Popular Science Monthly/Volume 66/April 1905/Shorter Articles and Discussion
DOES HIGHER EDUCATION UNFIT WOMEN FOR MOTHERHOOD?
In a very interesting article in the March number of the Popular Science Monthly, Dr. Smith discusses a subject which is vital to the well-being of our nation. The evils which he deplores are real and serious, but they are caused, I would submit, not by excess of education, as Dr. Smith has it, but by excess of luxury and indolence. I am inclined to agree with him that too many of our young people have the higher education bestowed on them, but my reason for thinking so is, not that their intellectuality and spirituality are too highly cultivated and that their ideals are consequently too high, but that they are unworthy of the great boon offered them and, not knowing how to use it aright, are injured instead of benefited: they leave college without having become cultured or intellectual.
There can be no greater mistake than to believe that intellectuality promotes extravagance. Are our college professors and men of science the extravagant members of society? Literature, botany, entomology—even music and art—are inexpensive and healthful pursuits as compared with balls, receptions, dinners and the whole round of social functions.
The most serious enemy to American family life is society—in the narrower meaning of the word. Not only among the wealthier classes do its functions absorb enormous amounts of money and time, but among the middle classes also. Let any of our middle class women who dare, sit down with paper and pencil and write on one side the amount of time given to calls, teas, clubs, golf, dinners and the dress necessary for these functions, and in a column opposite the time given to the intellectual and spiritual welfare of her children. Most of them would not like to show, or look at, the balance sheet. Many of them would say, if they were frank, 'Oh, school takes care of my children's intellects and Sunday-school of their religion.' Too true. And here lies one of the great evils of our modern primary education, to which I will
I just allude in passing, as it is too vast a subject to introduce here. The school is trying to do mothers' work and necessarily failing, but, owing to the time devoted to this failure, the school is prevented from doing the work which it. should and could do and used to do. I will just give one example and pass to a more direct consideration of the subject in hand. For twenty years or more our schools have been trying to instill a love of English literature into their pupils. Can any one who knows the results doubt the failure? They are just launching out on what many of us believe will be a similar futile effort in regard to nature study. A walk in the woods with a mother or father who has an enthusiasm for botany, entomology or mineralogy is worth ten lessons in the class room or even in the woods with a teacher and forty other children. The book or the poem that mother and child read together because they love it and each other, even if they do not know much about the unities or the functions of the various parts, is more likely to stimulate a love of reading than the most exhaustive and exhausting study in the class room.
Now, how are we to produce mothers who will love this work and hug it to themselves as their greatest blessing? Certainly, only by education and culture! If the college does not give these, reform but do not eliminate it.
Let us glance for a moment at the alternative opened to girls if they do not go to college. Our college girls come mainly, I think, largely at least, from our upper middle classes. Suppose our girl of seventeen or eighteen has just finished her school life, what is she to do? Dr. Smith says: 'Marry.' But really, it seems to me, she will have to wait until she is asked—and meanwhile she will have to occupy herself in some way. The fact of her entering college does not prevent any young man from asking her hand and many a girl leaves college to be married. The question to be solved is simply of how the time intervening between school and marriage is to be passed. If Dr. Smith will study carefully the girls who do not go to college, but who devote themselves to social functions, I think I may venture to predict that his choice of his future daughter-in-law would be more likely to fall upon an earnest college girl than upon one of the social denizens, and that the chances of her having extravagant tastes, indolent habits or poor constitution are less than they would be in the case of the less cultured girl. I believe, but am not sure, that statistics have shown that divorces are much less common among college women than among those who have not been to college.
That a girl's education should not be merely intellectual I readily admit. Sewing, cooking and housework are as much a part of their preparation for their life work as is shop work for our young engineers. But here again we find that mothers are too busy or too indulgent to undertake the task of teaching their daughters and so in the early years the school tries—again with questionable success—to do it for them, and in the later years as a rule it is not done at all—neither for the collegian nor non-collegian.
It is perfectly natural that a girl who has grown up without having done any manual work should not like it when the necessity for it arises, but I doubt very much whether it can be shown that the intellectual girl dislikes it more than the non-intellectual, and our college girl, if she has benefited by her course as she should, has learned the possibility of applying her powers to an uncongenial task and has many more powers to apply than her less educated sister. Were I a hungry husband, I should have more hope of a palatable dinner prepared by a college-bred wife ignorant of cookery, than from one equally ignorant who lacked the college training.
A word as regards the best age for a woman to marry. It seems to me that the chances for marital happiness are best where a woman marries, at about 22, an age at which she can have easily finished her college course and at which she is certainly better qualified to judge of the qualities of the man who asks her to marry him than she was four years before. Suppose she marries a man but a few years older than herself, there is plenty of time for them to have a family of five or six children, which is as many as even an energetic mother can well attend to. Probably her demands in the choice of a husband will be more exacting, not as regards wealth, but as regards mind and soul. Could a better stimulus be found for the improvement of our young men?
As to the physical health of our college girls, I feel sure it will compare favorably with that of non-collegians. Neither class is as well as it should be, the reason being, in my judgment, not excessive intellectual exertion but undue excitement and anxiety. The college girl who is chairman of the dramatic association, or the non-college girl who is chairman of the entertainment committee in church, alike suffer from a mental strain which is much more likely to prove injurious than the steady and peaceful study of Greek, mathematics or anything else. If the college girl insists, as she sometimes does, upon filling the time which should be devoted to study with social amusements and activities and then crams for her examinations at a late hour at night and with a feeling of intense anxiety, she is unquestionably subjecting her health to an undue strain. But this is an abuse of the higher education not its legitimate pursuit. The girl who steadily pursues her studies as the business of her life, allowing herself reasonable time for exercise and recreation, is most unlikely to be found in the sanitarium among the victims of 'nervous prosperity.' The 'prosperity' shows where these come from—from the ranks of the luxurious and indolent. The best method of preventing egotism, selfishness, and consequently introspection, is to give our boys and girls such intense interests outside of themselves that they have neither time nor inclination for morbid self-study.
I can not go into the question of men's higher education, but should like to say in regard to Dr. Smith's statement about millionaires that I am quite ready to agree that the higher education is not likely to produce them. If a man wants to be a millionaire I think he does wisely to leave school early. But one of the things to be hoped from our higher education is that it will produce in our men nobler ambitions than those of mere money-getting, and in our women the desire for husbands whose aspirations are of a widely different kind.
Our whole notion needs to have the beauty of simplicity impressed upon it. As Emerson says: 'Things are in the saddle and ride mankind.' What is the remedy? Less culture? No, more! So much that we shall see and taste the higher pleasure that comes from the intellectual and spiritual, and which is always more simple, more wholesome and less expensive than the material enjoyment which it replaces.
Olivia R. Fernow.