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  1. 1. Women, Science, and Education during the Late 19th Century
  2. 2. Context for debate of women’s education • Increase in number of institutions accepting women • 1870: only 30% colleges and universities; by 1900: had risen to 70% • Increase in percentage of women in college/university population • 1870: 21% • 1880: 32% • 1900: 36% • 1910: 40% • 1920: 47% • A larger percentage (40-60%) of women who earned college degrees did not marry • Why?
  3. 3. • Declining fertility rates over the course of the 19th century • Essentially cut in half among white women, from 7 to 3.5 births • Drop is most significant among affluent, well educated women • Leads to fears of “race suicide” • Changes in the nature of the workforce • Emergence of new kinds of white-collar office jobs for women • Middle-class men less likely to be their own boss • Rise of biological determinism • Spread of Darwinian ideas • Scientific racism and sexism • Science being used to legitimize/enforce inequality Context for debate of women’s education
  4. 4. Charles Darwin’s published views on women The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871) “I am aware that some writers doubt whether there is any inherent difference between men and women; referring here to J.S. Mill’s The Subjection of Women]; but this is at least probable from the analogy of the lower animals which present other secondary sexual characters. No one will dispute that the bull differs in disposition from the cow….Woman seems to differ from man in mental disposition, chiefly in her greater tenderness and less selfishness; and this holds good even with savages…. Woman, owing to her maternal instincts, displays these qualities towards her infants in an eminent degree; therefore it is likely that she should often extend them towards her fellow-creatures. Man is the rival of other men; he delights in competition, and this leads to ambition which passes too easily into selfishness. These latter qualities seem to be his natural and unfortunate birthright. It is generally admitted that with woman the powers of intuition, of rapid perception, and perhaps of imitation, are more strongly marked than in man; but some, at least, of these faculties are characteristic of the lower races, and therefore of a past and lower state of civilisation.”
  5. 5. Darwin on women, cont. “The chief distinction in the intellectual powers of the two sexes is shewn by man attaining to a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than woman can attain—whether requiring deep thought, reason, or imagination, or merely the use of the senses and hands. If two lists were made of the most eminent men and women in poetry, painting, sculpture, music, —comprising composition and performance, history, science, and philosophy, with half-a-dozen names under each subject, the two lists would not bear comparison. We may also infer, from the law of the deviation of averages, so well illustrated by Mr. [Francis] Galton, in his work on ‘Hereditary Genius,’ that if men are capable of decided eminence over women in many subjects, the average standard of mental power in man must be above that of woman.”
  6. 6. Darwin on women, cont. “In order that woman should reach the same standard as man, she ought, when nearly adult, to be trained to energy and perseverance, and to have her reason and imagination exercised to the highest point; and then she would probably transmit these qualities chiefly to her adult daughters. The whole body of women, however, could not be thus raised, unless during many generations the women who excelled in the above robust virtues were married, and produced offspring in larger numbers than other women. As before remarked with respect to bodily strength, although men do not now fight for the sake of obtaining wives, and this form of selection has passed away, yet they generally have to undergo, during manhood, a severe struggle in order to maintain themselves and their families; and this will tend to keep up or even increase their mental powers, and, as a consequence, the present inequality between the sexes.”
  7. 7. Darwin on women, cont. • Explicitly disavowed one of the leading British feminists of the time, J.S. Mill, published the Subjection of Women (1869) • Mill: "I deny that any one knows or can know, the nature of the two sexes, as long as they have only been seen in their present relation to one another. Until conditions of equality exist, no one can possibly assess the natural differences between women and men, distorted as they have been. What is natural to the two sexes can only be found out by allowing both to develop and use their faculties freely.” • Believed differences in the sexes are self-evident, obvious facts • Women more tender; men more competitive • Men acquire greater distinction in whatever intellectual pursuits they undertook • Because they had to compete for partners; protect partners and offspring • By educating young women, they could pass on intelligence to their daughters • Eventually would lift up all women, but only over many generations • Reflected his belief in the inheritance of acquired characteristics (Lamarckian genetics)
  8. 8. Darwin’s interactions with women • Darwin’s correspondence shows his views were more nuanced in practice • Supported girls’/women’s education • “I should regret that any girl who wished to learn physiology should be checked.” (1877) • Daughter assisted him with his work • Corresponded with women scientists • Relied on their findings • Helped some in their careers • To naturalist Mary Treat: “Your observations and experiments on the sexes of butterflies are by far the best … which have ever been made.” Urged her to publish her findings “in some well-known scientific journal,” which she did. • Some of his correspondents were outspoken suffragists
  9. 9. Craniometry • Science of measuring skulls – a big obsession in the 19th century • Claim that brain size/cranial capacity correlated with intelligence • Attempts to correlate brain size to body weight and to body height • These debates about how male and female brains differ are not over • “Neuro-sexism”
  10. 10. 19th-century views of the body • Body as a closed energy system • Limited amount of “nerve force” • Men though to possess greater total “nerve force” • Women as prisoners of their reproductive functions • “It was as if the Almighty, in creating the female sex, had taken the uterus and built up the woman around it.” • Puberty seen as an especially dangerous time • Menstruation viewed as akin to an illness • “leak” in the energy circuit
  11. 11. Fears of boys/young men depleting energy • Obsession with dangers of masturbation • It followed that you’d fail to have energy left over for your public work • Rest of your body would suffer • Not enough vital force left over to feed other organs – including the brain • They thought that if an individual wore out his system, he would pass it on to his offspring – degeneration • Belief that moral, physical, and mental traits were passed on from parents to children • Belief that children inherited frame, musculature, and intellect from men • Women passed on: condition of their internal organs, and their emotional stability or instability.
  12. 12. Neurasthenia • Common diagnosis in the United States from 1870-1915 • Defined by neurologist George Beard as “An impoverishment of nervous force… ‘Nervousness’ is really nervelessness.” He identified is “chief and primary cause” as “modern civilization” • Understood not as a mental illness, but as a neurological illness—a malfunction of the nervous system. • Neurasthenic was like an undercharged battery or an overdrawn bank account • But cures were deeply gendered: for women, rest; for men, activity
  13. 13. Neurasthenia and culture • Originally a racialized disease, associated with “civilized,” upper-class Westerners • George Beard argued it was a particularly American disease; others contested this • Widely discredited in the US and Europe after 1920 • To the extent that it persisted, “neurasthenia” was recast as psychosomatic problem (rather than a problem of physiology) • Has remained a common diagnosis in China and Japan • Chinese: “shenjing shuairuo”
  14. 14. Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935) • Born into well-educated, middle-class family • Father abandoned them • Had to depend on charity of relatives • Developed a profound appreciation of women’s economic vulnerability and dependence
  15. 15. Gilman, cont. • Married artist, Charles Walter Stetson, in 1884 • Gave birth to a daughter in 1886; fell into a severe depression • Sought treatment by Silas Weir Mitchell in 1886; condition worsened • “Rest Cure” • Finally separated from her husband in 1888 and moved to Pasadena, CA • Immediately began to improve and to write prolifically • Wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper” in 1890 • Most famous work, Women and Economics, appeared in 1898
  16. 16. Mitchell’s “rest cure” • Fat and Blood, 1877: “For some years I have been using with success, in private and in hospital practice, certain methods of renewing the vitality of feeble people by a combination of entire rest and of excessive feeding, made possible by passive exercise obtained through the steady use of massage and electricity.”
  17. 17. Victorian sexual anxieties • Before 1830s, sex was not a source of such extreme anxiety • When its written about in the 18th century, it was often described as a pleasurable fact of life • Clerical and medical opinion held that sexuality should only be expressed within marriage • But no dire warnings about the evils of sexual intercourse within marriage • No real preoccupation with the unspeakable evils of masturbation • Sex tended to be viewed as part of the natural order – not something that could lead to dire physical, moral, & emotional consequences for you and your offspring
  18. 18. Origins of Clarke’s book • 1868: New England Women’s Club established • Women’s clubs were a new thing at this point • One founding members was Julia Ward Howe • Lecturer, writer, women’s rights advocate • 1872: Club invited Edward H. Clarke to speak on the subject of higher education for women • Successful physician • Specialized in disorders of the eyes and nerves • Former professor at Harvard’s medical school • Clarke declared, “Girls can do the same things as boys and to the same extent, but not in the same way.”
  19. 19. Julia Ward Howe Published a reply • Argued that Clarke’s work was not proper science • Didn’t take into account other causes of women’s ill health • Girls weren’t allowed to run free, develop their physical (and mental) health • Didn’t take into account climate • Objected to his views of single women as unnatural freaks
  20. 20. Association of Collegiate Alumnae • Women college graduates who organized in the 1880s • Set out to disprove Clarke’s claims • Surveyed its 1300 members and published results in 1885-86 • 80% reported good or excellent health after graduate • As many women reported that their health improved during college as those who reported that it declined • In a narrow sense, the report closed the debate • But the question of what women should be education for would continue – resurfaced in a very reactionary form in the 1950s
  21. 21. Assessing the book’s impact • Appeared when college education for women still very new • Book did not impact the rise in female college students • But it does suggest substantial anxiety surrounding this new social trend • M. Carey Thomas, who later became the president of Bryn Mawr College, recalled that "we were haunted in those days by the clanging chains of that gloomy little specter, Dr. Edward H. Clarke's Sex in Education." • 1907: "The passionate desire of women of my generation for higher education was accompanied throughout its course by the awful doubt, felt by women themselves as well as by men, as to whether women as a sex were physically and mentally fit for it." Although she knew that she wanted to go to college, "I was always wondering whether it could be really true, as everyone thought, that boys were cleverer than girls.”
  22. 22. Board of Regents, University of Wisconsin (1877) • Some co-educational universities prescribed different courses of study for women. “…at stated times, nature makes a great demand upon the energies of early womanhood and that at these times great caution must be exercised lest injury be done.... Education is greatly to be desired, but it is better that the future matrons of the state should be without a University training than that it should be produced at the fearful expense of ruined health; better that the future mothers of the state should be robust, hearty, healthy women, than that, by over study, they entail upon their descendants the germs of disease.”
  23. 23. Sex in Education • How does Clarke define education, and what does he see as its purposes? • According to Clarke, what happens when women approach intellectual pursuits in the same way as men? • What does he mean when he suggests that they must "respect their own organization"? • What does he see as the proper "girl's way" to study, as opposed to the "boy's way"?