The Feminizing of Culture


WITH the weakening of sex prejudices, and the removal of legal restrictions on women’s freedom, it was inevitable that women should invade fields of activity where formerly only men were found. Since women must eat, every one knew that they must work, and the sight of a woman at work is no new experience. Even in the days when they were most secluded and protected, the number kept in ease was always very small compared with the women slaves and servants who spun, cooked, and served. Hence men were used to seeing women at work; and while industrial adjustments have not been easily made, they have still been accepted as a matter-of-course. But who, fifty years ago, could have imagined that to-day women would be steadily monopolizing learning, teaching, literature, the fine arts, music, the church, and the theatre? And yet this is the condition at which we have arrived. We may scoff at the way women are doing the work, and reject the product, but that does not alter the fact that step by step women are taking over the field of liberal culture as opposed to the field of immediately productive work.

Some of the reasons for this change are so clear that it seems as if they might have been anticipated. In a comparatively few years the greater part of Western Europe and all of America has become rich, not this time through the enslavement of other peoples and the confiscation of their wealth, but through the enslaving and exploitation of the material forces of nature. This wealth is not well distributed, but large numbers of families have received enough for the women not to have to work constantly with their hands.

At this point all historic precedent would have turned these women into luxury-loving parasites and playthings. A good many of them have taken this easiest way and entered the peripatetic harems of the rich; but several million women refused to repeat the old cycle of ruin; they knew too much. What then should they do? Faith in the value of conventual life for women had passed; industrial changes had transformed their homes so that the endless spinning, weaving, sewing, and knitting were no longer there, even to be supervised. Penelope’s tasks had passed to foremen, working under trade-union agreements, in the factories of Fall River and Birmingham. Even the function of the lady bountiful, who looked after the spiritual and family affairs of her tenants and servants and distributed doles and Christmas baskets was gone. Her tenants owned their own farms, and her chauffeur resented her interference with his personal life. What should she do?

Nor was this movement confined to the rich; for those who were not yet economically free were still deeply influenced by the changes which were taking place. The Goulds, Stanfords, Vanderbilts, Floods, Carnegies, and Schwabs, had all been lifted from the level of the masses to financial grandeur before the eyes of the multitude; and democratic ambitions drove parents, who thought themselves in the line of financial advancement, to secure culture for their girls in time. If the daughter was destined to live on Fifth Avenue, or to marry a duke, it was best to get her ready while young. In all our industrial democracies, armies of American parents have devoted themselves to labor, and have even sacrificed comforts and necessities that the daughters might, get ready to live easier and fuller lives than the parents had known. If the choice had to be made between the girl and her brother, the chivalry of the father and the mother’s ambition very often gave the opportunity to the girl.

And so an emancipated army of leisure has been formed which has transformed the very nature of the culture with which it has busied itself. Books, periodicals, musical instruments, travel, became cheaper and cheaper as the demand increased. Wholesale production makes almost any luxury accessible to every one. It is also possible to find modern and agreeable forms for older academic exercises. If Greek and Latin were too full or too difficult, courses in Romanic and Germanic philology would do as well. AngloSaxon gave way to Old English; and Chaucer to the Lake Poets. Philosophy struggled for favor with the English novel on equal terms. The works of Raphael were photographed and lithographed until the Sistine Madonna became as commonly known as the face of any strenuous and popular statesman of the day. With the aid of these art productions, and John Addington Symonds, every woman with leisure became an art critic. If economics was not interesting, sociology was available, and could be democratized to any degree. If travel was troublesome, one could leave it to Cook: buy a ticket, and he would do the rest.

If these awakening hungers and corresponding opportunities had affected only the period of life formerly thought available for education, these changes would have come about much more slowly than they have. But the genetic conception of life, steadily popularized since 1870, has led us to see that education is coterminous with life. It seems strange that we should ever have thought that mental activity belongs alone to youth. Dorland’s study shows that in a list of four hundred fairly representative great men, between the ages of forty and fifty, 10.25 per cent ceased their mental activity; between fifty and sixty, 20.75 per cent; between sixty and seventy, 35 per cent; between seventy and eighty, 22.05 percent; between eighty and ninety, 6 per cent.

The recognition of such facts as these has given us a new genetic sense of life under the influence of which mothers and grandmothers have joined the younger women in the pursuit of culture. They have formed clubs,— study clubs, current-events clubs, camera clubs, art clubs, literary clubs, civic clubs. They have organized courses of university-extension lectures; enrolled in Chicago University correspondence courses; and have flocked to Chautauqua by the thousand in the summer, when not abroad. It is not through the generosity of men that liberal culture has come into the possession of women; they have carried it by storm and have compelled capitulation.


Judging by the facts, women are pretty fully in possession of formal education. If we examine this monopoly a little more carefully, we shall find that while in the kindergarten and in the elementary schools boys furnish 51 per cent of the enrollment, simply because more boys are born in civilized communities than girls, as soon as we reach the high schools, girls increasingly take the lead. In 1910, the girls formed 56.45 per cent of the enrollment in high schools, or there were 110,249 more girls than boys. The proportion of girls increased through each of the four years of the course, and, of the graduates, 60.8 per cent were girls. In the public normal schools, 64.45 per cent of the students were girls.

The universities, colleges, and technical schools, which are massed together in our government reports, had hardly any women students in 1870; in 1880, 19.3 per cent of the students were women; in 1890, 27 per cent; in 1910, 30.4 per cent. In all these institutions there were enrolled, in 1910, 17,707 women. Of 602 institutions reported in 1910, 142 only were for men alone; 108 were for women alone; and 352 were open to both sexes. But here again the influence of women increases during each of the four years, for the women took 41.1 percent of the A.B. degrees granted in 1910. It is surely not too much to say that, if present conditions continue, women will soon be in an overwhelming majority in all secondary and higher education in the United States.

If we examine the teaching force, we find this monopoly already established. In 1870, when our government records begin, 59 per cent of the teachers were women; in 1880, 57.2 per cent were women; in 1890, 65.5; in 1900, 70.1; in 1910, 78.6. The more settled and intelligent the community, the more rapid this advance has been. Thus Arkansas has 52.4 per cent of women teachers; but Massachusetts has 91.1 per cent, and Connecticut has 93 per cent.

In cities, too, the women fill nearly all teaching positions. New York City has 89 per cent of women in its force; Boston, 89 percent; Philadelphia, 91.4 per cent; Chicago, 93.3 per cent. In many cities the proportion is even greater than this; Omaha has 97 per cent; Wheeling, West Virginia, 97.5 per cent; Charleston, South Carolina, 99.3 per cent; and in forty-six towns of 4,000 to 8,000 inhabitants there is no man on the force. When we remember that many of the men indicated above are in high schools, or in supervising posts, we are prepared for the statement in a report recently laid before the Board of Education of New York City, that in half the cities of the United States there are virtually no men teaching.

In our high schools, 54 per cent of the teachers are women; in public normal schools, 65 per cent, and in institutions of higher learning, 17.6 per cent are women. Even in supervisory positions, there are more women than men in the large centres of population. Certainly these figures justify us in saying that women have established a monopoly of education in the United States, except in the higher institutions.

In order to discuss the effects which this monopoly of education by women is having on the curriculum of the schools, we must first agree on what constitutes the peculiarity of women’s minds as compared with men’s. Generally speaking, we find that women are more interested in the concrete, human, personal, conserving, and emotional aspects of life; while men more easily turn to the abstract, material, impersonal, creative, and rational aspects. To put it broadly, women are more interested in the humanities; men more readily pursue the sciences. Let us admit at once that there are many individual exceptions to this statement. Some women have reached great excellence in abstract studies, and some men are notoriously concrete and emotional; nevertheless, the general statement seems borne out by a wealth of common observations and detailed comparisons.

Personal observation must always be colored by prejudices and prepossessions, but my own observations have been so wide, and so uniformly in one direction, that it seems justifiable to report them.

For a quarter of a century I have been working in schools, or with teachers, and my personal observations all agree with the above characterization. I have spent five years in Cornell University, New York; one year in Zurich University, in Switzerland; two years in the State University of Indiana, and seven years in Stanford University, in California. These institutions are widely distributed; they were all fully coeducational; and they had each a wide range of elective studies. In all of them class-rooms devoted to literature and modern languages had a large attendance of women, while lecture rooms and laboratories devoted to abstract science were almost deserted by them. This could not have been due to commercial considerations, for many of these women were facing teaching; and during all this time the demand for women who could teach science has been much greater than for women who could teach literature.

In my work with teachers, both in the class-room and in the field, I have carried out many inductive, quantitative studies, based on measurements or returns from large numbers of children. I have never found women teachers taking up and carrying out this kind of work with any such enthusiasm as men apply to it, although it lies at the base of their professional life.

Institutional generalizations seem all to point in this same direction. For instance, the Girls’ Evening High School in Philadelphia is managed by one of the best-known scientific women in the country, Dr. L. L. W. Wilson, head of the biological department of the Philadelphia Normal School. With a thousand girls, of high-school grade, under the leadership of a scientific woman, the only science courses given in the school are those in domestic science. The reason is that the girls, most of them not being candidates for a degree, will not take up work in science, although they form strong classes in literature and languages.

If, from such general facts of observation, one turns to exact comparisons, where quantities can be measured, the results are all the same. Of students enrolled in classical departments of universities, colleges, and technical schools, reporting to the United States Bureau of Education, in 1910, 36.5 per cent were women, while of those enrolled in general science courses, but 17.2 per cent were women. In 1,511 public and private high schools and seminaries, reporting to the Bureau of Education in 1909-10, a larger percentage of boys than girls was enrolled in algebra, geometry, trigonometry, physics, chemistry, physical geography, civil government, and rhetoric, the latter being a scientific study of language. A larger proportion of girls was enrolled in Latin, French, German, English literature, and history, and there was a slightly greater enrollment of girls in botany, zoölogy, and physiology.

In the further discussion of this subject it will then be taken for granted that, in education, feminization means emphasis on languages, literature, and history, as opposed to mathematics, physics, chemistry, and civics. For the elementary schools we have no data capable of reduction to figures, but general observation, backed by an examination of courses of study and textbooks, will compel any one to say that in twenty years we have made wonderful progress in reading, language, stories, mythology, biography and history; while all our efforts to bring nature work into vital relation with the schools have borne little fruit. Our country schools need lessons in agriculture, and the children should gain a deep sense of country life. But how can celibate young women longing for town life give this? And subjects well taught are sure to be increasingly taught, and it takes no extended study to see that our elementary schools are being feminized in the direction of literature. This is the more striking when we remember that these twenty years have been dominated, in the larger world, by scientific interests.

In the high schools and seminaries, we have fairly complete returns showing the number of students enrolled in certain subjects since 1890. The pupils taking Latin have increased 15 per cent; French, 4 per cent; German, 13 per cent; English literature has increased in ten years 7 per cent, (there is no record for this subject before 1898), and European history, 27 per cent. There has also been an increase of 11 per cent in algebra, and 10 per cent in geometry, probably partly due to vocational need, and to the emphasis laid on these subjects for admission to college. But physics, in the twenty years under consideration, has fallen off 7 per cent; chemistry, 3 per cent; physical geography, 5 per cent ; physiology, 15 per cent; and civics, 7 per cent. A careful study of these figures must convince any fair-minded person that our school curriculum, even in the secondary field where women’s control is least complete, is moving rapidly in the direction of what we have called feminization.

The schools, too, must increasingly do something more than train the intellect; and in all physical activity involuntary suggestion is very powerful. Playgrounds are laboratories of conduct, and they should not only give physical exercise, but should also furnish standards and ideals. There can be no doubt that women are physically more restrained, retiring, non-contesting, and graceful than men; but can dancing, marching, and gymnastics take the place of more aggressive, direct, and violent contests in the training of boys? So in industries, women are more given to conserving, arranging, and beautifying, more given to clerking and recording, while men are more creative, tend more to disbursement, are more given to mining, agriculture, and commerce. Even granting equal understanding and experience, the tradition of the race must count for much; and it would seem that at every stage of growth, boys and girls alike should feel the impulse to imitate men who have an instinct to make and unmake, to trade and carry. It is no justification of existing conditions to say that the men now in the teaching profession lack these qualities; if they do, let us get rid of them and have real men. And for purposes of political life, does it not seem strange to bring up a generation of boys and girls, who are to be the future citizens of a democracy, under the exclusive leadership of people who have never been encouraged to think about political life, or allowed to participate in it? Let us by all means enfranchise women; but even then they cannot hope quickly to catch up with those who have some thousands of years the start, even after allowing for the fact that girls inherit from both father and mother.

Most of these differences which we have been discussing seem to rest in the fact that women are more personal in their interests and judgments than men are. This may be due to their education for thousands of years; but that makes it no less true. Women, certainly, in a great majority of cases, are more interested in a case than in a constitution; in a man than in a mission; in a poem than in a treatise; in equity than in law. In a generation when everything tends toward great aggregations, consolidated industries, segregated wealth, and new syntheses of knowledge, both boys and girls should receive such training as will fit them to play their part in these larger units.

As to the feminizing influence of women teachers on manners and morals and general attitude toward life, there can be no real doubt. Boys and girls cannot spend eight or twelve impressionable years of childhood and youth under the constant daily influence of women without having the lady-like attitude toward life strongly emphasized. To deny this is to repudiate the power of constant involuntary suggestion and association. Whether it is desirable or not is another question. The change may be all in the direction of advancing civilization; but just as, in the assimilation of our subject races, the philosophic mind must be distressed at the disappearance of so many varieties of speech, customs, and artistic and industrial products, so in this present assimilation, one cannot help regretting the steady disappearance of the katabolic qualities of the human male. One does not need to say that this feminized product is better or worse than what we have had; but it is certainly narrower, and less in harmony with the world’s thought and work, than it formerly was.


If we turn from education to the press, we have similar conditions. During these past few years, hundreds of journals have sprung up devoted to women’s special interests. They are almost all of them showy, fragmentary, personal, concrete, and emotional. It is difficult to find one that represents general or abstract interests. One of these journals, which boasts a fabulous circulation, is supported by its women subscribers and readers to oppose the larger interests of women in education, industry, and political life. At least, if it does not oppose these interests, it does not aid them. Imagine a million German women sending the Kaiser one dollar and a half a year to induce him to tell them once a month to go back to their kitchens, churches, and children.

The newspapers of America have steadily changed during the last three decades in the same direction. Editorial pages and news’ columns have been steadily modified in the direction of fragmentary, egoistic, personal, and sensational, or at least emotional, appeals. These are the qualities of children’s minds, and of undeveloped minds, everywhere. The change is, of course, all a part of the larger democratic movement of our time, and many causes have contributed to bring it about. Had women not been so active, something of the same sort would have happened; but if women were all to forget how to read overnight, there is little doubt that the newspapers would find it advantageous to print more statesmanlike editorials, and more general and abstract news.

With the weeklies and monthlies, the change taking place is the same. The new reading public, brought in by increase in population, and by popular education, is apt to turn to the newer magazines of popular tendencies, like Munsey’s, McClure’s, and Everybody’s. The very change in names speaks of the new personal and egoistic element that has come into journalism. Of course, such changes are only in part due to the influence of women, but the change is in the direction of the qualities that characterize distinctively women’s journals.

In books, the personal and romantic novel has taken precedence over every other form of literature. Many of these are written by women; their circulation, both through libraries and through sales, is much greater with women than with men; and in many of them the personal gossip is as transient as that which fills the evening paper.


In the churches, especially in the ritualistic churches, women have long been the faithful attendants. Nowhere, except in the churches which make a rationalistic and abstract appeal, and in the ethical societies, does one find a preponderance of men. In 1903, a careful enumeration was made of all attendants at places of worship in the city of London. The count was taken on fair Sundays in autumn, and covered both morning and evening services. Of all adult attendants, 61 per cent were women; 146,372 more women than men passing through the doors.

About the same time a similar census was made in the part of New York City lying on Manhattan Island. The women were in excess by 171,749, and formed 69 per cent of all attendants. Even a church service, if not entirely tied to set forms, must seek to interest those who occupy the pews; and no observer can fail to note, in both England and America, a movement toward ritualism on the one hand, and, on the other, toward popular, personal, concrete, and sometimes sensational preaching. The same general changes are taking place in libraries, in the drama, in concerts, in all group activities connected with learning and the fine arts.

But, on the other side, if emancipated women had not applied themselves, since 1870, to the direction of education, literature, religion, and amusements, all these interests must have suffered serious neglect and probable deterioration through the concentrating of the interests of the ablest men on engineering, manufacturing, commerce, and other fields of pure and applied science. By popularizing these interests, women have really humanized them, as all similar revolutions have done in the past. In breaking up old forms and intellectual conventions, they have set free new and vital impulses. Whether the historian of the future will consider this period of democratization and feminization a time of advance remains to be seen; but it is certainly a time of liberated energy and of broadening participation in all that is best in life.