Education Of The Wife
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
Much has been said and written upon the education of women. Some have thought that woman's capacity, mind and sentiments differ so widely from those of men that she needs a different education, one suited to her peculiar duties in life. Others have thought that the qualities of self-control and self-reliance avail as strongly in a woman's life as they do in a man's, that the mind of woman is essentially the same as that of man, and that the education of one should be carried along the same line as that of the - other. The advocates of one theory have built female seminaries and colleges for women, where they can pursue the same courses of study and receive the same culture that men do in men's colleges. The advocates of the other theory are demanding that the barbarism of past ages shall be given up, and that the best educational institutions shall be opened to the young, irrespective of sex. All the arguments that can be advanced for the higher education of man have equal force to prove the utility of higher education for women. Even if woman is to be kept in the. narrow sphere of her home-life, even if her work is to be among the seemingly trivial duties of domestic life, intelligence, culture and refinement will be of immense advantage to ner. The presence of a strong woman in the house, strong in body, mind and moral nature, is as necessary as that there should be a strong man at the head of the family. The education which fills which fills the mind, broadens the affections, stimi sates all the higher powers of man, will prove equally wholesome upon the woman. The result to be attained by education is confessedly the same in both man and woman. And it requires no little sophistry to make it evident that girls and boys should not sit together on the same benches, study from the same books, receive the same instruction and go to college together. The argument for the same proposition gathers force 'when we consider that man and woman are indissolubly associated in all the relations of life. "If they must live together," says a pungent writer, "why should they not be educated together ? Pray tell !"
What we have said in another place concerning education in general, applies to the education of the wife as well as the husband. We are here to speak of certain phases of education that apply directly to woman and woman's work. From erroneous opinions concerning the relations of girls to society, it has come to pass that girls are generally not so well educated as boys. It is understood at the start that a boy is to be dependent upon his own exertions and that he is to hew his way to fame and fortune, or perish in the attempt. It is generally considered that the boy's sister is to be married early in life and depend upon somebody else. And here, we take it, is the chief difficulty with woman's education. She is not taught self-reliance, or the need of it ; she is not taught self-control ; she is not taught that the time may come when she is to win her own way in the world or help another do it. It is to this total lack of purpose in a woman's life, more than to this, or that, or the other form of instruction, that the worthlessness of girls' education is due. You may take the most promising girl that ever adorned an American home, you may educate her in the best schools in the land, you may give .,her every accomplishment and every grace that can be added by culture to female charms, and if that young woman has had the foolish notion instilled into her ,mind that she is only to be somebody's wife and never depend upon her own fine abilities for a position in life, her education will be a false and use-less one. There can be no reasonable doubt but that the great mass of young women will some day enter into the relations of home-life. But for them to consider this the end of all -their accomplishments and graces of person and manners is to make a very selfish and human kind of a woman out of the so-called angel of peace in the home. This foolish notion, so prevalent in society, is doing incalculable injury to our wives and daughters, our mothers and sisters. Girls need to be ,taught not only the same lessons as boys, but for the same purpose, namely, to engender ;self reliance, self-control and all the higher qualities of character. If the women of our country would only consider that there is as much intelligence needed, as much courage and devotion in their work as in man's, we think the masculine education would still do for the woman. The result of woman's education, as now carried on in the home and school, is to cultivate the weakness of her nature rather than its strength. The idea is to make her an accomplished lady rather than a sensible, intelligent woman. She is educated rather as an ornamental appendage to man, than a rational wife, mother, companion and friend. Many a woman has gone to the duties of her household life with the strong virtues of her character untrained and her weakness uncontrolled. Weak, trembling and de-pendent, she enters upon the most important duties that can be intrusted to a human soul. This false education of women we attribute to false notions regarding the purpose and usefulness of her life. Thousands of wives have learned the lesson of self-control and self-reliance in the bitter school of experience after marriage. It would have been infinitely better for the wife to have learned it, as her husband learned it, in the days of her girlhood. We see no reason why girls should not be taught to do something useful, to earn their own support for a time, find out the uses and value of money, and see a little of the rough work of life, as boys do. If those who are wives had learned to piece out their own earnings into a wardrobe and such pleasures as they could afford, many of them would not be such expensive luxuries as they now are. We think the assumption of a girl, at fifteen, that she is to be married at twenty and is to be supported thereafter, is the very worst misfortune that can befall her. The life of woman is occupied too exclusively with the mere refinements of her dress and home. There is pressing need of a different education, or rather a different view of life, that shall bring her to see that there is a chance even in woman's sphere for the highest accomplishments and the greatest powers which she may possess. During the early years, a woman's life is an aimless one, and, as before remarked, "aimless life is waste."
But there is another phase of this question of woman's education. From the necessities of the case much of her life must be spent indoors. often times alone with her children or in the society of domestics. For this reason she is more subject, than man, to discontent, ennui and unhappiness. Her mind, forever driven in upon itself for amusement or entertainment, too often feeds upon a dry morsel. The mind left thus to its own resources, easily becomes clouded with misanthropy, and one of the chief reasons why so many women are unhappy is, that they have no intelligence, no knowledge of books, no real intellectual entertainments to aid them in the lonely hours of domestic life. If the women of our country had learned correct intellectual habits in their youth, if they had formed a taste for the reading of good books, and reflection thereon, they would not lack a rational entertainment for all the vigil keeping of home life. The necessities of professional life keep a husband much from home or at his books while at home, and many a young wife has become a petulant, unhappy woman because she could not endure the strain of stupid idleness during the hours when her husband is from her side. Suppose that such a woman could hold converse with the great authors of the world's literature ; suppose that she could find a perpetual joy in perusing good books ; suppose that all the hours of leisure could be spent at the piano and at her books would those hours ever grow weary on her hands? Would life be filled with stupidity for her? Would her mind be starved, and her soul pinched with discontent and misanthropy ? In palace halls, in sumptuous houses, in the quiet homes of the town, in the farm houses of the country, here and there, up and down our land a million women to-night are sighing for a happiness which forever flees from them. In tears, perhaps, they are bemoaning their cruel fate. Would to God that the author could demonstrate to each of these the permanent happiness there is in a good book ! Would to God that the bright visions of literature, biography and history, might drive the grim ghost of discontent from the hearthstones of such homes ! Husbands, a few books cost less than a broken heart, cost less than a weary life, cost less than the tears, the heart ache, and the sighing of that dear woman in your home. Better buy a thousand books than leave her in stupidity and sorrow, to be a false prophet to your children.
There recently died in South Africa a young woman of twenty-four, the story of whose life is somewhat remarkable. She was the daughter of a schoolmaster in Reading, England. She was sent to school while yet a young girl and gave herself to study with a great deal of devotion. When there was an examination to pass, she passed it. When there was a scholarship to win, she won it. She was always first in her class. In 1877 she astonished the authorities of one of the English Universities by asking permission to attend the classes in physics and mathematics. Women had never been admitted to this University, and the privilege asked had already been refused to two very deserving applicants. The authorities were puzzled; the professors were amused ; and the fellows of the University were in a state of high glee. But some-thing in the quiet face of this determined girl attracted the attention of one of the authorities, and she was allowed to enter. She was a sweet-faced girl of twenty, but had the courage to take her place among the advanced students of the opposite sex. In the course of her studies she attended Professor Clifford's lectures on applied mathematics. At the end of the session of 1877, it was found that this young lady was not only ahead of all in the class, but so far ahead of them all that she won the highest honors and took the first prize. The learned professor was delighted with the gentle girl who had always listened with deep attention to his lectures, he had discovered a brilliant mathematician. At the distribution of the prizes he said " This young lady's proficiency would have been rare in a man, but it is unparelleled in all that has ever been told of the attainments of women, a few more students like her would send the fame of this University to the world's end." In the year 1878 she passed the "Bachelor of Science" examination in the University of London and won first honors here in a class of exceptionally brilliant men. At this point in her career her health failed. She went to South Africa in the hope of recovering her strength. Far away from her home in England, of a direful disease, died a mathematician of exceptional promise, and this girl who had taken first honors in an English University was a gentle lovable woman with the simple name of Ellen Watson. She never asserted herself, never talked in public; and was never known outside of a small circle that loved her and waited to see her budding genius break forth into the flower of greatness. She was. a simple hearted woman, that conceived a purpose early in her life and followed it, through difficulty, through toil, through sickness to death. She died before her time;. but wherever this touching story is. told it will show what a woman can do, who is, willing to battle with difficulty in a spirit of courage and self-reliance. If women were content to-prove themselves capable, and to do their work as courageously and quietly-as. poor Ellen, Watson did hers, and do it for the work's sake, life would not be such a useless, helpless existence as it now too often, is. The life of this sweet girl shows conclusively that an intellectual career is possible even for women.