The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Home Life and the Higher Education of Women, Parts 1 and 2
by Mrs. Creighton.
"Education is not an end in itself, it is but a means to enable us to live our lives more fully and more usefully."
A Lecture delivered in University College, Liverpool.
There no doubt exists in the minds of many a fear, if not a conviction, that higher education will unfit women for home life. And in truth, few would be inclined to deny that higher education is, in reality, likely to make a woman unwilling to restrain her activities within the very limited sphere of what are currently supposed to be home duties. A woman who has discovered that she possesses a mind, and has been enabled to do something towards training that mind, will not gladly spend her life in ordering dinner, writing notes, arranging flowers and paying calls, nor, still less, in merely assisting her mother in these important duties. Unfortunately, as soon as anything of this kind is said, people are up in arms at once, and accuse education of unfitting girls for home life; so that it is difficult to resist the conviction, that home life is believed by many to consist in writing notes and arranging flowers. To fulfil these duties, no doubt higher education is not needed. At present everyone is agreed that, as the conditions of our population render it necessary for a large number of women to remain unmarried, and for many of these to earn their livelihood, it is well that there should be facilities for them to be trained in such a manner as may fit them to be independent; but for the mass of women, school-room education is considered enough. If this is so, the higher education of women will touch only a small number, who will really stand outside their sex, almost as a class apart, and do little to raise the whole standard of women's education. This is at present, to some extent, the state of things in German. The ordinary girl's intellectual education finishes at the age of sixteen, or thereabouts; whilst for those who intend to be teachers, careful courses of more advanced study are arranged, each successive stage being marked by its appropriate examination. And, if it is safe to generalize about the state of things in another country, the excellence of the teachers does little to improve the general culture of the women, indeed, it may almost be said to have a harmful effect, for the ardent teacher, knowing that a girl's chance of acquiring knowledge is confined to a very short period of years, is anxious to cram into that period far more teaching than can be usefully absorbed.
If we are forced to the conclusion that higher education, whilst it fits certain women for an independent life, yet is likely to unfit them for home life, it will necessarily follow that the benefits which would flow from the higher education of women are much smaller than was hoped. Its promoters did not wish simply to create a small body of highly educated women, fitted for certain special tasks; they wished to raise the standard of women's education as a whole, and by so doing, to increase the usefulness of women to the community, as well as the consideration in which they are held. It must always be a minority of women, just as it is a minority of men, who go to college; but that minority sets the standard for the rest, not only because of its influence on the course of the earlier studies, but also because it provides what has been called "a surrounding medium of wise appreciation," and points out the way to those whose opportunities or whose intellectual gifts make advanced study possible. If this minority is to have its proper influence, it must be drawn from all classes and must penetrate into every sphere of life. The highly educated woman must be fit not only to become a high-school teacher, a guardian of the poor, a physician, a member of a school-board, but a wife, a mother, a sister in a religious community, a sick-nurse, a useful daughter at home, even a lady of leisure. Have we any reason to suppose that higher education unfits her for these duties? It sometimes seems as if it were made to bear the blame of all the faults that any one chooses to find in the young woman of the present day. The modern woman, or as some prefer to call her, the new woman, is supposed to be the highly educated woman. I have never been able to arrive at a definition of the "new woman," but as a general rule, I think we may assume that she is the woman who does the things which the speaker does not think a woman should do. However this may be, she is generally objectionable, and if so, I think I may safely add, seldom educated. The loud, self-assertive girl, who reads the most modern novel and goes to the most modern play, who smokes and talks slang, is not often a college girl. She is, no doubt, profiting by the independence won for women by those who have proved that women can share in the more serious work of society; and sometimes, alas, all the gratitude that she shows to those whose unceasing effort and often bitter struggle, have won for her that independence, is to demonstrate by her conduct, that some women, at any rate, do not know how to use independence.
The college girl is, as a rule, very like other girls, quiet, unobtrusive; her foes used to call dowdy, but she is ceasing to deserve that reproach. How like other girls she is may be judged from an anecdote in the biography of Miss Buss, which tells how a girl who had just won her B.A. went to a dance, and was introduced to a partner who, not knowing who she was, began to make game of girl graduates, saying, "There is always something quite unmistakeable about them, don't you know, you can't fail to spot them at a glance." The girl had the good sense merely to answer, "Do you think so?"
Mr. [William Edward Hartpole] Lecky, in his recent work on "Liberty and Democracy" says: "In the modern type of woman we may expect to find more judgment, more self-control, more independence, a far wider range of interests and sympathies than in the past. She will become less credulous and superstitious, but she will also become a little colder and a little harder . . . the emotional, the impulsive, the romantic elements of character with their dangers and their charms will become less prominent." If this be true, I do not think that education will have much share in producing the change; it is not educated men, but shrewd, business men, who are hard; and it is the practical, business-side of women which makes them hard. Indeed, on this point, I think men, as a rule, have been under a delusion; they have confused softness and tenderness, and believed that because it was the fashion for women to be soft and yielding like Amelia [Vanity Fair], therefore they were tender. Tenderness is a virtue which is confined to neither sex, and which seems to spring from the wide sympathy which comes through knowledge. The hardness of women, when it has an opportunity of being displayed, comes as a surprise to many, but I believe that it is the result of their strong inherent practical sense, and will be modified in no way so wisely as by greater knowledge. Mr. Lecky's view that the romantic elements of character will become less prominent in the modern woman, is certainly not true at present of college students, for those who know most of college life will tell us how common are romantic friendships, driven sometimes to the verge of absurdity; we hope this may be a comfort to those who like women to be absurd. Speaking generally, I think it would be true to say that what thoughtful persons judge to be the defects of the modern girl, are likely to be removed by a wider diffusion of higher education; they are defects which come from crudeness, self-assertion, the pursuit of pleasure and excitement, the restlessness springing from the want of a serious aim in life. To understand what knowledge is, and to pursue it, will make women humble as it makes men, and, as they come to know, they will cease to be content with a life which is either meaningless or merely a pursuit of pleasure.
But even those who hope the most from the spread of higher education among women, cannot but be conscious that there are many difficulties connected with it. Not only the difficulties concerned with the nature of the education in itself, and the manner of its diffusion, but difficulties as to the relations between the highly educated woman and the ordinarily accepted round of home duties. That these difficulties do exist, and exist more largely than some had anticipated, it is impossible to deny. The question is, are they real and permanent, or are they such as belong to a period of transition, of readjustment of duties, perhaps of the creation of a new standard by which to judge the home life of women.
It is difficult to realise how great a change the latter half of this century has seen in the standard of women's education. No doubt in the past there have been many individual women who have attained intellectual eminence. We know of the studies of Lady Jane Grey, of Queen Elizabeth, and other ladies of her time. The Italian renaissance had its learned women--amongst those who gathered round Mrs. Thrale, at Streatham Common, was Sophie Streatfield, famous as well for her knowledge of Greek as for her power of causing beautiful pearl-like tears to roll down her cheeks without any contortion of countenance. But we are not concerned with the exceptional women, who because of their position were treated exceptionally, nor with those whose intellectual gifts were such as to enable them to make a way for themselves under the most adverse circumstances, but with the ordinary women, and with the kind of education which was considered necessary to fit them for their duties in life. Sidney Smith, writing in 1809, says:--"A decided and prevailing taste, for one or another mode of education, there must be. A century past it was for house-wifery, now it is for accomplishments . . . if the whole of life were an Olympic game, if we could go on feasting and dancing to the end of this might do; but . . . the system of female education as it now stands, aims only at embellishing a few years of life . . . and then leaves the rest of existence a miserable prey to idle insignificance." And again, he speaks of the need "to turn the attention of women from the trifling pursuits to which they are now condemned, and to cultivate faculties which, under the actual system of management, might almost as well not exist . . . It is not easy to imagine that there can be any just cause why a woman of forty should be more ignorant than a boy of twelve years of age. If there be any good at all in female ignorance, this is surely too much of a good thing." [Essay on Female Education. Works of Sydney Smith, pg 79-85.]
But there were those who considered this ignorance charming. "O how lovely," write Rousseau when speaking of Sophie, "is her ignorance! Happy is he who is destined to instruct her! She will never pretend to be the tutor of her husband, but will be content to be his pupil. Far from attempting to subject him to her taste, she will accommodate herself to his. She will be more estimable to him than if she were learned; he will have a pleasure in instructing her."
Mrs. [Mary] Somerville pursued her early studies in mathematics and classics secretly in a cold garret, using those of her brother's school-books of which she could get possession. Miss [Frances Power] Cobbe, in her autobiography, gives us an interesting account of the kind of education provided at what was then considered the best school, to which she was sent. She spent two years there, at a cost of £1,000; where, according to her later judgment, she learnt nothing, even though a carriage permanently propt up on wheels was provided, that the pupils might learn to get in and out with elegance.
The lamented deaths of Miss [Anne Jemima] Clough and Miss [Frances Mary] Buss have led us to consider what these two by their indomitable perseverance and energy, did for the cause of women's education. It seems difficult to believe that the first Woman's College was only opened at Hitchin in 1869; that the Girls' Public Day School Company only came into existence in 1872. The movement for the Higher Education of Women is still very young, and cannot be expected to have got over the faults of youth. The first women who had the privilege of a college education are hardly old enough yet to have daughters to whom they can give the same privilege. We have yet to see what will be the result of several generations of highly educated women.
The success of the movement has in some ways been so brilliant, so overwhelming, that it is not surprising if its friends sometimes forget that it is to a certain extent still on its trial. I doubt whether the majority of men even now wish women to be as well educated as themselves; certainly fathers are seldom prepared to spend as much on the education of their daughters as on that of their sons, and many people of both sexes are still uncertain, whether learning and independence do not take away from what is considered to be true womanliness. They count the fact, that under existing circumstances so many women have to earn their own livelihood, as nothing but a misfortune, and hope at least that higher education may be only given to those for whom it is a necessity. From high schools we hear still the old complaint, that pupils are taken away too young, and that it is impossible to keep up a sixth form. Certainly the idea is prevalent that higher education destroys, or at least diminishes, a girl's chance of marriage, and makes it more difficult for her to live contentedly at home.
These considerations make it incumbent on the friends of the higher education of women to be still very careful how they act, to be on the watch for mistakes, to refrain from looking upon anything that has been achieved as final, and not to forget that they must still, in a certain sense, be missionaries. Those who are fortunate enough to receive a higher education must remember the greatness of their responsibility. They will be watched, criticised and judged; on their conduct, on their use of their opportunities, the future of the education of women will largely depend.
Those who live in university centres, or amongst highly cultivated people, hardly realise how little the movement for the higher education of women has as yet affected the intellectual life of women as a whole. It is curious to find how much of what was written by Sidney Smith in 1809, and W. B. Hodgson in 1864, on the education of women, still applies to our own days. There is no doubt no longer so great a difference between the value of the early education bestowed upon boys and girls as there used to be, and the success of women at the universities has shown that they are fully capable of entering upon the highest studies; but this improvement has not as yet sufficiently influenced the home life of women. The greater independence which has been won for women is used by too many simply for the freer pursuit of pleasure and amusement, now that the old ties and duties are relaxed; and therefore our day, side by side with all the new development of the activities and the usefulness of women, sees an equally marked development of frivolity and pleasure seeking. If it is true that amongst the most cultivated classes, men are quite ready to recognise in women their intellectual equals, and to appreciate the pleasure of intellectual intercourse and companionship with them, it is equally true that amongst many of the manufacturing classes, the tradesmen class and the working classes, women are still regarded as, in the main, intellectually inferior to men, unable to share their highest interests, and intended to be merely the ornament and the comfort of the home, not the intellectual companion of the husband. I do not expect that the majority of my hearers will agree with me in this assertion. They will be prepared to quote numberless exceptions known to them of highly cultured women in the classes I have mentioned, and I do not deny for a moment that there are very many such, but I am speaking of the general rule. I would ask you to consider how many manufacturers' wives you know, who wish or are allowed to take a real and effective interest in the women workers employed by their husbands, and in the conditions under which they labour; how many middle-class women of your acquaintance take an intelligent interest in politics, in the social questions of the day, know, for instance, that trades unions do not exist in order to bring about strikes, or that socialists are not the same as communists and anarchists; how many are engaged in any kind of serious reading, or indeed ever read anything beyond a novel or a magazine article. It is my lot to travel a great deal, and it is so uncommon for me to see a woman reading in the train, that if by any chance I come across such a rare specimen, I always try to notice what she is reading, and it is seldom anything more than one of those sixpenny magazines of short stories, which seem to have been invented only to destroy the capacity for reading anything else. I must own, however, that in this matter, men are quite as bad as women, except that as a rule they do at least read a newspaper, but the habit of reading books seems to be almost lost.
Is it not true that middle age is the critical, the testing period in everyone's life? Then we see what a man is, we can judge what he will make of his life; then, too, it generally is that a man is at the summit of his usefulness and in the fullest development of his capacities. Can we say this of the ordinary woman? Of course we can of any woman who has continued to develop her capacities in any direction; but of how many married women is it not true to say, that they consider marriage as an end in itself, and not as a means to a fuller life with endless possibilities. This comparison between a man and a woman's development, written in 1866, is true of only too many still, "The man is, at least, brought in contact with the interests of his kind in the business of bread winning; but the wife of his bosom and the partner of his dull joys, is not reminded, even in this way, that she is a member of complex and active society, and that there is a momentous and constant conflict of opinions and interests and ideas going on around her. There is something grand in the sublime stupor, the death-like apathy of women of this stamp about everything that goes on outside their doors. The most exciting and important political discussion rages about them, while they are lapped in the calmest unconsciousness. The most interesting discovery in science may take place without even their having heard so much as whether there be any science or not. To literature and thought, they maintain an attitude of positively stupendous ignorance." ["The Education of Girls; and The Employment of Women of the Upper Classes, Educationally Considered" by William Ballantyne Hodgson]
Of course much has happened in our present circumstances to break in upon the apathy described by this writer. In the fussy restlessness of the present day, almost everyone thinks it right to say that they have too much to do. Writing in 1858, Emily Shirreff speaks of leisure as "the precious but perilous possession of the whole mass of women of the upper and middle classes," and adds that it "too often leaves their uncultivated minds a prey to ennui, or to gossip and folly." [Intellectual Education and its Influence on the Character and Happiness of Women, pg 16] Somehow the leisure, or at least the sense of leisure has gone, except perhaps in the country, but it would be difficult to say what has taken its place, and what is needed now is not so much education to enable women to use their leisure time profitably, but education which will help them so to order their lives as to have leisure, and then show them how to use that leisure.
In the midst of the bustle in which men and women now-a-days choose to live, reading has gone out of fashion; ephemeral literature alone is widely read, and people study religious and social questions through the medium of novels, or at best, magazine articles. It is perhaps too much to expect that the business or professional man, should find time for any serious reading on subjects which do not concern his special work, but might it not be considered the province of his women-kind to do some reading for him, to use their leisure in cultivating their own minds, and so creating in the home an atmosphere of culture. I shall be told at once, that the women have no leisure, and that reading is as impossible for them as it is for the men. But the difference is, that the men's work is for the most part obligatory, whilst many of the women's tasks are self-imposed. Our standard of material comfort has been so much raised, that in middle-class homes an immense amount of time is spent in ordering the comfort and elegance of the home; people wish to have smart houses and do everything in the best style, and unless they can afford to keep the very best of servants, and know how to keep them when they have got them, they must attend to much of their domestic work themselves. This is far from being an evil, if they are busy with really necessary work, but a life devoted to keeping up a smart appearance, to consideration only of material needs, is very far removed from the ideal of plain living and high thinking, which rational human beings should keep before them. The increased conveniences of modern life have made housekeeping so much easier, that it should take but little time now for those who can afford to keep sufficient servants, and for all, some amount of leisure might be secured by greater simplicity in style of living and dressing. To attain this, of course, all members of the home circle must co-operate. What people want is a better sense of proportion, more capacity to see what are the really important things in life. It will help to give this if the higher education of women be made to influence the home more; and the first thing needed for this is to prolong education after school days, to make girls and their mothers realise that education is not a thing to be finished and done with, but must be a life work. This lesson must be learnt by all classes, by the working classes as well as by the upper and middle classes, since to the working-woman also are being offered opportunities of higher education, for I think we may call all that higher education which is above and beyond the necessary school curriculum, such as continuation schools and the technical classes provided under the county councils. These, like other schemes for higher education, cannot be a success unless they serve to raise as a whole the standard of education amongst the classes for whom they are intended, as well as to increase the usefulness to the community of the individuals they aim at benefiting. An education which takes an individual out of her own class only to make her an unsuccessful, or perhaps a moderately successful member of another class, is of little use either to the individual or to the community. As a rule, the result of education should be to make the individual a more useful member of that class to which his family and associations belong. It is better to be a good factory girl or housemaid, than to, what is falsely considered, rise to be a nursery governess or secretary. In the same way, that kind of higher education which we are more particularly considering must be judged a failure, if it be true, as some suppose, that it unfits a girl for home life, whether as daughter, sister, or wife. What foundation is there for this view?
Amongst the middle classes it is still comparatively rare to send a girl to college, unless she is likely to have to earn her own living, and very few girls belonging to the highest ranks in society have so far been at any of our colleges. From statistics collected by Mrs. Henry [Eleanor Mildred] Sidgwick, and published in a pamphlet called "Health Statistics of Women Students," it appears that up till the year 1890, 77 per cent. of the students had engaged in teaching as a regular occupation after leaving college; and as of the remainder, some few were engaged in secretarial or philanthropic work, and about ten per cent. had married, we see that there remains but a small proportion to be accounted for as living at home. Probably the same thing would hold good now, for we learn that of the 61 students who left Newnham in 1895, 46 are teaching or intending to teach. It is therefore clear that it is still rare to send girls to college, unless they intend to take to teaching as an occupation; though, probably, in some cases, those who go without having, in the first instance, any intention or necessity to become teachers, may become inspired with the wish to enter the teaching profession by their life at college. But as a rule, college is not of much use to those who wish to earn their living unless they intend to do so as teachers, or perhaps as journalists or secretaries, for others it is of the nature of luxury, just as it is for those men who are not preparing for any career which makes the possession of a University degree either a necessity or a very decided advantage. It is a luxury which fathers are willing, and even anxious to give their sons, but see no reason to give their daughters. They give it to their sons very often because it is one way of getting over the years between eighteen and twenty-one, when young men are supposed to be troublesome, and it is difficult to know what to do with them; and sometimes because it is supposed to make them gentlemen, and give them gentlemanly friends. Daughters, on the other hand, are not troublesome at home, but have the blessed privilege of being always wanted to do odd jobs, and be companions to their parents; and as girls are always lady like, and have been given opportunities of making lady like and useful friends at school, they need not go to college to make friends. Indeed the average father, if he considered the possibility of such a thing at all, would be very alarmed at the idea of the kind of friends his daughter might make at college, she might meet girls with all kinds of extraordinary views, and even take up notions herself, and refuse to settle down at home like other girls after she left college. For, probably, the view most universally held about girl students, is that they do not get on well at home after college life. And it is this view which sometimes prevents parents of a more serious and thinking type from sending their daughters to college. But we must remember first that, probably, some of the students who went to college, went in the first instance because, for some reason or other, they could not get on at home, and these reasons are likely still to prevail after their return; though one such girl told me that she found it more possible to get on at home after the experience of college life than before. Still, it is clear that when a girl has had the opportunity at college of developing her own individuality, of learning the value of regular and systematic work, she will find it not altogether easy to settle to the ordinary home life, with its frequently petty occupations and small interests. There will have to be a good deal of forbearance on all sides, and some new problems will have to be bravely met. In a home where there is plenty of love and sympathy, the difficulties may be got over with comparative ease, but in, probably, a large number of cases, even in such homes, a girl will be obliged to lay aside her serious studies, unless she has very exceptional force of character, because almost everything in our social habits, ideas and arrangements is really opposed to a life of serious occupation for a young woman. I cannot help thinking that when, in a recent pamphlet, Prof. [Alfred] Marshall remarks that, though the work done in examination by the women whose papers he has looked over, would compare favourably with that of men, "the constructive work which has been done in after years by the women, has not been comparable with that done by the men," it is not quite fair to deduce from this fact that it is the special virtues of women which make them prepare well for examination, but a real intellectual difference which makes them inferior to men in constructive work. There are difficulties at present in the way of women doing constructive work, difficulties which, I hope, are not insurmountable. Mrs. Sidgwick, in a recent pamphlet, has said "that the whole course of the movement for the academic education of women is strewn with the wrecks of hasty generalizations as to the limits of women's intellectual powers." We hope that this last generalization of Professor Marshall's that, as Mrs. Sidgwick puts it, "the domestic qualities of women specially fit them for Tripos examinations of all kinds, but not for vigorous mental work afterwards," will share the fate of its predecessors. It is not that I am at all prepared to assert the identity of the intellectual capacities of men and women, but at present we have not sufficient basis on which to compare them freely, and discover the peculiar excellencies of each; for women have not as yet had what Mrs. Sidgwick claims for them, "unrestricted opportunities for cultivating whatever faculties they possess for receiving, transmitting, and advancing knowledge."
Girls who go back to their homes when college days are over, are not expected to spend days in study; everything is against them. Father, mother, brothers, society in general agree in expecting and wishing that a girl should be always available, at everybody's beck and call. It is doubtless true that it is much easier to be what is called obliging, that is, ready gladly to do whatever anyone else wants us to do, if we have nothing particular that we want to do ourselves; then, indeed, it is a kindness when someone else will supply us with occupation. So, to be obliging is not always antagonistic to natural selfishness in the case of the ordinary daughter at home, with nothing particular to do. But if she has learnt to love study and to wish to pursue it freely, she will naturally resent interruptions and fret at needless waste of time; and to satisfy the first claim of others, whilst finding time for her own work will become a difficult and delicate problem. Many girls in asserting their right to some control over the disposal of their time, become hard and ungracious. Is it not always impossible to assert our rights graciously? Others who have a strong feeling for their home duties give up the struggle to continue their studies.
Home Life and the Higher Education of Women, Part II, pgs 500-512
As a rule, we find that women are compelled to leave home if they wish to devote themselves to serious work of any kind. It is interesting to notice how this used to be the case during the only former period in which the higher education of women was at all seriously considered, the early middle ages. Then it was that men and women alike, when they wished to study, withdrew to convents. It is generally overlooked that study played a large, if not the largest, part in the early convent life of women. Ealdhelm [St. Aldhelm], in a work called "De laudibus Virginitatis," written in the seventh century, speaks of nuns as "like unto bees, collecting everywhere material for study." Of Lioba, Abbess of Bischofsheim in 757, we read "that bishops gladly entertained her, and conversed with her on the scriptures and on the institutions of religion, for she was familiar with many writings." Our own Queen Matilda, wife of Henry I., brought up at the nunnery at Romsey, wrote fluent Latin, and spoke not only of the Fathers of the Church, but quoted from classical writers. Those who wish to know more on this interesting subject should read the admirable work on "Women under Monasticism," by Miss [Lina] Eckenstein, which has lately appeared. She says that, as time went on, "the standard of education in the average nunnery deteriorated, because devotional interests were cultivated to the exclusion of everything else." Why this was so is outside our purpose to inquire, but we know that the standard of education deteriorated equally amongst monks, and the curious thing is that when at the dissolution it was recognised that some, at least, of the wealth which the piety of earlier ages had left for the promotion of learning in convents should be given to found schools and colleges, the claims of women were altogether ignored; nay, more, wherever the property of women was appropriated, it was appropriated to the use of men. Even women themselves had no thought for the claims of women; amongst all the educational foundations which have made the name of Margaret Beaufort famous, there is none for women. [Francis Aidan] Gasquet writes: "the destruction of these religious houses by Henry was the absolute extinction of any systematic education for women during a long period." The stimulating atmosphere of the renaissance period no doubt induced exceptional women with exceptional advantages to devote themselves to the new learning, but in the case of the mass of women, nothing but devotion to domestic duties was demanded. It was some time before any words were raised in protest, but we find [Thomas] Fuller, in the seventeenth century, writing in his "Church History," "They were good she schools, wherein the girls and maids of the neighbourhood were taught to read and work, and sometimes a little Latin was taught them therein. Yea, give me leave to say, if such feminine foundations had still continued, provided no vow were obtruded upon them, haply the weaker sex, besides the avoiding modern inconveniences, might be heightened to a higher perfection than hitherto hath been attained." But, alas for the weaker sex, and perhaps for the stronger too, at the great social revolution which we call the Reformation, the world decided that devotion to domestic duties was all that should be asked of women; strange that it should have been so when the policy of women was shaping the future course and development of England. As a result, few educational foundations were left for women, and we of the nineteenth century, who believe with the gentle Fuller that "that weaker sex might be heightened to a higher perfection that hitherto hath been attained," must struggle, and fight, and beg, to get our share in the educational advantages so liberally bestowed upon the other sex. And we must struggle, too, against the old prejudice that devotion to domestic duties is all that need be asked of women. We may still ask with Sidney Smith, "Can anything be more perfectly absurd than to suppose that the care and perpetual solicitude which a mother feels for her children depends upon her ignorance of Greek and mathematics, and that she would desert an infant for a quadratic equation?" Sidney Smith claims better education for women mainly because it will contribute to their private happiness. I wish to claim it because it will make them more useful members of the family by giving them a higher ideal of their home duties.
At present we find, as a rule, that the mother of the family has struggled without assistance through the most arduous period of the family life. She has brought her children into the world, cared for them during their childish illnesses, clothed them when they were too young to do anything to their clothes but tear them; at last she has one or more grown-up daughters. There is no more, but rather less work to be done for the family, and yet the first duty of the daughters is said to be to help their mothers--what in? in arranging flowers, writing notes, paying calls. These occupations may be interrupted with the approval of everybody if there is a tennis party, a bicycling expedition, a game of golf; but if the grown-up daughter wishes to shut herself up in her own room and study Greek for two hours daily, she will, as a rule, be considered selfish. In the first place, the question will be asked, what is the good of it? People feel, if they do not say, that games and bicycling may lead to acquaintances which may ripen into marriage, but young men will be frightened away by a girl who is known to study Greek, or the higher mathematics--what can be the use of them? We cannot, in all cases, point to any distinct utility likely to result immediately from devotion to study. But if we can do nothing else, we can point to the result on character. That thoughtful woman, Lucy Smith, wife of the author of "Thorndale," writing in 1869, says: "the better trained women of the future will have their sorrows, but half the misery our generation goes through is lack of pursuit, unfitness for any because of the defective mental training we have had." [The Story of William and Lucy Smith pg. 379] And again, "One has dark moods of questioning the use of it all, but, immaterial as it may seem, if we fix our eyes upon the great sum of human effort, yet the universal being made up of the particular, it does matter that individuals should be as healthily developed as possible, that they may radiate healthy influence; and, therefore, it is good to have a pursuit, even if we do not attain excellence." [pg. 468] Now, is not this just exactly what the women in the home circle should do--radiate healthy influence? If they are to do it, they must be using all their powers, developing their whole nature, leading a life of effort in order that they may lead a life of service.
But if the daughter at home can get time for her studies only by constant opposition to the small desires of the other members of the family, the loss to her character will probably be greater than the gain. The home people will consider her selfish, the outside world will call her peculiar, and fighting for what is obviously, in the first place at least, only for her own pleasure will harden her, and make her self-assertive and aggressive. It is her mother who should help her and make things easy for her. Mothers must recognise that, pleasant though it is to have their daughters as companions to help them in the small duties of life, yet the daughters have their own lives to live, and that, if they are to be useful women in the future, opportunity must be given them to develop their powers. They must respect their daughters' occupations, and encourage them to use their days wisely. This is much easier in theory than in practice, and especially so because but few mothers have themselves enjoyed the same educational advantages as their daughters. It is not common to find middle-aged women who read or study seriously; they have too often neglected their own intellectual gifts and acquired habits of frittering away their time in a ceaseless round of small occupations, deceiving themselves with the idea that they are very busy, because they have never learnt to use their time well. It is difficult for those who have never known what serious study means to encourage their daughters in habits of study, and to sympathise with them in their pursuits. Yet mothers have been able to do so at all times for their sons, and could equally do it for their daughters if they felt it desirable. Yet it would be well that all those who try to give their children a much better education than they themselves enjoyed, and are anxious that they should avail themselves of those scholarships which put the highest education within the reach of all, should count the cost beforehand. To fit a girl by education for a far wider sphere, and then expect her to be content in a home where intellectual interests are little considered, is not fair. As a consequence of the education, a certain amount of liberty to order her own life should be granted also, and the difference of interests and occupations, which will result from the difference of education, will make a large call on sympathy and forbearance on all sides. If parents are not prepared to give the subsequent liberty, if they are exacting in the demands and wish their daughters to be content with home interests alone, they had better pause before they give them a very much better education than they themselves enjoyed. Education is not an end in itself, it is but a means to enable us to live our lives more fully and more usefully. Again and again we hear it said, "At least I will give my children a good education at any sacrifice." Yes, but what afterwards? For the boys, of course, a profession, some serious work for life; but for the girls, what is to follow? Some have to earn their own livelihood, and with these we are hardly concerned at present, but why should the others who want to do some real work find it so difficult to do it at home, that they are led to seek some occupation away from home, just as in old days when women wished to lead serious lives they entered convents. Then there was reason for it, but now that we live in settled times, is there any reason why the home life and serious work may not be combined? In such towns as Liverpool it is possible for girls and women to pursue Higher Education whilst living at home. This method of study Professor [Alfred] Marshall, in speaking of similar arrangements at Bristol, pronounces as "almost perfect within its limits." He speaks of the women students as giving, "as a rule, half their time to study and half to domestic occupations," and as often doing "excellent work," whilst being free from "that strain and stress which comes from working against time for examinations." Still, their work can only be excellent if their studies and stress of working amidst countless unnecessary interruptions may be greater even than the strain and stress of working against time for examinations. But the difficulties of home study are not unsurmountable, whilst its advantages are obvious. What is needed is that the mother should have a sense of the value of time, so that she may strive to get necessary domestic work done as quickly as possible; that she should discern what duties are important, what claims she may fairly make upon her daughter, and what contingencies justify her in interrupting her studies. This will be easy if the mother understands the value of serious work for herself. If she is anxious to get through her domestic duties as quickly as possible, even whilst she is eager to fulfil them thoroughly and well; if she tries not to fritter away her time in petty occupations, she will not waste her daughter's time, and will gladly giver her liberty to develop her individual character.
I do not for a moment undervalue the home duties. It is just because I value home life so highly that I wish that our best girls should find freedom to live their own lives at home. To share the general interests of the home circle, whilst they pursue some work of their own, will prevent them from growing narrow and one-sided. To bear part of the home burden, to try and brighten their parents' lives and be real friends to their brothers and sisters, to be responsible for some of the small, tiresome home duties, will keep them from growing selfish, intense, wanting in consideration for others. Surely together, each with their own work in life, and yet each giving much of their best energies, of their most serious thoughts to brighten and help the lives of the other members of the family, and all gladly subduing the expression of a too luxuriant individuality in submission to the wishes of the rest, and especially of the heads of the family.
I have spoken of the mother's responsibility in ordering the home life so that there may be opportunity for free development for each member of the family, but if she is sometimes not ready enough to make this opportunity, daughters are often rather too ready to assert their rights and claim it. [Giuseppe] Mazzini said with truth [An Essay On the Duties of Man, 1844] that people should talk less about their rights and think more about their duties, and the self-assertive young woman of the present day might lay this lesson to heart. Any struggle with others, even for an obvious good, is fraught with serious dangers to the character, and specially if it be with those who are nearest and dearest. Liberty to live your own life is dearly won if it be bought at the price of constant friction, repeated refusals of help and sympathy, even in matters which we judge unimportant and trifling, and selfish isolation from the rest of the family. The interruptions of home life are trying, but it is useful to learn, as early as possible, to work in spite of them, for few can ever hope that life will be without constant interruptions. A woman should wish to be always available, even though it may not be right for others to abuse her willingness to help. Study may be good, but love and kindliness and sympathy are better. If a girl claims some part of the day as her own, she must justify her claim, not only by the use she makes of that part, but by her increased desire to be helpful to others during the rest of the day. Remember how true it is that if we are conventional in small things, we can do as we like in big things, and so those who are kindly and bright and sympathetic in their intercourse with others, will find it much easier to gain, with the approval of others, the right to the control of some portion of their time. It is not easy for women at present, whilst living an ordinary home life, to get much time for themselves, just because everyone is engaged in helping others to waste their time in a round of fussy activity. Those who are trying to be different to their neighbours should be very specially careful not to fail in real kindliness and sympathy. If a girl finds it difficult to get time for study at home, let her neglect none of her obvious home duties, and at the same time show her readiness to give up her own convenience, comfort and pleasures, to get time for her study. In proportion as her home people see that she is really in earnest about her pursuits, that they are not a mere whim, they will respect them and make it easier for her to find time for them. But girls demand so much. I remember talking to a student who had distinguished herself much at college, and found subsequent study at home difficult if not impossible, and, after she had retailed her supposed difficulties, I could not help saying that it seemed to me that what she demanded was, that when she studied, the family circle should stand around and sympathise with and admire the remarkable spectacle. Girls miss the intellectual stimulus of college and the companionship of fellow students, and then complain of the want of sympathy at home, where others have their own lives to live and their own work to do, and would, perhaps, like a little sympathy themselves. It is difficult for any young person to settle down to the serious work of life after the delights of the years spent at school and college. The battle has often to be fought by young men in lonely lodgings, amidst hard and, perhaps at first, uncongenial work. Girls need not grumble if they have to fight it out at home, where it takes a very different shape for them than it does for their brothers. In all cases, it is far more a battle with ourselves, with our own desire for self-pleasing, than with any outward circumstances, and upon the way in which we win it will depend our chances of usefulness in the world.
But when, as is so often the case in the middle and upper classes, girls are practically given freedom to control their own lives, do they sufficiently feel the responsibility, we may almost say the burden, of this liberty? It is easier far to lead worthily a life where each day has its appointed task, and where we have to obey the commands of others, than it is to order our own lives. Here comes the real difficulty for so many women. They have to find their serious pursuits for themselves, to make their own lives. The present tendency amongst girls is far too much to make a business of their pleasures, especially of their games and outdoor amusements; these are, no doubt, most useful and beneficial as recreation, but cannot in themselves be considered either as an occupation, or as a training for life. Those girls, who love study and pursue it at home, can have a most useful influence on others by showing both the added interest that study gives to their lives, and the fact that habits of serious work make them neither less desirable as companions, nor less capable of enjoying recreation. But the practical person will ask of what use is all this study, this higher education, what will it lead to? This question we have already in part answered by showing how real intellectual work keeps the mind healthy. The mind needs exercise as well as the body. More than this, we can never tell what good results may follow from any study seriously pursued. Students, observers of phenomena of every kind, both in the world of nature and of society, are much needed, and earnest students, however humble, may do their part in adding to the sum total of human knowledge. Of this nature there is much that might be done, either under direction or independently, by the women who have been trained at college. Is it fanciful to imagine that we might have scattered over the length and breadth of the land women who, freed from the obligation of earning their own livelihood and living peacefully at home, were pursuing serious lines of investigation in scientific, literary, social, or historical questions. Surely there is nothing to make this impossible, or even difficult, except that society does not expect women to lead such lives, and therefore does not make it easy for them.
Apart from these which would always be exceptional cases, serious study--study, that is, that demands effort, the use of all the powers of the mind--gives exactness, quickness, thoroughness, mental alertness, judgment, qualities which will be useful in any walk of life. Few, either amongst men or women, make study the real business of their lives, and women who do not marry will probably in time find some other occupation in life. But whether they become sick nurses or guardians of the poor, or whatever occupation they may choose, the habits of mind, which study has taught them, and the increased interests they have gained will be useful. In the philanthropic work so largely undertaken by women at the present day, the advantages of a trained mind, of habits of work are at once seen; and if more of the philanthropic workers were at the same time students of sociology, our efforts to benefit mankind might be attended with more fruit.
One objection to the higher education of women remains to be considered; it is commonly suppose to make it less likely for women to get married. How far this is true it is not easy to decide; it is clear that amongst the middle and upper classes, women, as a rule, do not marry so young as they used, and that many never marry at all. For this, many causes may be suggested. As far as women students are concerned, the statistics collected by Mrs. Sidgwick in 1890, show that the students who up till then had been at college, ten per cent. had got married as against nineteen per cent. of the sisters; but she points out with truth that the comparison is not altogether fair, as the students must be a selected class, selected as being unmarried up to the time of their leaving college, at whatever age this may occur. But it is of course true that education will make a woman more difficult to please in the choice of a husband, since she will cease to regard her marriage as the only course open to her. Her sphere of choice will therefore be limited, and moreover she will have learnt in her student days the delights of intellectual companionship, and this companionship she can obtain much more easily from women than from men, since, unfortunately, our social prejudices make anything like intellectual companionship between the sexes before marriage very difficult. An educated woman is therefore very given to prefer the companionship of her own sex, and men, especially young men, to put down girls as quite incapable of sharing their more serious interests. This is not to the advantage of either sex, and it is much to be wished that our social arrangements permitted freer intercourse between the sexes. A woman, whose life is full of interests, is not likely to desire marriage unless she is very sure of finding a real companion in her husband; for the sake of securing a home of her own, she will not run the risk of marrying a man with whom she is but imperfectly acquainted. Generally those only are attractive who desire either consciously or unconsciously to please, and the women who are not specially interested in men will fail to be attractive to men, because they have no particular desire to please them. Again, a well educated woman will certainly, should she wish to marry, wish for a well educated husband, and this also will limit her choice. As an old writer in the Saturday Review said, "When one hears people declaim about the folly of women, it is worth while to remember that there are men, too, whose folly is unfathomable . . . So if a woman were not brought up a fool, what fellowship could she have with them? . . . We cannot so much wonder that, after all that, mothers, with daughters whom they are anxious to settle, should shudder at the perils in which knowledge or brightness of mind, or vigour of any sort would surely involve the fair candidates for the crown of marriage." Men, on the other hand, as a rule do not seem very afraid of marrying somewhat foolish women. It is difficult to decide what influences a man in the choice of a wife, and, on the whole, it would be safe to say that choice has very little to do in the matter. Chance decides it, he is in a mood to fall in love, he meets someone who is in perhaps a similar mood and whose personality is attractive to him and the thing is done. It is the most momentous step a man can take in life, and to a certain extent it is fair to judge a man's character by the wife he has chosen; yet reason has little to do with the matter, except in so far as a man has learnt to allow his reason to exercise some controlling restraint over his emotions. I mean that reason may keep a man from proposing to a fascinating woman of whom he disapproves, but it does not necessarily lead him to choose or even desire a wife, who may be his intellectual companion. Indeed, it is not quite easy to say what a man does want in his wife. It would certainly not always be desirable for a wife to share her husband's special pursuits. It is easy to understand that a man may wish to get away from his work and find a change of ideas in conversing with his wife, when he does not regard her with [Edward] Casauban, as "the domestic troubler of my peace." [Middlemarch, George Eliot]
Yet probably no married life is so complete in its happiness as that where there is perfect intellectual companionship as well as perfect sympathy of character. Such cases are comparatively rare, but no one who has had opportunity to observe them can fail to be struck with the increased possibilities of the usefulness, as well as of happiness they provide in work and interests and duties shared. It must be seldom, however, that husband and wife can have the same pursuits, yet there is no need why their minds should not more frequently be of the same intellectual caliber, why the wife should not have interests and work of her own, as well as the husband. It cannot be good for a man, and if not good it cannot be for his best happiness, to live in close intercourse with one whom he considers his intellectual inferior, incapable of sharing his highest interests, who moulds her opinions on his and accepts his word as law with regard to all the higher matters of life, however much she may dispute it about the details of domestic life, and whose life is absolutely absorbed in his. People often say now-a-days that the best women remain unmarried; we hope that this may not always be so, even if it is to some extent true at present, and that the best men, as well as the best women, may discover how much their possibilities of happiness as well as of usefulness are increased by companionship with one another.
It is quite needless to fear that a highly educated woman will neglect her household duties; rather a well-trained mind will enable her to do them both more exactly and quickly, and therefore with a great saving in friction to all concerned. Nor is there any reason to fear that she will cease to be womanly because she becomes learned. No one could be more womanly than Mrs. Somerville was, and in her day, intellectual eminence made a woman much more remarkable than it would now. We have only to recall women who have come before the public in ways which our grandparents and even our parents, would have thought absolutely destructive of all true womanliness, to see that no womanly charm, except perhaps that of helplessness, is wanting in them. There are what are called unwomanly women, but they belong to no particular class, and are produced by no one system, least of all by education.
I have tried to show that a highly educated woman is desirable as a wife; few surely will deny that she is desirable as a mother. This generation seems to be realising more fully than ever was realised before, the tremendous responsibility of the mother, and surely it is of vital importance that all her powers should be full developed, that she should be in every way the best that she is capable of becoming. How often we see that imperfect education leaves the intellectual interests of a woman so feeble, that they perish altogether during the early years of married life, when her time perhaps is much absorbed by babies. She may attempt to teach her children to read, but she soon acknowledges that the boys and girls at school are far beyond her intellectual attainments, and she is hardly capable of even taking a sympathetic interest in their studies. How different her relation with them might have been, what new chances for close friendship between mother and grown up children would arise, if she could at all time sympathize intellectually with them and frequently guide and direct their studies. Of course, in many cases she would be able to assist actively in their education, even if she did not undertake it altogether. It is chiefly the mother who makes the atmosphere of the home, who controls or might control the family conversation, whose ideals fix the standard of the family aspirations; how important, then, that she should have a mind conversant with great ideas, that she should live intellectually in a wide and noble world. To her come manifold calls; she must be the companion, the support of her husband, the guide, the source of inspiration to her children, the centre probably of some small social circle, the friend as well as the mistress of her servants, the dispenser of charity amongst her poorer neighbours. To meet all these claims, what education or training can be too much? The professional woman has to fit herself for the work of her profession, but the wife and mother, the mistress of a household, can see no limit to her beneficent activities. To fit her for so wide a sphere, no education can be too high, she needs not the higher only but the highest, and she needs, above all, to continue her education through life. Of course, people will say, where is the time for reading and study to come from in a married woman's life? I believe that she can make time for it if she will and strenuously desires it. To begin with, she is not often half as busy as she imagines. With a better sense of proportion, she would discover that, to many of her occupations, she can devote less time, and that others may very well be neglected altogether. The great lesson that she has to learn is how to arrange her time, how to make use of odd moments, how to concentrate herself on the task of the moment. There will, no doubt, be periods in her life when she will have little if any time for herself; but if only she can keep up through such periods some thread, however slight, of serious study, when more leisured days come, the habit of work will not be lost, and she will be able to return to it again. The great thing is that she should seriously desire time for study; if she does, she will find it. And she need not fear that time thus spent is spent selfishly, if for it she neglects no real call; anything that will make her a more complete human being, will make her also a more helpful and stimulating companion to her husband and children. She is not doing the best she can for them, if she sacrifice her own character, her own individuality to them; let her take the trouble to be something herself. The difficulty lies in the nice balance of duties, often seemingly antagonistic in the choice to be made between conflicting claims, and here one thing only can keep us straight, the over-ruling desire to lead a life of service.
Proofread by LNL, Nov. 2020
|Copyright © 2002-2021 AmblesideOnline. All rights reserved. Use of these resources subject to the terms of our License Agreement.