Elizabeth Cary Agassiz, a Biography

by Lucy Allen Paton. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1919. 8mo, xii+423 pp. $3.00.
THE value of this book as a document lies chiefly in its contribution to the history of the higher education of women in America. It is divided about equally between the two periods in the life of Mrs. Agassiz preceding and following the death of her eminent husband, the great naturalist and humanist of foreign birth and training, whose personality stamped itself so fruitfully on the study of science in the United States. The first of these periods is illuminated by Miss Paton’s account of Mrs. Agassiz’s Boston background and girlhood. Her married life was inevitably, and charmingly, reflected many years ago in her own biography of Louis Agassiz, whom she accompanied as a true helpmeet in his scientific expeditions to Brazil, and to California round Cape Horn. The first half of the book is therefore but supplementary to what has already been done. The second half is virtually a history of Radcliffe College, from its inception as ‘The Society for the Collegiate Instruction for Women,’ — humorously dubbed the ‘Harvard Annex’ by an undergraduate of the early eighties, — to the retirement of Mrs. Agassiz from the Honorary Presidency of the institution in 1903. Through all these years her personal force and benignity exerted a powerful influence, of which the tokens are to be found in many letters and addresses preserved in this volume.
The remarkable growth, on the one hand, of American colleges exclusively for women, and, on the other, of the state universities, coeducational in plan, and frequently enrolling as many women as men, sometimes even more, has placed Radcliffe College in a position shared by comparatively few institutions. There are those who believe and who disbelieve in the scheme of education which it embodies. The validity of the structure may be studied in its very foundations by means of this book. What it will reveal to the discerning reader is a familiar truth—that a positive and individual human force is essential to the launching and guidance of any institution that is to justify itself. Mrs. Agassiz provided that force for Radcliffe; and this book is the authentic and authorized record of a highly significant contribution to American education.
M. H.