Mount Holyoke: On a New England Campus

by Frances Lester Waner
(Houghton Mifflin, $2.50), is one of several books connected with the centennial of the oldest college for women in the United States. A formal history of Mount Holyoke and a new biography of Mary Lyon are promised within the year. Meanwhile Miss Warner has undertaken the fascinating task of presenting in a score of informal chapters the atmosphere of the place, its corporate memories and traditions, all that gives personality to an institution. For writing a composite psychograph of this sort she is well qualified by her descent from the same Connoeticut Valley stock that produced Mount Holyoke and by occasional close contacts with the college during the twenty-five years since her graduation.
The individuality of a college, though strongly felt, is not easy to define. To a casual visitor the leading women’s colleges of the East, exclusive of those attached to universities, may seem to differ chiefly in the circumstance that one is near a mountain, another near a lake, a third near a river, and a fourth near an insane asylum. At each, one sees the same types of young womanhood hurrying breathless across magnificently landscaped spaces on one unvarying round from dormitory to recitation hall, to library, to laboratory, to gymnasium and playing fields. Or, penetrating further, one finds a predominantly, sometimes fiercely, feminine faculty, including scholars of serene detachment and distinguished achievement, but inclined in the mass to become deeply earnest over the keeping up of standards. Within this framework of similarity occur the thousands of tiny distinctions, invisible to an outsider, that endear a college to its daughters and granddaughters. It is these things that Miss Warner records with the insight and humor natural to her, and with just a shade of determined brightness assumed for the occasion.
Her picture of Mount Holyoke includes a tour of the buildings and grounds at sunrise, a survey of student types, a specimen collegiate day, and many chapters devoted to the special activities and observances that enrich undergraduate experience. Landscape, changing customs, the fun and sparkle of campus life, are deftly and charmingly presented, but the actual business of education, which does go on at Mount Holyoke, receives something less than its share of attention. Miss Warner’s chapter on the curriculum ends rather lamely with a description of an academic pageant of 1912, and takes little account of what has happened since. Perhaps it is true that the most genuine aspects of a college are the least susceptible of exhibition. Choir, play shop, debating, and sports have a publicity value, May Day pageants, Mountain Day excursions, Prom festivities, and alumnæ reunions may be talked about, but what is there to say about a girl taking honors in Latin? Yet carefully considered changes in educational procedure are continually being made at Mount Holyoke, and its steady, effective work as a centre of learning should not be hidden under a bushel of anecdotes about the faculty and their cats and dogs.
If the processes of education are intangible, its products are not. Miss Warner comes nearest to conveying an idea of what Mount Holyoke really stands for in her references to its graduates and what they have accomplished, and particularly in her chapters on Mary Lyon and Mary E. Woolley, which reveal the vision that inspired the college at its founding and the sanity that has brought the vision to its present fulfillment. An institution stamped with the impress of great personalities and of proved capacity to train women for intelligent citizenship may enter on its second century with pride in its fine achievement and confidence in its usefulness.
GEORGE F. WHICHER