The nineteenth century has witnessed an ever-increasing rapidity of progress in the condition and deeds of woman. Other centuries, it is true, opened and closed with some very clearly marked contrasts. But when the nineteenth century is, in thought, placed in line with the preceding centuries, it seems to belong to a period of the world’s history uniformly progressive. We are reminded of a locomotive to which a heavy train is attached. At first there is the slow, measured exhaust of the great engine, so slow and labored that it threatens to end in failure. But the inertia is gradually overcome, the sounds become more rapid and are less painfully explosive. Soon they so increase that to count them is difficult. They are at last lost in a great whir-r-r, as the train speeds by and away.
The first third or half of the century is occupied with generating power for moving away from the prejudices and restrictions of the stereotyped past. It was a great time of preparation and pioneering for educational, philanthropic, and industrial advancement. During this time great leaders were born and reared in the midst of an unvoiced expectancy that woman was yet to do and be something greater than the past had seen. There was an intellectual awakening. Girls began to ask that they be allowed equal educational advantages with their brothers. To meet this demand Oberlin threw open their doors in 1833, Mount Holyoke was opened in 1837, and then came a pause of eighteen years. Elmira was instituted in 1855 and Vassar in 1861. Nine years more and Radcliffe is founded, 1879. Smith and Wellesley are opened in 1875 and Bryn Mawr in 1880.
The liberal education of woman covers scarcely more than fifty years. The civil war was the occasion of woman’s development i organized philanthropy. During those dark days, she bore burdens and grew stronger under them, to the astonishment of even herself.
During the last two thirds of the century, there has been an inventive and industrial development, but the last twenty-five years have been the very flower and fruitage [sic] of all the past decades. The Centennial Exposition in 1876, and the Columbian Exposition in 1893, served as an index to woman’s attainments industrially.
Out of the educational movement has come woman in the professions. The philanthropic impulses have crystallized into scores of organizations for the relief and betterment of humanity. The industrial movement has brought woman into the field as a wage earner and she has become an enormously important factor in the social-industrial problems of the world.
Reference: Woman: Her Position, Influence and Achievement Throughout the Civilized World. Designed and Arranged by William C. King. Published in 1900 by The King-Richardson Co. Copyright 1903 The King-Richardson Co.