The subject of the higher training of young women may resolve itself into three questions:

  1. Shall a girl receive a college education?
  2. Shall she receive the same kind of a college education as a boy?
  3. Shall she be educated in the same college?

As to the first question: It must depend on the character of the girl. Precisely so with the boy. What we should do with either depends on his or her possibilities. No parents should let either boy or girl enter life with any less preparation than the best they can give. It is true that many college graduates, boys and girls alike, do not amount to much after the schools have done the best they can. It is true, as I have elsewhere insisted, that “you cannot fasten a two-thousand dollar education into a fifty-cent boy,” — or girl either. It is also true that higher education is not alone a question of preparing great men for great things. It must prepare even little men for greater things than they would otherwise have found possible. And so it is with the education of women. The needs of the times are imperative. The highest product of social evolution is the growth of the civilized home — the home that only a wise, cultivated, and high-minded woman can make. To furnish such women is one of the worthiest functions of higher education. No young woman capable of becoming such, should be condemned to anything lower. Even with those who are in appearance too dull or too vacillating to reach any high ideal of wisdom, this may be said — it does no harm to try. A few hundred dollars is not much to spend on an experiment of such. Four of the best years of one’s life spent in the company of noble thoughts and high ideals cannot fail to leave their impress. To be wise, and at the same time womanly, is to wield a tremendous influence, which may be felt for good in the lives of generations to come. It is not forms of government by which men are made or unmade. It is the character and influence of their mothers and their wives. The higher education of women means more for the future than all conceivable legislative reforms. And its influence does not stop with the home. It means higher standards of manhood, greater thoroughness of training, and the coming of better men. Therefore, let us educated our girls as well as our boys. A generous education should be the birthright of every daughter of the republic as well as of every son.

2. Shall we give our girls the same education as our boys? Yes, and no. If we mean by the same an equal degree of breadth and thoroughness, an equal fitness for high thinking and wise acting, yes, let it be the same. If we mean this: Shall we reach this end by exactly the same course of studies? then our answer must be, No. For the same course of study will not yield the same results with different persons. The ordinary “college course” which has been handed down from generation to generation is purely conventional. It is a result of a series of compromises in trying to fit the traditional education of clergymen and gentlemen to the needs of men of a different social era. The old college course met the needs of nobody and, therefore, was adapted to all alike. The great educational awakening of the last twenty years in America has lain in breaking the bonds of this old system. The essence of the new education is individualism. Its purpose is to give to each young man that training which will make of him; not the training which a century or two ago helped to civilize the mass of boys of that time, but that which will civilize this particular boy. One reason why the college students of 1895 are ten to one in number as compared with those of 1875, is that the college training now given is valuable to ten times as many men as could be reached or helped by the narrow courses of twenty years ago.

In the university of today the largest liberty of choice in study is given to the student. The professor advises, the student chooses, and the flexibility of the courses makes it possible for every form of talent to receive proper culture. Because the college of today helps ten times as many men as that of yesterday could hope to reach, it is ten times as valuable. This difference lies in the development of special lines of work and in the growth of the elective system. The power of choice carries the duty of choosing rightly. The ability to choose has made a man out of the college boy and transferred work from an alternation of tasks and play, to its proper relation to the business of life. Meanwhile its not risen in value. If our colleges were to go back to the cut-straw of medievalism [sic], to their work of twenty years ago, their professors would speak to empty benches. In those colleges which still cling to those traditions the benches are empty today — or filled with idlers, which to a college is a fate worse than death.

The best education for a young woman is surely not that which has proved unfit for the young man. She is an individual as well as he, and her work gains as much by his by relating to her life. But an institution which meets the varied needs of varied men can also meet the varied needs of the varied women. The intellectual needs of the two classes are not very different in many important respects. The special or professional needs, so far as they are different, will bring their own satisfaction. Those who have had to do with the higher training of women know that the severest demands can be met by them as by men. There is no demand for easy or “goody-goody” courses for women except as this demand has been encouraged by men. In this matter the supply has always met the demand.

There are, of course, certain average differences between men and women as students. Women have often greater sympathy or greater readiness of memory or apprehension, greater fondness for technique. In the languages and literature, often in mathematics and history, they are found to excel. They lack, on the whole, originality. They are not attracted by unsolved problems, and in the inductive or “inexact” sciences they seldom take the lead. The “motor” side of their minds and natures is not strongly developed. They do not work for results as much as for the pleasure of study. In the traditional courses of study — traditional for men — they are often very successful. Not that these courses have a fitness for women, but that women are more docile and less critical as to the purposes of education. And to all these statements are many exceptions. In this, however, those who have taught both men and women must agree: the training of women is just and important as the training of men, and no training is adequate for either which falls short of the best.

3. Shall women be taught in the same classes as men? This is partly a matter of taste. It does no harm whatever to either men or women to meet those of the other sex in the same classrooms. But if they prefer not to do so, let them do otherwise. Considerable has been said for and against the union in one institution of technical schools and schools of liberal arts. The technical quality is emphasized by its separation from general culture.

A woman’s college is more or less distinctly a technical school. In most cases, its purpose is distinctly stated to be such. It is a school of training for the profession of womanhood. It encourages womanliness of thought as more or less different from the plain thinking which is called manly. The brightest work in women’s colleges is often accompanied by a nervous strain, as though its doer were fearful of falling short of some outside standard. The best work of men is natural, is unconscious, the normal result of the contact of the mind with the problem in question.

In woman’s education, as planned for women alone, the tendency is toward the study of beauty and order. Literature and language take precedence over science. Expression is valued more highly than action. In carrying this to an extreme, the necessary relation of thought to action becomes obscured. The scholarship developed is ineffective, because it is not related to success. The educated woman is likely to master technique, rather than art: method, rather than substance. She may know a great deal, but she can do nothing. Often her views of life must undergo painful changes before she can find her place in the world.

In schools for men alone, the reverse condition often obtains. The sense of reality obscures the elements of beauty and fitness. It is a great average to both men and women to meet on a plan of equality in education. Women are brought into contact with men who can do things — men in whom the sense of reality is strong, and who have definite views in life. This influence affects them for good. It turns them away from sentimentalism. It is opposed to the unwholesome state of mind called “monogamic [sic] marriage.” It gives tone to their religious thoughts and impulses. Above all, it tends to encourage action as governed by ideals, as opposed to that resting on caprice. It gives them better standards of what is possible and impossible when the responsibility for action is thrown upon them.

In the like manner, the association with wise, sane, ad healthy women has its value for young men. This value has never been fully realized even by the strongest advocates of coeducation. It raises their ideal of womanhood, and the highest of manhood must be associated with such an ideal. This fact shows itself in many ways; but to point out its existence must suffice for the present paper.

At the present time, the demand for higher education of women is met in three different ways:

  1. In separate colleges for women, with courses of study more or less parallel with those given in colleges for men, and in others a more or less equal division obtains. In nearly all of these institutions, those old traditions of education and discipline are more prevalent than in colleges for men, and nearly all retain some trace of religious denominational control. In all, the Zeitgeist is producing more or less commotion, and the changes in their evolution are running with those in colleges for men.
  2. In annexes for women to colleges for men. In these, part of the instruction given to the men is repeated for the women, through in different classes or rooms, and there is more or less opportunity to use the same libraries and museums. In some other institutions, the relations are closer, the privileges of study being similar, the difference being mainly in the rules of conduct by which the young women are hedged in, the young men making their own.
  3. The third system is that of coeducation. In this system young men and young women are admitted to the same classes, subjected to the same requirements, and governed by the same rules. This system is now fully established in the state institutions of the North and West, and in most other colleges in the same region. Its effectiveness has long since passed beyond question among those familiar with its operation. Other things being equal, the young men are more earnest, better in manners and morals, and in all ways more civilized than under monastic conditions. The women do more work in a more natural way, with better perspective and with saner incentives than when isolated from the influence and society of men. There is less silliness and folly where a man is not a novelty. In coeducational institutions of high standards, frivolous conduct or scandals of any form are unknown. The responsibility for decorum is thrown from the school to the woman, and the woman rises to the responsibility. Many professors have entered Western colleges with strong prejudices against coeducation. These prejudices have never endured the test of experience. What is well done has a tonic effect on the mind and character. The college girl has long since ceased to expect any particular leniency because she is a girl. She stands or falls with the character of her work.

It is not true that the character of college work has been in any way lowered by coeducation. The reverse is decidedly the case. It is true that untimely zeal of one sort or another has filled the West with a host of so-called colleges. It is true that most of these are weak and doing poor work in poor ways. It is true that most of these are coeducational. It is also true that the great majority of their students are not of college grade at all. In such schools, low standards rule, both as to scholarship and as to manners. The student fresh from the country, with no preparatory training, will bring the manners of his home. These are not good manners, as manners are judged. But none of these defects are derived from coeducation; nor are any of these conditions in any way made worse by it.

A final question: Does not coeducation lead to marriage? Most certainly it does; and this fact need not be and cannot be denied. But such marriages are not usually premature. It is certainly true that no better marriages can be made than those founded on common interests and intellectual friendships.

A college man who has known college women is not drawn to either of those of lower ideals and inferior training. His choice is likely to be led toward the best he has known. A college woman is not led by propinquity to accept the attentions of inferior men.

When looking at the statistics of the faculty of a university open to both sexes alike. Of the eighty professors and instructors, twenty-seven men and women are still unmarried. Of the remaining fifty-three, twenty-one have taken the Bachelor’s degree in coeducational institutions, and have married college associates; twelve, mostly from colleges not coeducational, have married women from other colleges, and in twenty cases the wives are not college graduates.

It will be seen then, that nearly all those who are graduates of coeducational colleges have married college friends. In most cases college men have chosen college women; and in all cases both men and women are thoroughly satisfied with the outcome of coeducation. It is part of the legitimate function of higher education to prepare women as well as men for happy and successful lives.


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.