THE collegiate education of women is to have a partial trial at, or more correctly near, Harvard. The college authorities, it is well known, have steadily refused to admit women upon the same footing with men, but have indicated their interest in the problem by lending their aid to what is known as the Harvard examination for women. Meanwhile Girton and Newnham Hall have been founded at the English Cambridge, with the clear purpose of making use of the academic advantages of the university, and a movement is reported on foot for trying the same experiment even more closely at Oxford. Possibly these English trials have given greater confidence to Harvard; possibly, too, the individual experience of professors at Harvard has demonstrated the capabilities of young women to carry forward college courses with perseverance and the true scientœ sacra fames. At any rate, an ingenious and yet simple scheme has been devised by which the collegiate education of women may be secured at Cambridge ; not in the university
itself, and not in the name of Harvard, but under conditions which are identical, so far as teachers go, with those governing the young men. A young woman could at any time, if regardless of expense, have come to Cambridge, resided there four years, and pursued as a private pupil of various professors the studies which a collegian followed before taking his degree; but she would have had the immense disadvantage of solitary study and solitary recitation. What is now proposed is the formation of classes of young women, doing this same thing, with the advantage of a division of expenses and the stimulus of society.
The machinery of this college running on parallel lines with Harvard is very simple. Seven ladies, well known in Cambridge and elsewhere from their position as members of professors’ households, constitute a board of management, having also for secretary a gentleman unconnected with Harvard, and their function is to secure suitable lodgings for the students, to assist them with advice and other friendly offices, and to bring together the professors and students, organize the classes, and establish the tariff of fees. The courses followed must be those of Harvard, but it is only recommended, not required, that a complete course of four years should be undertaken. The management has of course no power to give degrees, and Harvard, being officially ignorant of these students, will give none; in place, certificates will be given, signed by the instructors, when any course has been satisfactorily followed, and in the case of a four years’ study the certificates will be merged in one and signed by all the instructors. It is hoped that the expense of tuition for each pupil will not exceed four hundred dollars a year, and that it may fall as low as two hundred and fifty dollars. The hint is thrown out that endowments may be looked for which will still further reduce expenses.
The practical difficulties of instruction appear to gather chiefly about the courses in those studies which require laboratory work. There is no deficiency of apparatus at Harvard, and a way may be found by which it may do double service, as well as the professors who employ it; but if not, the elementary instruction, which is all that many require, does not call for elaborate or very costly appointments, and it is not likely that a difficulty of this kind would be suffered to spoil the scheme. The splendid library is already accessible to all, without distinction, for consultation, and to such as the authorities approve for borrowing; there are certain lecture courses to which ladies are admitted, and in short the material for collegiate education is ready and capable in large part of duplicate use ; it only needs that the individual pupils, who have hitherto availed themselves of it in a desultory fashion, should be increased in number aud organized economically.
Supposing this plan carried out as proposed, will it constitute practically a college for women ? Will the young women who encamp under the walls of Harvard secure all the advantages of their brothers who look down upon them from within the sacred inclosure? Wherein would it differ from the regular Harvard? In the first place, there would be the absence of all the compulsion which, under many forms, exists for the young men ; the supervision by the board of management would be purely advisory ; there would be, we suppose, no such thing as comparative rank, but each would run against time ; the stimulus of a degree would be wanting; the comradery, in the absence of dormitories and class associations and college sports, would be reduced to a very small point, and the whole competitive system, with its prizes and honors, would be left out of consideration. Now, it is undoubtedly true that the young women who entered on this purely intellectual course would be those only who were impelled by the noble thirst for learning, and that the very absence of all the engaging circumstance of college life would exclude those who regarded that as the chief pleasure of the four years’ career at Cambridge. Nevertheless, this indefinable something which makes college other and more than the bare intercourse of studious minds cannot be left out of the account. A college for men never will be resolved into the simple relation of teacher and taught. The traditions which have grown up may be modified and refined, but the experience of every collegian shows him how largely his character and destiny have been the result of the countless streams which have made his four years at college green and fertile. Therefore, admirable as this step is, we cannot look upon it as final or sufficient. It is valuable chiefly for what it may prove and what it may develop. It is too early to say what kind of scholastic life would be unfolded were such a Scheme to ripen, but it is very certain that it could not remain in such an embryonic condition. It must either die or advance.
In the interest of a just and economical use of the hoarded wealth of Harvard, the trial of this plan is every way to be desired. It would seem us if it would test the capacity of women to subject themselves to a severe training, aud we hope that those having the ordering of the plan will not suffer themselves to lower the standard of attainment. In the interest of the broader education of women, too, the experiment will be watched closely. Should it succeed, it will undoubtedly extend its influence backward upon the preparatory education of girls. It will also, in such an event, have an effect upon the women’s colleges already founded. It cannot injure those that are doing solid work, but if there are any that content themselves with superficial results, the experiment at Cambridge, so far as it means severe training and solid acquirements, will be a test for them. In any event, this movement has the advantage that it involves no radical change in the university, but simply readjusts existing conditions. If a more intimate identification with Harvard grows out of it, it will be because the step now taken proves itself to be a real advance; if the experiment fails, there will be no wrecks or ruins to clear away. In this respect a
more conservative course has been pursued than at Cambridge, England, where an investment in brick and mortar preceded a somewhat similar experiment.