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ESSAY

ON

FEMALE EDUCATION,

BY

MRS. ALMIRA H. LINCOLN PHELPS.

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To ALBERT PICKET, Esq.,

President of the College of Teachers : SIR-I consider myself much honored in the notice of the Executive Committee of the “ Western Literary Institute and College of Teachers," as communicated by their President, and very cheerfully comply with their request, to make a written report on some subject connected with education.”

I shall confine myself to the subject of Female Education; which I shall consider,

First, in regard to the well being of woman herself ;
Second, in its effects on the character of the other sex ; and

Third, the improvements which have been made in Female
Education.

I. It is not unfrequently asserted, that “education renders females less contented with the lot assigned them by God, and by the customs of society; that it tends to draw them from their appropriate domestic duties, and thus renders them less happy and less useful."

It is no doubt true that intellectual enjoyments do, in some degree, cause a disrelish for the common toils of life, such as fall to the lot of most females ; and one who has acquired a taste for those higher enjoyments, without being at the same time fortified

with correct principles, may indulge in repimings when circumstances demand the sacrifice of her own refined tastes, and require attention to objects of an humble and material nature. But the same argument may be urged in relation to male education. The man whose eloquence has power to move the souls of his fellow men, or whose enlightened understanding can illumine the darkest subjects connected with jurisprudence, metaphysics or theology, can scarcely be expected to feel entirely satisfied with occupations which demand mere bodily toil, or to rest perfectly contented in the privation of all intellectual enjoyments. And yet, circumstances may compel the statesman and the scholar to resort to manual labor, or to petty plans of economy uncongenial to their refined and elevated thoughts, and then their intellectual eminence and refinement may, perhaps, embitter the cup which but for them would have been sweet.

But man was made for improvement; his soul thirsts for it; and, in proportion as he becomes enlightened, his spiritual nature, rises above the material, and assimilates him to beings of a higher order. Woman has the same intellectual nature as man ; she too, says "give me knowledge, it is the food which my mind craves, and without which it cannot rest satisfied.”

The constitution of the rational mind then leads it to seek for knowledge, and the great secret of education is, while imparting this necessary intellectual food, to incorporate with it those moral sentiments that will strengthen the soul in virtuous resolutions, and give courage to follow where duty leads. With these auxiliaries, intellectual culture becomes a blessing both to man and woman, by rendering them happier, and enabling them the better to fulfil their obligations in the social state. In adverse circumstances, a woman thus educated, and thus fortified, can perform the humblest offices without regarding them as mean or vulgar ; for she has learned to consider her true dignity as associated with the performance of duty. It is the imperfectly educated woman, or she whose moral developments have been sacrificed to the intellectual, whom we may expect to find pedantic, improvident, and undutiful.

The cultivation of the mind opens to woman sources of enjoyment independent of the world. She who can, at her own fireside, commune with the great and good of all ages and countries, needs not the excitement of public amusements, nor the entertainment of scandal. She, who can raise the minds of her offspring to the higher walks of learning, or can judge of the instructions of others, possesses an inestimable advantage, and a source of pure and elevated enjoyment. But how many mothers have felt the mortification of seeing themselves behind even their young children in a knowledge of the elements of literature and science, how many have been imposed upon by ignorant pretenders to

learning, and committed the instruction of their children to incompetent teachers.

Education is then desirable for woman herself, promoting her happiness, her dignity, and her usefulness.

II. We will next consider Female Education in relation to its effects on the character of the other sex.

God created woman to be a companion for man, to be with him, to share in his fortunes, his emotions and his thoughts. If this companion be ignorant, trifling, incapable of comprehending the truths of science, or of enjoying the refined pleasures of taste, is it not evident that she will be a hindrance to him in all that constitutes his true elevation ?

Let man then, as he values his own best interests, as he regards the future improvement of society, as he would faithfully discharge his duty to the being committed to his guardian care, watch over the interests of female education, and -invite woman to share with him in intellectual enjoyments. What a field for mental activity, in exploring the depths of ancient learning, in comparing the mystical mythology of the heathen with the revealed word of God, the poetry, philosophy and science of the ancients, with those of the moderns, and in tracing the progress of literature and language from their birth to the present day.

Let man, more calm and persevering in investigation, lend his aid to woman in the perception and development of mathematical truths, teaching her the art of reasoning, and the habit of mastering her own thoughts, that she may thus learn reflection, and to make her deductions from reason rather than impulse. Let him introduce her into the glorious temple of science, point out the constellations of the heavens, and explain the wonderful principles by which, under the direction of Almighty power, the unnumbered worlds are sustained, moved, and regulated. When thought, stretched to its utmost tension in these sublime researches, becomes wearied and confused, lét him descend to the earth, to contemplate with his companion, the wisdom of the Creator, as exhibited in the various natural' objects scattered over its surface.

The female mind, enlarged by natural science, learns to read sermons in stones” and to find good in every thing;' it is furnished with a new internal sense, by which are rendered manifest the symmetry and method which pervade the works of God. Thus instructed, woman becomes fitted for the companion of enlightened man; without education, she is but his toy or his slave. In the character of a mother, no less than in that of a wife, is a cultivated, well balanced mind of the highest importance. While

those females who maỹ not be called to -sustain either of these relations, dignity and elevation of mind are necessary to secure to them respect, and the enjoyments connected with the pursuits of knowledge, to render them happy.

III. In turning our attention to the advances already made in female education, we see much in the past which demands our gratitude, while, in the yista of the future, a fair and noble prospect rises before the imagination. So late as the beginning of the nineteenth century, there was little opportunity for a female to acquire a liberal education. In some rare cases, an enlightened father, esteeming the intellect of his daughters no less precious than that of his sons, permitted the former to participate in the instructions of the latter in the higher branches of education. The only. schools where females could resort, besides the common district school, were academies and boarding schools. In the academies, one teacher was expected to hear lessons of all kinds, to teach writing, drawing, etc., and, at the same time, enforce the discipline necessary for preserving order among a large number engaged in a variety of pursuits. Under such circumstances, a teacher could know little of the character of each individual pupil, either intellectually or morally ; and very deficient were the aids afforded the pupil in comprehending her studies, or in inspiring her with the zeal necessary to a successful pursuit of knowledge. These academies, moreover, were often promiscuous assemblies of young persons of both sexes, brought together with the professed object of acquiring a knowledge of literature ; but, in reality, the situation was often made subservient to an early introduction to the corrupting arts of coquetry, or resulted in a prematnre development of the affections, to the prejudice of the intellect.

Boarding schools were often mere nurseries of affectation and frivolity, where one person, and that one often wholly unqualified to instruct, would attempt to teach the various branches of education, together with the fashionable accomplishments of the day, as painting, embroidery, fillagree work and music. The existence of the school depending chiefly on pleasing the pupils, they were generally permitted to pass their evenings in society, and allowed an unrestrained intercourse with the other sex, at an age, of all others, the most dangerous and imprudent. While the sisters were thus employed, the brothers, in the classic halls of Yale, Harvard, and Nassau, were trained to laborious study and carefully conducted up the hill of science, to the region of intellectual light. When the learned man desired a companion, where was he to find her ? His choice lay, on the one hand, between the superficial boarding school girl whose whole education in many cases was summed up in her piece of embroidery, and who was, in reality, fitted neither for ornament nor use ; on the other hand, was the domestic drudge, who having been, in her father's house, a patient and useful laborer, might be expected to relieve her husband of domestic cares, and leave his mind free to range in his more elevated sphere. Alas, for the virtuous and noble minded, but ignorant girl selected as a wife from such selfish motives ! Must there not too, have been in the mind of the enlightened husband, the christian and philosopher, some “compunctious visitings” when he beheld the servitude of one created his equal, and to be his help-mate, not-his slave ?

Thirty years since, the writer recollects hearing her elder sister, then a young, enthusiastic girl, inveighing against the injustice which withheld from females the advantages of education bestowed upon the other sex ; she said, what, in my childish folly, I thought to be very absurd, that “there should be colleges for females as well as for males, and that the time was at hand when such insti. tutions would exist." Fifteen years afterwards, this visionary girl, (as her friends then called her) had founded the Troy Female Seminary, which in its thorough and liberal course of study, its various instructers and recitation rooms for different branches, its separate apartments for pupils where they can uninterruptedly pursue their studies, may very properly be termed a female college.

The establishment of female seminaries, or institutions of a permanent and elevated character, uniting teachers of varied talents under the direction of one or more principals of experience and wisdom, must be regarded as a most important step in female education. Here, a regular system of instruction may be pursued. The teacher of a class in a recitation room devoted to that purpose, and with time, not only for previous preparation herself, but to lead her pupils to the investigation of their studies, has an opportunity for making an impression on the mind of her pupils, of cultivating her moral powers in connexion with the intellectual, and of establishing that sympathy which, as it were, gives access to the soul, and affords a teacher an inestimable advantage, in the business of mental cultivation. Seminaries of this kind are fast multiplying in our country; they are not only the nurseries of female talent, but to those of the sex who are capable of teaching others, afford stations of dignity and usefulness. It may seem arrogant in Americans to say it, but it is true, and a conviction of this truth may serve to encourage us in our efforts-Europe is now looking to us as pioneers in fernale education. Madame Belloc, of France, in a letter to the writer, says, 66 We are far behind your country in female improvement ; we look to you for an example of what women can do. The books which are used in your female seminaries are above the capacities of our young women.

Madame Necker de Laussure, of Geneva, in a private letter says, “ The success which has attended efforts for female education in America are well-known and appreciated on the continent. What a noble enterprise to raise up teachers who will diffuse throughout the American continent the blessings of knowledge and religion in an infinite progression, and prepare for their future

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