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Wortley Montagu, and society found entertainment in the small talk of the heroines of Frances Burney, “Evelina,” “ Cecilia,” and “ Rosa Matilda."
Twenty years after the eloquent appeal had been made for “ The Rights of Women," Hannah More, in “ Celebs in Search of a Wife,” introduced to the novel-reading world the subject of female education, with a tact and moderation which the stronger cravings of Mary Wollstonecraft did not permit. Without offensive presumption, and with deference to the superior claim of the other sex to the whole loaves, she meekly, but plainly, suggested the relish of the female mind for intellectual crumbs. The more favorable reception of her milder views, which was said “to have caused more than one dignified clergymnan to take down his Eton grammar from the shelf, to initiate his daughters into the hitherto forbidden mysteries of • hic-hæc-hoc,'” goes to prove, by analogy, the theory of the high potency school of homeopathists, for the smaller the dose administered the greater appear to have been the results.
The tender sentiment and graceful verse of Mrs. Hemans, and the sad domestic experience of Hon. Mrs. Norton, from whose unmasked sorrows her husband could gather pecuniary return, and the sturdy, intellectual vigor of Harriet Martineau, who grappled with the problems of political economy and social ethics, and. was the friend and counselor of the first statesmen of her time, could not fail to appeal, on their several lines, to women of corresponding type, if not of equal gifts of expression, on both sides of the Atlantic. So education was going on for women in other ways than in schools, which still furnished them limited supplies, both in quantity and quality.
Among the voices which directly or indirectly were calling women to higher levels of intelligence and of thought, was that of the celebrated wit and divine, Sidney Smith, who proved by his claims for them, what he said of himself, “I have a passionate love for common justice and for common sense." In the Edinburgh Review, of which he was one of the founders, he had a way of asking such pointed inquiries as whether the world had hitherto found any advantage in keeping half the people in ignorance, and whether, if women were better educated, men might not become better educated too; and he adds, “ Just as though the care and solicitude which a mother feels for her children, depended on her ignorance of Greek and mathematics, and that she would desert her infant for a quadratic equation !”.
But so strong are the bonds of prejudice, that, although this was as early as 1810, abundant cause has been found down to the present day to iterate and reiterate the same arguments, and still to pierce the bubble of conceit of superior right with the arrows of wit and sarcasm.
To show what the best schools open to girls were offering meantime, we quote what “ one who had as good advantages in 1808 as New England then afforded,” gives as her course of study : “ Music, geography, Murray's Grammar, with Pope's Essay on Man for a parsing book, Blair's Rhetoric, Composition, and embroidery on satin. These were my studies and my accomplishments.”
“Twenty-five years later than that,” says the aged lady once before quoted, “a considerable part of the gain I brought from a private school in Charlestown, Mass., was a knowledge of sixty lace stitches."*
Looking back to this period from the vantage ground of 'ess than a century, most women of nowadays would echo the sentiment of the small boy, one of four brothers, who heard a visitor say to his mother : “What a pity one of your boys had not been a girl !” Dropping his game to take in the full significance of her words, he called out : “I'd like to know who'd 'a benn'er! I wouldn't 'a benn 'er ; Ed wouldn't 'a benn'er; Joe wouldn't 'a benn 'er, and I'd like to know who would 'a benn 'er!”
The third and fourth decades of the nineteenth century marked an epoch in education through the service done by a few teachers, who seemed to have fresh inspirations as to the capabilities of women, and practical ability to embody them. They helped to verify the forecast of Rev. Joseph Emerson, principal of the Academy at Byfield, Mass.
Mr. Emerson was deeply interested in the theme of the millennium, and regarded woman, in the capacity of educator, as the hope of the world's salvation. Unlike his cotemporaries, he believed in educating young women as thoroughly as young men, and in 1822 predicted “a time when higher institutions for the education of young women would be as needful as colleges for young men." Among his pupils was Mary Lyon.
The pioneer in the new departure was Mrs. Emma Hart Willard, born in 1787, in Connecticut, into a home of liberal thought and tender affection. The clearness of intellect and keen sense of justice which characterized her life, were all in
* See also accounts of early education of American women authors in chapter on Woman in Literature. -ED.
dicated, when, as a young woman, on settling her father's straightened estate, she insisted that children have no claim as compared with the mother's superior right to what she has helped to earn. From a child she was noted for interesting herself in the politics of the day. To relieve her husband from financial difficulties, and, as she says, “ with the further motive of keeping a better school than those about me," she established a boarding school at Middlebury. This was the beginning of thirty years' service as a teacher, during which she taught 5000 pupils, one in ten of whom became teachers. She aimed to make her pupils comprehend the subject taught, and to give them power to communicate what they knew. Says her biographer, Dr. John Lord, “Her profession was an art. She loved it as Palestrina loved music and as Michael Angelo loved painting, and it was its own reward.” There was no flattery to her pupils nor to their parents. Her regular duties, and her never-ending struggle for self-improvement and for better methods of instruction, kept her at her work from ten and sometimes for fifteen hours per day. She keenly felt the disadvantages under which she labored. She wrote: “The Professors of the college attended my examinations, although I was advised by the President that it would not be becoming in me, nor a safe precedent, if I should attend theirs ; so, as I had no teacher in learning my new studies, I had no model in teaching or examining them. But I had faith in the clear conclusions of my own mind. I knew that nothing could be truer than truth, and hence I fearlessly brought to examination before the learned the classes to which had been taught the studies I had just acquired. .... My neighborhood to Middlebury Col. lege made me feel bitterly the disparity in educational facilities between the two sexes, and I hoped if the matter was once set before the men as legislators they would be ready to correct the error.”
To this end Mrs. Willard prepared an address to the public, which in 1819, when she resided in New York, she presented to the New York Legislature. As the views set forth mark a distinct departure in educational demands for women, however familiar or antiquated they may now seem, they are quoted and summarized here. She published them only after long and thoughtful deliberation, and said, “I knew that I should be regarded as visionary, almost to insanity, should I utter the expectations that I secretly entertain.” She asks that as the State has endowed institutions for its sons it shall do the same for its daughters, and “no longer leave them to become the prey of private adventurers, the result of which has been to make the daughters of the rich frivolous and those of the poor drudges.” She laments that “the end of education of one sex has been to please the other .... until we have come to be considered the pampered and wayward babies of society, who must have some rattle put into our hands to keep us from doing mischief to ourselves or to others. But reason and religion teach that we, too, are primary existences; that it is for us to move in the orbit of our duty around the Holy Center of Perfection, the companions, not the satellites of men.”
Mrs. Willard fears that “ should the conclusion be almost admitted that our sex, too, are the legitimate children of the Legislature, and that it is their duty to afford us a share of their paternal bounty, the phantom of a college-learned lady would be ready to rise up and destroy every good resolution in our favor.”
To show that it is not a masculine education that is here recommended, Mrs. Willard sketches her ideal of a female seminary. She desires it to "to be adapted to the female character and duties, and her first plea is that to which the softer sex should be formed.” “ To raise the female character will be to raise that of men. .... It would be desirable that the young ladies should spend part of their Sabbaths in hearing discussions relative to the peculiar duties of their sex. The difficulty is not that we are at a loss what sciences we ought to learn, but that we have not proper advantages for learning any. .... Many writers have given us excellent advice in regard to what we should be taught, but no Legislature has provided us the means of instruction. .... In some of the sciences proper to our sex the books written for the other would need alteration, because in some they presuppose more knowledge than female pupils would possess, in others they have parts not particularly interesting to our sex, and omit subjects immediately relating to their pursuits. Domestic instructions should be considered important. Why may not housewifery be reduced to a system as well as other arts ?
"If women were properly fitted for instruction they would be likely to teach children better than the other sex ; they could afford to do it cheaper ; and men might be at liberty to add to the wealth of the nation by any of those thousand occupations from which women are necessarily debarred.”.
While “coarse men laughed at this proposition to endow a seminary for girls,” the plan was so well received by the Legislature that Mrs. Willard's Seminary at Waterford was incorporated, and placed on the list of institutions which received a share of the literary fund. Though this was a small recognition of a large need, to New York belongs the honor of making the first appropriation of public funds for the higher education of women.
The character of the support given to Mrs. Willard is more encouraging than the legislative action. Governor Clinton, a man of great educational foresight, recommended Mrs. Willard's plan in these words, which incidentally indicate common sentiment at the time : “As this is the only attempt ever made to promote the education of the female sex by the patronage of government. .... I trust you will not be deterred by commonplace ridicule from extending your munificence to this meritorious work.” Distinguished men advocated the plan before the New York Legislature, and John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and others wrote letters favoring it, all with little success.
A bill passed the Senate granting $2000 to the seminary of Mrs. Willard at Waterford, but failed in the Lower House.
It was at this seminary that in 1820 a young lady was publicly examined in geometry, and “it called forth a storm of ridicule.”
The corporation of Troy, N. Y., came to the rescue of Mrs. Willard's project, and raised $4000 by tax, and another fund by subscription, and erected a building of brick, to which Mrs. Willard came in 1821. She was convinced that “ young women are capable of applying themselves to the higher branches of knowledge as well as young men,” and that the study of domestic economy could be pursued at the same time. Developing these theories she made for the “ Troy Female Seminary” and its pupils a distinguished reputation, and gave a decided uplift to the standard of female education.
More than two hundred institutions of the grade of Troy Seminary are now reckoned, extending to South America and to Athens, Greece. Half the number are in the Southern United States, and two-thirds of them confer degrees.
Associated with Mrs. Willard at Troy, in the department of science, was her distinguished sister, Mrs. Almira Lincoln Phelps. Later she was the head of “ Patapsco Institute," a female diocesan school of high reputation. She was the second woman elected a member of the “ American Association for Advancement of Science," and in 1866 read before that body a paper on “ The Religious and Scientific Character and Writings of Edward Hitchcock," and in 1878, one on “ The Infidel Tendencies of Modern Science.” Her educational works on