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INQUIRIES regarding the health of Vassar students, particularly as to “ whether it improves or degenerates under the stimnlus of regular and continued brain-work," and regarding the sanitary regulations of the college, are inquiries of interest and importance to every one who is thinking—and who is not—about improved methods of education for women.
The pronounced and very advanced position that Matthew Vassar, the Founder, took, in relation to what he considered a vital necessity in true education, the judicious combining of physical training with high intellectual culture, and which he incorporated into his scheine for giving “a fair chance for the girls,” was, in itself, almost a challenge to all the world to ask these questions, and to scan critically the replies to them which the institution should make, as years should go on, and give adequate opportunity for the testing of the founder's theories.
As might be expected, Mr. Vassar provided especial advantages for the thorough establishment and maintenance of a system of physical training. He placed the great building that was to be the college home of many women in the middle of a farm of two hundred acres, lying upon a beautiful plateau, so that pure air, unobstructed sunshine, good sewerage, an abundant water supply, quiet, freedom from intrusive observation in outdoor sports or employments, and varied encouragements for active and healthful recreation, were all made possible. He was careful that the provision for the heating and lighting of the building should be generous, and that there should be no lack in the arrangements for the supply of suitable and well-prepared food. He built a commodious gymnasium and riding-school, and experienced instructors were put in charge of both those departments of physical culture; and, agreeably to his views and plan, one of the instituted professorships was that of Physiology and Hygiene, whose incumbent was also appointed resident physician, and given general supervision of the sanitary arrangements of the household.
This brief sketch gives the prominent features of the plan by which the founder and his associated trustees and faculty hoped to solve the problem of providing for the liberal education of women, and at the same time promoting their healthy, vigorous and graceful physical development. The following extract from President Raymond's Report to the United States Commissioner of Education at the Vienna Exposition, on “Vassar College; its Foundation, Aims, etc.,” shows what creed underlayed the arduous labor which the solution of this problem involved : “ Recognizing the possession by woman of the same intellectual constitution as mau's, they claimed for her an equal right to intellectual culture, and a system of development and discipline based on the same fundamental principles. They denied that any amount of intellectual training, if properly conducted, could be prejudicial, in either sex, to physical health or to the moral and social virtues. They believed, in the light of all experience, that the larger the stock of knowledge and the more thorough the mental discipline a woman actually attains, other things being equal, the better she is fitted to fill every womanly position, and to perform every womanly duty, at home and in society. At the same time, they could not but see that there are specialties in the ferninine constitution, and in the functions allotted to woman in life, and they believed that these should not be lost sight of in arranging the details of her education.”
To give an idea of some of the complications and perplexities which beset the infancy of this educational enterprise, I cannot do better than to quote at length from President Rayinond's Report above named. I think that his testimony, which is that of an experienced and observing teacher, is of great value, especially upon the point of the ruinous lack of system that has so generally obtained in the education of girls :
“ In September, 1865, the institntion was opened for the reception of students. A large number, between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four, from all parts of the Union and from Canada, applied for exainination, and about three hundred and fifty were accepted. A respectable minority of these, say one-fourth or one-third, had been well taught—a few admirably. But of the great majority, it could not be said with truth that they were thoroughly grounded in anything.
“In the ordinary English branches, had the same tests been applied then that are applied now, one-half the candidates would have been refused. In these branches the advantage was notably with those who had been taught in the graded public schools, particularly of the larger towns and cities; and none appeared to less advantage than those on whom the greatest expense had been lavished in governesses and special forms of honie or foreign education.
" In the more advanced studies, the examinations revealed a prevailing want of method and order, and much of that superficiality which must necessarily result from taking up such stndies without disciplinary preparation. Such preparation seemed not to have been wholly neglected; but in a majority of cases it had been quite insufficient, and often little better than nominal. Most of the older students, for instance, had professedly studied Latin, and either algebra or geometry, or both. But the Latin had usually been finished with reading very imperfectly a little Cæsar and Virgil ; and the algebra and geometry, though perhaps in general better taught, 'had not infrequently been studied in easy abridgments, of little or no value for the purposes of higher scientific education. . . . . . . . .,
“One thing was made clear by these preliminary examinations: that, if the condition of the higher female education in the United States was fairly represented by this company of young women, with a great deal that was elevated in aim, and earnest in intention, it was characterized by much confusion, much waste of power, and much barrenness of result, and admitted of essential improvement. .
“An inquiry into their plans for future study revealed as clearly their need of authoritative guidance and direction. There was no lack of zeal for improvement. Almost all had been drawn to the college. by the hope of obtaining a higher and completer education than would be afforded them elsewhere. Indeed, the earnestness of purpose, assiduity of application and intelligence
to appreciate good counsel, which have, from the beginning, characterized the students as a body, are a noticeable and encouraging fact. But their reliance at first was largely on the adventitious advantages which the college was supposed to possess for putting them in possession of their favorite branches of knowledge and culture. Of the real elements and processes of a higher education, and of the subjective conditions of mental growth and training, comparatively few, either of the students or their parents, appeared to have any definite idea. There was no lack of definiteness of choice. Tastes and inclinations were usually positive; reasons were not so plentiful. That the young lady "liked this study or disliked' that, was the reason perhaps most freqnently assigned. If its force was not at once conceded, she strengthened it by increased emphasis, declaring that she was passionately fond' of the one and utterly detested' or 'never could endure” the other. Practical studies were greatly in vogue, especially with parents ; 'practical' neaning such as had an immediate relation, real or fancied, to some ntility of actual life, such, for example, as that of chemistry to cooking, or of French to a tour in Europe. Appropriateness for the discipline of the faculties, or the equipment of the mind for scientific or philosophical investigation, might not be appreciated as practical considerations at all.
“The deepest impression made by these preliminary examinations on those who conducted them was this; that the grand desideratum for the higher education of women was regulation, authoritative and peremptory. Granting that the college system for young men, coming dowu from an age of narrow prescription and rigid uniformity, needed expansion, relaxation, a wider variety of