Sociology in the Higher Education of Women

"We cannot afford to lose differentiation of education as between the sexes in our attainment of the common treasure."

Let me select for illustration of my contention regarding this need from some things that have come under my more immediate observation. Take the home and its problems. There is now a fairly general recognition, among the intelligent, of the outlines of a great work that shall centre in and around this fundamental institution of society. Marriage, divorce, chastity, children, the domestic economy, the true constitution of the family and its various functions in the complex social order, the place of woman in reference to the family, and in the industrial, political, and educational activities of society, suggest urgent social problems. In their work for the prevention and cure of intemperance, poverty, and crime, women are coming face to face with subjects of the most profound difficulty, both as practical and scientific problems. The older methods of relief through direct assault, by brute moral force, so to speak, and by singling out isolated subjects for attack, regardless of the broad relations they sustain, are distrusted. They savor of social quackery.

The religious problem of the country town, including pretty much all social matters, as it has come up in recent years, is another instance. We are now beginning to be aware of the utter inadequacy of continuing the old method of work under the new social conditions. That concentrated the religious work in one or more officials of the same type, who worked in their respective churches upon such persons as they could reach by their own individual effort. We mainly resisted the tide that drew away from the church by trying to put forth more strength through the old agencies. This has led to wastefulness. Possibly there is nowhere else in American social life so great a waste in men and money as is found in the present working of its system, if we may call it such, of religious activity. Steadily and increasingly, earnest people have been breaking away from their traditional ideas and methods, in the hope of finding something more practical. The names of Moody, Booth, and Toynbee stand for this idea of original methods in cities. The country town will soon have its leaders of genius and originality. Meanwhile experiments are being made. Beginnings in really scientific social surveys of sections of country have been made. Churches have been massed for cooperation and to secure variety in their work. Some of the best students in the oldest of our theological seminaries have banded together, to go not to a new territory or to a foreign land, but into the country towns of Maine; and devoted young women of simple faith have made themselves extremely useful in the rural towns of Vermont by their work in the homes of the people.

These are the signs of a need and a movement that may yet surprise us. For there are large sections of our rural communities, probably having a population exceeding the entire population of our large cities, which are as needy of something like the spirit and aims of the university settlement as the cities themselves. The home, the neighborhood, and the village, in the country, are often in sore need of the suggestions and touch of persons who are skilled in sociology and the social sciences as well as inspired with religious fervor. What is called evangelistic work is in danger of being narrow, short-sighted, and ephemeral, unless it be led to vitalize the whole social life of these communities. So strongly am I impressed with this conviction that I often think that it would be a great religious gain if one fourth of all the ministers of three such States as Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont could be dismissed, and half as many devoted Christian women, highly educated and specially trained in social problems, could take their places. Not one of these women, unless occasionally under exceptional conditions, should be allowed to enter a pulpit, for the people do not need more sermons so much as they do other things; and much as they might need the former, women would have more imperative calls, for women of scientific education and practical training have a great work before them in giving a new touch to the social life of country towns. Many a woman of education, having the social spirit, and who has gone far enough in study to have the sociological sense and method fairly developed, can do more for a country town than any one of its educated men. She may or she may not have an official position. Such a woman, living it may be in her own home, and fulfilling her common duties of wife and mother, has a mission. She may become a leader in plans for the village and neighborhood, or even in university extension among women. A few years ago, a woman of this type, but without a college training, found time, amid the cares of her own domestic life, to give, in and around Boston, courses of six lectures each, on the family, children, home, education, and kindred topics. Tickets were sold for the course. Everywhere crowded houses met her, and in more than one instance the lectures were repeated in the same place and with equal success. The most significant thing about it all was the frequent expression, as well as the general recognition, of the value of work applied at the very springs of our social life. This and similar kinds of work need to be done by hundreds of the graduates of our colleges for women. Women can reach women in ways and with a sympathy impossible to men.

Now let us ask for the preparation for this kind of work. Take up the first catalogue of a college for women that comes to hand, or look through several of them. A larger place is made for music and art, and perhaps literature, or possibly history, than in the colleges for young men. One college offers an elective in domestic economy; but this is confined to the material side of the home, and leaves the family itself outside its range. A little instruction is given that is special to women, but it is incidental to the general work in ethics and other subjects, and nowhere does it appear to be at all prominent. With these slight exceptions, so far as sex and the social future of women are concerned, the curriculum of one of their colleges is almost a complete duplication of the courses offered in the colleges for young men.

And to this the speech of some of the young women corresponds. I recall a conversation with a young woman of whom I was trying to learn what provision her college made for studies that applied specifically to her future life as a woman. After various unsatisfactory attempts to enlighten me, she concluded triumphantly with the answer, “We pursue precisely those studies which are offered in the colleges for young men.” Many others, I suspect, would also have shown her surprise at the intimation that this answer possibly might not be conclusive. I remember another who, in giving the popular opinion of the merits of three or four colleges, closed her description of their characteristics with the claim that her own college aimed above all others to make women. Delighted with her contention, I pushed my inquiries, examined its catalogue, and read a paper setting forth the peculiar merits of this college. But nothing appeared in the curriculum that might not be found in that of a college for young men. Like most others of its kind, this institution, according to the claim of its advocate, took great care to secure an atmosphere favorable to the development of womanly character. But its main dependence for this part of its work was upon its material and social environment. A graduate course in sociology has been introduced into one college, and an elective in domestic economy in another, within the last two years. That is all I find that is clearly distinctive in catalogues of the five colleges for women which I have before me as I write. There is need, then, in our colleges for women or elsewhere, of a new class of studies touching sociology, and those specific subjects that are more intimately related to the life of women and their work in society. Either in their colleges or in some other well-equipped institutions studies of this kind should be greatly increased. And certainly, until these special institutions exist, should it he found necessary to create them as we already have created medical and normal schools for women, we must look to the colleges themselves to supply the need as best they may. For this is only to repeat the old practice of having the colleges supplement their general work with professional training until the separate schools of theology, law, and medicine could be founded. It must sooner or later be true that so far as highly educated women have special occupations in life, just so far will they demand special training for their work. Either the college work for young women must be, like that for young men, only a preparation for the special school, or else its own curriculum must include the special studies. Those who say that we best educate liberally, as this word is used, by resort to special study must support this contention regarding the need of sociological education for women. Everything, then, seems to point to the early call for the development of such particular educational courses as young women may need, both as being women rather than mere individuals, and also with reference to their relation to the problems and employments of educated women who are to be social leaders and guides in the philanthropic work of society; and I would give special emphasis to the sciences that touch the home, and the social life more closely connected with it.

The excuse given for the present neglect of these subjects, that colleges for young men do not educate in special ways, does not seem to me to be fairly made. The reason for this is implied in what has already been said. The higher education of men, having centuries the start of that of women, has only within the last seventy-five years entered upon this very line of development in our country. The higher education of women began after that of men had accomplished this differentiation. At first it was compelled to demonstrate the capacity of women as a class for higher education. This could most easily be done in coeducation. When the separate institutions were founded, this consideration doubtless did much to shape the courses of study and give us our present system.

But has not the time arrived for an advance to the higher ground? This maybe brought about by a change in the present courses, so that studies such as I will soon designate may take the place of an eighth or more of the work usually done in the four years; or we may provide for their pursuit elsewhere, or use both methods. The problem is to put the education young women are now getting into its true relation to their future and the future of the higher education. It needs to do more to equip the girl for what I may call the great profession of being a woman, in her social trinity of wife, mother, and member of society. But can that, as a rule, be a truly liberal education of woman, the leading of her into freedom in and through the fullest response to all the relations of her life, which ignores or minimizes this part of her culture? Is there not something worthy of serious attention in that shrinking from the collegiate education of their daughters which many parents of thoughtful minds now feel? Are those young men entirely in the wrong who are reluctant to have their sisters educated in precisely the same studies with themselves, or who, with all the advantages that husbands and wives of common intellectual attainments possess, are still hardly willing to marry the average college-bred woman?

To accomplish these ends there must of course be some surrender of studies, but not to a very great extent. A place for several of the subjects can be made in additional lectures in the present department of ethics and political economy. One course, running through a year or half-year, three or four hours a week, would accomplish much. This should include an elementary study of sociology and the social sciences; for I would distinguish between the two. Enough should be done in sociology to give the outlines of the structure, forms, and principles of human society in its present form and historical development. This should make a sociological survey of the social sciences, which depend upon sociology for their best interpretation, but are distinct from it. A few weeks of this sort of work might properly precede the study of a dependent science, like economics or politics, in order to give the student a better perspective in these latter studies. The immediate loss of time to the other studies by a dozen or twenty hours’ work on the social structure would be amply made up by the larger grasp and more rapid advance in the special sciences. Then, later in the curriculum, sociology could be again taken up and pursued further. At least one course on the family should be required. The family in its present and past constitution and relations; its relations to the individual, to man, to woman, and to children; its great functions in religion, industry, education, and the state, is of the greatest practical importance. We should include the house and homestead, going over the entire range of domestic science. Beyond these subjects lies the great field in which sociology and the social sciences lead into ethics, politics, law, literature, and history. Some of this is now covered, probably too briefly, in the present departments. But I think there would be a gain by taking some of the work into distinct courses, so that sociology and the family could be more distinctly seen and better understood.

Such study will open new occupations for woman, and prepare her to enter them. She will see the old familiar social order with new eyes. Her thought will be quickened, her heart warmed, and her purpose formed by it. She will become inventive, fertile in resources, and wise in plans. Her own immediate social environment will be as full of interest to her sociologically as the region now is because of her botanical knowledge. She will find a new interest in the old common round of domestic duties. The educational process, which hitherto has been stimulated almost wholly by pursuits far removed from daily cares, will find powerful incentive in things she must do. Here, directly about her, lies the richest of educational material, from whose study she is sure to find her way, and that by the best possible method, into the vast field of history and human learning. Her powers of observation, of interpretation, and of forming scientific opinions will have vigorous exercise. Theory will be active, but will be constantly subjected to the verifications of actual experience. Such a training will do much to prevent that separation between daily duties and intellectual pursuits which is now common among women who justly crave intellectual pleasure, but whose present ways of getting it sometimes lead to mischievous discontent; for, as a friend puts it, it will enable women to learn how they may in part satisfy their intellectual hunger in their daily life. The emotions will find a broader play for the view that scientific knowledge has taken of their objects; and there will be, as I think President Eliot pointed out several years ago, that gain in the relations of husband and wife which comes from the fellowship of educated minds whose subjects of study have not been wholly the same.

It would seem, if these positions are well taken, that both educational and utilitarian ends demand these modifications in the higher education of women. Whether women are to share in the work of improving the social conditions in city, country town, Western frontier, or to go into the foreign missionary field, or to enter upon the duties of home and society, they will be greatly aided by a sociological training.

Let me close with another suggestion. It is an open question in my mind whether the required or permitted daily work in colleges for young women should not be reduced, in the ground covered, to four fifths or three fourths the amount of that required in colleges for men. This has been done, I believe, in one of our best colleges for women, so that only twelve or thirteen hours in a week are required. There are two reasons for this reduction — the physical and the educational. The restriction of the daily quantity is in the interest of better quality. Masterful handling is superior to the slavish grind of mere acquisition, and this power is generally gained by spending more time over fewer things. Here lies part of the secret of the superiority of the country-bred boys and girls over others. They have thought much on a few subjects. Too much ground is covered in the colleges for men. Many of their graduates know much, but have little ability to do a given thing in a way to command the respect of the truly educated. They have been widely informed, but are poorly educated. They never get inside of facts into their truths, nor beyond them, through their relations, into truth itself. We all know that to study a few things, not to accumulate masses of knowledge, but to develop power and acquire method, that greatest of intellectual instruments, is the best of education. But the influences in the other direction are very strong. The eagerness of women for knowledge, and a kind of conscientious persistence in work beyond their strength, increase their danger of substituting acquisition for power under perfect control. We all need ever to remember that mastery over self for high ends is the great educational aim.

I sometimes think there is already room in New England for another college for women, or for some other higher educational institution, in which these features which I have described should be leading characteristics. If it were a college, it might be well to have two courses, one of three or four years and another of five, in which the greatest care should be exercised to keep the material of study within safe limits, and where the education of the school and of life should have the closest relation to each other. Many parents, I am confident, are ready to welcome an institution of this sort.

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