The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Education of Women

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EDUCATION OF WOMEN. The changes during the 19th century include none more significant than those in the history of education for women. So swift has been the transition that it is difficult to realize that until after the Revolution practically the only opportunities for a girl's education were found in the so-called “Dame Schools,” where she was taught to read and sew, the ‘New England Primer’ being the chief textbook. Even the art of writing was not universal, as is shown by the number of wills, left by women of property, which were signed with a cross. The grammar schools, providing instruction sufficient to prepare young men for college, only occasionally admitted girls until the beginning of the 19th century. The exceptions were less than 12 in the first century of our colonial history, as shown by the records of nearly 200 towns in New England. The town of Medford, Mass., voted in 1766 that “The Committee have power to agree with the School Master to instruct girls two hours in a day after the boys are dismissed”; Dorchester in 1784 voted “that such girls as can read the psalter be allowed to attend the grammar school from the first day of June to the first day of October; and Gloucester in 1790 passed the following resolution: “And also that the master be directed to begin his school from the first day of April to the last day of September at 8 o'clock m the morning and close at 6 o'clock in the afternoon, or any 8 hours in the 24 as shall be thought the most convenient, but that two hours, or a proportionate part of that time, be devoted to the instruction of females — as they are a tender and interesting branch of the Community, but have been much neglected in the Public Schools of this town.”

In Norwich, Conn., they were admitted “from 5-7 A.M.”; and Nathan Hale, school-master in New London in 1774, writes, “I have kept during the summer, a morning school between the hours of 5 and 7, of about 20 young ladies: for which I have received 20 shillings a scholar by the quarter.” This admission of girls at times during the day and year, when the schools were not needed for the boys, seems to have been common during the last years of the 18th century. Northampton, which had voted in 1788 “not to be at any expense for schooling girls,” four years later voted “by a large majority to admit girls between the ages of 8 and 15 to the schools from May 1st to October 3lst,” and Boston, in 1790, opened the schools to girls during the summer months, when there were not enough boys to fill them.

One of the first advocates of education for girls was a graduate of Yale College in 1780, William Woodbridge, who took for the subject of his graduating essay, “Improvement in Female Education,” and afterward opened an evening school for them in which he dared to teach such abstruse subjects as grammar, geography, and the art of composition. The founding of academies, to which girls as well as boys were admitted, is another evidence that in the latter part of the 18th century and the early part of the 19th, there was a new sentiment concerning their education. The first quarter of the 19th century might well be called the “Academy Age,” since the most distinctive advance was in the founding of these institutions. The first one was at South Byfield, founded by bequest of a certain William Dummer, who died in 1761. Leicester, incorporated in 1784, Westford (1793), Bradford (1803), Monson (1804), were all coeducational at the beginning, although Bradford later excluded boys and has been for many years a school for girls. The so-called Academy at Medford, Mass., founded in 1789, is said to have been the first in New England for girls only, but was followed by others which became more famous such as Adams Academy in Derry, N. H., (1823), Ipswich Academy, in Massachusetts (1828), and Abbot Academy in Andover (1829).

Before the close of the 18th century there were efforts for the education of girls in other parts of the country; by the Friends in Rhode Island, by the Friends and Moravians in Pennsylvania, the latter founding schools in Nazareth, and as far south as Lexington, Ky. None of these institutions, however, aimed to give higher education to women; the academies prepared boys for college, but 200 years after the founding of Harvard College there was not a college for women in the country.

A movement for the higher education of women began about 1820. The Rev. Joseph Emerson, principal of the Academy at Byfield, had become noted for his championship of the cause and had attracted to the Academy women like Zilpah Grant and Mary Lyon, whom he inspired with zeal for learning as a preparation for service. In 1820 Emma Willard's ‘Plan for Improving Women's Education’ attracted the attention of Governor Clinton of New York, who secured the passage of two acts, one the incorporation of a proposed seminary at Waterford, and the other, “To give female academies a share of the literary fund,” probably the first law passed by any legislature, expressly favoring women's education. The seminary was opened in 1821, not at Waterford, but at Troy, N. Y., as the Troy Female Seminary, later known as the Emma Willard School.

In 1822 Catherine Beecher opened a seminary at Hartford, Conn., in the upper room of a store. Beginning with 7 pupils, it soon grew to more than 150, and attracted students from all the States, but after 10 years was discontinued on account of Miss Beecher's removal to Cincinnati. Her interest in education was thus transferred to the Middle West, where for a generation she helped to mold public opinion on the subject.

From 1830-39 several institutions for the education of women were established, most of them in the South, the Wesleyan Female College at Macon, Ga., being authorized to grant degrees. In 1835 Wheaton Seminary in Norton, Mass., was founded by Judge Wheaton in memory of his daughter. His daughter-in-law, Mrs. Eliza Wheaton, instrumental in the founding of the school, lived until June 1905, its constant benefactor and a significant figure, as representing the last of the little group who, in the 30's, were laying the foundation of higher education for women.

Adviser and helper in the founding of this school was the woman who holds a foremost place among pioneers of higher education. Mary Lyon's reputation as student and teacher had already been won in the academies at Byfield, Amherst, Ashfield and Derry, and with Miss Grant in the seminary at Ipswich, but her chief work was in the founding of Mount Holyoke Seminary, Incorporated in 1836, and opened in 1837, in the town of South Hadley, Mass., the seminary realized the ideal for which the founder had been working for years, that of a permanent institution for women which should furnish “every advantage that the state of education in the country will allow.” The first curriculum, including the natural sciences, higher mathematics, logic, moral philosophy, ancient and modern history, evidences of Christianity and Butler's ‘Analogy,’ shows a decided advance since the days when Mr. Woodbridge was considered eccentric because he believed that women should be allowed to study grammar, geography, and composition. It marks an era in higher education, in the establishment of a permanent endowed institution, which should furnish to women, at moderate rates, as good educational opportunities as the colleges for men then offered. Its founding is not less significant in its influence as the “mother of schools.” Among the institutions established on the same plan, with its graduates as principals and teachers, are the Western College at Oxford, Lake Erie College at Painesville, Ohio, and Mills College in California. Michigan Seminary at Kalamazoo and the Cherokee Seminary, in what is now Indian Territory, were also Mount Holyoke schools, while across the water they were founded in Persia by Fidelia Fisk; in Turkey at Marsovan and at Bitlis; in South Africa, where the Huguenot Seminary now Huguenot College, at Wellington, Cape Colony, is the most famous; and in Spain, in the form of the International Institute of Madrid, founded at San Sebastian, by Alice Gordon Gulick. Miss Lyon's influence is seen also in the establishment of Wellesley College, for Mr. Durant was a friend and trustee of Mount Holyoke and included many of its features in his own institution.

The intervening period before the Civil War saw the rise of numerous schools for the education of women, but only two of full collegiate rank to-day, Rockford College in Rockford, Ill., opened as a seminary in 1849 and chartered as a college in 1892, and Elmira College in Elmira, N. Y., founded in 1855 and authorized from the beginning to confer degrees. It is interesting to notice that most of these institutions were in the Southern States, a development cut short by the war. Within the last 30 years, three colleges for women of collegiate rank have been established in that section: Randolph-Macon College for Women at Lynchburg, Va. (1893), Agnes Scott College at Decatur, Ga. (1889) and Sweet Briar at Sweet Briar, Va. (1906).

The last 35 years of the 19th century were marked by an advance movement in women's education such as the world had never before seen. During this period three types of institution were developed:—

1. The separate women's college.

2. The women's college affiliated with the university or with the college for men.

3. Coeducation in the universities for men.

The first and second types are characteristic of the East and the third of the West, although the distribution is not entirely along sectional lines.

The Separate Women's College. — The conviction of Matthew Vassar, that "woman, having received from her Creator the same intellectual constitution as man, has the same right as man to intellectual culture and development," led in 1861 to the incorporation of Vassar College, opened in Poughkeepsie (1865) with more than 300 students, the first of the distinctive colleges for women authorized to confer degrees, with curriculum and endowment sufficient to realize its ideal of collegiate work. In 1875 two other colleges for women followed, Wellesley College at Wellesley, Mass., founded by Mr. and Mrs. Henry F. Durant, in memory of their son, and Smith College of Northampton, founded by Sophia Smith of Hatfield.

Within another 10 years a fourth college was established, Bryn Mawr at Bryn Mawr, Pa., founded by Joseph W. Taylor, and opening its doors to students in 1885. In 1888 Mount Holyoke Seminary was incorporated as Mount Holyoke Seminary and College, and in 1893 became Mount Holyoke College, the seminary course being withdrawn. The development of these colleges for women has been phenomenal. Each one has a beautiful campus, with fine academic buildings and residence halls, is well equipped, and offers a wide choice of elective courses, in addition to the required work, which varies somewhat in the different institutions. The faculty of each includes both men and women, with the latter in the majority. Two, Smith and Vassar, have had only men for presidents; two, Wellesley and Mount Holyoke, have had only women; and one, Bryn Mawr, had a man for the first president and a woman, the present executive, for the second holder of the office. The large number of applicants for admission has made it possible for these colleges to maintain a high standard of entrance requirements. Bryn Mawr admits only on examination; the other four colleges have admitted on certificate from accredited schools, a system which will be discontinued in 1919, in order to substitute the Comprehensive Examinations of the College Entrance Examination Board, although the Old Plan Examinations will also be allowed.

Other colleges in the East, somewhat smaller, but of high collegiate rank, are Goucher College in Baltimore, founded in 1888 as a Methodist institution, and Wells College in Aurora, N. Y., beginning as a seminary in 1868, but chartered as a college in 1870. The Western College at Oxford, Ohio, Lake Erie College at Painesville, Ohio, Milwaukee-Downer in Wisconsin, and Mills College in California, all beginning as seminaries but later chartered as colleges, are doing excellent collegiate work, although their numbers are small, as might be expected in sections of the country where coeducation is almost universally accepted.

More recent foundations in the East are Simmons College and the Connecticut College for Women. Simmons College, established by the will of John Simmons of Boston “as an institution in which might be given instruction in such branches of art, science, and industry as would best enable women to earn an independent livelihood” was granted a charter in 1899. Its course of study is arranged in “programs — grouped in seven schools” — including Household Economics, Secretarial Studies, Library Science, General Science, Social Workers, Industrial Teaching and Salesmanship. The plan of instruction provides a four year program for students meeting its entrance requirements, a one or two year technical training for college graduates and provision for special students.

The Connecticut College for Women, located at New London, received its charter from the Connecticut legislature in 1911 and was opened in 1915. Its course for the degree of Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science includes several branches of technical training, thus standing midway between the college of liberal arts and the more distinctive vocational colleges like Simmons. The college “owes its foundation to the wish and purpose of people of Connecticut to provide within the State adequate facilities for the higher education of women.” The movement for its establishment was begun by members of the College Club of Hartford.

Another New England College for Women receiving its charter since 1910 is Wheaton College, formerly Wheaton Seminary.

The Women's College Affiliated with the University. — The college for women affiliated with the university, although the latest development, holds a place midway between the college on a separate foundation and coeducation.

The first to be established (1886) was the H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College for Women, affiliated with Tulane University in New Orleans. Under the same board of trustees as the University, its buildings are in a different part of the city, its productive funds are in part separate, and it has a distinct facility, including the president. The graduate department of the university has been entirely open to women since 1890.

The Women's College of Western Reserve University, Cleveland, is the outgrowth of an informal system of coeducation, established at Adelbert College, the undergraduate department of the university, in 1872. Sixteen years later women were excluded from Adelbert College, and provision made for them by the establishment of the Women's College. The fine buildings of the college, although separate, are near the other university buildings, and some of the laboratories of the men's college are open to women. The faculty, with the exception of the president, is distinct, but the university confers the degrees and opens all its graduate work to women.

Barnard College, affiliated with Columbia University, was opened in 1889, although 10 years before that President Barnard had urged the adoption of coeducation at Columbia College. As a result of his efforts and of a large popular petition in 1883, asking for the admission of women to Columbia College on the same terms as men, a system was inaugurated known as the “Collegiate Course for Women,” which proposed to grant degrees to those who passed the college examination, but made no provision for instruction. The unsatisfactory character of this arrangement led to the establishment of the college, which, with a separate charter and an administrative autonomy, received Columbia degrees, took the university examinations and had university instructors, or those approved by the president. In 1900 another change was made by which Barnard bears the same relation to Columbia University as Columbia College, having its own faculty, endowments, and examinations, but receiving the university degree and being represented on the university council.

In 1891 the corporation of Brown University voted to admit women to the university examinations, but made no provision for instruction and took no action concerning the conferring of degrees. Unofficial instruction, however, was given by some of the faculty of the university during the first year and at least one woman was admitted to the regular classroom, a beginning which resulted in a vote of the corporation in June 1892 opening the degrees and all graduate courses to women. At the beginning of the second year a dean was appointed and a building for recitation purposes secured, where regular undergraduate classes were conducted by members of the university staff under the name of “The Women's College in connection with Brown University.” The numbers had largely increased and four classes were graduated before the corporation formally recognized the college, by constituting it in 1897 a department of the university. The affiliation is a close one, since the faculty is composed of members of the university faculty, and the requirements, courses, examinations, and degrees are the same, thus carrying out the plan of the founder, President Andrews, who designed it not as an “Annex,” but as “part and parcel” of the university.

Radcliffe College, in affiliation with Harvard University, although of the five colleges of this class, the last chartered to confer degrees (1894), was one of the first to make some provision other than coeducation for the admission of women to university privileges. Following the precedent of the English universities at Cambridge and Oxford, in 1879 the “Society for the Collegiate Instruction of Women” was organized in Cambridge, Mass., “for the purpose of providing systematic instruction for women by professors and other instructors in Harvard University.” The students who completed the course received not a degree, but a certificate stating that the holder “had pursued a course of study equivalent in amount and quality to that for which the degree of Bachelor of Arts is conferred in Harvard College, and has passed in a satisfactory manner examinations on that course corresponding to the college examinations.” There was no official relation with the university until 1894, when the society commonly known as “Harvard Annex,” was incorporated as Radcliffe College and authorized to confer Bachelor's and Master's degrees, subject to the approval of the president and fellows of Harvard College. The president and fellows constitute the Board of Visitors having the general administration of the college, but the immediate government is in the hands of a council and an academic board, chosen mainly by the associates, who form the corporation. Thus its management is, in general, distinct from that of Harvard, although its instructors are entirely from the university staff.

To the list of affiliated colleges should be added William Smith College of Geneva, New York, opened in 1906 as a “co-ordinate” college. William Smith College is under the board of trustees and the president of Hobart College, the same faculty teach in both colleges, with the exception of instructors in the department of household arts and the degrees are the same. It has its own dean, and its classes, collegiate activities, and commencements are entirely separate.

In 1910 Tufts College in Massachusetts partially gave up the system of coeducation and opened Jackson College as a “co-ordinate” college, with general segregation the first two years of the course.

The affiliated colleges show certain differences in the character of their connection with the university. The chief administrative is generally the dean, only Radcliffe and the H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College having a president distinct from the president of the university. All these universities open their graduate courses to women, and all, with the exception of Harvard, grant degrees on the condition of that work. In their development much has been accomplished by advisory boards, or councils of women, who have collected funds for endowments, erected buildings, acted as advisers, and in many ways promoted their interests.

Coeducation in the Universities for Men. — To Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio, belongs the honor of being the first institution of collegiate rank to admit women. Opened in 1833 as Oberlin Collegiate Institute, it was coeducational from the start, although at first women entered the so-called “Ladies' Course,” and were not candidates for degrees until 1837. The new departure aroused less comment, since “from the outset, the new institution stood for so many unpopular ideas, social and theological, that the mere fact of the admission of both sexes attracted little attention.” Its example was not followed for two decades, the second institution in this pioneer work being also in Ohio, Antioch College at Yellow Springs, founded by Horace Mann in 1853, and coeducational from the beginning. The movement, however, did not gain before the period of the Civil War; various reasons have been suggested for its rapid development since that time, such as the growth of the public school system, generally co-educational, and thus influencing public opinion in favor of the same policy in higher education, and the rise of the factory, relieving the home of many duties and leaving women more free for other interests. Throughout the country the demand for “practical education” was felt and the passage of the Land Grant Act in 1862, appropriating 10,000,000 acres for the endowment of colleges “to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanics arts” is most significant in its influence upon women's education, since it was interpreted as providing for them as well as for men.

The West and the State universities have been the leaders in coeducation, only three of the latter, Virginia, Georgia and Louisiana, being still closed to women; but the East is not without representation in this class. When Cornell University was opened at Ithaca, N. Y., in 1868, the interest of Mr. Cornell and President White in favor of giving equal advantage young women resulted in the offer from Henry W. Sage of a generous endowment on condition that “instruction shall be offered to the young women by the Cornell University as broad and thorough as that now offered to young men.” In 1872 this offer was accepted and Cornell became coeducational.

The movement, however, had spread further east than the State of New York. In 1868 Boston University was opened, welcoming young women on precisely the same conditions as young men, the first institution in Massachusetts to take this step and, according to the report of the president, “the first in the world to open the entire circle of post-graduate professional schools to men and women alike.”

Several other universities and colleges in the East are coeducational, among them Johns Hopkins, the universities of Pennsylvania and Maine, New York, Rochester and Syracuse, and Swarthmore, Adelphi, Bates and Colby colleges.

The opening of the University of Chicago in 1892 added another endowed institution of rank to coeducation; but in 1902, by the so-called ‘segregation’ policy, which means separate instruction for women during the first two years of their undergraduate course, the university provision for them comes partially under the head of the affiliated college. This action, together with the limitation of the number of women admitted to undergraduate work at Leland Stanford Jr. University in California and at Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill., might be interpreted as a certain reaction in the West against coeducation were these policies not explained by the institutions themselves as efforts simply to preserve a proportionate relation in the undergraduate body. In the light of statistics the fear that the women students may outnumber the men is not unfounded.

The Commissioner of Education reports that in the academic year 1915-16 there were in the United States 144 colleges for men, with 43,851 undergraduate students; 89 colleges for women, with 20,638 undergra4uate students; 341 institutions for both sexes, with 109,009 undergraduate men and 69,543 undergraduate women — in all, 574 institutions, with a total of 152,860 undergraduate men and 90,181 undergraduate women. The degrees conferred upon women by universities, colleges and technological schools in 1915-16 were as follows:

First degrees —

Arts and Sciences 9,309
Agriculture 135
Architecture 4
Commerce 46
Education 591
Fine Arts 14
Household Economy   639
Journalism 17
Music 368
Oratory 74

The higher degrees conferred upon women were as follows:

Master of Arts 969
Master of Science 56
Doctor of Philosophy  81

The total number of bachelors' degrees received by women was 11,240; by men 20,586. The total number of graduate degrees received by women was 1,062; by men 3,462.

In professional schools the numbers were as follows:

School  Number of 
Students  Graduating in 
Men  Women  Men  Women 
Theology 169  11,291  760  2,023  67
Law 124   22,306  687   4,220  103
Medicine 92  14,105  662  3,316  120
Dentistry 48  10,521  194  1,831  21
Pharmacy  71  5,688  346  1,667  129

The tendency toward the utilitarian is more marked in the coeducational institutions than in the separate women's colleges, a difference easily explained, since the step is a natural one, from the opening of a work-shop for the men students to the establishment of courses in domestic science for the women. The universities endowed by the land grant were the first to introduce the last-named subject and now form the majority of the institutions which include it in their curricula.

Early specialization is also more common in the coeducational college, the separate college placing greater emphasis in its undergraduate course upon liberal culture. The general tendency to-day, however, is away from unrestricted elective toward more required work, a “group” system, or a system of “majors,” by which the student may have in her undergraduate course something more than a purely technical and hence one-sided training.

The results of education for women are shown in the large increase of numbers in the professions, the census of 1890 giving the number of women in professional service as 311,689, that of 1900 as 430,576, that of 1910 as 733,885, 44.1 per cent, of all the people in professional service. One of the chief reasons urged by the early champions of the movement was that they might be better qualified to become teachers and to-day their representation in that profession outranks all others.

The number of women who are given the higher positions in the profession of teaching, however, is not in proportion, as the following report for 1915-16 shows:

Professors and instructors in universities, colleges and technological schools:

574 institutions Men     Women 
Preparatory departments   2,399 1,418
Collegiate departments 19,140 4,246
Professional departments 7,653 95
Total (excluding duplicates)   28,472 6,397

Within the last few years there has been a large increase in the number and variety of employments which college women enter. They are not only teachers and physicians, but also nurses, superintendents of hospitals, secretaries, registrars and keepers of records, librarians, social workers, in settlements and associated charities, professional housekeepers, assayers and poultry-raisers. They have opened laboratory kitchens, laundries and greenhouses, have engaged in scientific and historical research, published books, become musicians and artists, deans and presidents of colleges. Nor has their interest been confined to the professions by which they might earn a living. A recent writer says that “between the two broad oceans there is hardly any significant movement outside of trade and politics which is not aided by unpaid women who work purely out of ideal motives.” Educated women are interesting themselves in the problems of the cities in which they live, serving on boards of education and of sanitation, making possible public playgrounds and vacation schools, agitating the questions of improved tenements, pure water supply and clean streets. The experiment of college training for women has already justified itself by what they have accomplished in promoting public health and morals.

The Great War has intensified this call for college women. Laboratories which two or three years ago had no place for them, are demanding more trained workers then the colleges can supply. Positions as draughtsmen, accountants, social workers, government employees, farmers, dietitians, nurses and organizers for different kinds of work, are opening faster than the colleges can send out graduates to fill them. Never was there such real need of the educated woman.

The fear that academic training would unfit women physically and divert them from the home by the attraction of other careers has proved unfounded. The women's colleges and many of the coeducational institutions provide gymnasiums and regular physical training, require out-of-door exercise, and have careful physical examination. These provisions, together with the regular hours and systematic life of the college, mean a better physical condition than in the case of the average non-college woman.

To those who know the college woman in her home the question concerning her fitness for it is not debatable. The supreme result of the college training is the development of character and the cultivation of self-control, of consideration for others and of a more rational outlook, means preparation for the home as well as for the profession.

Bibliography. — Boone, ‘Higher Education of Women’ (‘Education in the United States,’ pp. 362-382); Dexter, ‘The Education of Women’ (‘History of Education in the United States,’ pp. 424-453); Freeman, ‘Vassar College’ (‘Education,’ VIII, 73); Hooker, ‘Mount Holyoke College’ New England Magazine, XXI, 545); North, ‘Wellesley College’ (Historical Address, 1900); Palmer, ‘The Higher Education of Women’ (Forum, XII, 28, 1891); Putnam, ‘Rise of Barnard College’ (Columbia University Quarterly, June 1900); Seelye, ‘Smith College’ (in ‘Celebration of the Quarter Centenary of Smith College’ 1900); Small, ‘Girls in Colonial Schools’ (‘Education,’ XXII, 552); Smith, ‘Coeducation’ (‘Report of Commissioner of Education, 1917,’ Vol. II); Stow, ‘History of Mount Holyoke Seminary, 1837-87’; Thomas, ‘Education of Women’ (Butler's ‘Education in the United States,’ 1900, Vol. I, 319-358); Warner, ‘Radcliffe College’ (Harvard Graduates Magazine, March 1894).

Mary E. Woolley,
President of Mount Holyoke College.