Front Page Titles (by Subject) THE WOMEN'S DEGREES. ( From The Economist, 23 rd May, 1874.) - The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 9 (Essays from the Economist, the Saturday Review)
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THE WOMEN’S DEGREES. ( From “ The Economist, ” 23 rd May, 1874.) - Walter Bagehot, The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 9 (Essays from the Economist, the Saturday Review) 
The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, ed. Mrs. Russell Barrington. The Works in Nine Volumes. The Life in One Volume. (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1915). Vol. 9.
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THE WOMEN’S DEGREES.
There is something a little ludicrous in the dismay with which the resolution carried in the Convocation of the University of London last Tuesday week—that it is desirable to open the degrees of that University to women—has been received by some sections of the press. One would suppose by what one reads that what the University had done was to force women into duties for which they are totally unfitted, and into the midst of the conflicts of public life. In point of fact, we may assume that if the Senate concur with the Convocation, and succeed in obtaining a new Charter which will enable them to admit women to degrees, they will take very careful precautions neither to fix the age at which women are admissible too low, nor to encourage women to compete directly with men for the scholarships or other endowments which may be placed at the disposal of the new candidates. And when all is done, the result will probably be that where men come in hundreds to the University for its degrees, women will come, for a considerable period of time, in only twos or threes; and that of those who thus come by twos and threes, very few will be induced by their intellectual success to press into the crush of practical life. Intellectual attainments appear to be regarded by ordinary writers as stimulants to action. We apprehend that it is a truer view of them to regard them as in a very considerable degree hindrances to action. None are so ready to rush into the strife as those who do not know the terrible complexity of the conditions; none are so clear in their conclusions as those who are kept artificially ignorant of the perplexities and contradictions by which the questions are beset. We apprehend that the actual effect of opening the London degrees to women will be but small in any way at first, and that the greater part of that small effect will probably be seen in opening the minds of a few enterprising and able women, who would otherwise be very likely to take up rash movements, to the many reasons for delay of judgment. Such have been the actual results of high education, for instance, on one of the ablest among the practical women of the present generation, Mrs. Garrett Anderson. On the School Board of London she was one of the great advocates of the policy of moderation. In the controversy as to the Contagious Diseases Act, her letter did more to paralyse the hasty and violent agitators of her own sex than all the replies of the physicians. In the discussion which has recently taken place, as to the physical danger of putting too early a strain on women’s brains, her reply to Dr. Maudsley was characterised by as much caution and conservatism (of a good kind) as it was by acuteness and sagacity. We believe that no women are so little likely to be forward and presumptuous as those who have received an education above their fellows. Instead of encouraging them to pass into conflicts for which they are not fitted, it will, we believe, tend to a very remarkable degree to put a drag on that excitable and dangerous feminine enthusiasm which is so marked a feature of our time, not because the leaders are educated, but because they are uneducated.
Of course we do not mean that a higher education will not qualify the women who gain it to do much that at present they cannot do; nor that many of the new occupations for which they will be so qualified will not be occupations now monopolised by men. That is a result not only to be expected, but to be greatly desired. One obvious illustration is certain special spheres of medicine, which are already, in spite of very great physiological ignorance, occupied in large degree by women—the hospital nursing and midwifery. Every one knows that without the trained nurses and the midwives, by whom the surgeons and physicians are so greatly assisted, it would be exceedingly difficult to carry on the medical system of this country. Thus it is perfectly obvious that where from natural causes women have, as it were, been forced into a profession without the proper knowledge for perfect efficiency, it is simple injustice to debar them from attaining not only the knowledge, but the evidence of possessing the knowledge which will make them fully efficient. There are other departments of the medical profession for which they are particularly well fitted, especially the treatment of all women’s and children’s diseases; but nothing would be more culpable than to allow them to deal with such cases without the more complete and thorough medical education in all departments which is deemed requisite for men. Again, there are no doubt plenty of departments of life for which the most economical division of labour would point out sensible women with a certain amount of scientific training as peculiarly well fitted. They are already acknowledged to be admirable telegraphic operators. We believe that they might well become equally admirable analytic chemists and apothecaries, without even so much obtrusion into the competitive life of the world as they encounter in the capacity of dressmakers and milliners. It seems to us the wildest idea conceivable that because women are educated, and afford adequate evidences of a good education, they will be more likely to lose their feminine qualities than they are in their present condition of relative ignorance. Is it ignorance which causes feminine grace, or, rather, which prevents it? No doubt an additional weapon is always an advantage in the battle of life, and women with knowledge will be able to take posts which they could not pretend to take without knowledge. Yet why should not such posts be rather more instead of less becoming to them as women, than those into which they are, as it were, forced by their deficiency in knowledge. Open a wide field of choice, and the reasonable expectation will be that there will be more instead of less fitness in the choice actually made. It is not as if it were even plausible to assert that any feminine quality will be rubbed off in the course of education. It may be in some sense a characteristic of a woman hardly to realise what a “law of nature,” for instance, means, because so few of them have ever been taught. But can any sensible man say that it adds to any feminine delicacy or power not to know what a law of nature really means? Can anyone suppose for a moment that the qualities usually called feminine gain anything by the absence of that kind of knowledge? What is specially attractive in the feminine character is a certain readiness of sympathy and quickness of perception; that, instead of being injured by education, will very probably be heightened by it. But, at all events, it is worth very little if it does not penetrate all education, and mould the effect of education with its own impress. This certainly is what it is reasonable to expect, and not the amazing result which the extraordinary credulity of the extreme Conservatives appears to anticipate—that women, by sharing a good deal of man’s knowledge, will come to share the peculiarities of the masculine character. You might almost as well expect men of totally different character and bent, to be assimilated to each other by pursuing the same studies. As we all know, what really happens in the case of education, as in the case of food, is this—that the man assimilates what his constitution fits him to assimilate; and as each constitution is different, the result of administering the same nourishment, whether to different minds or different bodies, is different too.
We sincerely trust that the University of London will go forward in the course so wisely begun, and that the result may be a small but valuable addition to the powers and interests of women, and act advantageously on the social life of the day. The frivolity of women is one of the greatest causes of vice and frivolity in men. If we can but have a generation of women somewhat less dull, and somewhat less inclined to devote themselves to silly occupations, we hope that not only their children but their husbands and brothers will be the gainers.