THE difficulty—almost the impossibility — of procuring the exact training necessary to qualify one as an “ expert ” has been a serious barrier in the way of opening to women not a few lucrative employments. Each year increases the demand for teachers in all the natural sciences, while the ever-widening application of chemistry to the industrial arts requires more and more the service of practically trained assistants. For this latter work, requiring nicety of hand and eye, women would seem by nature peculiarly fitted, but there are also absolutely necessary a patient accuracy and precision which many women lack for want of positive mental discipline and rigid training.
Yet no training is so difficult to secure as this on account of the very expensive apparatus requisite. The impromptu work room and experiments of the last generation are no longer possible. The chemist of to-day must have his special laboratory and an outfit of instruments, balances, lenses, etc., powerful enough and delicate enough to penetrate the subtlest secrets of nature.
It is quite apparent that while the demand for a general “ liberal education” among women grows somewhat slowly for want of that immediate professional use of it which men have, the desire for various kinds of special training such as will afford means of living is, in proportion to opportunity, increasing far more rapidly.
The laboratory of the Girls’ High School in Boston has for some years supplied very excellent elementary practice. Three years ago a class of young women who were fitting themselves as teachers were allowed to enjoy its privileges for study of a more advanced kind. The expense of instruction and of materials for work was borne by the Woman’s Education Association, of Boston.
After one year of very successful work, the limited time at the disposal of both teachers and pupils prevented the continuance of the class as a whole, but some of its members went on with their work in connection with the Lowell courses in science at the Institute of Technology in Boston. These courses were almost the first attempt outside of regular college work to supply the want we have described, and the classes have been always well attended, but obviously a special student in any of the subjects would soon pass beyond their limit. Yet in order not to give up so hopeful an experiment, the professors at the Institute have most kindly shared their own already crowded laboratory with the few students who could find room. Even this very limited instruction has been so eagerly sought as to point very clearly to the direction in which an important move might be made for the “ higher education of women.”
Fortunately, the subject had already been brought to notice in the experiment at the Girls’ High School. The interest in it then awakened among the members of the Woman’s Education Association has never died out, and it now assumes new activity in the form of a special laboratory for women at the Institute of Technology in Boston.
The undertaking was suggested to the association last spring, and, upon conference with the government of the Institute, it was agreed if funds were forthcoming on the part of the association to fit up suitable rooms for a laboratory for women over the south end of the drill hall and to equip it with apparatus sufficient for a start, the Institute would provide instruction upon the same terms as for young men. A guaranty was added that in any laboratories which might be built for the Institute in the future, provision should be made for advanced instruction without distinction of sex.
The association assumed no responsibility, but made a handsome donation from its society fund, and the two thousand dollars necessary to make a beginning were immediately subscribed by its members and their friends. A few contributions came in the shape of valuable instruments, one of them, a Browning spectroscope from the Woman’s Club. During the summer, however, the plan was essentially changed for the better in view of the erection of a building for the new “ workshops ” to be opened by the Institute. Instead of the attic room over the drill hall at first proposed, the laboratory now occupies the entire south end of the new building, with its own special entrance. There are four rooms, covering a space not far from forty feet by thirty : first, the general work room, large enough to accommodate at least twenty students with their tables, sinks, etc. A second room nearly as large is devoted to optical work, the microscope and spectroscope ; it includes a dark chamber for spectroscopic work, photography, and the like. The two smaller rooms will be used, one for the library and the balances, the other as reception room and dressing-room. A fifth room communicates directly with the laboratory, which the professor of chemistry proposes to devote to work in industrial chemistry for all the students of his classes. This room will be common ground. The others are specially devoted to the women.
A due proportion of the money subscribed has been spent in instruments which, eked out by the resources of the Institute and by the generous lending of the friends of the plan, will provide a fair working equipment. The wise in such things say that for light and space and convenience, there is hardly such another laboratory to be found. There is plenty of room, however, upon the shelves for more instruments, and there will be faithful and grateful use of them by the students, as fast as the friends of the higher education of women can contribute them.
The course of study is to include — to quote the circular issued by the Institute — “the advanced study of chemical analysis, mineralogy, and chemistry as related to vegetable and animal physiology and to the industrial arts.”
Entrance examinations are not required, but it is expected that students will prove themselves competent for advanced work.
The terms as to guaranty and fees are the same as for young men : for daily work throughout the school year, two hundred dollars; for less time, in proportion. The laboratory will be open for work nine hours a day, and as no student could work so many hours consecutively, a system of alternation will nearly double the number who can be admitted.
The students in the laboratory will also be admitted to other advanced courses in the Institute. Ten such are already advertised.
So much as to preparation. The actual success must, of course, depend upon the number and character of the students. Seventeen had already applied, the first of October. In this as in the college work for women, the question of money must be of great importance, and scholarships to defray expense will be as essential in this work as in that. But the position of the Institute in the centre of a large population will greatly help in two ways: it is within reach of a large number of women who can pursue their studies while living at home; and also the immediate neighborhood of factories, offices, and works of all kinds where skilled persons may obtain employment, acts as an incentive. Almost as this is written, comes an application for a person to test drugs at a salary of a thousand a year. The places are few indeed with the same amount of work and so little “ wear and tear,” in which a woman could obtain anything like that salary.
One other and yet greater thing the laboratory must have to make its success complete. Without the unwearied painstaking of the professor of chemistry at the Institute, the experiment would have been impossible. Were the chair to be filled by men of other minds, spirited as has been the commencement, the plan could hardly secure a fair trial, for much of the work must be done in addition to regular duties. The endowment of a professorship is no light proposal, but if the laboratory for women has but moderate success, it will require a large part of the time of an able professor. To make it of the widest use, it will need a professor of its own.