To Miss Winifred Clayborne
At Vassar College
My dear niece:-It was a
pleasure to receive so long a letter from you after
almost two years of silence. It hardly seems possible
that you are eighteen years old. To have graduated
from high school with such honours that you are able
to enter Vassar at so early an age is much to your
I indulged in a good-natured laugh
over your request for my advice regarding a college
course. You say, “I remember that I once
heard you state that you did not believe in higher
education for women, and, therefore, I am anxious
to have your opinion of this undertaking of mine.”
Now of course, my dear child, what
you wish me to say is, that I am charmed with your
resolution to graduate from Vassar. You have entered
the college fully determined to take a complete course,
and you surely would not like a discouraging or disapproving
letter from your auntie.
“Please give me your opinion
of my course of action” always means, “Please
approve of what I am doing.”
Well I do approve. I always
approve when a human being is carrying out a determination,
even if I am confident it is the wrong determination.
The really useful knowledge of life
must come through strong convictions. Strong
convictions are usually obtained only on the pathway
of personal experience.
To argue a man out of a certain course
of action rarely argues away his own beliefs and desires
in the matter. We may save him some bitter experience
in the contemplated project, but he is almost certain
to find that same bitter experience later, because
he has been coerced, not enlightened.
Had he gained his knowledge in the
first instance, he would have escaped the later disaster.
A college education does not seem
to me the most desirable thing for a woman, unless
she intends to enter into educational pursuits as a
means of livelihood. I understand it is your
intention to become a teacher, and, therefore, you
are wise to prepare yourself by a thorough education.
Be the very best, in whatever line of employment
Scorn any half-way achievements.
Make yourself a brilliantly educated woman, but look
to it that in the effort you do not forget two other
important matters-health and sympathy.
My objection to higher education for women, which
you once heard me express, is founded on the fact that
I have met many college women who were anæmic and
utterly devoid of emotion. One beautiful young
girl I recall who at fourteen years of age seemed
to embody all the physical and temperamental charms
possible for womankind. Softly rounded features,
vivid colouring, voluptuous curves of form, yet delicacy
and refinement in every portion of her anatomy, she
breathed love and radiated sympathy. I thought
of her as the ideal woman in embryo; and the brightness
of her intellect was the finishing touch to a perfect
girlhood. I saw her again at twenty-four.
She had graduated from an American college and had
taken two years in a foreign institution of learning.
She had carried away all the honours-but,
alas, the higher education had carried away all her
charms of person and of temperament. Attenuated,
pallid, sharp-featured, she appeared much older than
her years, and the lovely, confiding and tender qualities
of mind, which made her so attractive to older people,
had given place to cold austerity and hypercriticism.
Men were only objects of amusement,
indifference, or ridicule to her. Sentiment she
regarded as an indication of crudity, emotion as an
insignia of vulgarity. The heart was a purely
physical organ, she knew from her studies in anatomy.
It was no more the seat of emotion than the liver
or lungs. The brain was the only portion of the
human being which appealed to her, and “educated”
people were the only ones who interested her, because
they were capable of argument and discussion of intellectual
problems-her one source of entertainment.
Half an hour in the society of this
over-trained young person left one exhausted and disillusioned
with brainy women. I beg you to pay no such price
for an education as this young girl paid. I remember
you as a robust, rosy girl, with charming manners.
Your mother was concerned, on my last visit, because
I called you a pretty girl in your hearing. She
said the one effort of her life was to rear a sensible
Christian daughter with no vanity. She could
not understand my point of view when I said I should
regret it if a daughter of mine was without vanity,
and that I should strive to awaken it in her.
Cultivate enough vanity to care about your personal
appearance and your deportment. No amount of
education can recompense a woman for the loss of complexion,
figure, or charm. And do not let your emotional
and affectional nature grow atrophied.
Control your emotions, but do not crucify them.
Do not mistake frigidity for serenity,
nor austerity for self-control. Be affable, amiable,
and sweet, no matter how much you know. And listen
more than you talk.
The woman who knows how to show interest
is tenfold more attractive than the woman who is for
ever anxious to instruct. Learn how to call out
the best in other people, and lead them to talk of
whatever most interests them. In this way you
will gain a wide knowledge of human nature, which
is the best education possible. Try and keep a
little originality of thought, which is the most difficult
of all undertakings while in college; and, if possible,
be as lovable a woman when you go forth into the world
“finished” as when you entered the doors
of your Alma Mater: for to be unlovable is a
far greater disaster than to be uneducated.