Nature has placed in woman’s hands the greater part of the education of humanity. The mother, who creates the atmosphere in which the child is reared, is the chief formative power in all the after-life. The mother, indeed, has not usually recognized herself as an “educator.” She has performed her function for ages without suspecting what it was. She has taught by instinct and intuition rather than by pedagogical rules. She has worn no degrees, adopted no professional air, and been serenely (and perhaps happily) unconscious of her mission. But she has had the first chance at the children, and all other teachers, from the kindergarten to the university, arrive too late to undo the training, good or bad, of maternal devotion. The university blames the secondary schools when the students are poorly trained; these in turn transfer responsibility to the kindergartner; and all the schools of the land are but belated attempts to mould [sic] lives that have already received their primal and ineradicable impulse from the mother.
In our day, woman has suddenly become conscious of herself as an educator. Mothers have realized that intuition must be supplemented by real preparation, and that the old training was in some way sadly formed and perfunctory. Many women who have not been summoned to home-making have been obviously called to teach children. The civil war in America, drawing thousands of men from teaching positions into military service, placed the schools of this country largely in the hands of women, so that three quarters of all teachers in our public schools are now women. The establishment of normal schools has been followed by a vast increase in the number of women giving their lives to teaching, while all our women’s colleges are sending forth a host of women ready for educational work.
This sudden awakening to the consciousness of a mission has had necessarily its pains and penalties. The endless discussions of “woman’s sphere” have produced a hampering self-consciousness. Women have been drawn into discussing their work instead of doing it. One good old-fashioned mother often knew more about “pedagogy” than the most pretentious modern textbook. The professional dissection of children’s mind has given us vast quantities of statistics, without always giving us greater sympathy or insight. No lawyer could do his best work if he were ever thinking of the “lawyer’s sphere.” No physician is competent until he turns from discussing his profession and becomes absorbed in his patients. Some day woman’s work will no longer be the theme of lecture and essay and interminable debate, but will melt into that great work of the world done by all true men and women — a consummation devoutly to be wished.
But our educational progress has also been due to certain women who have had little to do with the public schools but have, with rare courage and devotion, blazed a new path in the establishment of private schools for the education of girls. The “female seminary” now seems an antiquated and colorless institution. But it was established in defiance of universal tradition, and its founders are numbered among the noble army of educational martyrs.
Emma Hart Willard, born in Connecticut in 1787, was one of the pioneers in this enterprise. She had herself only the education of a sturdy New England home, supplemented by two years in the village academy. But her career became clear as soon as she began to teach in the country school. After her marriage, she opened a boarding school for girls in Middlebury, Vermont. It was impossible for the adjoining college so to defy public sentiment as to offer her any substantial aid in her work, but the professors privately did what they could. She describes her one ambition as the desire “to keep a better school than those about me,” and she did it. After a few years, she removed to Waterford, N.Y., to a school for girls incorporated by the New York Legislature and sharing in the distribution of public funds. This would never have been possible without the valiant aid of Governor Clinton, who strongly urged state aid, and in his message the hope that the lawmakers would not be deterred by “commonplace ridicule.” Yet the sneers and gibes were plentiful when one young lady was examined in so masculine a subject as geometry!
At last the city of Troy offered Mrs. Willard a building and grounds, and in 1821 she founded the “Troy Female Seminary” — the pattern of many similar schools throughout the world. She retired from teaching in 1838 after thirty years of continuous service. Out of several thousand girls who were under her instruction, it has been estimated that one in every ten became a teacher. The influence of such a lofty, courageous life is beyond all computation.
The wok of Mary Lyon is familiar to all. She, too, came of New England ancestry, and every fiber of her nature was permeated with the courage born of religious faith. She taught school in several small towns, during her greatest work of this kind during six years she spent at Ipswich, Mass. Here a few gentlemen came to meet her in 1834, and unfolded their plans for a “female seminary” at South Hadley, Mass. They found in her their willing leader. Her idea was to found a school which should aim above all things at the attainment of Christian character, and should place education within the reach of families of slender resources.
She faced the same opposition, social and religious, which Mrs. Willard experienced. She was unsexing [sic] woman she was defying Providence; she was sowing discontent and anarchy. As one honored clergyman expounded the matter: “You see how this method has utterly failed. Let this page of Divine Providence be attentively considered in relation to this matter.” But no opposition could embitter her spirit or her faith. Mount Holyoke Seminary was opened in 1837. The students performed a large part of the domestic service and thus the fees were made very small. From the beginning a profound religious faith animated the institution. There was little room for “accomplishments” of any kind, but the “stern daughter of the voice of God” was heard in every classroom. Especially was the school the home of missionary zeal, and the graduates of Mount Holyoke have literally gone “into all the world” to “carry the Gospel to every creature.” The seminary has now expanded into a woman’s college with admirable buildings and equipment. But the beauty of the Connecticut Valley in which it stands is still the same and the religious faith which pervades the whole is the same as on the day of its opening to the young women of America.
Scarcely less influential in Mary Lyon’s time were Miss Catherine Beecher, who taught at Hartford, Conn., and Cincinnati, Ohio, and Miss Zilpah Grant, whose work was done first at Derry, N.H., and then for ten years at Ipswich, Massachusetts. The movement has now spent its force, but it remains a vital part of the history of our country.
The entire kindergarten system of our country owes its inception to woman. When Froebel died in 1852, it was Baroness Marenholtz-Bülow who took up his work and made it a power in Germany. Miss Elizabeth Peabody opened her kindergarten in Boston in 1861, and together with Mrs. Horace Mann did much to expound on Froebel’s principles to Americans. In 1867 she visited Germany to study the kindergarten on its native soil and was for a long time through writings its main support in America. Mrs. John Kraus established a kindergarten and normal training school in New York City in the early seventies. Miss Susan E. Blow opened a kindergarten in St. Louis in 1873, and a little later Kate Douglas Wiggin established te first kindergarten in San Francisco, from which have grown more than fifty others by the Golden Gate. Mrs. Quincy A. Shaw for many years supported free kindergartens in Boston until they were incorporated with the public school system of that city. The kindergarten has now been introduced into the public school system in one hundred and eighty-nine cities, with nearly one hundred thousand children enrolled.
The importance of this movement is very great. Often misunderstood, often ridiculed, sometimes perverted, the kindergarten has vindicated a place for itself in the training of childhood. It has sometimes retained the child too long, it has sometimes become a mere place of entertainment and so hindered the work of the primary school, it has sometimes fallen into the hands of extremists and pedants. But in spite of extravagant eulogy and inconsiderate disdain, it has awakened thousands of children to a realization of the reality and beauty of the world, and has taught them in their most receptive years how to see things and to use them, and how to cooperate with others, in generous, loving service. The entire movement owes its success to the labors of earnest, self-sacrificing women.
The higher education of women in college and university belongs to another chapter. In the last twenty years, a brilliant series of women have taken their place as college professors, presidents, or deans, and have exerted an immense influence on our American daughters. When Maria Mitchell left her home in old Nantucket to become professor at Vassar College, she was a true pioneer in a mighty enterprise. Now she has been followed by a band of women, who have attained lasting success as educators. But the field is still wide. The woman who today will find herself needed at once in every state in the Union. No demand is greater: no other places are so hard to fill. Twenty-five years ago the bright boy was sent to college while his sister helped to maintain the home. Today in many families the bright girls is sent to college, and the boy is put into agricultural or business life. The day is surely coming when educated women will outnumber educated men, and women who can lead in this vast undertaking are one of the greatest needs of the educational world today.
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.