Addressing the the general session of the National Educational Association, meeting in Detroit, Professor James Orton compared both graduation rates and absences due to poor health at men's and women's colleges. "Vassar graduated last June," he said, "42, just half the number who have been connected with the class.  Amherst graduated 62 out of 95, and Cornell 65 out of 261—a painful example of 'survival of the fittest.' During the past year, eleven percent of the undergraduates in Vassar have been kept from college duties more than ten days on account of illness; while at Amherst, where the physical education of the young men is more carefully attended to than at any other college, the percentage was twenty-one."

Orton's paper, “Four Years in Vassar College,” followed “The Building of a Brain,” presented by Dr. Edward H. Clarke, a professor at Harvard Medical College whose influential attack on higher education for women, with warnings about its potential psychological and physical dangers, Sex in Education or, A Fair Chance for Girls, had appeared in 1873.