More Than Lore

Chapter 7: The Weaker Sex

Marion Talbot

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DURING the decade preceding the opening of the University, a band of college women had been studying ways and means of giving to women freer entrance into the field of scholarship. The Association of Collegiate Alumnae, organized in January, 1882, and known after 1921 as the American Association of University Women, took as its first objective the improvement in the health of college women, since it was popularly believed that women were not physically able to bear the strain of a college education. This undertaking had been no more than started when, at its second meeting, the Association proceeded to investigate the subject of graduate study for women in spite of the view frequently held that women were not mentally equal even to college work.

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Women had some grounds for confidence in their intellectual ability. Helen Magill (later Mrs. Andrew D. White) had taken the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at Boston University in 1877 and was the first woman in the United States to hold that degree. In 1884, Cornell University awarded a fellowship to a woman, Harriet E. Grotecloss, and gained distinction as the first institution in the United States to make such an award. These were, however, exceptional instances, whereas fellowships were readily available for young men whereby they might go to Germany or some other country for the advanced work in research which was not as yet generally attainable in the United States. Assistance and encouragement were given to young men who might choose to be fitted to hold teaching positions in the colleges and universities throughout the land. But very few graduate courses of any kind were open to women, and no positions on college faculties outside of the women's colleges could be obtained by them. It was a distinctly masculine procession that was advancing into the field of research and scholarship. There was plenty of work for the Association to do, and they set

( 129) about it valiantly. They little dreamed that within two or three decades the Association would be holding endowments for more than ten fellowships and a little later would be well on the way toward securing a fund of one million dollars for the further endowment of national and international fellowships.

But for a long time the road was a hard and weary one to travel; and there was but slight hope that, even if women were well equipped in scholarship, places would be found for them among the groups of scholars in the universities. Every appointment, even to a laboratory assistantship, was a source of cheer and gave encouragement to the belief that such a footing would lead the way to higher positions. But in whatever direction one turned, the way seemed blocked. The world seemed to have forgotten that several centuries before women had held, with distinction, professorships in leading universities of the Old World.

Such was, in brief, the status of women scholars in academic life when the educational world was startled and the Association of Collegiate Alumnae greatly heartened by the announcement of

( 130) the new University of Chicago that women were appointed on its faculty and as fellows. Three months before the University opened, the first number of the Quarterly Calendar, dated June, 1892, gave the names of the following women as members of the prospective staff: "Alice Freeman Palmer, Ph. D., Litt.D., Professor of History and Acting Dean [of women] in the Graduate School of the University Colleges; Julia E. Bulkley, Associate Professor of Pedagogy and Dean [of women] in the Academic Colleges; Zella Allen Dix-son, Assistant Librarian; Luanna Robertson and Elizabeth C. Cooley, Academy Tutors; Alice Bertha Foster, M.D., Tutor in Physical Culture; S. Frances Pellett, A.M., University Extension Reader in Latin." There were also six women fellows announced: "Senior fellows: Mabel Banta and Myra Reynolds; Junior fellows: Elizabeth Wallace and Mary Frances Winston; Honorary fellows: Maud Wilkinson and Madeleine Wallin."

In the following September two new names appeared on the Faculty list, viz., Martha Foote Crowe, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of English Literature; and Marion Talbot, A.M., Assistant

( 131) Professor of Sanitary Science and Dean (of women) in the University Colleges. The distinction between senior and junior fellows disappeared in this same issue of the Calendar, and the names of Julia B. Platt and E. Antoinette Ely were added to the list of honorary fellows.

This was the situation when the University opened October 1, 1892. No wonder the road ahead seemed clear. But the vision proved to be somewhat of a mirage. No new appointments of women and no promotions were made for two years. In 1 894 the wheels seemed to move, for Elizabeth Wallace, who had been a docent for a year, was promoted to a readership! In 1895 Myra Reynolds, who had held an assistantship for one year, became an instructor, and I was advanced to an associate professorship. There was, however, no woman even nominally a professor, for Mrs. Palmer, at the end of three years of advisory service, retired from her connection with the University. In 1896 Kate Anderson, who had succeeded Alice B. Foster, was raised from a tutorship to an instructorship. In 189798 there were eleven women of all grades on the Faculty—a merely nominal increase in propor-

( 132) tion to the enlarged number of men. The years that followed proved to be rather dark ones for women, although no whispers were heard against their efficiency and devotion. A few bright spots should be noted. I was made a professor in 1904. Sophonisba P. Breckinridge, who was fellow in political science from 1897-1901 was docent in the same department from 1902 to 1904, and instructor and assistant professor in household administration from 1904 to 1920, when her distinguished career in social service administration began officially. Ella Flagg Young was an outstanding member of the Faculty from 1899-1904. Gertrude Dudley's inestimable and memorable services began in 1898. Edith Foster, who began as assistant in English on her graduation in 1897, reached, as Mrs. Flint, a professorship in 1923 and occupied many positions of trust and responsibility. Elizabeth Wallace's story was almost parallel, and her influence and activity of great value. Edith Abbott, who had an appointment in the University as fellow in 1903, came again to the University in 1914 as lecturer in sociology and in 1920 was appointed associate professor of social economy. Later, as Dean of the Graduate

( 133) School of Social Service Administration, she began the magnificent work which has placed the School in the front ranks of social-welfare schools. In 1901 the organization of the School of Education brought a considerable addition of women to the teaching staff, notably Zonia Baber and Alice Peloubet Norton. When the medical work was developed, several women appeared on the scene, but mostly as assistants.

The list of women who have contributed to the upbuilding of the University must close here, although among those not named are some not less distinguished.

Meanwhile the professorial groups were increasing very rapidly in the number of men, several of those who had reached the highest professorial grade having received their baccalaureate degrees later than women, who were still held in the lower ranks. Had the women failed to make good; and, if so, were there not others who might replace them?

Some comments on the situation may have interest.

Among the twenty women who held fellowships in 1899 and the two following years are eight

( 134) whose names appeared in Who's Who in America in 1935, besides three who were listed in American Women, the official women's Who's Who. Fifty-five per cent to achieve national recognition is a gratifying proportion.

Generalizations concerning women in the field of scholarship have offered frequent opportunity for investigation. One instance resulted from the statement of a University professor known to be sympathetic with the aims of young women scholars. He said, in a public address, that both the wish and the ability of young women to take a college course had been abundantly proved (and consequently the old charge of their unfitness had been disproved); but, he went on to say, except in rare instances they showed little inclination to pursue their studies in the Graduate School. What did a study of the recorded facts show as to the validity of personal impressions? By that time the University had conferred the Bachelor's degree on 700 men and 598 women. During the preceding year, July 1, 1902–Ju1γ , 1903, 88 of these men and 8 of the women had enrolled as members of the Graduate Schools of Arts and Sciences, or 12.6 per cent of the men and

( 135) 14.2 per cent of the women were pursuing their studies. It was significant that of the 88 men, 10 were holders of fellowships, while of 8 women only 3 had been granted this assistance in continuing their studies.

Another statement was made to the effect that, in general, women who pursue higher studies are not so persistent as men and their scholarship is not of so high a grade. The statistics of the University showed that the first point was true, but the difference was surprisingly small. Of the 377 men who had held fellowships, 153, or 41 per cent, had attained the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. Of the 76 women who had held fellowships, 27, or 36 per cent, had received the same degree. In view of the limited opportunities and few inducements open to women scholars, it was rather surprising that there was not a greater difference.

In regard to the scholarship of those who had received the doctorate as determined by the grade of the degree, the accompanying table, compiled at the same time (1903), proved interesting. It shows that, while a slightly larger percentage of women than men fall in the two lowest classes, the percentage of men in the very lowest

( 136) class is much larger than that of women. The figures for the highest class are slightly in favor of the women. It must be remembered, however, that with so small a total number of women a difference of even one in either the highest or lowest class would make a very appreciable differ-

  Men Women
  Number Per Cent Number Per Cent
Rite 58 22.4 5 10.4
Cum laude 91 35.1 24 50.0
Magna cum laude 94 36.2 16 33.3
Summa cum laude 16 6.2 3 6.3
  259   48  

-ence in the percentages of those classes. In spite of these, and other creditable records, little advance was made in giving recognition to women.

In December, 1924, the latent discontent among the women came to a crisis, and the three women who held professorships out of a total of 150 decided that drastic action must be taken, and, after careful deliberation, addressed the following communication to the President of the University and the President of the Board of Trustees:

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The undersigned women members of the University Senate beg leave to call certain matters to your attention and ask your consideration of them in connection with plans for the future development and administration of the University. Their deep interest in the University and their loyalty may be measured in part by the ninety-five years of their joint connection with it.

I. The articles of incorporation include among the objects for which the University exists, the following:

To provide, impart, and furnish opportunities for all departments of higher education to persons of both sexes on equal terms.

These objects seem to us to be not adequately fulfilled in the following respects:

a) There is no woman on the Board of Trustees.

b) The Faculties of Arts, literature, and Science have on their teaching staff too small a proportion of women, not even furnishing a sufficient number to fill the positions of Deans and Heads of Houses.

c) Although women comprise over 40 per cent of the graduate students and show by the grades accompanying the doctorates they receive that they reach a very high plane of achievement, they receive only about 20 per cent of the fellowships, including special fellowships designated for women.

d) Of the University of Chicago Bachelors who received the Doctor's degree between 1919 and 1923, seventeen received appointments to the Faculty. Seven men received appointments of professorial rank and the two women in this group received instructorships.

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e) Promotions and increase of salary are awarded to women more slowly than to men. There are three women Faculty members who received their Doctor's degree in 1907 or earlier and who are still only associate professors; whereas twenty-one men who received their Doctor's degrees in 1907 or later hold full professorships. No one of these men has received the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws, whereas two of the women have received it.

II. The slight rôle given to women in "providing and imparting opportunities for education to persons of both sexes on equal terms" is supplemented with slight recognition given to them in other academic relations, viz.:

I. There have been 134 convocations with but four women orators.

2. Only one honorary degree has been conferred upon a woman.

3. Only twice has any woman been asked to speak at homecoming or Trustees' dinners.

4. With very rare exceptions women are not invited to give University Public Lectures.

5. Women do not receive appointments on important Faculty committees.

6. Women are not always represented in social functions given in the name of the University.

7. Women of the Faculty are given no opportunity to enjoy or to offer hospitality except under strict limitations at the Quadrangle Club.

8. No opportunity has been given the Faculty women to aid in working out plans for the development of the University, especially as it concerns the women of the University.

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III. In view of the preceding facts we would urge

1. The appointment of a woman Trustee.

2. The appointment to the Faculties of several women of distinction and power in scholarship, teaching ability, or administrative skill.

3. The granting of greater encouragement to young women scholars of promise.

4. Α larger recognition of women in semi-academic ways. s. Better facilities for agreeable social life.

6. Further opportunity to make known the needs of women Faculty members and students which either exist today or will be felt in the near future.

We believe that the measures here proposed will work advantageously in raising the status of young women students in college activities and that they will tend to produce even more women graduates of distinction and a body of women whose influence on boys and men through the school and the home will bring to the enrichment of the University a stream of young and able youth.

Finally, the University of Chicago, if true to the ideals on which it was established, can make a great contribution through the encouragement it gives its women members, toward the development of those resources of the world which are in the keeping of women and which they are called upon more and more to contribute to the progress of civilization.




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We waited with some trepidation for the repercussions from this bolt. A formal acknowledgment came from President Burton, but no more definite response. A rumor reached us, however, that the communication was read to the whole Board of Trustees and its statements were challenged. One member claimed that if any of the alleged facts were untrue or were misrepresentations, all the signers should be at once dismissed. A special committee was appointed to learn whether the statements could be verified. Their report was that the statement was not only true in every respect but might have been made even stronger. The women were gratified when, on the next announcement of promotions, Miss Abbott, Miss Katherine Blunt, and Miss Breckenridge were named as professors. Some other results followed, such as the appointment of a woman as Convocation orator; but on the whole no great progress was made.

The need of more women skilled in administrative matters and interested in promoting this phase of the University's activities has not yet been met, greatly to the detriment, as many observers believe, of the women students. It may be

( 141) added that a fairer recognition of scholarly women would not only have a good influence on the younger students—but would widen the competition, thus raise the marginal level, and even do the men scholars some good, though it is possible that neither men nor women would be conscious of any altruistic motive underlying such a policy.

This brief résumé of the participation of women in the work of the University gives little hint of the whole-hearted devotion they showed. With hardly an exception, they worked as a team for upholding and advancing the intellectual and social standards of the University. Their common goal had no trace of self-seeking. Their common objective was the constant subject of their discussions and conferences. According to' the notion current in some quarters, it might be assumed that differences of opinion would lead to petty personal antagonisms, or even spite. Many occasions, however, occurred when visitors from other academic groups were impressed by the friendly atmosphere and the devotion to a common cause which gave creditable and rare distinction to the group.

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This résumé of the history of women on the Faculty has its disheartening aspect and seems to confirm the widespread conviction that present-day conditions offer little opportunity for women to receive recognition for their intellectual and administrative gifts. Discouragement is quite general, but here and there the battle cry is heard. The women of today must not falter in claiming the right to use their powers, and they will find more to encourage than to dishearten if they scrutinize this sketch of what has happened at Chicago in less than forty years. At the beginning the outlook was black indeed. The difficulty, if not impossibility, of believing that there were to be women on the Faculty of the new University may be shown by a little incident. Shortly after the University opened, the ladies of a neighboring church invited the Faculty and their wives to a Turkey Dinner. The invitation addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Marion Talbot was delivered to me. Nobody disputed my right to the share of the dinner, which I enjoyed. A glance forward of only twelve years from that time shows a woman holding a seat in the highest educational body, the Senate, of an institution which

( 143) had a right already to a place among the great universities of the world. God's mills do not always grind slow, and history may be a tonic when courage and hope waver.


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