Raising An Issue
( Originally Published 1907 )
MY thirty winters in Minnesota had hardly prepared me for the trip to Chevy Chase last night. The underground trolley has its disadvantages after all. A light snow, that would not have affected travel in the Twin Cities, made progress through the Capital City a slow and difficult task. Even slight grades were rendered formidable by a lack of sand. The journey seemed interminable. The cars were not heated for zero weather, and when at last I rang the bell at Dunbarton Hall I was chilled to the very marrow of my bones. I was quite prepared to find the O'Briens alone, feeling that the weather which tried me so severely, in spite of my northern experience, would be sufficient to keep the other guests at home and I was agreeably surprised, therefore, on entering the library, to find a group of friends already assembled around the glowing grate. My arrival had evidently interrupted Miss Geddes in the midst of one of her tirades, for I had hardly got my toes up to the fender when, without urging from any one, she took up the thread of her interrupted discourse.
"As I was just saying, the whole movement for segregation is but another evidence of the rawness of Chicago exhibiting itself through its university. It is a recrudescence of the old barbaric instinct in man that has kept woman in bondage for thousands of years. Man has always shown himself impatient of every attempt made by woman to gain her rights. He grants suffrage to the illiterate, to the ex-convict, to the negro, and to the hordes of immigrants from Russia and southern Europe. The Italian and the Slav, who know nothing of our language or of our institutions, and care less for them, are privileged to vote or to sell their votes to those who wish to buy; but woman must not be given the ballot lest by its use she might gain her freedom ! And now, when she is beginning to get an education that will equip her to gain an independent livelihood and to meet man in the economic world on equal terms, he is at once alarmed and cries out for segregation !
"That he considers woman less fit than him-self to pursue the regular curriculum of the university is too absurd ! Woman is by nature more susceptible of culture than man; her instincts are finer, her sympathies are broader; and, as for her intelligence, why, it is admitted by all those who are in a position to know that whenever she is given an equal opportunity she profits by it better than man ! She is more studious and spends the time in reading and study that he spends on the ball field, or in his club, at the gambling table or over his cups. And then, besides, where else does man get what little intelligence he has except from his mother ?"
The challenge was evidently leveled at Professor Shannon, who sat through it all with a perfectly blank face. I was wondering, as I think the others were, how he would meet it. The silence was beginning to be painful when he turned with a quiet smile to Dr. Studevan.
"I say, Studevan, this seems to be up to you. The whole question of woman's suffrage and of woman's rights resolves itself in last analysis into a problem of pedagogy. Shall we have coeducation or segregation? that is the question" "that doth make cowards of us all," added Mr. O'Brien.
"No, Shannon," said Dr. Studevan seriously, "this is really a question of sociology rather than of pedagogy. These things are never settled by the promulgation of a priori principles or of scientific deductions. It is the struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest in the social world, don't you know. These great fundamental forces will work out the solution in due time and then some of you brilliant sociologists will appear on the scene and make a reputation for originality by promulgating to the world what it shall have already discovered for itself."
"Oh, come now," replied Professor Shannon, "you are just trying to crawl out of a difficulty: Miss Geddes has taken issue with views that you have often expressed where woman could not defend herself."
"Doctor," said Miss Ruth, "you surely would not be guilty of such an anachronism as that involved in upholding in the beginning of the twentieth century the traditional inferiority of woman's intellect. Until recent years woman has had no opportunity to show her ability in the field of higher education. It is said, of course, that she lacks initiative and selfreliance, but how could we expect this to be otherwise when we consider the treatment she has received through so many generations ?"
"I don't expect it to be otherwise, Miss Ruth; we are all largely what the environment of our ancestors has made us. However, history does not reveal woman to us in unbroken captivity: whenever her ability justified it, we find her governing man and leading him into new conquests, but the number of such women has been discouragingly small."
"These were the few," replied Miss Ruth, "who rose above all difficulties and made opportunity, But to prove her ability we need not turn to the past to hunt up the record of the occasional woman who rose to great heights in the intellectual world; even in the short time since the universities have opened their doors to her she has amply proved her capacity. Just this afternoon I spent a delightful hour with `Little Pilgrimages Among Women who have Written Famous Books.' The catalogue of literary celebrities given in that little book is of course very incomplete, but it is not wanting in inspiration to women with literary aspirations and it should furnish food for thought to those who are opposed to the higher education of women.
"If we turn from the field of literature to the technical periodicals that record the growth of the various sciences, we shall find that the percentage of women's names in the list of contributors is increasing year by year. In the field of journalism, too, woman is winning for herself an honorable place in these latter days, and although she has but recently entered the learned professions, there are at present many women physicians doing excellent work, nor are the pulpit and the bar any longer strangers to her eloquence. Although the progressive State of Illinois has not yet seen fit to grant the franchise to woman, it would not be easy to find two men within her borders who have done better work in municipal reform than have Margaret Haley and Catherine Goggin. The statue of Frances Willard, erected by the State of Illinois, in Statuary Hall, attests its appreciation of her work in social reform.
"Moreover, it is in your own field, Doctor, that women are particularly distinguishing themselves. Elementary education through-out the country has practically passed into woman's hands and she is appearing in everincreasing numbers in high school and college faculties. There are few more illuminating writers on present educational problems than Ella Flagg Young. But why proceed further? In the face of such facts as these I find it difficult to understand how an intelligent, up to date Professor of Pedagogy can oppose the higher education of women.
"But, my dear Madam, I assure you if you meant all that for me you are wasting your ammunition on an empty fort. I have never consciously been in the ranks of those who oppose the higher education of woman. Nothing, indeed, could be further from my thought. In the first place I suspect that I lack the courage to oppose anything that woman might seriously desire. I would not, you know, for anything in the world be considered ungallant. But seriously, I realize the full force of all that you have said and I am well aware that it would not be difficult for you to multiply arguments in support of the position you. have taken if it needs support. It is evident that woman is capable of higher education, and it seems to me equally evident that she is entitled to it. My opposition is not at all to the higher education of woman, but to co-education, which I had supposed to be the thesis so eloquently defended by Miss Geddes."
"But, Doctor, is not this still an evasion? If woman is entitled to higher education to as high an education as man should she not take her place side by side with him in the great universities of our country?"
"No, I do not consider it an evasion. While I most cordially agree to the proposition that there is no education too high or too good for woman, I am not at all convinced that she can best obtain this education side by side with man in the great universities of our country. Coeducation and higher education are two totally different questions, and the interests of woman no less than the interests of truth suffer by confusing them.
"Education implies the growth and development of all the faculties of mind and heart, but this surely does not mean the molding of unlike natures into a superficial resemblance to each other. The higher education of woman can by no possibility mean the molding of her mental and moral life into the likeness of the mental and moral life of man. Even if this end were desirable it does not follow that it could be attained by subjecting man and woman to the same discipline. Personally, I believe neither in the desirability nor in the possibility of changing woman into man's likeness-she is far too charming as she is.
"I find the advance of life to higher planes everywhere dependent upon differentiation of structure and specialization of function. A reversal of this process always means degeneracy. I see no reason for expecting that the laws which know no exception throughout all the realms of life should be reversed on the frontiers of the mental world. I am not led to question the wisdom of the Creator by the discovery that the mind and character of woman and of man are as different from each other as are their bodies. I think we shall find that the present high level of civilization is due in no small measure to the difference between the characters of man and woman. But this is trenching on the sociologist's field.
"The Professor seems so rapt in blissful contemplation this evening that it would be cruel to ask him to expound to us his views and theories on the subject. However, the truth here is so elementary that I hardly see how any of us can fail to recognize it. What woman in her senses would willingly marry a man whose mental and moral life was built on feminine lines? and where is the man amongst us who would not gladly remain a bachelor all the days of his life rather than marry a masculine woman? The fact of the matter is both man and woman are incurably vain. No man's happiness is complete unless he has woman's admiration for his physical strength or for his intellectual prowess; nor is a woman's cup of happiness ever full without man's appreciation of her physical charms. To make man and woman alike, to give them like capacities, like needs and desires, would not only render them unattractive to each other, but it would in many other ways cause the wheels of progress to turn backward. Man and woman were designed by nature to be the complements of each other, not the duplicates."
"That is always the way with you men," said Miss Geddes, "you would keep woman's intellect dwarfed that she might look up to you and admire you; you would keep her so weak that she must cling to you and feed your vanity; you would deprive her of an education that would necessarily give her her independence and enable her to see through your shallow pretenses to intellectuality."
"Softly, my dear Miss Geddes, softly. I have no intention of apologizing for the other gentlemen present, nor any wish to make a statement of their principles, but as far as I am concerned I wish to assure you that the stronger and the more intellectual and the more independent woman is, the better I like her. However, this is hardly the question under discussion; and, moreover, I have al-ready said that I am in favor of the higher education of woman. Let me say again that I do not believe there is any education too high or too good for our mothers and our sisters, for our wives and our daughters and our Sweethearts. It is simply a question of what education is best for woman herself. If we are agreed in holding that men and women in their mental and moral unfolding, even from their earliest childhood, are entirely different from each other, it follows as an evident conclusion that it will require different training to develop the best that is in each."
"I don't know why I should agree to that statement," retorted Miss Geddes. "Why is woman so different from man, I'd like to know? Does she not eat the same food and breathe the same air? Has she not the same desire for happiness, the same need of independence and freedom? Is she not under the same necessity of conquering her environment and making it yield the boon for which all strive? This constant assertion of the unlikeness of man and woman is but a flimsy disguise of man's contempt for woman's intelligence. There is neither male nor female in the spiritual world, and if the mind and character of woman seem to differ from those of man it is because man has wronged her and kept her in bondage so long that she has grown weak and clinging and dependent. Give woman her freedom, and while her body will remain as God made it" "Not if she can help it," put . in Miles O'Brien "her mind will be emancipated and she will meet man on equal terms.
"It tries one's patience to meet men on every side calmly assuming their own inherent superiority as if their souls were made of some superior, celestial clay ! `On what meat doth this our Caesar feed that he hath grown so great!' "
"My dear Miss Geddes, I do not blame you in the least for resenting that air of superiority that the Professor has been wearing all the evening. He sits there like a sphinx disdaining to vouchsafe a word of illumination to any of us. I confess that he often aggravates me so that if it were not for my profession I would be inclined to try conclusions with him in another way. But I had always supposed that he had too much diplomacy to manifest this assumed superiority toward his lady friends."
"Well, I like that, when the fact of the matter is Mr. O'Brien has tried half a dozen times to get a word in edgewise, and I have been simply perplexed as to how you were going to escape from the web of fallacies that you have woven around yourself. I suppose one should not expect consistency from a pedagog, but to be told that we should not have coeducation because man and woman are unlike mentally, and then to be told that they are unlike mentally because we do not want them to be alike is a little too much. Of course we would hardly expect a pedagog to know any-thing about history, but even the elementary knowledge of history that is common to all professions should have made him aware that coeducation is a natural institution. The home is the first great school. Smith with his seven girls has an opportunity to try segregation, but I do not think he appreciates it; and most people with families regard it as a decided advantage to have both boys and girls.
"There are a hundred other things that I have been waiting for an opportunity to say, but the Doctor has used up the whole evening; and while I hate to break up this delightful company, I find it is past time for me to be starting for home."
"Just a moment, Professor," said Mrs. O'Brien, "Anna has some crackers and Roquefort and a cup of coffee to reinforce you against this cold evening; and you are to consider yourselves invited to the next meeting of the Crackers and Cheese Club on Friday evening, when the Professor, I am sure, will favor us with his views, and I know that Miles is just bursting with the pent-up desire to enlighten the rest of us."