In early December, President MacCracken spoke in Cleveland on behalf of the endowment campaign for the seven women’s colleges. Making the case for endowments more nearly equal to those for men’s colleges, he described the four phases in the growth of women’s education.  The following week, The New York Times published a section of his remarks, under the title “The College Girl’s Epic.”

Of the earliest period of women’s higher education, the 1860s and 1870s, MacCracken said, “the problem before women…was to prove that they had a certain mental toughness, the ability to stand the hard work of the academic course.  Physicians and the most broad-minded people of the time really believed that women’s minds and woman’s emotional frame were incapable of sustaining such arduous labor….  So that the women went into the college with fire in their eye and in a somewhat combative spirit to prove that they could study as hard as men, and the course was intentionally made difficult….  If Yale had six sciences in its undergraduate course, then Vassar must have seven sciences….”

Then, he noted, “there came a second period when, after they felt that they had proved themselves able to study as hard as men and to have mentality strong as men’s, they wished to apply it in new fields, and they found certain fields in life suitable to women’s nature, which they amply filled.”  One of these fields, he explained, was the teaching profession, traditionally largely the province of men.  “In fact, the teaching profession had been very largely occupied by men in Europe.  Today 85 percent of our teachers are women.  They went out and filled the high school principalships of the land….  You would rarely find them after ten years in the rank and file.  Nearly all of them came to be at the heads of their respective fields.”

MacCracken’s third period began in the 1900s, when, “having asserted themselves competitively and justified themselves, having filled certain new professions, they discovered that after all they were women, and that in their natural life were marriage and the home.” Whereas, he continued, the “graduates of women’s colleges about 1900 had only one child apiece and less than half of them married…the recent analysis showed that three-fourths of them have married and have two children or more….  A great social change has taken place.  They have returned under certain leaders who said, ‘We are going out into the distant parts of the world, but we haven’t touched the home.’ They came back and founded home economics.  To make it concrete the placing of the bathtub in the American home is the work of graduates of these colleges.”

MacCracken’s fourth period—and the cause for which women’s colleges urgently needed increased support—was both accretive and innovative.  “In very recent years,” he told his audience, educators were finding that students “although they retain the interest of earlier students…vary very greatly in these interests.  The problem has come to be the individualizing of a woman’s education so that it fits her for what she herself is best able to give in life.  The differentiation of her special capacities is followed by a differentiation of the curriculum, so that interests may be carried further.  That is the problem of the college of today.”     The New York Times