COLLEGES like Wellesley have been pronounced incurably ill so often in recent years that it seems only fair to explain to our friends that the reports of our demise are seriously exaggerated. We have symptoms which educational doctors have considered fatal. We count credits for degrees. We use grades — A, B, C, D, E, occasionally F and G. We have required courses. We have a fouryear course. We have survey courses, but they are for advanced students. Freshmen take no aerial tours of the field of knowledge; they dig deep into old or new material and wait for the fruits of their labor to develop in the process of growth. We encourage students to study Latin. We believe in examinations. We require a reading knowledge of a foreign language. In spite of all this, we have more qualified applicants for admission than we can accommodate.
Ours would be a different college if Wellesley were a suburb of any city but Boston. It matters greatly that its founder was Henry Fowle Durant, brilliant lawyer, cultured gentleman, independent scholar, New Englander by nature and nurture, Harvard man, zealous evangelist, trustee of Mount Holyoke Seminary, friend of Dwight L. Moody, husband of Mrs. Durant. These facts about the founder left their mark on the college. So did the fact that it opened as late as 1875. Wellesley never had to prove that women had brains.
The college would not be the same today if its President Alice Freeman had not married George Herbert Palmer, if Miss Caroline Hazard had not given years of limited health and unlimited service as president and president emeritus, if Katharine Lee Bates had not been Professor of English Literature when she wrote ‘America the Beautiful,’ if Vida Scudder had not been a Christian Socialist and an exciting teacher, if Annie Jump Cannon and Mayling Soong Chiang had not been as loyal alumnæ as they have been distinguished women, if Ellen Fitz Pendleton had not spent fifty-four years as student, teacher, secretary, dean, and president.
Historic accident may explain why things come to be, but a live institution will decide which elements in its heritage it shall retain. Wellesley is traditional (to the extent that it is traditional) by choice, not inertia. It makes no claim to universality of method. Ours is not the best type of education for every girl. We engage in no arguments with St. John’s College or the University of Chicago or anybody else to prove that other methods are invalid. For Wellesley, we believe in our tradition.
That tradition begins with the assumption that college education has a twofold purpose. It is designed to enrich life for students, and thereby to make life richer for the community of which they will be a part. This twofold implication of a college education is reflected in Wellesley’s two mottoes, Incipit Vita Nova and Non Ministrari sed Ministrare. Readers educated in the nonclassical tradition can get the translations from any Wellesley woman.
A scholar has intellectual curiosity and the ability to satisfy it. He does not have to be a professional scholar in order to qualify for the title. Nobody pretends that most of Wellesley’s graduates will devote their lives to scholarship, but the method chosen to enrich their lives is that of introducing them to the joys of a scholarly approach to life. Study for the sake of understanding the world we live in is the vocation of the Wellesley College community. Its faculty members are specialists in the understanding of some field of knowledge, and its students are their apprentices in the art of intellectual comprehension. The good teacher rouses the student’s interest, largely by the contagion of his own delight in what he is doing. He may or may not be a ‘well-rounded’ personality. Acquaintance with the angularity of an enthusiastic specialist is one of the interesting features of a collegiate education.
A faculty in a college of Wellesley’s size and type has all varieties, and sometimes they agree and sometimes they disagree. There is the teacher who believes in presenting the most difficult and least interesting material first to test the mettle of a class. There is the one who cares very little about the content of the course so long as students learn to challenge their preconceived notions and to think. An equally earnest colleague is convinced that the way to learn to think is to learn quantities of facts and let them fall into order as understanding develops. Miss A wants to create an informal atmosphere in the seminar and provides tea and cigarettes during an intermission. Miss B will have none of ‘such nonsense.’ Mr. A cannot understand why some girls are so slow to get the point and races along with his superior students, leaving the others breathless in the chase. Mr. B moves slowly from point to point, giving neat, systematic outlines to literal-minded students and leaving others craving discussion. Mention any type of instruction that is the last word in educational experimentation and I can almost guarantee to produce a sample on the Wellesley campus.
Finding the type that most nearly fits the student’s needs is a job calling for maturity on her part and for the advice of an intelligent dean. The student who must work in a particular way and cannot profit from methods foreign to her inclination is apt to suffer. She is often the person we advise to withdraw and help to place in a different type of college with no ill-feeling on our part and vast relief on hers. We shall be glad when the world wakes to the fact that it is no disgrace for a student to be told that a college of a special kind is not the best place for him.
No student starts from the beginning in college. She has been selected for admission because she has shown some aptitude for intellectual adventure. From the first a girl with well-developed interests is encouraged to develop them further. However, the curriculum requires her to experiment in several directions before she decides to devote herself especially to any one of them. She takes English Composition, Hygiene, Speech (unless excused by examination), and, believe it or not, Biblical history and literature. That calls for an explanation.
Of Wellesley students, 98.8 per cent enter college with some church affiliation. Approximately the same proportion are essentially ignorant of the history and literature of the religious tradition to which they claim allegiance. Wellesley, therefore, maintains an introductory course which all sophomores take to inform them about Biblical history and literature. It is important to notice that this course is intellectually challenging and eminently respected. The student has been introduced to most aspects of her cultural tradition before she comes to college. This one has been almost totally neglected in her pre-college education. We think she needs it before we can consider her well-informed about the world she lives in. The understanding and practice of religion are traditionally and intentionally an integral part of a Wellesley education.
There are no hard and fast lines between disciplines, but for purposes of convenience departments are classified by groups conforming roughly to the categories of arts, social studies, and sciences. In addition to her free electives, a student must choose two studies from each group. If we could always know in advance that a particular approach to understanding is not fitted to a particular student, I suppose it might be profitable to spare her the socalled waste time involved in trying this method. However, I suspect the senior is more or less typical who chided me once for the failure of the college to introduce her sooner to her burning interest. She entered with a determination to major in French. She found during the first year that the French classes were conducted in Trench, not English, and this inhibited her and her enthusiasm. Meanwhile she had elected zoölogy to meet a requirement in the science group. At the end of her freshman year she elected a second course in zoölogy and determined to major in that. But we required her to select a social science. She chose economics, and was indignant that by the time she had discovered it as her special interest she had only two more years to study. (Undergraduates find it hard to believe that life goes on after commencement and that much can be learned out of school.)
A survey course in the freshman year might have challenged her interest in economics earlier. On the other hand, she had at the end of her sophomore year a substantial amount of familiarity with French which a survey course could not have given her, and she had a working acquaintance with actual laboratory experience and a scientist’s way of understanding some zoölogical phenomena. She had gone intensively enough into certain areas to know her way about, but the requirement of distribution had necessitated a kind of extensive enlightenment that led her to her field of concentration.
Our students carry five three-hour courses each of their first three years. We periodically discuss reducing the number to four. The student curriculum committee regularly rejects the suggestion because there are so many things people want to learn. Hard-working as undergraduates unquestionably are, they don’t kill themselves with overwork. A recent time study showed an average of forty-four hours a week devoted to academic matters. They’ll work longer than that when they earn their own living.
When a student has found a field of major interest, she takes a sequence of courses within a department or departments. She is still free to go far afield outside her major to continue the process of inquiry into new areas. It is at this point in the curriculum that we introduce survey courses for relatively mature students who have acquired work habits and can profitably skim over large areas, evaluating conclusions with a somewhat critical sense. Thus our survey courses in art and music and literature are open to upperclassmen without prerequisite. Or perhaps a student takes honors, working in a special field not represented by formal courses.
At the end of the senior year each student takes an examination in the work she has done in her major or honors field. Her degree indicates that she has proved her ability to organize and interpret this large quantity of material as well as the small unit of the semester or year course, and to have her information in usable form when she needs it.
This means that she samples several approaches to learning and goes quite far for a beginner in some one of them. Indeed, a freshman told me recently of a dinner-table conversation with a senior English major. She said, ‘You should have heard her talk on and on about the theatre. She talked about Macbeth and Gielgud, and Hamlet, and everything. Wellesley certainly does teach these girls a lot. They can talk about anything!’
It isn’t all talk. By the time a girl passes her ‘general’ she knows a lot. Moreover, she knows the difference between what she knows and what she doesn’t know. In addition, she has cultivated some habits that are as good for an office or kitchen as they are for academic assignments. She has followed the rules of the workshop. The job must be done. It must be done well. It must be done on time. She learns in following these rules to meet externally imposed conditions as she will have to do all the rest of her life. We have been known to have quizzes on the Saturday of a Princeton house party, and examination week once coincided with a Dartmouth Carnival and the hard-hearted faculty didn’t change the date. Students were free to miss the academic appointments, but when they did they lost credit just as they will lose pay or the job when they leave the office during a rush of business in years to come.
Rousing and satisfying intellectual curiosity about the world may or may not have immediate practical implications. Vocationalism has been decried as a threat to liberalism. Nobody now objects when the chemistry major takes her liberal arts training into a laboratory assistantship after graduation. English composition may well lead to employment on a newspaper, or economics pave the way to a position in a bank or insurance company. A language major often uses her language in business, and artists are in demand for museum work and elsewhere. An increasing interest in teaching is hailed with enthusiasm. It seems both natural and desirable that since the inception of the College Forum, a public affairs society, as a major organization its president has been a political science student or an economist. The last two presidents have gone as interns to the Institute of Public Affairs in Washington.
Modern old-line colleges are not afraid of vocationalism as a by-product of a liberal arts course. The only type they fear is vocationalism as an end in itself. When students have learned the lessons the classrooms teach and the others they learn elsewhere, the Placement Office is glad to try to fit them into a vocational niche, but the argument is still maintained that what is learned in the classroom may be valid and vitally important even if it has no vocational implication.
But ‘studies are not everything.’ Teaching citizenship within the college community is as real a task of Wellesley College as teaching about it in a political science classroom. Offering an opportunity for executive experience is as important a fact of educational policy as offering an academic course in group leadership. Teaching students to become acquainted with and to live happily with fifteen hundred contemporaries from all over the world, differing in creed and race, is as real a responsibility as teaching a course in social psychology. Entertaining faculty guests in student residences, being entertained in faculty homes, finding out how to get a ‘date’ and how to enjoy life without one, learning how to get along with your family and without it — these are all parts of education, but they are different in character from studying ‘The Family as a Social Institution.’
So Wellesley has its community organization, deliberately shaped to contribute to the education of its students, but operating on different rules from the academic workshop. In community affairs students are not apprentices, but citizens. Here older members of the community are advisers, consultants, participants, not instructors. The faculty never waives ultimate responsibility, but college girls have had more experience in living than they have in scholarship, and they can appropriately be treated as colleagues sharing real responsibility and learning to be good citizens by building their own community.
It is an abnormal community in that it is made up of a selected population and is deliberately shaped to be conducive to their welfare. It is, however, a superb laboratory for demonstrating good citizenship and its results. It operates on the principle of positive participation rather than negative restraints. It has regulations formulated in joint conference between faculty and student representatives, and these set the outside limits of collegiate propriety and convenience. Within the rules students could live a stupidly exhausting existence. They could be out night after night (after freshman year), they could be away week end after week end, or indeed week after week. They could omit classes altogether for a considerable period and spend their days and their money on living only a little short of riotously. But they don’t. If they did I suppose the rules would be changed, but college girls are blessed with more than ordinary intelligence and they use it. When the exception among them fails to use good sense, the college authorities, student and faculty, are in the enviable position of being able to educate her without becoming involved in a disciplinary relationship.
Having said so much, I should go on to explain that students are surrounded by official (not to mention unofficial) advisers: student house officers, mature administrative officers as head of each house, faculty residents, faculty visitors, class deans, deans of the college, four physicians (one of them a psychiatrist with common sense), instructors, librarians, the staffs of an information bureau, a placement office, an admission office, an alumnæ office. When we convened a Personnel Board to include the administrative officers concerned with the personal adjustment of students (omitting classroom teachers and heads of houses), we had to assemble a group of twentyone members. It is a smart girl who can slip through this web of advisory services to escape all accumulated wisdom. When she tries hard enough to succeed at it, she is too headstrong to be saved by a mere rule or she goes so far that she runs into the existing rules. Wellesley prefers advice to command in areas in which students are experienced enough to make intelligent decisions.
Those areas are numerous and varied. The weekly calendar is a revelation of the versatility of undergraduates. Much of undergraduate life is unorganized, but there are organizations galore, many of them coöperating most enthusiastically with corresponding groups in neighboring colleges. Separate colleges for men and women have long since stopped being segregated. In campus organization there is considerable group control. Activities that involve college sponsorship fit into a carefully supervised social schedule designed to make it possible for members of the community to have access to a variety of activities without losing all chance to complete the academic job which is the vocation of the community. Individual students must choose among the organizations those for which they may assume responsibility. This is partly to protect the individual, even more to protect the opportunity of the less aggressive members of the community who have a chance at office if ‘natural leaders’ are limited in the honors they may assume.
Coöperative thought about the community makes service to it an honor. Women’s colleges encourage students to assume responsibility for the fun of it. If a job is rewarded with a money payment the understanding is that it shall go to someone who is earning money for her college expenses. Most of the work of campus organizations is done by volunteers, rewarded only in prestige. Students pay fees as much for admission to participation in the community as to the classroom. This is symbolized by the fact that student organizations are subsidized from student fees. They submit their budgets as any academic department would do, and the appropriation is approved as part of the administrative expense of the college. This method of sharing expense may not be the best way to teach an individual to budget her money, but it fits in with one long-established tradition. The possession of money is unimportant in the college community. We once tried to raise money for a new building, and asked some students what undergraduates might like to contribute to the cause. They answered that they honestly didn’t know which girls had money and which didn’t. Money does not affect campus prestige or influence.
Eastern women’s colleges have a reputation for being ‘rich girls’ schools.’ Annual fees are high, $1100 at Wellesley, but anyone who knows the financial background of any entering class knows that college scholarships and subsidies from non-college sources and the selfforgetting sacrifice of devoted relatives and friends make it possible for students of exceedingly limited financial resources to enter. Once in college, such a student can follow the example of any number of impecunious predecessors whose personal ability has carried them to heights of social and academic achievement. Wealth can’t even ensure a student the room she wants to live in. The rooms all cost the same, and the wealthiest girl in college may draw the highest number and have the last chance to choose!
We make no pretense of ‘integrating’ all her experience for any student. We give her all the help we can as she does it for herself. We try, in and out of the classroom, to interest her in the problem of integrating her experiences, intellectual and otherwise, around some unifying principle. We have introduced her to the experience of wise men through the ages who have found inner strength. She has met them in many of her courses — the poets, artists, philosophers, statesmen, scientists, religionists. She has heard their modern successors in pulpit, lecture hall, discussion group, classroom, and residence.
The college community undertakes to demonstrate the kind of community life we could wish were available for everyone. We deliberately try to establish high standards in music, art, drama, worship, government, friendship, health, relationships between youth and age, rich and poor, native and foreigner, employer and employee. We try to make it all stimulating enough so that when students fail to find those conditions after college they will go to work to create them. We try, and sometimes we fail.
We struggle to avoid race prejudice. We think we achieve marked success, but we wish it were as easy for the three or four Negro students who qualify for admission each year to have a thoroughly happy experience in college as it is for other girls. It isn’t. We wish we could assign rooms to freshmen with no anxiety about the reception a Jewish girl will have. We can’t ignore pre-college prejudices, and it takes some time to overcome them. We wish everyone recognized her responsibility for the welfare of the community, local and world-wide. It would be gratifying if nobody ever misplaced a library book or took it home without signing for it. It would be desirable to have all residence halls soothingly silent, uncluttered by slamming doors and raucous voices. It would be encouraging if everyone gave money generously to all worthy causes and never forgot to pay her pledge. We prefer stimulating, exhilarating conversation to the prevalent patter about what he said and she said and who wore what.
We don’t manage to provide a Harvard boy (or any other kind) for every freshman, and that makes some youngsters very unhappy. I asked a group of freshmen some years ago if it was easy for girls from a distance to get acquainted with boys in neighboring colleges. They assured me that everybody knew somebody who could get her a ‘blind date’ once. There seemed to be no problem in finding all the men they could want. Finally one girl closed the discussion by saying, ‘Of course you understand we mean that a girl can get a man here if she is the kind that can get one anywhere.’ There are unconquered limits in our social program. Moreover, these freshmen were over-optimistic. Not every attractive girl meets as many men as she wants to, and the housing group is not as helpful in achieving that end as is the self-constituted sorority on a coeducational campus. The compensating fact is that life in the woman’s college goes on whether or not a ‘date’ is involved. The girl without an escort is still a part of the college activity.
When the failure to fulfill all our ambitions sometimes seems depressing, it is fair to remember that if all the problems of educational institutions were solved there would be no need of educational institutions. Undergraduates don’t do all we want of them, but if they did they would surely have outgrown their undergraduate status.
The advantage of being the president of a college from which one did not graduate is that comments about it can be made without personal implication. The thing that makes me sure the Wellesley program has validity is the fact that it works. The Wellesley women and the graduates of other women’s colleges whom I see in action across the length and breadth of the land make me certain of it. Anybody can point out individuals whom the college has failed to teach adequately, but take them all in all and you will find a group of women with a will to serve, knowledge of how to do it, and resources within themselves to keep life interesting for themselves and their associates.
This is the kind of person that the nation is going to need in the perplexing future. There is more than selfish curiosity, therefore, involved in the question of what the world situation will do to women’s colleges.
They will, of course, share in the financial complications of the next few years. It is hard to anticipate marked reductions in income, since the financing of women’s colleges has been marked by rigid economies even in good years. Their thrift has been a sad boomerang. On shoestring resources and with meticulous care they have built beautiful and efficient buildings; their visitors drive by and say they obviously have all the money they need. They don’t, but that’s another story. Nevertheless, a sense of mission can carry people through periods of drastically curtailed facilities, and if we had to cut appropriations I prophesy that the morale which carried Wellesley once through pretty lean years would keep its program intact. (We should prefer increased gifts!)
The program will undoubtedly be affected by the world situation. The materials used for acquainting students with their world are reconsidered every year. Already course offerings have responded to current interest. For example, the philosophy department recently introduced a course on ‘The Philosophical Assumptions of Democracy.’ The sociology department presents ‘Social Systems in Latin America’; the physics department offers again its course on ‘The Automobile: Principles and Construction,’ introduced originally during the First World War. The economics department becomes concerned about ‘The Economics of Consumption.’ Student electives reflect renewed interest in longestablished courses. The history of Russia, the Far East, and Latin America becomes especially timely. The Spanish department grows by leaps and bounds. Chemistry, physics, and mathematics have become much more popular as electives. Political science thrives. These are reflections of world interest, as are electives in art, religion, music, and physical education, which students have been told are important aids in maintaining morale during critical days. The course on group leadership proposes to its students a study of the Wellesley public schools, and students are responding enthusiastically to the opportunity to know how a community works.
The college is a community and will be affected like all communities. Even last year its program included special emergency activities. It is easy to foresee where the emphases will come in 1942. Health will be increasingly important, a responsibility for the sake of the nation. There will be a simplification of entertainments, the collection of larger sums for war relief, organization for national service, increased collaboration with agencies in the town community of which the college is a part. First aid, home nursing, air-raid protection, Red Cross knitting and sewing, typing, recreational leadership — all sorts of techniques for community usefulness will undoubtedly enter this community as they have all others in the nation. Already the Zone Wardens, the first-aid stations and communication centres, are ready for action in emergencies.
Students are ready for whatever demands the nation makes upon them. They will exert the right and duty of intelligent citizens to discuss issues. They live in a community where anything is discussible. Some of them will advance absurd ideas, and they will expect to be challenged to examine their premises and conclusions. They will not expect their faculty friends to be shocked by theories or to scold them for ideas, however mistaken, if they are subjected to sincere consideration. They will expect to have sound alternative suggestions presented, for they know that their college community is dedicated to the search for truth about the world we live in. Students expect to be taken seriously, but not to have their ideas considered by themselves or anyone else as conclusive. That is a characteristic of the college community which differentiates it from too many others. It is the reason college officers welcome polls of student opinion and regret their widespread publicity. We are more impressed by what students do than by what they say, and we see them in their college communities, and afterward, demonstrating their basic allegiance to the values that motivate their colleges. Truth, beauty, and goodness mean more to students than they sometimes realize.
The out break of the struggle on American soil marked the beginning of a new era in women’s colleges as everywhere else in American life. Its immediate effects on organizational procedure will not be so drastic as in men’s colleges. We do not propose to graduate seniors early or to introduce military courses into the curriculum, but within the first week of war we felt its effect on student motivation. These girls are eager to carry their share of the nation’s load.
That they must serve by standing and waiting and working undramatically is tantalizing. Their willingness to forgo excitement in order to enhance their future usefulness is a measure of their sincere desire to serve their nation.
During the Middle Ages the monasteries preserved the culture that flowered again in the Renaissance. It may well be that the colleges of the country will perform that conservative function in these troubled times. The women’s colleges have more opportunity to do it than any others, since their members are less apt to be called into full-time military service. By their preservation of the understanding of the past, their maintenance of the scholar’s objectivity, his accuracy, his insistence on truth, his recognition of the value of contemplation as well as of overt action, they will serve their nation. If even a small group of young women can be spared from the urgent, full-time employment in the art of war to learn the arts of age-long value, the nation will be strengthened in the years ahead. It is for these values that the struggle is on.