The Importance of Women’s Education

Aristotle, Plato, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Rene Descartes – this list can be continued, but it will be difficult to meet a female name in it. In the sphere of philosophy, we often hear only about Melanie Klein. For a long time, women did not have access to higher education. It never occurred to anyone that these gentle beings might need mathematics, philosophy or jurisprudence.

Misconceptions and superstitions, the infringement of female rights

It was believed that if the mothers “dry up” the mind with science during the pregnancy, their children will suffer from heart diseases. It seems to be an ignorant superstition. But the writer Margaret Oliphant blamed herself for the death of three toddlers (despite the fact that she was the only one who provided the family with an income owing to her books).

In 1874, an article was published, in which female education was criticized on the grounds that several days of each month the female mind and body are not capable of hard work. It was believed that the whole problem is in a menstruation. Men confirmed that a highly educated woman could not conceive. And even after giving birth to a baby, she certainly will not want to breastfeed it. “Why should we spoil a good mother, turning her into a mediocre scientist?” they said.

After measuring the skull, the craniologists argued that the female brain is more primitive, and even the evolutionary theory admirers claimed that, unlike men, women simply did not reach the high stage of mental development. Such opinions were shared by conservative professors who believed that joint training with young ladies would lead the students to a frivolous path.

Development of female education

Even before the doors of the universities were opened in front of the ladies, they were already engaged in science. One of the brilliant astronomers of the XIX century was a native of Hanover, Caroline Herschel.

Parents thought that their daughter will become a servant, but Caroline looked farther and taller than dirty boilers: after moving to England, where her brother worked part-time, she devotedly studied astronomy and discovered three new nebulae in 1783, and in 1786 – a new comet. In 1835, Carolina became a member of the Royal Astronomical Society, which also included her talented colleague Mary Somerville.

Like Caroline Herschel, Mary was self-taught. It becomes clear from her memoirs that the woman’s path to knowledge was very thorny: instead of studying Latin and geography, she had to darn the bed linen, instead of higher mathematics, she played the piano. A sudden gift of fate was a textbook on geometry, which Mary studied in the evenings until the servants informed her mother about it (educated young lady used too many candles).

Mary’s father was afraid that sooner or later he would see her in a straitjacket, and her first husband was angry when his wife was reading books instead of devoting all free time to their newborn son. A significant role in Mary’s success was played by the support of the second husband who introduced her to the scientific community and was happy when her researches on physics and astronomy were published.

It was considered that any occupation of a woman (except, perhaps, giving birth to children) can be interrupted at any time. Women themselves accepted this opinion, wrote many books in its support and taught themselves to think that all their activities are not significant enough for the world or others, and therefore, they can be rejected at the first demand of society. Ladies were accustomed to think that mental work is just a selfish entertainment, which they must refuse for the sake of any loafer who is much more self-indulgent than they are.

But despite the prejudices prevailing in society, some women (who would later acquire the sonorous names “suffragettes”, “feminists” or simply “emancipated”) wished to attend lectures on a par with men.

The first female students (still free listeners) attended lectures as early as 1830 at the Birkbeck, University of London. In 1832, two brave girls expressed a desire to attend a lecture on electricity at the University College. The progressive college has officially allowed women to attend classes in 1848.

At the end of the 1840s, two female colleges were opened: Queens College, which was managed by gentlemen who understood the importance of female education, and Ladies College at Bedford Square, founded by Elizabeth Jesser Reid. At Bedford College, one of the daughters of Charles Dickens studied fine art.

As early as the 1870s, the best female pupils of preparatory schools (for example, Cheltenham) continued their studies at Newnham and Girton colleges in the vicinity of Cambridge (founded in 1873 and 1875) and at the Somerville and Lady Margaret colleges in Oxford (1879).

The number of students was still insignificant at that time, and their daily routine was stricter than the regime of boys. There were no team sports at colleges. Long walks were an alternative to them. Instead of alcoholic beverages, students drank cocoa in their hostels. If the girls went to a lecture attended by men, an elderly companion appeared in the audience (to avoid informal communication).

In 1871, the Slade School of Fine Arts was opened, in which men and women were trained together. In 1874, the London School of Medicine for Women was founded. Lectures adapted to a wide audience, including women, were held at The University College every Thursday evening.

In 1878, at last, mixed classes were created for students of both sexes. Thus, the University of London became the first higher educational institution in England, in which women could receive higher education.

Oxford and Cambridge allowed ladies to take exams only in 1884 and 1881 respectively. The Scottish universities allowed women to study on an equal basis with men in 1892. By 1900, women accounted for 30% of all university graduates.

The development of female rights continues to this day. In addition to modern views on the problem, the progress was facilitated by the appearance of the Internet. Today, every lady may find the information she needs in free access, study at an online university or apply for college homework help.

Thanks to Andy Smith

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