of the perfection of feminine nature is, that it always has some self-denial and much generosity in it. Now, these keen school competitions admit in theory of no such notions of self-denial or generosity, though both are common enough in individual cases. An ideal woman should rejoice as much in sympathy with the winner of the first place as if she had won it herself. Men certainly don't, in their hearts, like to see girls competing keenly with each other for anything.
Young women at adolescence are apt to have in large degree the feminine power of taking it out of themselves for a time, more than they are able to bear for long. It is this power which enables a mother to watch a sick child for weeks without almost any sleep, and without feeling much sense of fatigue at the time. Now, when this power is called up for months for such a purpose as school competition—the feelings being stimulated by rivalry with others, and by the enthusiasm of that age, during a period of life when the body is undeveloped, and should be rapidly growing, and all these functions and faculties maturing it is perverted from the real use that Nature meant it for, and the results can not fail to be bad. At that age girls are not only enthusiastic in perception and reception, but they are often very conscientious, and apply their ideas of right and wrong to things that have no ethical relationship. They are, in fact, hyper-conscientious, and make themselves unhappy about school deficiencies, for which they are not in the least responsible. I have known girls cry bitterly because an accident or headache prevented them preparing their lessons for the morrow, and blame themselves severely about it. It is not uncommon for our Scotch girls, at least, to think it is some dereliction of duty and sin on their part that prevents them from attaining a high place at school. The whole process of education, as it exists in some schools, with its competition, long hours of work, short hours of recreation, enthusiasm for work, and conscientiousness in the doing of it, takes up all the available energy of the girl. There is little left for joyous feeling and enjoyment of life for its own sake. The sources of vital energy in the brain are not sufficiently replenished by fresh air and the frolic natural to the age. Blood is not formed in sufficient amount, and pale cheeks and flabby muscles are the result. Nature can not get material and force to build up the form toward the fair woman's ideal, and, therefore, personal beauty and grace of movement are not attained to the extent they should be. As for a store of energy being laid up, as it should be at that age, for the future, for woman's work of the future, for motherhood, for the race of the future, how can it be, when every available energy is taken up in this educative process?
The methods of education are nowadays made far more pleasant for a pupil than they were formerly. Every art and device is now adopted to make it attractive and interesting. That, no doubt, is in the right direction, and it has resulted from a closer study of the mental nature of pupils. But it is attended with this danger, that, being more attractive, it can be pushed further and more hurtfully to the constitution, by the aid of the pupils, as it were. Its very seductiveness and interest, like the tempting courses of a feast, tend toward dangerous surfeiting.
It must be remembered that, in many respects, the female organism is far more delicate than that of men. This is especially so at adolescence. The machine is less tough, and breaks down at slighter causes. It has more calls on it. It needs more careful management. It is not steady in its action, but irregular. It is not fitted for the regular grind that the man can keep up. Having beauty and harmony as two of its great ideal aims, its strength is not so great. Having to lay up more for the future, it can't expend so much in the present. Sensitiveness always implies delicacy, and in many cases instability in nature. Even suppose it is granted that it was a good thing for a woman that her brain should contain all the book-knowledge that many modern educationalists demand, this good thing might be altogether counterbalanced if the labor of acquiring it stopped one inch of growth, or diminished the joy and organic satisfaction of life one iota. If the men of the future were to suffer and be degenerate through it in the faintest degree, then it would be radically bad.
There is one most unaccountable want in very many girls' schools in our cities. If boys need play, fresh air, games, muscular development, I have no hesitation in saying that girls need them all to the extent applicable to their constitution and strength still more. For boys will have them to some extent. If you don't give a boy a playground he will play on the street, which is better than no play. Now, the exigency of public opinion will not allow our young ladies to amuse themselves on the streets; and, if not, how are they to get the fresh air and muscular exercise that are absolutely necessary for their health and proper development? You can not starve a girl's life of these things without doing her harm, any more than you can with impunity keep her on a short allowance of food. A girls' school without a play-ground, a gymnasium, or public park near, I look on as a garden without sunshine, or a boat with one oar. It is deficient and one-sided; it is a machine for production without sufficient provision for the renovation of wear and tear. Mind can't grow except by growth of brain; brain can't grow but through good food, fresh air, work, and rest, in proper proportion. The blood will not renew itself properly in youth but by brisk circulation, and this can only be got by exercise in the fresh air. The muscles won't grow and harden but by having plenty of good blood and exercise. The fat, that most essential concomitant of female adolescence, won't form in the proper way, except the blood is rich. Fat is to the body what fun is to the mind, an indication of spare power that is boiling over and available for future use. I don't mean an excessive amount of fat; I mean that amount that gives roundness, plumpness, and beauty. This little estimated substance is, with form, the great source of female beauty. Without it, form can not make a perfect woman; without it, a young woman can not be said to be really in health; without it, the body generally has, in most instances, too little spare energy to resist and to recover from disease. Therefore, a proper amount of fat should, in its way, be as much looked to in a young woman as intellectual power or keen feeling. The right sort of fat, firm and smooth, gives the lines of beauty and the idea of softness and health to woman. But to the physiologist its great value and importance are as an index of good nutrition and a reserve of spare material, not needed for work just now, but called up in any illness. When anything is both a beauty and a strength, it should not be decried or spoken disrespectfully of. I knew a man not a lunatic who always said it was his highest ambition to be fat. Certainly there are many more foolish wishes for our growing adolescent girls than that they should all be fat. It is just because this seems to be incompatible with the work in some of our modern city high-class schools, that I think that work must be conducted to some extent on wrong principles.
I am no educationalist, and may be accused of speaking about what I am ignorant of, if I suggest that too many things are taught at the same time, and too little time is taken for the whole process. Think of an undeveloped brain getting up book-knowledge on ten different subjects all the same day, and this going on day after day for years! It is altogether contrary to the principles of a sound psychology to imagine that any sort of mental process, worthy of the name of thinking, can take place in that brain while that is going on. The natural tendency of a good brain at that age to be inquisitive and receptive is glutted to more than satiety. The natural process of building up a fabric of mental completeness by having each new fact and observation looked at in different ways, and having it suggest other facts and ideas, and then settle down as a part of the regular furniture of the mind, can not possibly go on where new facts are shoveled in by the hundred day by day. The effect of this is bad on boys, but is worse on girls, because it is more alien to their mental constitution. The effect on them of this unnatural process is to exhaust the nervous power at the time, and to leave the brain afterward filled with useless things that are soon forgotten and pass away; as Goethe said about professional men: they labor under a great disadvantage in not being allowed to be ignorant of what is to them useless. The vital energies and nervous power that had thus been thrown away should have gone toward a feminine equipment of a healthy, well-developed body, a mind built up and stored with knowledge that had a relation to its own nature and to the wants of its future life, affections not attenuated by scholastic routine, and a cheerfulness that is only compatible with good health. The cramming up of the dry facts of those many subjects is in most cases a weariness and pain, while the intelligent study of one third of them, selected on account of their fitness to the mental constitution of the learner, or her probable requirements in future life, might be a pleasure and a lasting profit. I would strongly advise parents occasionally to take their daughters' night tasks and do them themselves. It is far more important to extend female education till after twenty years of age than male education.
While education is going on, a regular periodic testing of the bodily growth and condition should also be carried out in the case of every girl. Her rate of growth should be marked by a notch on a stick every quarter. As regularly as the school fees are paid her weight should be taken, the color of her cheeks and lips should be looked at and noted, her appetite and digestion should be looked to, her habits of activity or otherwise should be observed, her power of sleeping should be noticed, the mode of growth should be observed—e. g., whether her chest is expanding, whether her shoulders are sloping or stooping, whether she is soft or firm in the flesh, etc. Her general mental condition, whether she is frolicsome or irritable, enthusiastic or sluggish, selfish and grudging, or not, is of great moment as an index of the general brain-condition. Of course, anything like disorder of health, or pain, or sleeplessness, or want of appetite, or pallor, or thinness, should be at once attended to before it goes too far. The great thing is to stop the beginnings of evil. If a girl has grown a couple of inches a year, then depend upon it she should not study hard, Nature has enough to do in such a case to firm up the body in proportion to its bulk. You want not only growth, but activity, grace of movement, alertness, strength. You won't have these if the girl goes on studying hard while she is growing fast. If growth and increase in weight stop too soon, a wise parent will send off her daughter to the country to run to grass for a time, to see if mental inactivity will restore the body-growth. If she is getting thin, let her live out in the open air, instead of in a school, till her appetite becomes ravenous, and she puts on flesh.
There are three considerations that ought certainly to determine the mode, kind, and amount of the education given to any youth or maiden. These are—1. The hereditary constitution of the brain, including both its strong and weak points; 2. The actual ascertainable mental and bodily qualities and capacities and special tendencies of the child; and, 3. The purposes in life that he or she is destined to accomplish. It is owing to our backward physiological knowledge alone that the two former have not hitherto been taken into account, as they ought to have been, by doctors, parents, and teachers. In regard to heredity, when we know its laws more fully in human beings, we shall be able, by influences brought to bear on development and by appropriate conditions of life, greatly to counteract weak points, and to make strong ones available for the purposes of life. We are now able to do so to a considerable extent in the animal kingdom. Man has for his own purposes developed breeds of carrier-pigeons, race-horses, pointer-dogs, etc. We shall not be able to control the heredity of human beings as we can that of the lower animals, but we can apply conditions of life in a scientific manner for our aims. And, even in regard to the mode in which marriages are arranged, a medico-psychologist can not for a moment admit that young persons of either sex fall in love and assort themselves on no scientific principles. The sympathies and affinities of sex are just as much subject to law as any other part of nature. We doctors have much occasion to know that persons of a nervous heredity and disposition are extremely apt to fall in love with and marry each other. The way in which nervousness of all sorts is thus increased is extraordinary. The educators do their best to foster this tendency in the maidens by brain-forcing. The brilliancy of the results at the time are certainly very tempting. It may be that it will be for the advantage of the world deliberately to develop different kinds of men and women in the future. We may get better general results by having brain specialties fostered. We may thus have some families of special aesthetic power, some of mechanical genius, and some of enduring muscular work, just as we have pointers, greyhounds, and sheep-dogs. But even then it would, be more than ever necessary to see that the special strong point did not override and interfere with the general nutritive power and vital energy. In training a greyhound, however anxious the trainer is to get speed, he takes care that the dog is very well nourished while he grows, and he never develops his speed till the growth is nearly done, and the bones are set. He doesn't all the time he is growing run the animal every day. He knows that would spoil the general strength, and shorten the period of greatest activity.
The development of special strong points during the process of the education of children I believe to be of vast importance to the race, but it must be done in accordance with Nature's general laws that govern the development of the organism as a whole. The special education must be accompanied by the general development. It must not be pushed to the extent that it absorbs energy needed for other purposes. I can imagine no more interesting or important problem in education than the successful cultivation of specialties. It is quite certain that as yet it has not been solved or even studied to any extent. If you hear of a young lady now who is very musical, you usually find she has so much music added to the grammar and the French and German. It is as important in education to know what things to omit as to know what things to press. It is enough to make one despair of the inherent reasonableness of human nature to think of the amount of time and toil that are given in Edinburgh to the learning of things for which there is no inherent capacity in the learners; things that go against the intellectual grain, that are learned poorly and with much difficulty, against Nature; and are forgotten at once, in accordance with Nature's laws. Think of the girls who toil at music, who have no inherent musical capacity; of the time that is taken in committing to memory rules of grammar, and doing parsing, the real meaning of which the girls' brains could not comprehend, if they lived till they were ninety; of the labor and sorrow given to acquire languages, by girls whom Nature meant only to speak their mother-tongue; of the futile attempts to take those past the rule of three, whom Nature intended to stop at simple division. The sad thing is that we all know each of those girls could do something or other very well and to some purpose in after-life, if we could only hit on what it is.
I don't want to frighten any one unduly by the list of bodily and mental diseases and defects that are in some cases attributable to wrong methods of education that I am about to refer to. I would beg every one who hears me to keep in mind that the worst of such things are the exception. No process of attempted educational stimulation will do much harm to very many brains, fortunately as I think. Their inherent stability—which, by-the-way, parents and teachers will ignorantly call stupidity or want of application—sometimes preserves them from being forced into work inconsistent with their bent and capacity. Who does not know dozens of fine girls—capable, practical, intelligent, affectionate, lively—who never could be made scholars of, and yet who know more that will be useful to them than some of the first prize-women? They never ran any risk of suffering from over-education, their only risk was badly ventilated school-rooms and want of scope for play. It is very difficult, I know, to treat of the professional aspect of a question popularly without producing misconceptions. If a case of consumption from ill-ventilated school-rooms is referred to, many people jump to the conclusion that all girls are in danger of consumption. Nothing could be more absurd. The fact is that, if we and our families were thoroughly healthy in original constitution, the educationalists and their present over-enthusiastic methods would not hurt our daughters so very much, perhaps, at least permanently. Nature would call a halt with sufficient distinctness before much harm was done, and then the wondrous recuperative power of that time of life would soon put matters right again. It is because few persons nowadays have faultless constitutions, and few families are altogether free from tendencies to some disease or other, that one needs to be now more careful of the constitutions of the mothers of the next generation.
The first bodily defect to which I shall refer, as the result of over-stimulation of brain, is what we doctors call anæmia, or in other words bloodlessness. The girls look pale about the lips, and have no rosy cheeks. This is manifestly most common in school-girls. Any one can see it.
The next faulty bodily condition that may be caused by wrong methods of education is that of stunted growth. I have seen girls, the daughters of well-grown parents, who simply stopped growing too soon. They are more or less dwarfish specimens of their kind, this being caused, as I believe, by the vital and nervous force being appropriated by the mental part of the brain in learning its tasks, and by the conditions of life in the school-rooms not being good, the air bad, insufficient play-hours, no play-ground, no play-room, no walking in the fresh air and sunshine. I have seen other girls who grew tall enough, but wouldn't fatten. They remained thin and scrawny. Now, this is not what a woman should be at any age if it can be helped.
The next condition sometimes produced is best described by the word nervousness. That is a condition of mind and body in which there is want of stability and fixity, undue excitability, bodily restlessness, want of solidity and calmness of constitution, ungrounded fears, deficient power of self-control, over-sensitiveness in all directions, and a very great many other unpleasant things, far too numerous to mention here. This nervousness is commonly hereditary, but may be greatly aggravated or counteracted by the conditions of life, especially in youth. Such a constitution is a great curse to a woman, and renders her liable to many diseases. It means a brain wanting in reserve or surplus energy. Such a brain is like a galvanic battery that does not work steadily, but gives out too much power at one time, then suddenly is exhausted, and is always needing replenishing. There can be but little doubt that the tendency of our modern life is toward the development of the nervous type of constitution, or diathesis. American physicians and socialists are unanimous that this constitution is very common in their country. I think there can be little doubt that, if we wish our descendants to multiply and cover the earth, we should try by all means and counteract this tendency to the nervous constitution in a morbid degree. It is most hereditary in all its forms. There are few families among the educated classes nowadays free from some taint of it, and it is easily increased. In the families that are now free there is much risk of its being developed in the period of adolescence in the girls, through the present system of education. All our modern ways of looking at life help to develop nerves in a bad sense. The ideal of man and woman has changed from strength to culture, from body to brain. The great brawny-muscled man, who knows nothing of sickness, but has few ideas, is looked down on; the rosy mother of a dozen healthy children, who has no taste for books, is little thought of. It may be that the time will come when such people will be more highly appreciated. Out of the nervous diathesis may arise all the forms of nervous disease, when their exciting causes are put in operation.
Strongly connected with nervousness is the tendency to suffer from pain without any actual disease being present to account for it; that is, to be the subject of headaches and neuralgias. Headache is the most common thing suffered by school-girls, and originated by the conditions of school-life. Dr. Truchler found that in Darmstadt, Paris, and Nuremburg, one third of the pupils in the schools suffered more or less from headaches. I think we should find this proportion in our advanced girls' schools in Edinburgh. He concludes that it is caused by the intellectual exertion, combined with bad air, with the annoyances and excitements and worries, the wasting and rasping anxieties of school-life. Nothing is so terrible as severe neuralgia, and beyond a doubt girls acquire it often enough by the conditions of school-life. Headaches in a school-girl usually mean exhausted nerve-power through overwork, over-excitement, over-anxiety, or bad air. Rest, a good laugh, or a country walk, will usually cure it readily enough to begin with. But to become subject to headaches is a very serious matter, and all such nervous diseases have a nasty tendency to recur, to become periodic, to be set up by the same causes, to become an organic habit of the body. For any woman to become liable to severe neuralgia is a most terrible thing. It means that while it lasts life is not worth having. It paralyzes the power to work, it deprives her of the power to enjoy anything, it tends toward irritability of temper, it tempts to the use of narcotics and stimulants.
There is but little doubt that a tendency to take stimulants to excess, a morbid craving for alcohol, or drugs that have something like the same effect, goes with the nervousness engendered by school-life. A healthy brain in a healthy body should have no inordinate craving for stimulants. Some of the worst examples I have seen of a craving for stimulants or opium, having become uncontrollable and a real disease, have been in our highly-educated ladies. Tea sometimes is craved for, and taken to excess in such cases.
The most important effect of all I can not very well enter on in detail, for it relates to woman's highest function, that of motherhood. But that this is affected, and most seriously, by over-education in bad methods and under bad conditions, no physician will deny. If the end of mind-culture is to be that its victim is to suffer in a more terrible way from mother Eve's primal curse, and is to have fewer offspring, and those she has are to be of a puny kind, the risk will be recognized by all thoughtful persons as too severe to be deliberately run for our daughters. Perfect health is a priceless blessing to all, but it means even more to women than to men. The cheerfulness and vivacity that are their special characteristic, seem to exist not for themselves alone, but for their families as well, and those are, generally speaking, wanting if the health is bad. Woman is gifted with the power not only of bearing her own share of ills, but of helping to bear those of others. She can't do so in the same degree if she is not in health. She is a plant more difficult to rear than man in our state of society. More care has to be taken of her to mature and consolidate all her organs and functions. Once fully formed as a woman, she can then stand much, but she is specially liable to the effects of adverse conditions during her development. The full bloom of her perfection as the tender mother, the never-tiring nurse of a large family of children, can not be attained if she has been stunted in her full development in any way. Whether she is an actual mother or not, she is infinitely the better for having the full capacity of motherhood. Be she teacher, scholar, or lady of fortune, she will be happier and do her work far better, if she has all the qualities of motherhood. They influence body and mind; any process of education that lessens them deprives the world of means of happiness. It stunts the woman and robs the world. No intellectual results, no culture, no mental elevation, can make up to the world for the loss of any perceptible degree of motherhood; and, as an actual fact, physicians find that over-education by bad methods and under bad conditions has this effect.
The first appearance of the conditions called hysteria is usually coincident with adolescence, and is undoubtedly caused in many instances by subtile disturbances of the health, due to prolonged school-hours. This is a most troublesome disease, and most varied in its manifestations. In nothing is the connection between mind and body, between function and feeling, better seen than in certain hysterical conditions. You have a splendidly educated girl according to the modern standard, with a physique that seems very fairly developed, just showing by certain subtile indications that the mental portion of the brain has been made too dominant. You have this girl prostrated in what seems the most mysterious way by hysteria, in one of its hundred forms. You can't actually say what is wrong, but you know that, if she had been brought up in the country, with moderate schooling, and four or five hours a day in the open air, there would not have occurred anything of the kind. It may result from idleness just as it does from over-brain-work, the one being as much contrary to the laws of nature as the other. It is an illustration of the fact that you may have effects produced by wrong methods of education that are not to be detected till they break out in actual disease. If the seeds of disease or the conditions that tend to it are laid by any system of training, it is nearly as bad as actual visible disease. Sometimes it is said about the girls in a school, "Just look at them, are they not fairly healthy for town girls who are working hard?" But one of the dangers is that we may not be able to see the beginnings of evil, and only by sad experience afterward find that they were there.
The last kinds of disease to which I shall refer as being a direct or indirect result, in some cases, of over-study under bad conditions, are inflammation of the brain and its membranes, and insanity—the former of which all physicians have often enough seen to be the direct result of over-study; while the latter may be regarded, in its essential nature, as the acme of all nervous diseases. In it, that highest portion of the brain that ministers directly to mind is disordered, that very portion that in over-education has been forced and crammed with book-knowledge. Mental disease is not common till toward the end of the period of adolescence, but the conditions that lead up to it are common enough before then. The mere acquiring knowledge seldom causes insanity. Its causes in youth are all the conditions of life that accompany over-education, as well as the brain-forcing itself, the want of fresh air, the poor bodily development, the poverty of blood, the deranged undeveloped bodily functions. Insanity in early youth always arises out of some nervous weakness in ancestry. It may not be mental disease itself—for a tendency to neuralgia or drunkenness, or mere nervousness in ancestors, may become insanity in the offspring, if wrong conditions of life are in operation. But it is often just the children of highly nervous parents—perhaps subject to "nervous depression"—who are quick, precocious, and educable in book-knowledge to a very high degree. They get pushed to their bent, and with all this they have little craving for fresh air and romping. They are often over-conscientious and most receptive. In fact, they are the very young women that delight the heart of the teacher, and sometimes carry off all the prizes at the end of a school session. The treatment of the teacher and the physician would be exactly opposite for such cases. The physician would take such brains to put them to grass for two or three generations—would scarcely educate them at all in the ordinary sense—would send them to grow up almost uninstructed in the country, cultivating blood, bone, muscle, and doing mechanical work alone. That would be the only salvation for such brains. But then we should perhaps miss having a genius once in a century. We should have our Chattertons working as joiners in the country, instead of writing poetry and committing suicide in town garrets. I could adduce many lamentable examples, from my own experience, of most brilliant school careers ending in insanity. If I had written down the fierce apostrophe of a young lady of twenty on her entry into the asylum at Morningside, at the end of a school career of unexampled success, the reading of it would do more to frighten the ambitious parents of such children from hastening their daughters forward at school too fast than all the scientific protests we doctors can make. She was well aware of the cause of her illness, and with passionate eloquence enumerated the consequences of her losing her reason.
It is not very long since a pupil-teacher, who had been working all winter about ten hours a day in teaching and preparation, and had taken no exercise or fresh air at all, after suffering for a while from headaches and confusion of mind, threw herself into a pond. She told me afterward that the harder she worked the more confused she got, then she got depressed, and then lost her self-control.
There can be no doubt that too hard school-work in young women during the adolescent period tends to bring out hereditary, nervous, and other weaknesses. The great natural protection against these is sound health and general bodily vigor in a frame that has been brought carefully to full maturity, harmonious and healthy in all its functions. This law is found to prevail in regard to nervous hereditary weaknesses, that the stronger and more direct the tendency, the earlier in life such weakness is apt to show itself. If we can postpone it, we can frequently avert it altogether.
Of the chief purely mental results of a brain-education higher than the whole organization can bear, one is unquestionably a certain change in the natural mental type of woman. I shall be asked, of course, What is the natural female psychical type? Is it to be found in the uneducated women of the East, or among the uncultivated classes of the West? Without going into argument, I may say that I should be willing to take the general character of womanliness pervading all the various types of young women created for us by the writers of genius, to whom I referred in my first lecture. That type is physiologically, as well as psychologically, true to nature. It is absolutely necessary as a complement to the masculine type of mind. Both are incomplete by themselves. The world can not do without them both; they correspond to the bodily organization of each sex. Now, if the education process for the female is to be just on the lines of that for the male, if the mold into which the brain of each is to fit is to be the same type—and there is no question of emasculating the male type—then, undoubtedly, in the result, we must expect to find a change in the female type of mind. Very many competent observers say that this is actually very apparent in some of the school-girls of the present day. The unceasing grind at book-knowledge, from thirteen to twenty, has actually warped the woman's nature, and stunted some of her most characteristic qualities. She is, no doubt, cultured, but then she is unsympathetic; learned, but not self-denying. The nameless graces and charms of manner have not been evoked as much as they might have been. Softness is deficient. It takes much to alter the female type of mind, but a few generations of masculine education will go far to make some change. If the main aims and ambitions of many women are other than to be loved, admired, helped, and helpful, to be good wives and mothers with quiverfuls of children, to be self-sacrificing, and to be the centers of home-life, then those women will have undergone a change from the present feminine type of mind. But we must comfort ourselves with Lord Bacon's reflection, that "Nature is often hidden, sometimes overcome, seldom extinguished."
American experience in the education of young women has been very instructive. The natural intelligence, the form of government, and the stimulating climate, have all united in making the standard of education very high for women as well as for young men. The national hurry has tended to make them do much in as short a time as possible too. In the Eastern States—especially Massachusetts—the schools for girls have for many years been most highly elaborated. At first the effects were not much noticed, or they were attributed to the climate, or to the hurry of life, or to the national fondness for pastry; but soon the American physicians sounded the alarm about the way the New England girls were being educated. They pointed out that during education a high pressure was kept up in girls that no constitutions could stand without risk. They pointed to the thinness and the nervousness of American young women. Oliver Wendell Holmes directed attention to the "American female constitution, which collapses just in the middle third of life, and comes out vulcanized India-rubber, if it happens to live through the period when health and strength are most wanted." It was shown how small the families of educated American native-born women were, as compared with those of their German and English sisters, and with the Irish living among themselves. Dr. Clarke, in his most instructive book, " Sex in Education; or, a Fair Chance for Girls," pointed out to the American people the risks of forcing young women's brains, and the actual consequences that American physicians found to have resulted from that process. After pointing out that, as a matter of fact, girls in American schools work seven or eight hours a day, he says: "Experience teaches that a healthy and growing boy may spend six hours of force daily on his studies, and leave sufficient margin for physical growth. A girl can not spend more than four, or, in occasional instances, five hours of force daily upon her studies, and leave sufficient margin for the general physical growth that she must make in common with a boy, and also for her own development." In Dr. Beard's book on "American Nervousness: its Causes and Consequences," he says that, as the result of a large number of circulars sent to schools, the replies were sufficient to clearly show that "nearly everything about the conduct of the schools was wrong, unphysiological and unpsychological, and that they were conducted so as to make very sad and sorrowing the lives of those who were forced to attend them. It was clear that the teachers and managers of these schools knew nothing of and cared nothing for those matters relating to education that are of the highest importance, and that the routine of the schools was such as would have been devised by some evil one who wished to take vengeance on the race and the nation. . . . Everything pushed in an unscientific and distressing manner, nature violated at every step, endless reciting and lecturing and striving to be first—such are the female schools of America at this hour. The first signs of ascension as of declension in nations are seen in women. As the foliage of delicate plants first shows the early warmth of spring and the earliest frosts of autumn, so the impressible, susceptive organization of woman appreciates and exhibits far sooner than that of man the manifestation of national progress or decay."
It must be distinctly understood that my facts and arguments only apply to the young woman of average type and of average strength. There are plenty of individual examples, where there is naturally so much brain and strength that a very high kind of general masculine education can be given from thirteen to twenty without impairing the development. In such brains there is room for much learning and much affection and many charms. The reasoning power, the muscles, the fat, and the affections may be all equally developed in them.
It may be too, I am not prepared to deny it, that an education may be good for the individual in many cases, opening up sources of intellectual happiness, that is bad for the race. On the other hand, there is some truth in Beard's aphorism, that "ignorance is power as well as joy" to many men and women.
From a scientific point of view, I am well aware that the weak point of my argument is, that it is not founded on any basis of collated statistical facts. I have said to you, "I and many other physicians and physiologists have seen many undoubted instances of girls being hurt by over-education under bad conditions," but we can not say that out of every hundred girls such a percentage do suffer. We have not the facts to enable us to do so. I hope such facts will be recorded in the future, and may be all the more likely to be observed and recorded through attention being directed to the matter. I am well aware, too, that teachers are not most to blame for any bad results that are to be attributed to the present system of over-educating girls. Parents and the spirit of the time are more culpable than teachers. The latter are the public's servants, and must do the public's bidding. They are expected to work "The Code" energetically, to earn large grants, to make bricks without much straw in many cases, to turn out omniscient governesses and teachers in a few short sessions. Parents cry out to them about their children, "They are idle," if the whole evening is not taken up with lesson-learning, or if the animal spirits are too high or the holidays too long. I could tell some sad tales of brain break-down in overworked teachers, male and female, if that were not beyond the scope of this lecture.
I went last July to see the examination and distribution of prizes in a very large city school for young ladies. While the young girls there were very many of them fresh in complexion and plump, I must say that the majority of the girls above thirteen seemed to me jaded, and pale, and unduly thin. I did not see a dozen pairs of rosy cheeks in a hundred of them. To my eye, many of them bore very evident signs of over-brain-work and deficient physical energy. They didn't look joyous and full of animal glee, as girls at that age should look. Like Dr. John Brown's terrier, "life was too full of seriousness" to them. Two Sundays after, I was in a country kirk in the far north, where modern educational systems are as yet unknown, and I contrasted the appearance of the farmers' daughters there with that of the prize-winners in the city school. The difference was absolutely astounding. I only wish I could convey the impression I received in both cases from a critical doctor's survey of both sets of girls. If the one set exemplified health, robustness, organic happiness, strength, resistive power against disease, and potential motherhood, then, beyond a doubt, the other set did not fully do so. The question of the future is, How can we get, or how much can we get of, the intelligence and book-culture of the latter, combined with the health of the former? The health we must have, for it is requisite for the life of the race; the culture we must have in such degree as is consistent with the health.
- The second of two lectures delivered at the Philosophical Institution of Edinburgh, November, 1882.
- On October 1st I weighed and measured three children of one family, two boys and a girl, on their return to school after the holidays, and on November 30th I again did so. The boys had each gained four pounds in weight and grown half an inch, the girl had neither gained nor grown. The boys had had lots of play in the open air between lessons, the girl had been five hours each day continuously in school. The boys' class-rooms had been built for a school, the girl's class-rooms were in a small private house.