Popular Science Monthly/Volume 65/July 1904/Shorter Articles and Discussion
ALUMNA'S CHILDREN AGAIN.
An article in the May number of the Popular Science Monthly, entitled 'Alumna's Children,' was recently called to my attention by a woman who, though not a college graduate, is 'decidedly a schooled woman' and the mother of five girls. "I had planned," she said, "to let all my girls go to college, but I do want to be a grandmother some time."
For answer I heaped the anxious lady's lap with photographs, photographs of babies, babies large and small, babies masculine and feminine, asleep and awake, clean and dirty, elegantly dressed and not dressed at all, but every one a baby to exult over and all the children of my college friends.
Far be it from me to dispute the Massachusetts vital statistics, and farther yet to dissent from 'Alumna's' conclusion that girls in the 'larva stage' need an intelligent care which too few of them receive. But it is not that admirably sane and practical conclusion, nor yet the irrefutable official statistics forming the author's premise that strikes dismay to the mother of five and produces even in those less directly interested an uncomfortable impression of things being dreadfully wrong somewhere. No, it is that dismal array of tragic incidents drawn from the author's personal knowledge, and her consequent theory of causes for the officially vouched for 1.8. It seems only fair, then, to admit to consideration the personal experience of another alumna, an alumna of slightly later date, who may, from that very fact, be able to bring to the matter a slightly different point of view.
I, too, have known of just such brave struggles against physical odds as 'Alumna' reports. I, too, have known of heartrending defeat and dearly bought victory. But the women who have suffered them are not college women. Possibly my experience in this line with my college frends has been an exceptionally happy one, but in granting that possibility we must grant likewise that 'Alumna's' may have been exceptional as well. It is fair, therefore, to balance one against the other. I do not wonder that the mother of five was troubled by Alumna's article. It is obviously deeply sincere and genuinely thoughtful. But when I had read it I glanced up at the photograph of one of the sweetest, sanest mothers who ever presided wisely over the destinies of children, which shows her sitting on one end of a sea-saw with her baby in her lap, smiling up at four little redheads ranged in ascending scale at the other end of the board. Certainly neither college nor preparation for it has robbed of their dues her ten years of married life.
Naturally at this date I can tell of few such families, for most of the college women I know are younger than this one. It is only a few years since my graduation, and three quarters of the class are still unmarried. But all except a few predestined spinsters are still well on the youthful side of thirty, and the percentage of married members is likely to be considerably raised in the next ten years. And of those who are married not only in my own class, but, with a single exception, among my other college friends as well, not one has failed to bear a healthy child within two years of her marriage.
Naturally it is of my own class that I think first, the class whose average scholarship is the highest on the records of our alma mater, the class who did not use each other's christian names in the freshman year and never walked the halls in embracing couples, incurring thereby a reputation for utter lack of sentiment. But the bond that held us was all the stronger for not being flaunted abroad, and the children of the married members are all 'our babies.'
I put down the magazine and thought of our 'class baby,' our first born, with her splendid, sturdy little body and equally sturdy and independent mind. Not only her mother but her grandmother as well is a product—and a notable one—of the higher education, yet our class baby already possesses a baby brother, two years younger than herself and equally a model of physical and mental health.
Then came a picture of another of 'our babies,' 'the adorable,' with his sunny locks, his starry eyes and his gleesome laugh, always on tap. I thought of his mother as I used to see her crossing the campus, with her fine, high-bred face, her superb carriage and the movement that not even modern draperies could disguise, the very lines of bouyant grace which the 'Winged Victory' has made so familiar.
Then my thoughts strayed to our 'new baby,' the little daughter born in the west with two philosophers for parents and fair 'Mistress Wisdom' herself for godmother. The mother writes: 'My nurse says that health like mine is a thing to be conceited over,' and I know she will meet all the problems of wifehood and motherhood with the same serene clearsightedness that earned her college nickname of 'the Philosopher.'
Two others among my pictures I must mention, amateur photographs both, of sleeping babies. T—— was about a year old when that was taken—tousled curls crushed on the pillow, lashes sweeping the rounded cheeks, soft pouting lips, bare dimpled arm and Bleep-curled lingers—sweet tranquility and health breathing from every line of the relaxed little figure.
The other is the picture of a wee girl, just a week old. Her mother was the best biologist among the undergraduates of her college. This tiny maid and her sister two years older have spent all their long summers, both before and after birth, in a secluded cam]) on an Adirondack river shore and something of the woodland influence has entered into their being. They are as shy as young partridges—and as near to nature.
Now the question naturally arises whether the difference between my experience and that of 'alumna', is an accident, or whether it can be explained by a consistent theory. One suggests itself to me which may or may not be correct, that the difference is due to the different kind of girl who is going to college now. Only a short decade ago women's colleges drew practically all their students from what might lie called the abnormally intellectual class. The girl who went to college, whether rich or poor, whether struggling to escape the demands of society life, or to scrape together money enough for her tuition, was the girl who made matters intellectual of paramount importance and was ready to sacrifice for them, from the grammar school up. College was either an outlet for insatiable mental activity or a technical preparation for the teacher. To girls of that sort domestic life was not imperatively attractive, a fact which may have some bearing on the low marriage rate. And when a woman of this type did marry she was too apt to furnish just such a woeful example as those cited in 'Alumna's' article.
It was the author of 'Harvard Stories,' 1 believe, who aptly classified all students, as 'grinds, sports—and just boys.' The 'just girl' was for a long time in the minority at women's colleges, but happily she is no longer so. On the contrary she is rapidly securing an overwhelming majority. lust girl' she is, 'just woman' she will be, and the four years of college life is beginning to assume its proper place in public estimation. To produce, not phenomenal scholars nor well-equipped teachers, but fine, strong, human women—that is the function of those precious four years.
Again I turn to my own class—and as 1 run down the familiar roll from B to W and glance back over the nine years that have made those names part of my life, I see that somewhere, somehow, among the jumble of 'prescribed' and 'elective' courses, we learned therewith the better things, to see largely, to judge temperately, to choose true values. They look but chilly infinitives, written so, but the class knows how they have wrought into the very fiber of our lives and made us the women that we are. And more and
more, as the true function of college lite becomes recognized, as popular expectation ceases to demand in justification of a B.A. anything but 'just woman,' the type which couples intellectual attainment with underdeveloped body will disappear. For some years the importance of proper attention to the physical well-being of school children of both sexes has been impressing itself upon the public, and no one will apply scientific principles to the nurture of her children more intelligently and with less danger of capricious 'fads' than the college bred mother. We do 'want more' of alumnæ's children, and we are going to get them—an efficient and cumulative force toward those wide and beneficent ends which all true culture stands for.