EDUCATION FOR WOMAN IN THE UNITED STATES.
MOUNT Holyoke Seminary was a pioneer in the higher education of woman. To understand the work of its founder, and to appreciate its own work, we must glance at the previous condition of education for woman in our country, and the influences which shaped the course of education in general.
The early settlers of New England, having left the old world in search of religious freedom, made it one of their first cares to educate their children for the sake of the well-being of both church and state.
How did they do this? At first, both in the Massachusetts and Plymouth colonies instruction was given at home and by the parish ministers; but in 1635, within five years from the landing at the mouth of Charles River, provision had been made for the support of a teacher, a teacher selected, and a free school opened in Boston, then a small village of not more than twenty or thirty houses. Three years later, "dreading to leave an illiterate ministry to the churches when our ministers shall lie in the dust," Harvard College was founded, with the motto, Christo et Ecstasiae. As Cotton Mather wrote years afterwards, "Our fathers saw that without a college to train an able and learned ministry, the church in New England must soon have come to nothing." Until Yale College was founded in 1700, Harvard furnished ministers and magistrates for all the New, England colonies. The century of the Revolution was one of toil and difficulty, yet it witnessed the establishment of six other colleges by New England, and the
rest of the Union was following her example. "Next to her political organization," says one writer," we find each state looking out for a college as if it was the light of her eyes, or the right arm of her strength." By the second year of the present century there were twenty-eight; so soon and so far had the stars in our literary firmament outnumbered those upon our national flag.
"Lest there should be an illiterate ministry,"
colleges were founded. "Lest that old deluder, Satan, should keep men from
the knowledge of the Scriptures," all children must be taught to read.
Accordingly, by a law of Massachusetts passed in 1642, selectmen were to
look after the children of those parents and masters who neglected to train
them up in " learning and labor," and it was declared a " barbarism " not
to teach them reading and a knowledge of the laws. Twenty shillings was
the penalty for failure.
Thus within thirty years from the landing at Plymouth, was laid the foundation of our entire educational system, with its three grades of schools, essentially as they now exist.
Since the work of the grammar school was to prepare students for college, and the design of the college was to train men for the ministry, not many were found in either grade who had not that profession in view. Obviously colleges and grammar schools were not for girls. How was it with the primary grade? The law required the instruction of " all children," and the support of schools for "children." Girls were not mentioned. However it may have been at first, during most of the eighteenth century, town histories show that
they did not ordinarily attend the public
schools. There seems to have been no controversy on the subject. Their
attendance was not thought necessary. At home, or in private schools kept
by dames, they were taught to read and sew. It was deemed as important
for them to read the Bible as it was for boys. The reading-book, in school
or out, was the New England Primer. It contained the Shorter Catechism,
which all children were required to commit to memory from beginning to
end. Further learning than this girls were not supposed to need. Some learned
to write; but when post-offices were few - and in 1790 there were but seventy-five
in the country - correspondence was limited, and women in common life had
little use for the pen. While everything worn in the family must be produced
by the family, the education required by most was not to be gained at school,
and it may be that girls were as well fitted for the part they were expected
to fill in life, as boys for theirs. Their equal familiarity with the Bible
and catechism prepared women to receive with as much profit as men, the
intellectual and moral training afforded by Sabbath discourses which taxed
the reasoning powers of all who heard.
The circumstances of the colonists gradually led to a general decline in education. For a generation or more before the revolutionary war, there is evidence that while all could read, there were people of respectability and influence throughout the country, who could not write. A large part of the wills left by men, some of whom had considerable property, and a larger part left by women, were signed with a cross. Early deeds in registrars' offices show that in many cases the wives of distinguished men were unable to write their own names.
The period of the Revolution was not favorable to improvement in this respect; and at its close there are said to have been ladies of high standing in Boston who could not read. But a new era in the education of woman soon dawned. Previously public schools with
rare exceptions had been taught by "masters."
In Northampton, before the war, farmers often taught English schools in
the winter at from four to five dollars a month and boarded themselves
at home.* After the war, young men found other occupations more lucrative,
and women began to be employed in the summer schools. Girls began to attend.
In many places it had been an unheard of thing for girls to be instructed
by a master, and some towns were slow in allowing a change.
As late as 1828, a certain Otis Storrs was asked to take the town school in Bristol, Rhode Island, and allow girls to share his instructions. "Before this," the record adds, "girls did not go to the public schools."*** The newer towns were apt to be in advance
* 11 History of Hadley," p. 426, note.
** Quincy's Municipal History of Boston," p. 21.
*** History of Public Education in Rhode island," Col. T. W. Higginson, p. 291.
of the older ones, and if unable to support additional schools for girls, often allowed them. to attend with boys.
In 1789, Massachusetts passed a law indicating advance in several directions. Towns were authorized to establish school districts. Arithmetic, orthography, and the English language were to be taught in the common schools in addition to reading and writing. "Children in the most early stages of life" were to be admitted. One - public school in a, town, which was all that some towns had, would no longer suffice. In the need of more teachers, women were employed in schools where, besides morals, the requirements were only reading, "and writing if contracted for." Previously the law had recognized only masters as teachers. Hence only masters could collect wages. When women taught, their payment had been a voluntary matter. In the phrase " master or mistress," in the new law, is found the first legal recognition of woman as a teacher. It was not much money that she could collect. Twenty years later we read of teachers that received " one dollar a week and the privilege of working f or board and earning another dollar." In Buckland, Massachusetts, 1799, with the wages of twenty-four weeks at fifty cents a week, a teacher bought for her wedding dress six yards of silk at two dollars a yard. In 1814, Mary Lyon began her career with seventy-five cents per week and board, and "boarded round," - more briefly, " seventy-five cents a week and walked for board." This was twenty-five cents a week less than she had been receiving as her brother's housekeeper. In Connecticut this was a common price as late as 1830, according to the testimony of those who received it. It should be remembered, however, that in those summer schools only reading, writing, and morals were required to be taught. Much attention was given to 49 good manners." Many boys and all the girls brought work - straw-braiding, sewing, and knitting. Some had their "stints" for each half-day. Mothers and grand-
mothers are still living who show us samplers,
laces, and other ornamental work done in school.
But the progress begun before the passage
of the last named law, has never ceased. The number of studies was increased.
At the opening of the present century we find geography introduced, and
other reading-books taking the place of the New England Primer. In arithmetic
each pupil took pride in ornamenting his manuscript book of rules and work
with various styles of writing. Every one worked his own way and at his
own rate, without recitation or examination. At first arithmetic and geography
were taught only in the winter, for a knowledge of numbers, or ability
to cast accounts, was deemed quite superfluous for girls. When Colburn's
Mental Arithmetic was introduced, some of our mothers who desired to study
it were told derisively, " If you expect to become widows and have to carry
pork to market, it may be well enough to study mental arithmetic." But
our mothers persevered and were not far behind their brothers in reaching
the mathematical goal of the times-the Rule of Three. In spelling they
were not at all behind; boys were quite as apt as girls to be " spelled
Leicester Academy was incorporated in 1784;
the one at Westford in 1793. These and others founded late in the century
admitted girls, and thus, in addition to the greater advantages directly
afforded, contributed their influence toward opening wider to them the
doors of the common schools. Bradford Academy, when opened, in 1803, received
both sexes. A separate department for girls was established in 1828. Eight
years later the boys' department was closed and girls only have attended
since. The first academy for girls only in New England was the Adams Academy,
Derry, New Hampshire, incorporated June, 1823; the first in Massachusetts
was Ipswich Academy, incorporated February, 1828. Abbot Academy, in Andover,
was chartered in 1829.
The first school in New England, designed
exclusively for the instruction of girls in branches not taught in the
-common schools, is said to have been an evening school conducted by William
Woodbridge, who was a graduate of Yale in 1780. His theme on graduation
was " Improvement in Female Education." Reducing his theory to practice,
in addition to his daily occupation, lie gave his evenings to the instruction
of girls in Lowth's Grammar, Guthrie's Geography, and the art of composition.
The popular sentiment deemed him visionary. Who, it was said, shall cook
our food, or mend our clothes, if girls are to be taught philosophy and
In Waterford, New York, in 1820, occurred
the public examination of a young lady in geometry. It was the first instance
of the kind in the state, and perhaps in the country, and called forth
a storm of ridicule. Her teacher was Mrs. Emma Willard. Before her marriage
in 1809, Mrs. Willard had been connected with a socalled female academy
in Burlington Vermont, and afterward in the same place, with a girls' boarding
school, in which the higher branches were taught. "A Plan for Improving
Woman's Education," from her pen, met the eye of Governor Clinton of New
York, who persuaded her to remove to that state, and secured the passage
of "An act to incorporate the proposed Institute at Waterford," and another,
"To give female academies a share of the literary fund." This is believed
to be the first law passed by any legislature, expressly for improvement
in the education of woman. Instead of an institute at Waterford, the seminary
at Troy was opened, over which Mrs. Willard presided from 1821 to 1838.
While these educators were doing a work in
their respective states, the germs of a more permanent work were forming
in Massachusetts. From 1818 to 1824, Rev. Joseph Emerson had been molding
the intellectual and moral character of young women in his seminary at
Byfield and Saugus. He had in all about one thousand pupils, and among
them were teachers from different parts of New England, for the Normal
School at Lexington, Massachusetts, the first one established in the United
States, was not opened till July, 1839. One of these teachers was Miss
Grant, who became the principal of Adams Academy, Derry, New Hampshire,
and afterward of the seminary in Ipswich, Massachusetts. The connection
of Mary Lyon with Mr. Emerson and Miss Grant will bring the work of each
into fuller notice hereafter.
important that there should be many well educated
women, and accordingly girls were neither furnished
by the state with facilities for separate study,
nor even thought of in connection with
colleges. Indeed during the first quarter
of the present century, the common elements
of education were generally considered sufficient for young women. The
first symptom of progress had not been encouraging.
It was an exaggerated estimate of the
value of mere learning. Ornamental branches and so-called accomplishments
" finished " the education of the comparatively few whose means allowed.
" I spent a thousand dOllars," said a father, " to educate
my daughter. I would give another thousand to
undo it all. She has been made vain, frivolous, and discontented with the
plain, simple habits of home." It is
not strange the mistaken impression prevailed that learning,
instead of fitting young women for their appropriate
duties, had a tendency to make them less domestic,
less healthy, and less useful. But influences were
already at work to bring about a change. Girls were
as f reely and as well taught as boys in the common schools,
and in academies where they existed. Woman, legally
recognized as teacher, had been constantly gaining in opportunity and ability.
Of the teachers in the common schools of Massachusetts
for 1837, the ratio of women to men was as
five to three. The demand for schools and
teachers was steadily increasing, not only in
New England but in western states. Every successful school added to the
previous demand. There were a few in our rapidly
growing country whose eyes were open to the
need. They saw the hope of the nation in the
training of the young, and this training passing more
and more into the hands of woman. To the ever constant
moral molding by the mother was being added the
mental training by both mother and teacher. And the
Pope of Rome was looking on, not idly; Europe was
sending millions of money across the sea to support schools for girls who
were Catholics, or to become Catholics. In
the summer of 1836, New York City
[END OF CHAPTER 1]