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XLVI. the fear of its being wasted.

It is a curious whim this, which returns every now and then, that the higher education of women should be discouraged because “in case of marriage it will all be wasted.” It is one of the bugbears which Mary Wollstonecraft thought she had demolished, and Margaret Fuller after her; but it bears a great deal of killing. Those who still bring it up show how little importance they really attack to those functions of marriage and parentage about which they are continually talking. If they really rated these duties so high, they would see that no amount of intellectual development could be wasted in preparing for them.

The statistics of about seven hundred collegiate alumnae, as tabulated by the Massachusetts Bureau of Statistics, showed that about a quarter of the number were already married; and as their average age was then but twenty-eight, it could be well assumed that the percentage of wedlock would yet be largely increased. There is nothing in the reports to show that any of these wives felt that their education had [233] been wasted; and if any of them were really so foolish, they have perhaps grown wiser already. It is not at all uncommon for young men to feel in that same way, for a year or two after leaving college, when the door of success or employment seems as if it were locked on the wrong side. A few years will, however, teach them that a well-trained brain is a good preparation for any conceivable pursuit, and that a well-stored mind is one of the very greatest blessings, whether a man is suffering under the chagrin of failure or the ennui of success. So, many a woman, it may be, has for a moment distrusted the value of her own training, when she found herself, in Emerson's words,

Servant to a wooden cradle,
Living in a baby's life;

or in days when all her mathematics must be brought down to the arithmetic of teething, and all her music must be laid aside to attend to the musical instrument of sweeter tone that says, “Mother.” No doubt the function of motherhood takes a dozen absorbing years out of many a young woman's life. All the better for her, then, if she has gained the material for intellectual activity before that day comes. If an army is about to cross a desert where there is no food, this only affords more reason for filling up the haversacks and canteens. [234]

It is easy to point out a few of the unanswerable reasons why a woman needs the best possible education, even if she is to be married the day after she takes her last diploma. To begin on the lowest plane, there is often the material need of self-support, and of that which is much more than self-support, since it may involve the sustaining of children and even of a husband. In a late report of one of our highest institutions for women, the estimate was made by the directors that about half the students apparently came there to prepare for earning a living, and the other half from a simple desire for self-improvement. In our changing society it would not be strange if these two halves were to shift places — if the half who expected to support themselves were destined, after all, to be cared for by others, and the half who felt sure of a support were to be thrown on themselves. Who can foretell? As to external fortunes, at least, the happiest marriage is but a lottery. In our homely rural phrase, “It takes but about tree generations from shirt-sleeves to shirt-sleeves.” We meet every day women bred to competence, and perhaps married into luxury, who now need all that the trained brain can do for them, as to mere material provision. At the first Normal School exhibition I ever attended, thirty years ago, I remember the calm brow, the clear eyes, the rosebud checks, of the class poet; she seemed one of [235] those fair creatures for whom all life must be smoothed, as it always had been; and when, erelong, she was happily married, she appeared one of those who retire forever from the public gaze, and whose education is called wasted. By no means: the best of husbands may fail in business or in health, and then we see of what material the wife is made. This woman has for many years been the main support of her own large household, and has in so doing developed a literary talent, and an especial genius for teaching, that have made her books the inspiration and the guidance of a thousand homes. She is but a type of a myriad women, all over this country, whose education has paid for itself over and over again, in the mere material aspect.

And even where this material use of education has not been actually necessary, how much stronger and freer a woman is when she knows that she has this intellectual capital, and can at any time put it to use! Then comes, too, the higher use to be made of it, not for material objects alone, but for the good of all. The great changes of the last thirty years, placing upon women so much of the practical organization of philanthropies and the guidance of society, have gone hand-in-hand with the higher education. The Sanitary Commission and the Women's Christian Temperance Union are striking instances of this organized development. The Society of Collegiate [236] Alumnae promises a vast deal further in the same direction. The whole course of later American history has been perceptibly affected by the fact that Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote “Uncle Tom's cabin ;” the whole relation between the white race on this continent and the aborigines is being influenced by the fact that Helen Jackson wrote “A century of Dishonor” and “Ramona.” We cannot, if we would, keep woman's hand off the helm, since even the Greek orator Demosthenes confessed that measures which the statesman had meditated for a year might be overturned in a day by a woman. But it is for us to decide whether this power shall be exercised by an enlightened mind or an unenlightened one-by Madame Roland or Theroigne de Mericourt.

Finally, let us meet the objection on its most familiar ground, and assume that all the main work of the world is to be done by men. Who are to bear or rear those men? Women. In every land that missionaries visit it is found, first or last, to be quite useless to educate only the men. Take men of any race at the time when they pass out of the care of women, and you take them too late. Their characters are already formed, and have been formed mainly by the other sex. Hence everywhere we see missionaries establishing schools for women in order to teach men. The South Sea Islanders have a proverb-- [237]

If strong is the frame of the mother,
The son will give laws to the people.

If for “frame” we read “brain,” it is the same thing. He who receives from his mother a good frame, a good brain, and a good disposition, is equipped to serve the world. But how can we secure these things for him unless they exist in her?

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