At the Parting of the Ways: A Conversation

Alumna. Fifty of your easily earned dollars, if you please.

Alumnus. To buy one of the new levers with, now that you women have found the theatre of action where there is standing-room only ?

Alumna. You are a little florid, but you are not far from the kingdom, I see. We must have a new gymnasium and athletic field at our college, and I am on the committee to raise the money. I have no objection to disclosing the principle of natural selection I have adopted. Here is a list of all the men of my acquaintance who have been on the crew, or the nine, or the eleven, or have thrown the bar, or sprinted, or beaten the record, or done any of those things that make a man distinguished in college, and I am applying to them. I don’t need to argue with them. Now, let me see — I have them all alphabetically arranged — Yes, A. Alumnus, you were a short-stop. I’ve made ever so many memoranda, you see.

Alumnus. Yes, I was short-stop. Is n’t that rather a dangerous sort of person to apply to with a subscription paper ? And, by the bye, are you aware that the largest givers to colleges are usually those who have missed a college education ?

Alumna. Well, you have missed Wellesley, you know ; you have n’t even had the advantages of Cornell or Michigan. You belonged to one of the mediæval institutions. Come, now, be generous. Remember the days of thy youth. Fifty ? I am a sibyl, I will not let you off now for less than a hundred.

Alumnus. But tell me, Alumna, you really think, then, your women’s colleges have demonstrated their right to perpetual existence ? The gymnasium and athletic field are the crowning excellence of ours, you know. We have not reached this point except after centuries of growth. Are n’t you in the experimental stage still ? (Aside.) That will fetch her.

Alumna. Experimental ! Have n’t we proved in less than fifty years, with centuries of neglect behind us, that women are the equals of men in college work ? If I had my other memorandum book with me, I could give you crowds of instances where sisters, with the same preparation as their brothers, have fairly beaten them in college. I have names, sir, and dates.

Alumnus. I know. That is what patent medicine has taught you, Alumna. “ Mrs. K., living at 65 East Jefferson St., Chelsea, after taking one bottle of the elixir vitœ was able to cook a dinner for fifteen adults. She was before not even able to raise a loaf of bread.” No more references to Lady Jane Grey, or even Mrs. Somerville. These records of contemporaneous women are your deadliest weapons. And statistics! Well, as old Dr. Walker used to say, “ Statistics ? What are statistics good for except to fight other statistics with ? ” But come : grant that you have demonstrated the mental equality of boys and girls of college age, and that you can make a college for women the duplicate of a college for men, what is the next step in your triumph of ideas ?

Alumna. Ah, my mocking friend, you go too fast; and besides, we must not stray from the question before us, the subscription you are to make of — let me see — a hundred and fifty dollars. It is just because we have not fully duplicated the college that I am listening to you so patiently. We have repeated the intellectual side of college life, and in our more independent colleges we have matched you in camaraderie and social life. But we confess with shame that we are as yet far behind on the athletic side. We have not caught up to you yet there, and that is why I was just saying that I wanted you to subscribe two hundred dollars to our new gymnasium and athletic field.

Alumnus. And until yon complete the equipment of your college in this direction, you will be at a disadvantage as compared with us ?

Alumna. Most certainly. You will not find me backward in admitting our deficiency. The great wonder to me is that, with our desultory attention to athletics, we should have kept pace so with the men’s colleges in intellectual training.

Alumnus. Oh, but consider how much more time you have for study when you have not to practice on the eleven.

Alumna. Nonsense!

Alumnus. And don’t your statistics show that women who take a college course enjoy far better health than those who are debarred ? Has n’t nervous prostration been excluded from women’s colleges ?

Alumna. Oh, it pleases you to be sarcastic. Let us come back to plain sense. Don’t you know that athletics has revolutionized the ideal of the scholar, and that the anæmic, thin man with the scholarly stoop belongs to a past generation ? If the gymnasium and athletic field have done this for you, why should not we perfect our college appointments equally ? If colleges for women were to be started now for the first time, don’t you believe that the gymnasium would be considered as indispensable as the library ? You must remember that all this physical development in your colleges has been going on since we began to build and equip our most thorough colleges.

Alumnus. Yes, Alumna, you are right. If the movement for women’s colleges were to begin now, it is most probable that one of the first steps would be in the direction of athletics ; for there is no reason to suppose that we should be any wiser than we were a generation ago.

Alumna. What do you mean ? Which movement are you condemning, •—that for the higher education of women, or that for the physical development of men ?

Alumnus. Neither. I am simply say ing that if we were to begin now to found colleges for women, we should do just what our forbears did a generation ago, make them as nearly like men’s colleges as we could; and of course, that, to-day, would include athletics. We too should feel the need, as our fathers and mothers did, of making good the claim that girls in college could and should do the same things that boys did.

Alumna. Well, and why not?

Alumnus. You think, then, this has been domonstrated ?

Alumna. Certainly, except, as I said, so far as physical education is concerned. We are now to demonstrate that also.

I should like your subscription for two hundred and fifty dollars.

Alumnus. Perhaps it may be in the books that we must make this demonstration, also, before we have reached our final q. e. d. But do you seriously maintain that you must duplicate our apparatus and our sports ? Would you, if we could give it to you, accept our gymnasium exactly as it stands, and make the same use of it, trapeze and all ?

Alumna. Yes, certainly we should accept it. We need n’t use all your ropes and things.

Alumnus. And football ? You will have football on your athletic field ?

Alumna. Our director has invented a splendid game, which includes all the principles of football-play, but leaves out the brutality.

Alumnus. That you leave to us, I suppose.

Alumna. There will be none left when we women show you what can be done in your own field of athletics.

Alumnus. You admit, then, that your athletic activity will be a modified form of ours ?

Alumna. Oh, you need not be so wary. Of course I am not so foolish as to say that girls can repeat in every particular the feats of boys. Some of them would not be nice, either.

Alumnus. So, when your college is fully equipped on all sides with library, laboratories, debating-clubs, Indian clubs, gymnasium, tennis court, bowling alley, and athletic field, you will be matched with the men’s colleges, do just as much and go just as far, except that in physical training you will, to state the matter briefly, use a soft ball where we use a hard one?

Alumna. That is a mean way of putting it.

Alumnus. I know; but that is the trouble with us when we discuss matters with you. We say mean things because they are so conclusive.

Alumna. I won’t be kept on the defensive. Sir, will you please explain to me, in a mean way if you choose, why you should not subscribe three hundred dollars toward our gymnasium and athletic field ?

Alumnus. I am not sure that would be a too high price to pay, if it would hasten the demonstration.

Alumna. What demonstration ?

Alumnus. The one you have been approaching in your mind, — that, after all, girls are not boys.

Alumna. Most sapient conclusion! When did I retreat from that fundamental position ?

Alumnus. A generation ago, when you set about demonstrating the essential likeness of the two. Wait! don’t interrupt just yet. I am by no means sure that in the field of higher education, as in the general field of affairs, of industry, and of politics, it was not necessary that the world you and I live in should bend its energies toward showing just this, that men and women are alike. The subjection of women has been taken for granted long enough. It was time to prove equality.

Alumna. Well, and now shall we not go on to perfection ?

Alumnus. Yes, but not by the same road. Have we not come to a new parting of the ways ? Having demonstrated the likeness, is not the next great step to discover the difference ? May it not be that whereas, in the old days, woman was supposed to be an inferior animal, it remains for us to recognize that she is a different animal, and to order our education accordingly ?

Alumna. You are out of line, Alumnus. You do not seem to observe how the drift is steadily toward the common education of men and women. Radcliffe, for example, and Barnard College are not incipient independent institutions. They are grafts on a stouter trunk, and it will not be long before the ordinary observer will see merely the one tree with its variety of fruit.

Alumnus. Haughty culturist! I should take issue with you as to the tendency. The experiments of these two colleges and of Yale in its graduate department are most interesting, because they point to the real diversity that may exist in the higher education. Now we have colleges like the state institutions of the West, where no other conditions than that of coeducation ever have existed, and we have Vassar and Smith and Wellesley and Bryn Mawr of the exclusive type, and Radcliffe and Barnard of the coöperative sort. Surely, all these vigorous colleges will work out their own salvation, and we shall not see them immediately resolved into one composite order; perhaps we never shall see them greatly modified as to their several forms of administration. But one and all of them have reached the point where they will have to differentiate themselves from the established order of men’s colleges.

Alumna. What heresy! I have raised your subscription to three hundred and fifty dollars.

ϧAlumnus. You have an excellent way of bringing us back to our sheep. This proposal of yours interests me immensely. I shall not be surprised if a movement for athletics in colleges for girls is the beginning of the coming great differentiation of colleges on the sex line.

Alumna. Prove your faith by your work. Subscribe ! subscribe !

Alumnus. First, let me give my subscription to a creed, and it shall have less than thirty-nine articles. I believe, then, that as soon as men and women throw themselves earnestly into the athletic problem for girls they will run against the immutable distinctions of sex, and that, instead of trying to minimize these distinctions, they will heed them, and that, as they follow the lines of sex in physical education, they will discover that they are building the whole doctrine of education upon far more permanent lines of difference than they at first suspected.

Alumna. Pray be so good as to show me how there is more than a syllable difference between Alumnus and Alumna.

Alumnus. Ah, a syllable sometimes has separated, sometimes has joined, the two sexes! But I will leave the rudiments, and go on toward perfection. For what is the exercise of the man but to increase his muscular power, to harden his sinews, to brace the whole frame, that he may be sturdy, strong to fight, able to endure, ready to meet antagonists and to give force full play ? But a sinewy, muscular woman is an anomaly, pretty sure to offend the nearer she reaches the likeness of man. Why then plan her exercises with reference to acquiring the art of man, only in a lesser degree ? Why copy, with modifications only, a system of gymnasium and athletics which has for its final effect the induration of the body? No. Get as far away from all that as you can. Begin with the unlikeness of woman to man, and you will finally come nearer to him, even in the use of common apparatus, than if you start with the likeness.

Alumna. You are a theorist, sir, nothing but a theorist.

Alumnus. Yes, being a man, I have to be, where women are concerned. One of these days, when you look at us from the vantage-ground of your own independent and securely fit scheme of education, you will theorize about us. But let me at least air my theory on its woman side. What is it I admire in you, my dear Alumna? You like, I believe, to sit on a hard wooden seat, for hours at a time, under a blue or crimson or orange parasol, and watch highly trained men place a pigskin where just as many equally highly trained men do not want that pigskin placed. You admire the nerve, the brute force, the skill, the alertness, which go into that play. Can you imagine the scene reversed ? Not for a moment. But that footbull-play is simply the manifestation of an intensely developed and highly refined physical nature. The Greeks took the same delight in watching a wrestling - match. Now, men don’t go through life playing football or wrestling unless they are professionals ; but the qualities which go to make up a good football-player find plenty of expression through character in all sorts of affairs.

Alumna. Well, what do you men like to look at in our exercises ?

Alumnus. I detect the irony in your question, but I am not deterred, I admit it. We gather in large numbers in the comfortable orchestra chairs to watch the ballet. We are not, I frankly confess, altogether nice in our discrimination, and we are supposed to countenance what we should be slow to show to our wives and daughters. But let our football-play and our wrestling-match help us to a true view. These are debased at times, and professionalism is very apt to vulgarize them. Look at them, however, at their best, when you yourself are at your best. That is what, theoretically, I should like to believe as the possibility in public dancing. Given a purity of movement and gesture, a grace, a harmony, an equipoise; let it be ordered to lovely music, with moments of delicious pause : is not all this feminine ? Are not the male dancers the merest foils to the female ?

Alumna. Have we to begin all over again with you men? Yes, no doubt; you wish to see us dance. IV e are to be your playthings.

Alumnus. Do not think scorn of me at once. I see I have begun at the wrong end. In the man we admire force, and to that we direct his physical exercise. In the woman we admire grace, and to that we should direct her exercise. The whole scheme of woman’s physical exercise should have for its end grace, harmony, repose. Surely, this is not a flagrant statement. And this equipoise, this nice balance which is sometimes, as in the hovering of a hummingbird, the result of movement too swift to be analyzed, is not to be acquired by the use of man’s clumsy tools of exercise.

Alumna. You will perhaps allow us the use of the tennis racket?

Alumnus. By all means, — a most feminine substitute for the bat; and the man’s use of it is a foray into the woman’s world. This illustrates what I said awhile ago, that, let the girl and the boy start at opposite ends, they will, in some plays, come together ; and on the tennis field they come together most naturally.

Yet even there the grace of the woman is hers, the strength and endurance of the man are his.

Alumna. And you think that on this physical basis of dancing we are to rear our women’s colleges ?

Alumnus. Just as much as our men’s colleges are to be planted in the football field. No, my dear Alumna, do not let us confuse the issue. What I insist upon is that a well-devised scheme of physical exercise for college women, having its foundation in their essential difference physically from men, ought to suggest, and will, radical distinctions, eventually, in the college life of men and women, whether in the field of physical, intellectual, social, or moral culture.

Alumna. Four hundred dollars, if you please.

Alumnus. And why, pray, this last valuation ?

Alumna. I did not count on more than fifty dollars from you as your share toward our new gymnasium and athletic field, but we shall need from you at least three hundred and fifty more for the support of the philosophers who are to reorganize our higher education for women on a physical basis.

Alumnus. You shall have five hundred dollars, my dear Alumna, when you can show me a plan for such a gymnasium and field, founded on the ineradicable distinction of sex, and looking for its end toward repose and serenity, not action.