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A chapter of Radcliffe College.

Arthur Gilman, Regent of Radcliffe College.
About seventeen years ago there were vague reports abroad to the effect that Harvard College was about to admit women to its classes with men. These reports were, of course, based upon unwarranted rumor. For a long time there had been talk on the subject in the papers and in many private circles previous to the centennial year, but no plan had been formed, either on the part of Harvard College, or of anybody else, by which such an end might be attained. There were two very positive “parties” engaged in the talk. One wished for the admission of women at once, as a right, and the other looked with distaste or even with horror upon such a thing. It may be stated, indeed, as a fact, that it was at the time impossible for a woman to gain admission to one of the college classes.

I was not involved in this discussion, but it became a personal matter with me on account of the interest that my wife and I took in a certain young lady at the moment attending one of the schools for girls in Cambridge, who seemed to have reached the limit of the advantages that it offered. While we were considering the wants of this young woman we became more and more thoroughly convinced that it was desirable for her to get instruction from the professors of Harvard College, and we were no [184] less thoroughly convinced that she could not get this in the classes of the college, even if it were desirable for a single girl to enter classes comprising many young men. We saw that in whatever way she were taught, she could only get the advantage she needed by some joining of forces with other young women in the same stage of educational progress.

After considerable thought I conceived the plan of providing a course of instruction for women by the professors of Harvard College, but outside of the college and without responsibility to it. Such a course would not lead to a degree, but it would give the women who were fitted for it all the training that the degree certified to, and of which it is the seal. While I was sure that such a scheme was practicable, and that it might lead to great results, because I was confident that a large body of women longed for the grade of instruction that Harvard College gives, I was not certain that a proposition to begin the work would be favorably received by the professors. Some considerations made me feel that their favor might be obtained, but my fears, which were greater than my hopes, restrained me from making a public expression of my desires for a long time. While I was thus delaying, I discussed the subject with my wife as we walked through the streets of Cambridge and looked at this house and that which we thought might some day serve as the home for the institution that we had in mind. Many months passed, and I still found myself in the position of seeking the proper moment to approach some member of the faculty.

During the summer vacation of 1878, Mrs. Gilman urged with unusual persistency that I should make the move on our return to the city. When we reached home I concluded that the time had [185] arrived, for we heard rumors that a young lady had sought instruction from three different professors, and that she was enjoying in some degree the privileges that we desired for others. The young woman was Miss Abby Leach, who had come to Cambridge that autumn to be instructed by Professors Goodwin, Child and Greenough. Others had done the same thing before, and it is true that Miss Leach had not made any plan for such systematic courses as I had in mind, but her success in interesting three professors served to increase my hope that a systematic course would not only be received with favor, but would be successful. I therefore determined to bring the matter to the attention of the professors. Our nearest neighbor among those who occurred to us was Professor Greenough, and on the evening of the twenty-fifth of November I called at his house, intending to tell him that I had a plan to arrange for women a course of instruction exactly the same as that which Harvard College offered to men, and to ask the professors to give the necessary instruction. I had arranged a list of the professors who seemed to me desirable to interest, based upon the elective pamphlet of that year, and with many misgivings I pulled the door-bell at Professor Greenough's home on Appian Way. It was evident, as soon as the door opened, that the house was filled with company and that the opportunity was not a good one for the serious business that I had in mind. I confess to a sense of relief when I saw a postponement in prospect, and I merely asked Professor Greenough if he would not call at my house on Phillips Place the following evening, with Mrs. Greenough, because I had a very important subject that I wished to discuss.

The professor was true to his promise, and the [186] little library looking out towards the home of Librarian Sibley was the scene of an exceedingly agreeable call. The whole evening was spent in pleasant conversation. We very likely discussed our Cambridge neighbors, perhaps even the weather, but certainly there was not the smallest reference to the subject that had been so long agitating me. The callers seemed in no hurry to leave us, but at last, when Mr. Greenough had his hand upon the knob of the door, he said, “But you have not mentioned the ‘important subject’ that you proposed to discuss.” Then, of course, the time for delay had passed and I was obliged to lay out the plan in full, and I did it. Mr. Greenough received it with his natural enthusiasm, and both he and Mrs. Greenough promised their heartiest cooperation. Theirs were no formal expressions. Mrs. Greenough was an active member of the governing body from the first until her death, and her husband has never ceased, not only to perform the duties of an instructor, but also to serve as a member of the Academic Board, of which for a time he was Chairman, and to sacrifice himself and his personal convenience to the interests of the students and the institution.

The beginning was favorable beyond our hopes. The next step was to find out whether the other professors would look at the matter in the same way that Professor Greenough did, and whether, if they should, the University would permit them to give this systematic instruction. Professor Greenough and I occupied ourselves for a while in confidential conference about the plan, with various professors, and it was evident that their approval would be almost unanimous.. In order to find out the position of the Corporation of Harvard College, I wrote the following letter and sent it to President Eliot: [187]

5 Phillips Place, Cambridge, Dec. 23, 1878.
Dear Sir:
I am engaged in perfecting a plan which shall afford to women opportunities for carrying their studies systematically forward further than it is possible for them now to do it in this country, except, possibly, at Smith College.

My plan obliges me to obtain the services of certain of the professors, and I address you before approaching them in order to assure myself that I am correct in supposing that their relations to the University are such as to permit of their giving instruction to those who are not connected with it.

I propose to bring here such women as are able to pass an examination not less rigid than that now established for the admission of young men and to offer them a course of instruction which shall be a counterpart of that pursued by the men.

It is probable that a very small number of women will be found at first, but it will grow.

I am aware that some of the professors now give instruction to private pupils and teach elsewhere. If my plan prove a success it will relieve them from such irregular labor and give them a regular addition to their incomes.

It is, however, needless that I enlarge, or trouble you at any greater length.

I desire only to be assured that if I make approaches to any of the Faculty I shall be asking them for services that they can render or not, without in any way interfering with their first obligations to the University.

I am very truly yours, Arthur Gilman. President Eliot.


On the day before Christmas, in 1878, as I was seated in my library, I had a call from President Eliot, who came in person to answer my letter and to discuss the subject in some of its bearings. He assured me that there was no objection on the part of the College, that the professors were quite at liberty to accept an offer to teach in the way proposed, and that the only suggestion that came to him was that some provision would have to be made for taking care of the young women who would come to study in Cambridge. This, I assured him, had been considered, and that a body of ladies would be asked to act in the capacity of directors of the movement.

A few weeks were now spent in private conversation with the professors whom it was desired to interest, and in the formation of the governing board of ladies. This has always been a woman's movement, and at first the directors were all women, though I acted as their Secretary and attended to the correspondence and general management. The first ladies had already been chosen. They were Mrs. Greenough and Mrs. Gilman. Our choice fell next upon Miss Longfellow and Miss Horsford. Our first meeting with these occurred on the twenty-fourth of January, 1879, when with their help we chose Mrs. Josiah P. Cooke, wife of the distinguished Professor of Chemistry. The public announcement of the scheme was all the time under discussion, and by the opening of the month of February those who had already become members of the body met and discussed a circular which had been prepared in outline. At a meeting held on the fourth of February, it was voted to ask Mrs. Louis Agassiz to join the body. Two days later Mrs. Agassiz accepted the offer. On the eleventh of [189] February the number was for the time being completed by the election of Mrs. E. W. Gurney, wife of the Professor of History.

Many professors had expressed their adherence to the plan, but it was desirable to have formal acceptance of an offer to teach. I therefore, as Secretary, sent out a circular letter to a considerable number. In a few days I had received written responses from more than fifty who had thus been addressed, almost all of which were favorable. Some, indeed, offered to give instruction without charge, rather than permit the scheme to be abandoned. I mention this fact to show the spirit in which the professors of Harvard College received the plan. It is the same spirit in which they have continued to give their services. Formal bargains have not been made. The professors have accepted for their services the sums, small enough in many instances, which the institution has felt it possible to pay. This is the spirit in which the movement was received by the President and by the University. Notably is this true regarding the use of the Library, without which the effort would have been of little value. By agreement with President Eliot and the Librarian, Mr. Justin Winsor, we have always been permitted the use of the great collection of books, and at last, without any request on our part, the privileges of the Library were given to the officers and students by a formal vote of the Corporation-after they had been enjoyed under the original oral agreement for a number of years!

The first half-dozen who responded to the circular letter were, in their order, Professors William E. Byerly, Benjamin Peirce, Frederick H. Hedge, William W. Goodwin and William James. Professors Norton, Peabody, Hill, Palmer, Gurney, Shaler, [190] Briggs, Goodale, Emerton, White, Paine and others followed. When these acceptances had been received, it was thought safe to issue an announcement, and the first public intimation of the scheme was made in a circular headed “Private collegiate instruction for women,” issued on Washington's Birthday, 1879. It announced in rather vague terms that some of the professors of Harvard College had consented to give instruction to properly prepared women of a grade not below that which they gave to men, that certificates would be awarded to women who pursued the courses and passed the examinations satisfactorily, that the fees for tuition would not be over four hundred dollars and might be as low as two hundred and fifty, that seven ladies whose names were signed to the circular would assist the students with advice and other friendly offices and see that they secured suitable lodgings, and finally that applications might be made to the Secretary.

Just previous to the publication of this announcement there had been a general meeting of the seven ladies with the professors at my house, the venerable Dr. Hedge presiding, when the whole subject was discussed. It was evident that more discussion was necessary and the meeting adjourned for a week. Professor Shaler presided over the second meeting and stated that he was probably the only member of the faculty who had already taught women in his regular college classes. He explained that in making grants of money to the “Agassiz Museum” the legislature of Massachusetts had stipulated that students in the Normals Schools of the State should be permitted to take the courses of instruction there, and that some women had availed themselves of the opportunity. These two meetings showed that a [191] smaller body would be more advantageous than a large one, and on behalf of the ladies and after previous consultation. I nominated at the second gathering an advisory board which was to have authority in all matters pertaining to instruction. This body, consisting of Professors Goodwin, Gurney, J. M. Peirce, Greenough and Goodale, representing different departments of instruction, was unanimously elected, and from that time to the present this board, now called the Academic Board, has been the real representative faculty of the instruction. Its personnel has changed but little. Shortly after the beginning of the work Professor Byerly became a member and he has occupied the position of Chairman throughout almost all the years of the history of the movement, performing the arduous duties without remuneration. Upon him have devolved most of those duties that are performed by the president of a college, outside of those that are purely administrative.

We have been fortunate in the interest that the professors have taken in every part of the work from the first. Professor Goodwill acted for a year, during the absence of Professor Byerly, as Chairman of the Academic Board. Professor Greenough was also very efficient in the same position at the beginning, and it has been said that there was probably no other professor in the college at the time who could have made up the course of study that was prepared for the opening year. The labor involved in this is great every year, but for the first one it was far greater than it could be after the way had been marked out and the various instructors had to some extent become familiar with the situation. It is to the professors who have made the reputation of Harvard College that Radcliffe College [192] is indebted for whatever it has accomplished. It is one of the strong points of the plan that the college for women, having no faculty of its own, is able to obtain the advantages which come from the endowments and long traditions of the college for men. No endowment-fund could compensate for the loss of this. There can never be question of the character of scholarship of the professors at Radcliffe, because they are the professors of Harvard whom no enticements of high salary or great opportunity can tempt away. Zzzn omen have them assured at Radcliffe.

Another advantage which the students of Radcliffe have enjoyed always is found in the fact that the seven ladies who interested themselves in the work when it began, have continued to use their influence for the students, and have done for them not only what was promised in the original circular, but a great deal more. They have been the friends of the young women, their counsellors and guides, have assisted them upon their social occasions of all sorts, and have surrounded them with an atmosphere of refinement and cultivation which could not have come to them through the agency of any salaried officials. Their gracious examples have favored the building up of the finest womanly character, and it is perhaps largely on this account that Radcliffe College develops an educated woman at home in the most advanced work of an intellectual kind, but devoid of all suspicion of mannishness. These ladies have exercised a warm hospitality to the students, opening their houses to them at various times with great freedom, have entertained them on the occasions of their commencements, and in many cases have made them familiar with a social atmosphere that they never lose the benefits of. How [193] great is this advantage no one can fully appreciate who has not seen the young woman coming from some remote locality blessed with few social opportunities and passing through four years, at an impressionable age, while she grows in intellectual vigor and in personal graces at once.

When Mrs. Louis Agassiz became a member of

the governing body she entered upon the work with strong sympathy and deep desire to ensure its success, and her influence upon the college has been marked. The enterprise, it may be said, has had three stages. The seven ladies and their Secretary formed at first a body that was governed by no written laws, but was controlled by the living interest which each of them felt in the work. They had been brought together by but a single purpose. They were exponents of no “cause,” and were known only as persons interested in the best instruction of women. No party was able to call one of them its own. This was their strength as they appealed to the community. Those who wished to have women at once admitted to the classes with men favored this movement, because they saw in it possibilities in that direction. Those who held the opposite view favored the new enterprise because it did not attempt to push women into the classes of men. The ladies themselves made no announcement on these points.

When it became necessary to establish the institution in a home of its own, to obtain real estate, and larger funds, a more formal organization was effected, and the voluntary association became a corporation under the general laws of Massachusetts with the name “The Society for the Collegiate Instruction for Women.” This was in August, 1882, and several new members were added at the time [194] who greatly increased the strength of the body. These were Professor Charles Eliot Norton, Professor Goodwin, Professor Smith, at the time Dean of Harvard College, Professor Child, Professor Byerly, Professor James Mills Peirce, Miss Mason and Henry Lee Higginson, Esq., of Boston, and Joseph B. Warner, Esq., of Cambridge, who had previously acted as Treasurer. There have been five other additions to the corporation since 1882. Mrs. Henry Whitman was chosen in 1886, Miss Agnes Invin in 1894, Professor John Chipman Gray, Miss Annie Leland Barber and Miss Mary Coes in 1895. The two members last mentioned were graduates and had been nominated by the alumnae. Miss Coes had been assistant to the Secretary for a number of years. She is now Secretary. At the time of the incorporation, in 1882, Mrs. Agassiz was chosen President and she began to take a more active part in the work and life of the students. She gave up one afternoon in the week to a social meeting with them at Fay House, the building which was bought in 1885 as the permanent home, and she assisted them in their own social gatherings as the other ladies also did. This is, of course, but a small part of the work of Mrs. Agassiz in behalf of the students.

The third stage in the history of the movement dates from the incorporation of Radcliffe College by a special act of the Legislature of Massachusetts which received the signature of the Governor on the twenty-third of March, 1894, having been passed a few days previous almost without a dissenting vote. Though there was no opposition on the part of the members of the legislature to the plan that made “The Society for the Collegiate Instruction of Women” Radcliffe College, there was found to be not a little among some others who feared that the [195] arrangement with Harvard College might at some time be dissolved, and that it would not allow a development of the highest education of woman to the utmost. These fears were settled in two ways. Firstly, at a hearing before the committee on Education of the Legislature, President Eliot said in positive terms that though Harvard College had in the course of its long history begun many new lines of educational work, it had never been known to retreat from any such enterprise after it had been begun. Secondly, when the new list of courses of study was issued it was found that the scope of the work had been enlarged far beyond the promises that had been made before the passage of the act. The Legislature was most liberal in the permissions given in the act, for its provisions ensure to Radcliffe College the power and the authority to accomplish all that can be attained for the highest education of woman. It grants this power and these privileges to the younger institution in conjunction with Harvard University, thus allowing the new college to enter upon the heritage of the traditions and opportunities which it has been the good fortune of the elder institution to attain through its life of more than two and a half centuries.

At the time that Radcliffe College was brought into being by the Legislature of Massachusetts, an important step was taken by the creation of a new officer, that of Dean, and filling it by the election of Miss Agnes Irwin. Miss Irwin had been connected with the direction of educational movements in Philadelphia for many years and was especially interested in the education and training of girls, having been at the head of an important school which numbered among its students many of the women of Philadelphia prominent in social life. When Miss Irwin was chosen Dean of Radcliffe College several [196] hundred of these former pupils united to found The Agnes Irwin Scholarship, in recognition of her long devotion to the good of others and of the value that they placed upon her influence. A list of the contributors to the scholarship fund was sent to Miss Irwin elegantly engrossed on parchment and enclosed in a silver chest which was adorned with costly carving in high relief. Miss Irwin has now occupied her office one year. She has performed, in addition to her other duties, those kindly services that had in the previous years been a pleasure to Mrs. Agassiz, Mrs. Gilman and the other ladies of the corporation.1

The record that has thus been hastily sketched shows that Radcliffe College is a growth, that its progress has been natural and not forced, that it tends to bring to Cambridge the most advanced students among the women of the country, that it offers to them the services of a faculty which cannot be excelled for learning and teaching ability by any other similar body in the country. It has succeeded, to mention but one among many reasons, because it has not demanded too much, but has been content to make progress steadily, well knowing that such a growth is more firm and strong than any spasmodic development could be. It was Swift, was it not? who said that a blessing ought to be pronounced upon the man who should make two blades of grass grow where but one had grown. Certainly there should be a blessing for that scheme which makes two colleges grow and spread their ennobling influence where but a single Faculty exists. [197] [198]

1 It is not without interest to me that I first met Miss Irwin, in Cambridge, after her election, in the room in which I had explained my plan to ProfessorGreenough and Mrs. Greenough, and afterwards to President Eliot. Miss Irwin was guest of Professor Thayer, who had bought the house that I formerly occupied.

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