« AnteriorContinuar »
mental development, depended more upon the eagerness with which the casual teachings of daily conversation were treasured up, than upon any labor expended purposely to promote it. Female education in the best families went no farther than writing and arithmetic, and, in some few and rare instances, music and dancing.”.
Although at this time the number of post-offices in the country probably did not exceed half a hundred, Mrs. Adams notes a great letter-writing propensity in her circle. “These letters deserve notice,” says her biographer, “ only as they furnish a general idea of the tastes and pursuits of the day, and show the evident influence upon the writers which study of “ The Spectator" and of the poets had exerted.” This appears in the train of thought and structure of language, as in trifles of taste for quotation, and for fictitious signatures. “Calliope" and “ Myra," “ Aspasia” and “ Aurelia,” have effectualiy disguised their true names from the eyes of younger generations. Miss Smith's signature appears to have been “ Diana," a name which she dropped after her marriage, without losing the fancy that prompted its selection.
Her letters written during the Revolution show clearly enough the tendency of her own thoughts and feelings in the substitute she then adopted of “ Portia.”
The young ladies of Massachusetts, in the last century, were certainly readers even though only self-taught, and their taste was not for the feeble and nerveless sentiment or the frantic passion of our day, but was derived from the deepest wells of English literature. The superb flowering of native mental gifts in many women of the last part of the eighteenth and the early part of the nineteenth centuries, under so slight stimulus of educational advantage, would almost force upon us the theory of Descartes, that “ in order to improve the mind we ought less to learn than to contemplate"; and lead us to accept the dictum of Huxley, that “ail the time we are using our plain common sense we are at once scientists and artists."
Rev. William Woodbridge, a descendant of Rev. Jonathan Edwards, and for fifty years an honored educator, wrote, in the latter part of his life, to a correspondent : “ You inquire how so many of the females of New England, during the latter part of the last century, acquired that firmness, and energy, and excellence of character for which they have been so justly distinguished, while the advantages of school education were so limited. The only answer is that it is not the amount of knowledge, but the nature of the knowledge, and, still more, the manner in which it is used to form character. Natural logic, the self-taught art of thinking, was the guard and guide of the female mind. The first of Watts's five methods of internal improvement, 'The attentive notice of every instructive fact and occurrence,' was exemplified in practice. Newspapers were taken in a few families ; books were scarce but freely lent; the Scriptures were much read; and, as for time, where there is a will there is a way.'”
Since the women of that day left almost no record of their thought in print, the biography of Mrs. Adams, already quoted, may be called upon to illustrate the intellectual and moral characteristics attributed to them. Among the New England women of the early part of this century who are still remembered by the present generation, there was a noteworthy number who, in vigor of intellect and strength of character, might truly be called her peers.
While Mr. Adams was in Europe (from 1780) as Commissioner from the United States, Mrs. Adams was managing the family property, at a time of depreciation of paper money. Speaking of this period Mr. Charles Francis Adams says :“ Her letters are remarkable because they display the readiness with which she could devote herself to the most opposite duties, and the cheerful manner in which she could accommodate herself to the difficulties of the times. She is a farmer, cultivating the land and discussing the weather and crops ; a merchant, reporting prices current and the rates of exchange, and directing the making up of invoices ; a politician, speculating upon the probabilities of peace or war, and a mother, writing the most exalted sentiments to her son. All of these pursuits she adopts together; some from choice, the rest from the necessity of the case ; and in all she appears equally well."
The complete sympathy of interest between Mrs. Adams and her distinguished husband in “seeking for political truth in its fundamental principles," as Mr. Adams is said to have done, appears in her letters, and it may be questioned whether, barring the consideration of sex, the term "statesmanlike' might not apply to the views of both.
Just a month before the resolution declaring the independence of the colonies was offered in the Continental Congress by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia and seconded by John Adams of Massachusetts Mrs. Adams wrote to her husband, under date of May 7, 1776.
“I believe 'tis nearly ten days since I wrote you a line. I have not felt in a humor to entertain you. If I had taken up my pen, perhaps some unbecoming invective might have fallen from it. The eyes of our rulers have been closed and a lethargy has seized almost every member. I fear a fatal security has taken possession of them. While the building is in flames they tremble at the expense of water to quench it. In short, two months have elapsed since the evacuation of Boston, and very little has been done in that time to secure it, or the har. bor, from future invasion. The people are all in a flame, and no one among us, that I have heard of, even mentions expense. They think, universally, that there has been an amazing neglect somewhere.
“'Tis a maxim of state that 'power and liberty are like heat and moisture ; where they are well mixed everything prospers; where they are single they are destructive!'
“A government of more stability is much wanted in this colony, and they are ready to receive it at the hands of Congress.
“And since I have begun with maxims of state, I will add another, namely, that a people may let a king fall yet still remain a people ; but if a king let his people slip from him he is no longer a king. And as this is most certainly our case, why not proclaim to the world, in decisive terms, your own importance ? Shail we not be despised by foreign powers for hesitating so long at a word?". To this Mr. Adams replied :
“PHILADELPHIA, May 27, 1776. “I think you shine as a statesman, of late, as well as a farmeress. Pray where do you get your maxims of state ? They are very apropos.”
All history shows how long the conception of a plan, in some acute mind, precedes the popular impulse toward it. The fertile mind of Daniel De Foe, in an “ Essay on Projects,” published in 1699, suggests the plan of an Academy of Music, with hints for cheap Sunday concerts, an Academy for Military Science and Practice, and an Academy for Women.
This is the earliest project for a school of this grade, for women, and remained the only one for more than a century in England. In America, from the middle of the eighteenth century, academies were established in many towns where the law requiring instruction to fit boys for the university did not apply. Some of these opened their doors to girls, and, in a few instances, seminaries and academies for young ladies were founded, and, once inaugurated, they multiplied with constantly accelerating speed. A contemporary of these events, writing as “ Senex” in “ The American Journal of Education," says: “ When at length academies were opened for female improvement in the higher branches, a general excitement appeared in parents, and an emulation in daughters to attend them. The love of reading and habits of application became fashionable."
There appear, from the first, to have been no discouragements from lack of mental capacity on the part of girls, even in the academies where they were instructed with boys.
The “ Moravian Brethren” have the honor of founding the first private institution in America designed to give girls better advantages than the common schools. A female seminary was opened by them in Bethlehem, Pa., in 1749. Its service went beyond its own work, for Rev. Mr. Woodbridge records that “after the success of the Moravians in female education, the attention of gentlemen of reputation and influence was turned to the subject. Dr. Morgan, Dr. Rush,-the great advocate of education,--with others, instituted an academy for females in Philadelphia. Their attention and influence and care were successful, and from them sprang all the subsequent and celebrated schools in that city.”
It is presumed that it was of the “ Philadelphia Female Academy,” which held commencement exercises from as early as 1794, that Mr. Woodbridge says, “ In 1780, in Philadelphia, for the first time in my life, I heard a class of young ladies parse English.”
The “ Penn Charter School" has a long and honorable record and has admitted girls for more than a century.
The Penn Charter School was founded in Philadelphia in 1697 as a public school, and has been carried on down to the present day under three charters granted by William Penn in the years 1701, 1708, 1711. These make provision, at the cost of the people called Quakers, for “all Children and Servants, Male and Female .... the rich to be instructed at reasonable rates, the poor to be maintained and schooled for noth. ing." Provision is made in the charters for instruction of both sexes in “reading, writing, work, languages, arts, and sciences.”
The foundation laid is broad enough for a university for the people. As a matter of fact the girls and boys have always been educated separately, and the curriculum of the girls' school has always been less advanced than that of the boys. The Latin school has not been opened to them, nor, it is believed, have the ancient languages been taught them.
In 1795, “ Poor's Academy for Young Ladies " becaine “a place of proud distinction to finished females.".
The earliest academy for girls in New England was founded in 1763, at Byfield, Mass., by bequest of William Dummer, whose name it took. In 1784, Leicester Academy, open to both sexes, was incorporated.
In the same year the “Friends” established a school which offered the higher education to girls at Providence, R. I. This has been of high repute down to the present day.
In the same city we find, in 1797, the advertisement of a gentleman who “ will conduct a morning school for young ladies in reading, writing, and arithmetic," and in 1808 Miss Brenton, at South Kingston, R. I., offers instruction which will include “ epistolary style, as well as temple work, paper work, fringing, and netting.”
In 1785 Dr. Dwight founded a Young Ladies' Seminary at Greenfield, Conn.
About 1787, Mr. Caleb Brigham, a noted teacher, opened a school for girls in Boston. This has been spoken of as “the most vigorous and systematic experiment hitherto made, and the most systematically antagonized.” Upon opening, however, the school was immediately filled. The supply created a demand. More sought admission than could be accommodated. With the selectmen's daughters in school female education was becoming popular.
In 1789 a female academy was opened in Medford, the first establishment of the kind in New England. This was the resort of scholars from all the Eastern States.
We get here and there, proof of the espionage exercised over young women in those days.
Mrs. Rawson was a distinguished teacher who established a boarding school for girls. The town voted, May 12, 1800, that the second and third seats in the women's side of the gallery of the meeting-house be allowed for Mrs. Rawson, for herself and scholars ; and that she be allowed to put doors and locks on them.
In 1791-92 the Maine Legislature incorporated academies at Berwick, Hallowell, Fryeburg, Westminster, and East Machias.
In 1792 Westford (Mass.) Academy was organized. It offered a very extensive programme. The body of rules and laws for governance provides that “the English, Latin, and Greek languages, together with writing, arithmetic, and the art of speaking shall be taught, and, if desired, practical geometry, logic, geography, and music ; that the said school shall be free