Amazing articles on just about every subject...

The Social Claim

( Originally Published 1907 )

"DR. STUDEVAN," said Miss Ruth, "I find it hard to believe that you were serious last Friday evening in quoting Plato and in citing the experience of two thousand five hundred years ago as a guide to our present educational efforts. Granted that the Athens of Pericles and Plato had attained a high degree of civilization, yet their experiments in coeducation can have little value to-day when viewed in the light of the vast difference between their civilization and ours. The women of to-day would refuse to accept the position accorded to woman in the Greek civilization of those days."

"You are quite right," replied Dr. Studevan, "we can not copy the past. The education that sufficed in Plato's day or even in. the time of Rousseau would be entirely inadequate to meet present conditions. But, in spite of all that may be said of changed conditions and of the need of modern methods to cope with the conditions of the present, there is a validity in the historical argument. It is true that history never quite repeats itself, in education or elsewhere; nevertheless, there is an under-lying stratum of sameness, and this is precisely the important thing when we are dealing with a question such as coeducation, which rests on the basic laws of human nature.

"I have no desire, however, to rest the verdict exclusively on the historical evidence. I am quite content that this problem should be worked out in the present. As you have said, the experiment is being made on a rather large scale in many of our universities, and I am well aware that whatever may be our antecedent prejudice, or whatever the past may have to say about the question, our course in the future will be determined, in large measure, by the results of this experiment. But it is well to remember that experiment here, as elsewhere, does not dispense with the necessity for examining the theoretical side of the question. Experiments in education, as in other fields of science, are fruitful only when they are studied in the light of principles and theories.

"Now, the supreme need of the school today is adjustment to present social and economic conditions, but in this work of adjustment I can find no reason to believe that schools for women have less vitality and less power of adjustment than schools for men."

"On this phase of the subject," said Professor Shannon, "Jane Addams will be accepted as an unimpeachable witness. No one has ever questioned her singleness of purpose. Her work in social settlements gives her the right to speak with authority on the present social and economic conditions of women in our industrial centers. Her book on 'Democracy and Social Ethics' should form an integral part of this discussion, and I make a motion that every member of this club be required to read it. The book doesn't lend itself to quotation, but as I remember the outline of the chapter on 'Filial Relations,' she at least implies that the hope of the new social adjustment for woman is bound up with coeducation."

"Here is the volume," said Mr. O'Brien. "I must confess that I have read the book through without gaining that impression."

"Well, as I have said, Miss Addams does not take up the subject for explicit treatment, but the implication is clear enough. For instance, on page 83 she says : 'Modern education recognizes woman quite apart from family or society claims, and gives her the training which for many years has been deemed successful for highly developing a man's individuality and freeing his powers for independent action.' She is evidently here thinking of universities and coeducational institutions."

"Professor Shannon, won't you please continue that quotation?" asked Dr. Studevan. "As I remember the argument, Miss Addams seems to be conscious in a dim way of the failure of coeducation."

"No, it is not that," replied the Professor; "she simply emphasizes the distress of woman in trying to adjust this newly awakened life to the survival of rigid social institutions. But here is the passage: 'Perplexities often occur when the daughter returns from college and finds that this recognition has been but partially accomplished. When she has attempted to act upon the assumption of its accomplishment she finds herself jarring upon ideals which are so entwined with filial piety, so rooted in the tenderest affections of which the human heart is capable, that both daughter and parents are shocked and startled when they dis-cover what is happening, and they scarcely venture to analyze the situation. The ideal for the education of woman has changed under the pressure of a new claim. The family has responded to the extent of granting the education, but they are jealous of the new claim and assert the family claim as over against it.

" 'The modern woman finds herself educated to recognize a stress of social obligation which her family did not in the least anticipate when they sent her to college. She finds herself, in addition, under an impulse to act her part as a citizen of the world. She accepts her family inheritance with loyalty and affection, but she has entered into a wider inheritance as well, which, for lack of a better phrase, we will call the social claim. This claim has been recognized for four years in her training, but after her return from college the family claim is again exclusively and strenuously asserted. The situation has all the discomfort of transition and compromise.'

"Will any one deny that the freeing of woman from the narrow confines of home and the bringing into her consciousness of the social claim has been a distinct advance? Or will any one deny that this advance has been brought about by woman's attendance at co-educational institutions ?"

"Well," said Dr. Studevan, "I never like to play the rôle of the denier; but I feel con-strained to put in a distinct denial to this latter claim and just as distinct a denial to the implications of the former claim. Both of these claims are valid and both have been recognized as such from the beginning of Christian civilization. To coeducational institutions be-longs the credit of confusing them, and on these institutions rests the responsibility for the consequent discomfort.

"St. Paul clearly announced different vocations for different members of the 'kingdom' when he said: 'To one, indeed, by the spirit, is given the word of wisdom; to another, the word of knowledge, according to the same spirit; to another, faith in the same spirit; to another, the grace of healing in one spirit; to another, the working of miracles; to another, prophecy; to another, the discerning of spirits; to another, divers kinds of tongues; to another, the interpretation of speeches. But all these things one and the same spirit worketh, dividing to every one according as he will.'

"The Church demands of her children loyalty to the spirit of their vocation. Those who are called to the duties of home life will find their happiness in the faithful discharge of those duties, and those who feel the pressure of the social claim are urged to follow the call with no less loyalty and devotion; and all are warned that 'any kingdom divided against itself shall fall.'

"One would imagine from listening to the passage from Miss Addams which you have just read that woman's recognition of the social claim is a recent affair. How then, may I ask, will you account for the sisterhoods in the Catholic Church? Will you let me have the book for a moment? I find this passage on page 77. `Our democracy is making in-roads upon the family, the oldest of human institutions, and a claim is being advanced which in a certain sense is larger than the family claim. The claim of the state intime of war has long been recognized, so that in its name the family has given up sons and husbands and even the fathers of little children. If we can once see the claims of society in any such light, if its misery and need can be made clear and urged as an explicit claim, as the state urges its claims in the time of danger, then for the first time the daughter who desires to minister to that need will be recognized as acting conscientiously.' <> "The surprising thing about this statement is the implication that the recognition is to be a thing of the future, whereas, as a matter of fact, its recognition by the Church in the past is responsible for many of the most glorious pages in human history."

"That is the view Dr. Shahan takes in his chapter on 'Woman in Early Christian Communities,' " said Miss Ruth. "Have you his 'Beginnings of Christianity,' Mr. O'Brien? Let me read you this passage. After speaking of Christ's affection for women and little children, he continues on page 158.

" 'In return the women of the Jews were His staunchest defenders. Some, like Salome, the wife of Zebedee, clung to Him from the beginning to the end. Others, like Joanna, the wife of Chusa, Herod's steward, and Susanna gave of their riches for His support, went about with Him and the apostles through cities and towns wherever the good news was spread by the Master. They anointed His head and feet; they rejoiced more than all others when He rode triumphantly into Jerusalem; they sorrowed at the gathering clouds which were soon to burst over Him; they stood afar off and wept as He passed on to His doom; they remained when all others had fled; they were the first at the sepulcher, the first human witnesses of the resurrection, the first apostles of Christianity, since it was they who first carried the glad tidings that Jesus liveth forevermore, and that faith in Him and His promises is neither vanity nor delusion.

By a law of history the great institutions which most affect mankind bear always certain ineffaceable earmarks of their origins the aroma, as it were, of their primitive surroundings and the best indices of the spirit and aims of their founders. The female sex, which plays so conspicuous a part in the life of Christ, is no less active in the earliest formative period of His church. When Peter was delivered by the angel it was to the house of Mary, the mother of John Marcus, that he went, where many were gathered together and praying. After the dispersion of the apostles we find in the meager record of their history numerous facts that show how important a share women had in the success of their evangelical labors. The Lady Electa would seem, according to the second epistle of St. John, to have been the center of an important community.

" 'I need only to refer to the ancient and venerable local traditions of Rome which pre-serve the memory of the relations between St. Peter and the females of the House of Pudens, and those which concern the ancient house of Prisca on the Aventine. The Christian world has never seen devotion superior to that which the earliest Christian matrons of Rome manifested. Their praises are in Clement of Rome and the Shepherd of Hermas, i. e., in the earliest non-canonical literature of the Christians. But it is in the life of St. Paul that the Christian female apostolate finds its best-known models. This time they are taken not from the Jewish and Syrian women, the Galilean neighbors of Christ, and the female relatives of rough fishermen, but from among the elegant and refined society of Greek cities.

" 'He speaks of his "sincere companion" and the other women who have labored with him and Clement in the gospel, and whose names are written in the book of life. Among the most distinguished of his Athenian converts was the woman named Damaris. In the epistle to the Romans he gives us an insight into the little circle of females whom he had not yet seen, but whose reputation for Christian zeal had gone abroad, like the faith of the Romans, into the whole world. There is his helper in Christ, Prisca, the same as Priscilla, the Roman Jewess, who, with her husband, Aquila, had befriended Paul during their exile at Corinth, who laid down their necks for him, and to whom all the churches of the Gentiles were indebted. There is Mary, "who hath labored much among you." '

"After continuing the enumeration of the women who helped St. Paul in his labors, the Doctor goes on to say :

" 'This is a precious page from the earliest records of Christianity, and the names of women are inscribed on it in immortal lines. They are the mothers of the infant churches, the laborers, the helpers, the ministers, the providers, and the consolers. They are ranked by the apostle for devotion and hard work with the bishops and priests and chief men of his missions. From the women of Rome and Philippi he no doubt received a very large share of the funds he expended on his missions and charities. They kept alive his teachings and sought out new hearers for the word of truth. By a delicate and subtle instinct woman recognized from the beginning all that Christianity meant for her, and no one labored with more zeal and intelligence to spread and explain the new teachings which recognized in her an equal and opened such illimitable avenues to the exercise of her peculiar virtues and capabilities. In all the culture lands bathed by the waters of the Mediterranean thousands of females, very frequently of the highest classes, enrolled themselves under the banner of Jesus and proceeded to revolutionize the ethnic inner life of as many thousand families.' "

"That is a splendid argument for coeducation," said the Professor. "It proves that Christianity itself is essentially coeducational. Christ did not separate women from men and present the Gospel to them in a form suited to the peculiarities of each sex. And as to the apostles, they not only taught mixed audiences, but they associated with themselves in their apostolic work many of the noble and earnest women whom they converted to Christianity."

"But did not all these women in early Christian times, and multitudes of others in the centuries that followed, recognize the social claim?" asked Dr. Studevan. "And still Miss Addams writes : `If we can once see the claims of society in any such light, if its misery and need can be made clear and urged as an explicit claim!'

"What misery and what need of society has remained to be made clear to the daughters of the Church? And when have Catholic fathers and mothers failed to recognize that their daughters who give up home and family to minister to these needs are acting conscientiously? When man went out to battle to slay his brothers, woman followed to care for the wounded and to console the dying. When, before the days of preventive medicine, men fled in terror from the plague, the Sister of Charity remained to minister to the stricken. When advancing civilization banished the lepers to Molokai, the Sisters of St. Francis went into voluntary exile that they might minister to their needs. How many a wayward girl has been rescued from a life of shame by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd ! There is no more familiar spectacle in our city streets than the Little Sisters of the Poor collecting alms to provide for deserted old age. And multitudes of the flower of Catholic woman-hood in every age have recognized the voice of God in the call to larger social duties and have devoted themselves to the education of our children and to the care of the foundling and the orphan.

"From the standpoint of social development, I am afraid that even the soldier who leaves home to fight for his country does not show to the best advantage when contrasted with these women in the sacrifices which they make in leaving homes, often of luxury and ease, to devote themselves in poverty to a life of unremitting toil in ministering to social needs. All this splendid development of woman and this adjustment to the social needs of the times came from women's schools for women. Coeducational institutions have yet to prove their capacity for developing such splendid vocations to social service."

"Doctor, are you not giving undue credit to women's schools ?" asked Miss Ruth. "The vocations to social service of which you speak are not due to segregated schools any more than they are due to coeducational institutions; they are the fruits of Christianity itself; they are woman's offering in token of her gratitude for the victories that Christianity has won for her. It is a familiar theme, but woman's heart still overflows with gratitude for the gift of freedom that Christ brought to her. Dr. Shahan makes the fact very clear that woman's elevation to her true place beside man is due neither to philosophy nor to the generosity of man, nor to the constitutions and curricula of schools and colleges, but to the religion which Christ came into the world to teach. Let me read you another page from Dr. Shahan's 'Beginnings of Christianity' :

"'A great Christian writer has said that of all the victories of Christianity there is none more salutary and necessary, and at the same time none more hardly and painfully won, than that which it has gained gained alone and everywhere though with a daily renewed struggle, over the unregulated inclinations which stain and poison the fountains of life. Its divinity here shows itself by a triumph which no rival philosophy, no adverse doctrine, has ever equaled or will ever aspire to equal.

"The improvement of the lot of woman was surely the greatest social conquest of the religion of Christ greater even than the alleviation and abolishment of slavery. On it, as on a corner stone, arose the new Christian society. Aristotle long since remarked that wherever the institutions that concern the female sex are faulty, the state can enjoy only a very imperfect prosperity, for the family relations are the great beams on which society reposes, and whatever tends to strengthen them makes in the same measure for the solidity of the social framework that rests thereon. This fundamental truth had become greatly obscured in the pre-Christian ages. With a few honorable and partial exceptions the condition of woman was everywhere that of a weak and degraded being, unequal to man, existing only for his pleasure and utility. "The Christian doctrine," says Balmes in his "European Civilization," "made the existing prejudices against woman vanish forever; it made her equal to man by unity of origin and destiny and in the participation of the heavenly gifts; it enrolled her in the universal brother-hood of man with his fellows and with Jesus <> Christ; it considered her as the child of God, the coheiress of Jesus Christ; as the companion of man and no longer a slave and the vile instrument of pleasure. Henceforth that philosophy which had attempted to degrade her was silenced; that unblushing literature which treated woman with so much insolence found a check in the Christian precepts and a reprimand no less eloquent than severe in the dignified manner in which all the ecclesiastical writers, in imitation of the Scriptures, expressed themselves on woman." ' "

"I acknowledge, Miss Ruth, that I am fairly cornered. My enthusiasm betrayed me into an untenable position. As a matter of fact, I am in entire agreement with you and Dr. Shahan. Of course woman does not owe her position, either social, moral or intellectual, to any system of pedagogy or to any form of educational institution as such. Her regeneration is the direct result of the pure and noble teachings of Christ and of His Church. However, in the actual conditions which confront us there is a connection, whether it be accidental or not, between the doctrines of Christianity that elevated woman and the question of Coeducation versus Segregation. In such coeducational institutions as the universities of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, etc., religion is banished from the classroom. The spirit of Christ and the up-lifting influence of His teaching is not felt within the walls of these institutions; their atmosphere is materialistic; their aim is practical; their philosophy is that of a material world that more closely resembles the philosophy of pagan Greece and Rome, which de-graded woman, than it does the doctrine of Christ, which purified and ennobled her.

"As the case stands, however, the only schools for our Catholic young women that continue to breathe the spirit of Christ and to inculcate His teachings are the convent schools. Unfortunately, many of our young women are flocking to the universities in search of truth. They may find the truths of mathematics and of the natural sciences, but they breathe a poisoned atmosphere, and 'What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul ?' "

"Is not that an extremely narrow position for a university professor to take?" asked Miss Geddes. "What of the army of public school teachers, multitudes of whom have been trained in coeducational institutions? Are they all devoid of religion and sunk in materialism, or is their social service less meritorious because they dress as ordinary mortals? Does virtue need to be togged out in special trappings to be recognized?"

"My dear Miss Geddes, it grieves me sorely that you should think me narrow, but if I must choose between the two accusations, I prefer to be considered narrow rather than superficial. But in reality I am the last man in the world that would consciously detract from the merit of our public school teachers. All my life I have been filled with admiration for them and filled with indignation against the meanness of a public spirit that compensates them so poorly for the magnificent service they render society. We must remember, however, that coeducational institutions have not a monopoly in the training of public school teachers. Many of the ablest members of this splendid army of women received their education in convents or in other schools for women.

"I would gladly avoid contrasting the services of two bodies of women to each of which society owes so deep a debt of gratitude, but, if comparison must be made, I think we shall find that the social service of the Sister who teaches in our parish school is of a higher or-der than that rendered by the public school teacher. In the first place, a large percentage of public school teachers devote themselves to this service temporarily. Multitudes of them teach for a few years only and then marry and devote the remainder of their lives to home duties. Whereas, teaching is to the Sister the consecration of a lifetime. And however meager the compensation of the public school teacher, it is usually several times as great as that of the Sister.

"Moreover, while the labor of the public school teacher is undoubtedly severe, it does not begin to compare in severity with that of the Sister, who, in addition to her work in school, must devote several hours a day to the exercises of the religious life which are deemed necessary to sustain her in her exalted vocation. She must rise at four or five o'clock in the morning to attend community exercises : morning prayers, meditation, Mass, and divine office. She has accomplished a good day's work before she reaches the schoolroom. Then, after the exhausting labors of the day in a crowded room, she must devote several hours to household duties. Her income is usually too scant to permit her to employ servants."

"It is inhuman," said Mr. Eaton, "to place such intolerable burdens upon the poor Sisters. Why is not the labor divided among them? Should not some of the Sisters devote them-selves exclusively to the work of teaching, leaving to others the household cares?"

"There are two very good reasons militating against such a desirable division of labor," replied Dr. Studevan. "In the first place, the salary paid to the Sisters who teach is not sufficient to support other Sisters who would devote themselves to household cares, and there is frequently no other source of revenue available; and secondly, there are not nearly enough Sisters to supply the demand for teachers."

"I do not wish to detract in any way from the heroic self-sacrifice of the good Sisters," said the Professor, "but all this seems to be irrelevant to the question under consideration. We are concerned here, not with the sacrifice of the individual teacher, whether she be a Sister or a public school teacher, but with the quality and the intrinsic value of the social services rendered. If the public school teacher devotes all her power and energy to the work of the school, whereas the Sister, from whatever cause, diverts a large share of her time and energy to other duties, it is evident that the Sister's service in the schoolroom will be proportionately lowered in quality unless you invoke supernatural intervention to supply the place of the diverted human energy."

"Well, even if we admit this for the sake of argument," said Miss Ruth, "the remedy is to be found in a more generous support of the Sisters' efforts. It is quite evident that some-=thing should be done in this direction in order that society may receive the full benefit and blessing of the Sisters' service. Their numbers should be increased and they should receive a more generous compensation. In this land of plenty it is a crime to burden the Sisters with household cares when there is an army of girls willing to do this work for very modest wages.

"In addition to the disadvantages which Dr. Studevan has just pointed out, the Sisters are hampered in many other ways. They frequently have a much larger number of pupils in a room than would be permitted in the public schools; and, where the population is sparse, the same teacher often has to teach several grades. And it not infrequently hap-pens that they are unable to procure the proper appliances; even their libraries are meager, and it is only with the greatest amount of sacrifice that they are enabled to assemble at rare intervals for institute work, or to secure the requisite talent to conduct the institute and to keep them in touch with the latest developments in educational methods."

"Here's a chance for you, Mr. Eaton," said Mr. O'Brien. "Divine Providence has been good to you and has multiplied beyond measure your herds and flocks. Here's your chance ! Don't build libraries for an unappreciative public, but do something right handsome for the Sisters. Establish a fund that will help in some way to lighten the burden of these public benefactors or help them to realize their lofty aspirations by endowing for them a normal institute."

"Well, I'll think it over but what are a few little fishes among so many? If you will help me to get together a few men of means, we may be able to do something that is worth while."

"Now, Mr. Eaton, that's worthy of you," said Dr. Studevan. "I'll take back all I said against you a few evenings ago and I will even withdraw my charge of materialism. All that was asked of the rich young man in the Gospel, you know, was that he should sell all that he possessed and distribute it among the poor. We won't ask so much of you; if you will just dispose of some of your superfluous wealth to help these struggling Sisters in their heroic efforts for the public welfare, instead of leaving it behind you to demoralize your sons, the prayers of a grateful people, generation after generation, will ascend to the throne of the Giver of all good gifts and draw down abundant blessings upon your posterity."

"This is all very well," said Professor Shannon, "and I want to add my congratulations, but it has taken us away from the question at issue. Studevan, as usual, dodged the point. We are concerned with the quality of the social service rendered and not with the sacrifices made by individuals in order to render the service. Now, it is clear that the public school teacher who devotes all her time and energy to the work of teaching should be able to do it better than the Sister whose energy is drawn off in large measure by other occupations, which, however meritorious or necessary in themselves, have nothing to do with teaching."

"I really had no intention of dodging the point, Professor. You surely will not blame a man for pausing to give some slight expression to the enthusiasm that generous deeds, even in their proposal, awaken in the human heart. But, to return to your question, I still maintain that the quality of the Sisters' work, in spite of all the drawbacks under which they labor, and prescinding from all the sacrifices that they make, is of a higher order than the social service rendered by the public school teachers.

"If Miss Geddes will pardon me for returning to the biological mists, I will again quote the fundamental principle that all advance of life to higher planes is conditioned upon a progressive differentiation of structure and specialization of function. We recognize this principle everywhere else: in industry and commerce, in the various professions and in the elective curricula of our colleges and universities. In proportion as society grows in complexity of structure, there is felt an increasing need of vocations to social service."

"What has all this to do with the question?" asked the Professor. "Is not teaching in the public school a special function quite as much as teaching in the convent school ?"

"If you will bear with me a minute, Professor, I will try to make my thought so clear that even you may grasp it. Man, in the savage state, is concerned chiefly with himself and with the members of his immediate family. Self-preservation here expresses itself in the care of the individual and in the propagation of the species.

"These are the deepest and strongest instincts in human nature. As man advances in civilization, instinct, reenforced by human reason, causes him to extend his care and solicitude to the tribe or clan. But as man reaches the higher planes of civilized life, tribal lines tendto become obliterated and patriotism manifests itself and the need of the state in time of danger has for him a more potent voice than that of either tribe or family. And thus, as man becomes ethical, he finds himself engaged in a conflict with the deeper and narrower instincts of his nature. Now, the highest function of education is to strengthen and develop the ethical element in man. Let me read for you a brief description of this process from the pen of Thomas Huxley, who will not be accused of special pleading in be-half of the Church or her institutions.

" 'For his successful progress, through the savage state, man has been largely indebted to those qualities which he shares with the ape and tiger; his exceptional physical organization; his cunning, his sociability, his curiosity, and his imitativeness; his ruthless and ferocious destructiveness when his anger is roused by opposition. But, in proportion as men have passed from anarchy to social organization, and in proportion as civilization has grown in worth, these deeply ingrained serviceable qualities have become defects. After the manner of successful persons, civilized man would gladly kick down the ladder by which he has climbed. He would be only too pleased to see "the ape and tiger die." But they de-cline to suit his convenience; and the unwelcome intrusion of these boon companions of his hot youth into the ranged existence of civil life adds pains and griefs, innumerable and immeasurably great, to those which the cosmic process necessarily brings on the mere animal. In fact, civilized man brands all these ape and tiger promptings with the name of sins; he punishes many of the acts which flow from them as crimes and, in extreme cases, he does his best to put an end to the survival of the fittest of former days by the axe and rope.

"The development of the ethical element and the production of vocations for its cultivation are, therefore, the highest achievements of education, and it is on this basis that we must make our comparison between the work of the public school teachers and the work of men and women who, leaving father and mother, home and family, follow in the foot-steps of the Master and spend their lives in ministering to the needs of God's children."

Home | More Articles | Email: