Address to the First Graduating Class of Rutgers Female College (Illustrated)by Henry M. Pierce
In the year 1839, with great labor, care, expense, and after long consultation, was the Rutgers Female Institute founded. It grew out of an increasing sense of the importance of the duties of women, and of the need that her work should be well done. Hence the establishment of the school, with its course of studies, its libraries, its apparatus, its teachers. A quarter… See more details below
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In the year 1839, with great labor, care, expense, and after long consultation, was the Rutgers Female Institute founded. It grew out of an increasing sense of the importance of the duties of women, and of the need that her work should be well done. Hence the establishment of the school, with its course of studies, its libraries, its apparatus, its teachers. A quarter of a century has witnessed a great change in the education of woman; and the position of Rutgers Institute to-day, as a College, marks the character and degree of that change.
It has been my custom, to make a personal address to the members of each graduating class, as they have gone forth from the quiet of the school to the busy walks of life. My heart now impels me to follow this usage, but the change that has taken place in this institution, during the past year, seems to make appropriate to the present occasion, a few preliminary statements of my views as to what is the true position of woman, and what should be her education.
These are questions that deeply agitate the public mind. They are, in fact, the leading questions of the day; but in regard to them, I shall not shrink from the utterance of my opinions. Underlying the question of the education of woman, is the question of her equality with man; for if woman be inferior to man, so should be her education.
Some might be disposed to reverse this proposition, and[Pg 4] to say that just in proportion to her inferiority, should her training be more careful and complete. There might seem to be some truth in this idea; but a little deeper thinking will convince us that to try to make up in this way for her supposed deficiency, would be to attempt an impossibility. The end could not be reached; the bounds that nature had appointed could not be passed.
It is also clear that if woman be the equal of man, she should receive as good an education as man, a proposition too plain for argument. So is also our third proposition—which exhausts this branch of the subject—that if woman be superior to man, she should receive a better education than man: for it is a first principle in morals, that every power which God gave, He meant should be unfolded to its fullest extent.
I am fully persuaded that the time is not far distant, when it will be thought almost incredible that the question of the inferiority of woman should ever have been seriously debated. For it is not without higher warrant than that of human reason, that I would claim for woman an equal place by the side of man. When in the beginning God created the heavens, the earth, the sea, and all that in them is, even as He then made laws for the stars and the seas, so did He then fix and determine forever the sphere and the destiny of man and of woman. Driven out of Paradise into the world on account of sin, neither man nor woman took their place at once; and in the nature of the case, woman's sphere was the last of the two to be understood.
The Old Testament contains the germs of the great truths of all time; but over four thousand years were needed to prepare the human mind for the coming of Christ; and it was reserved for Christ fully to declare what place the Creator[Pg 5] had designed for woman. I am fully persuaded that upon all great questions touching humanity, the human mind will at length accept the teachings of Christ as final; and the question whether or not woman is the equal of man, I conceive to be authoritatively settled by Him, when he pronounces marriage such a union as excludes the idea that there can be essential inferiority in one of the parties. His ideal of marriage, unknown alike to the classical nations and to the Hebrews, is incompatible with the inequality of the sexes. Nor do we find a trace in His life or teachings, or in those of His Apostles, which tends in the least to countenance such an idea. The few apparent exceptions to this statement grow out of Oriental usage, or are explained by the truth that subordination is consistent with equality. Not even superficial reasoners should have been misled by these exceptions, when, generally speaking, there is no distinction in the moral duties enjoined on each, none in the warnings and promises addressed to each, none at the cross, none in the day of judgment.
Equality, though it excludes the idea of inferiority, is consistent with diversity. There is a difference between the sexes, that at once raises the question whether there should not be a difference in their education.
After the most careful thought that I could give to the subject, I am of the opinion that it should be the same to a much greater extent than most persons are willing to concede. Up to a certain point, the education of men is much the same: beyond that point comes in a special training. Thus, on leaving college, the young man who is to pursue law, receives a legal training. But the great fact here to be noticed is,
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