Popular Science Monthly/Volume 38/February 1891/Coeducation in Swiss Universities

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THERE is a sturdy freedom in the Swiss character which is admirable in American eyes, and which seems to make the people grow naturally and easily into conditions closely approaching our own ideals. The soil is not so deep, to be sure, nor so rich, as it might be but for circumstances which the Swiss himself already sees and is taking measures to modify. It is interesting to note the progress of thought in Switzerland in the development of schools. Before the government was. thoroughly organized, there were all sorts of schools, loosely, if at all, connected with each other. Each canton, or state, had its own schools, however, thus forming a center of growth whose development may fairly illustrate that in every other state. Let us take Zurich. Here the principal school was one founded and cared for chiefly for the purpose of educating men for the ministry of the Church, in which, however, provision was also made for the study of the classics by those who had chosen some other life-work. This was the beginning of systemization; for this school rested upon those of lower grade, and was itself subordinate to a kind of council made up of its teachers, the leaders of the Church in Zurich, and four other men, churchmen or laymen. These latter were to be elected every year, with privilege of re-election, by a higher Educational Council, two from its own number, the other two at large. This council was composed of the burgomaster, two representatives of state, and twelve other men, eight of whom were appointed by the state Senate.

This condition of schools—there were in addition two for technical training—lasted until 1831, in the spring of which year a new state Constitution was drafted. This gave all authority in school matters to the Educational Council, which it reorganized in the autumn of the same year. It was to consist of fifteen members, appointed by the Senate. Three of these should be chosen from the legislative body of the state, half of the others with reference to their knowledge of and interest in the higher schools, the remainder with reference to the lower schools and practical pedagogics. This new council, under the conviction that it was desirable to obtain closer connection between the higher schools, at once established two important institutions. The old gymnasium the—Carolinum, as that theologico-classical school had been named after Charlemagne—was enlarged and developed in two directions, scientific and literary on the one hand, and industrial on the other. A still higher school was organized with theological, law, medical, and philosophical departments, which was at first modestly called a Facultäts-Anstalt—an institution for higher study. This latter school became in 1833 the University of Zurich, founded by the state "that all her citizens might develop themselves freely, according to nature, in science and art. . . . Its purpose is partly to increase the sum of knowledge, partly to further the interests of Church and state through higher scientific culture of professions." So the university was organized, the canton school by its side as a helper, both under care of the state through the Educational Council, whose president is one of the governor's staff. In similar manner the Polytechnicum—the national school—is under the care of the General Government. The professors in the university are appointed by the Educational Council, and an educational synod, once a year or oftener, if especial need arises, gives opportunity for free discussion.

The Swiss universities are broad and liberal in the highest degree. Statutes are passed in their senates with simple reference to elevation of character and usefulness, and with no apparent thought of the sexes as separate. These statutes, when presented in council, are treated in the same spirit, and the question as to the advisability of coeducation came first in every university after women had already entered and studied. The original statutes excluded no one, and consequently when—after generally a remarkably long time—women applied for admission, their names were taken exactly as those of their brothers were taken; they took their places among these and worked there undisturbed until some other consideration brought the question forward. It is difficult to see why it should have been so long after the establishment of the universities before women asked to work in them. In Zurich it was thirty-one years, in Berne thirty-eight, while Basle was disturbed first last year by the question. Lausanne, however, which begins its career as a university this autumn, begins with women students. In Zurich and Berne it may have been the development of the universities from schools originally founded for the aid of callings as yet unthought of for women which caused the indifference on the part of women toward them. However that may be, when in the sixties women applied for admission in Zurich—the first one was a foreigner—no question was raised; she entered and took her degree. Ten years later, when so many, chiefly Russians, came with insufficient preparation, a new law was passed regulating the admission of "students" into the university, and formally recognizing women. It had formerly been sufficient for foreigners to present good passports from their Governments; but the new law required in addition testimonials of character and of sufficient previous mental training. If this were not produced, the student must take an examination. This examination, partly oral and partly written, must evidence sufficient knowledge of German to read and to follow a lecturer; sufficient knowledge of mathematics and the sciences to enable the student to understand the university lectures upon these subjects; knowledge either of Latin to read and understand an easy author, or to the same degree of French, with either Italian or English. The Council supported the wisdom of the university senate, and these remain the requirements of the university. Swiss students present diplomas or reports from the Zurich gymnasium or its equivalent; and here girls are somewhat at a disadvantage, for, when the framers of new educational privileges were establishing this canton school which should fit boys for the higher work of the university, they made no such provision for girls. During the early years, while education is compulsory and the state furnishes all books and industrial implements, boys and girls study together; but in the higher schools they are separated, and the courses of study in girls' schools are not so complete as in the gymnasiums for boys. As soon, however, as girls asked for admission to university work, good private schools sprang up, and the normal school was also resorted to. The normal school in Zurich now sends out almost every year, in addition to its well-equipped teachers, at least one or two girls fitted to take the Maturitäts examination in either the medical or the philosophical department of the university. At present, moreover, a bill is before the school commission of the state, asking that the canton school be opened to girls, and has, it is thought, fair prospect of being at last adopted.

It was in Berne as in Zurich. Women had studied several years in the university before the question of their admission was ever discussed. The Constitution used only the general term "student," and naturally girls were accepted as soon as they presented themselves. No one could have given any authority or reason for rejecting them. There were five the first year, one of these an American, it is interesting to know, who wished to study medicine. The next year there were twenty-six. The attention of the faculty was arrested: a question arose as to the advisability of simply allowing them to study under the negative provision of the university laws, and a difference of judgment was manifested; but the discussion finally resulted in the passage of a new resolution in 1874, formally defining the terms of admission for students, and including women. Since then there has been absolutely no question; young men and women work together under exactly the same conditions, and there is perfect harmony, except, perhaps, an occasional unbusiness-like discontent on the part of laboratory students, brought about by their voluntarily extended courtesy toward young women, and the thoughtlessness of these in acceptance of this courtesy. There is only one point of difference in the admission of men and women: men are not asked if they are of age, and if everybody is willing to have them take the university work; girls are.

Basle met the question first, as stated above, a little more than a year ago, one young woman having applied for admission. They were somewhat more conservative in this university, from their long-undisturbed serenity of masculine atmosphere and outlook, and this little rising of woman-ambition touched into life a small cyclone of opposition. The earnest testimony, however, of universities which had tried the experiment allayed the storm, and the young woman bravely entered upon her work and continued through the year. At the close of the year the university acknowledged that all was thus far satisfactory. In every university, we need to remember, the terms of admission, conditions of study, and all requirements, are exactly the same for men and women. It is just as in our own high schools.

For simple admission to candidacy for the degree of Doctor of Medicine, the terms are the same for all, and are determined by the university senate, with consent of the state Educational Council. But if a student wishes to practice in Switzerland, the General Government must prescribe the terms, which it does as follows: The student begins with the Maturitäts examination, before alluded to. This makes the following requirements:

A. Languages.

1. Latin. 2. Greek. 3. The mother-language.[1] 4. A second Swiss national language. 5. The Greek may be replaced by a third Swiss national language, with the same requirements mentioned in section 4.

B. History and Geography.

6. Ancient, mediæval, and modern history, physical and political geography.

C. Mathematics.

7. Algebra. 8. Geometry. Plane trigonometry, and the simplest propositions in spherical.

D. Sciences. 9. Natural History. 10. Physics and Chemistry.

Having taken this examination, and studied two semesters, the student is admitted to the so-called natural science examination, covering physics, chemistry, botany, and zoölogy, with comparative anatomy. At the end of five semesters comes the examination in anatomy and physiology, partly written, partly oral. In this the student must explain some anatomical preparation placed before him, answering questions on anatomy; and must make and explain some histological preparation. He must also prepare a written thesis, within closed doors, upon some physiological subject. The proper oral examination covers anatomy, histology, embryology, and physiology.

Lastly comes the real doctor's examination, which is practical (including written) and oral. The practical embraces — 

1. Pathological Anatomy. 2. Pathology and Therapeutics. 3. Surgery and Surgical Anatomy. 4. Obstetrics. 5. Ophthalmology. 6. Medicine and Hygiene.

After all this comes the formal oral examination, covering — 

1. General pathology and pathological anatomy. 2. Special pathology and therapeutics, including children's diseases. 3. Surgery. 4. Obstetrics, including women's diseases. 5. Hygiene. 6. Medical jurisprudence. 7. Psychiatry. 8. Theory of medicine.

Such are the examinations required by the Swiss Government of all who practice medicine within its borders; and no thought is given by its universities as to whether the applicant for permission to practice is a man or a woman. The person must only be ready on application, and numbers of girls have justified this confidence. Students of all lands may take the doctor's degree from any department by passing successfully a final examination prepared by the university faculty. All, on the other hand, may be admitted to these other state examinations; and ambitious ones are sometimes found, even among girls, who accept the opportunity.

Up to 1883 the whole number of students who had matriculated in the University of Zurich was about 6,700, of whom 284 were women. One hundred and ninety-one of these women were students of medicine, 91 of philosophy, and two of jurisprudence According to nationality, they may be classified as follows:

Russia. Germany. Austria. United
Medicine 119 12 7 28 10 15
Philosophy 49 13 7 5 11 6
Jurisprudence 1 . . . . 1 . . . .

Thirty took the doctor's degree — 23 in medicine, 3 in pure philosophy, 4 in science, or philosophy of the second class, as it is called. Up to the present year, since 1833, the number of male students matriculated is about 7,300 in round numbers, of whom 988—more than one eighth—have taken their degree. Since 1864, the year when women entered the university, the number of women matriculated is 484, of whom 57—more than one ninth—have taken their degree. The women graduates are classified—

Russia. Germany. Austria. United
Medicine 9 5 4 6 6 5
Philosophy I. 1 2 3 4 1 1
Philosophy II. 7 1 . . 3 . . . .
Jurisprudence . . . . . . . . 1 . .

From the establishment of the university up to the present date; the whole body of graduates may be thus classified:

Jurisprudence. Medicine. Philosophy I. Philosophy II.
Men. Women. Men. Women. Men. Women. Men. Women.
1833-1864 30 . . 182 . . 16 . . 21 . .
1864-1890 79 1 249 35 101 12 310 9

In addition to the examinations taken, each graduate prepares a thesis upon an assigned subject, and these publications are of no small worth. A study of the subjects convinces one that in this way the results of a vast amount of original investigation in science, literature, and philosophy have become common property. And there are also many other publications, not only from graduates, published after the final theses, but also from those who have taken partial courses—publications of considerable interest and importance. It is impossible to follow these young women through their after-lives and describe their various services to humanity. The one jurist, Mrs. Kempin, of Zurich, is perhaps the only woman in America now giving lectures in a college for woman students of law. Miss Helene Webster, a graduate of 1889, now holds the chair of Philology in Wellesley College. And so one might name others. But, from an investigation of their university life, one can judge whether the enlarged vision supposed to result from higher education probably followed in their cases, and whether the privileges were wisely bestowed.

In the first place, knowledge that the university doors stand open leads to the formation of earnest purpose and to a wise disposal of hours and energies in the early years of life, while character is forming a good foundation. The work of these young women in Zurich, after admission to the university, proves this. Professors testify that their conscientious fidelity to tasks imposed and their earnestness manifest an influence not only on the character of the final theses, but also upon the general standard of scholarship in the university, because the whole body of students becomes more industrious; and following this naturally the standard of the lecturers must be correspondingly raised. It is claimed that the requirements in examinations are rather higher in Swiss universities than in those where women are not admitted to equal privileges. The students themselves grant that the influence is good by their cheerful acceptance of the conditions and their business-like adjustment of each other's rights — men and women together as men and men together, according to rules of refined courtesy. A tutor from the University of Vienna visited Zurich during the past winter for the purpose of observation, because an appeal had come from women in Vienna for admission to study. He was much impressed by the air of order and business which the class-rooms everywhere presented. The live interest which pervaded everything and absorbed all thought of self or sex in delight of new power to see and do, was incomprehensible to him. Such earnest preparation and such sensible recognition of favorable conditions and devotion to a chosen work must make women who will be powerful afterward in the general work of elevating humanity; and when all the world's universities thus join hands in developing all the forces God has placed latent in men and women, the full light will sooner shine into corners which are as yet mysterious and only tempting to man's curiosity or tantalizing to his needs.

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  1. German. The "second" and "third" national languages mentioned in 4 and 5 are French and Italian.