"Joint Education of the Sexes"

Oberlin College President James H. Fairchild, 1860

"A Female Department was in the original plan of Oberlin, and young ladies have been connected with the school from the beginning, constituting at the outset more than one-third of the entire number. The place which this department occupied in the mind of the founders of the school is indicated in the first circular, where the 'grand object' is said to be 'the diffusion of useful science, sound morality, and pure religion, among the growing multitudes thorough education of ministers and pious school teachers; secondarily, the elevation of female character; and thirdly, the education of the common people with the higher classes, in such a manner as suits the nature of republican institutions.' The circular says further: 'The Female Department, under the supervision of a lady, will furnish instruction in the useful branches taught in the best female seminaries, and its higher classes will be permitted to enjoy the privileges of such professorships in the Teachers', Collegiate and Theological departments, as shall best suit their sex and prospective employment.' It does not appear that any new philosophy of woman's rights or duties was involved in this new movement for female education; but rather that old philosophy that 'it is not good for man' or woman 'to be alone,' that neither can be elevated without the other, and that their responsibilities in the work of life, though different, are equal. Such has been the theory of the Institution from that day to this, and its aim has been to realize this idea. If a few of those who have gone out from us appear as the advocates of, what some think, more advanced views, they have never been disposed to give Oberlin credit for their better light.

At the beginning, a specific course of study was prescribed for ladies, extending through four years, after a good common school education, and was so arranged as to run parallel with the course for young men in the Preparatory and Collegiate Departments, omitting some studies and adding others. The ancient languages are omitted, with the exception of two years' study of the Latin; French and some other branches are added. The 'Ladies' Course' embraces all the mathematics with one slight exception, and the entire course of natural science, philosophy, and general literature, pursued by the college students. This course requires about a year more time than is devoted to study in the best female seminaries.

It seems not to have been anticipated that the young ladies would require the college course; but this fact first appeared in 1837, when four were admitted to the freshman class, three of whom graduated in 1841, and were the first ladies who have received a literary degree from any college in the country. Within the past year the claim for precedence in this respect has been set forth for another college, whose charter is yet scarcely ten years old. In all, forty-seven ladies have completed the full College Course of study here, and two hundred and forty-nine have completed the Ladies' Course. The number of graduates represents very inadequately what has been done in the way of female education. Large numbers have enjoyed the advantages of the school for a single year or more, before entering upon the duties of life, and have been permanently helped thereby. The average proportion of young ladies to the entire number of students is, at present, about forty per cent. The whole number the first year was forty-four; the present year about five hundred.

A peculiarity in the constitution of the Female Department here is, its government by a 'Ladies Board of Managers,' who have the general supervision of the young ladies, and attend to all cases of individual discipline, where any authority besides that of the Principal of the Department is called for. The Principal and an Assistant give their time to the personal supervision of the young ladies and to their general culture, while in their literary duties they fall into the college classes corresponding with their advancement in their course. Such an arrangement of the government seems best conformed to the proprieties of their condition, and has given satisfactory results.

The attempt to bring the two sexes together, in a school for higher education, was regarded, a quarter of a century ago, as a hazardous experiment. Has the experiment been fairly tried? Has sufficient time elaspsed to judge of the results? Have the circumstances of Oberlin been so peculiar as to preclude the application of our experience to other cases? In reference to time, it may be said that institutuions of learning gow old rapidly. Every four years gives us a new generation of students. More than half a dozen generations have passed through our Institution in its brief life. Any vice implanted in our social arrangements should have sprung up and yielded a harvest, in such a period. But no such harvest of evil has appeared in the Institution, springing from this arrangement. On the contrary, thse who have had the responsibility of directing the affairs of the Institution and watching the tendency of things, have had constant occasion for satisfaction with the working of the system.

But in many respects our circumstances have been favorable. The school has been surrounded with a sympathizing community of intelligent, Christian families. We have been favored from the outset with the wisdom and experience and unrecompensed labor of educated Christian ladies, who have felt a maternal interest in all that pertained to the welfare of the young people. There has been a pervading religious sentiment, powerful in the direction of good order, marking the entire history of the Institution; and last, not least, we have been favored in the class of students who have come among us. To a very large extent, they have been from pious, industrious families, and from those parts of the country distinguished for intelligence and good order. These advantages have favored the experiment. But, on the other hand, our numbers have always been very large, and for the last eight years almost overwhelming; precluding the idea of such strict personal supervision as would counteract the tendencies of a vicious system. Our anxieties have sometimes been aroused, but our apprehensions have not been realized. Good order has triumphed. Again, among a thousand young people, embracing representatives from almost every State of the Union, and from every condition of society, there must be a number, more or less, who are destitute of principle and propense to evil. These, if not restrained by our system and reformed, must be detected and eliminated. In the disposal of this element we seem to be successful. Nor is the difficulty increased by this peculiarity of the system. To friends who anxiously inquire if there are not hidden mischiefs which our eyes can not reach, we can only say -- look for yourselves. We have been looking, these many years, with that intentness of vision which a sense of responsibility and a jealous interest in the school must give. We have seen things to regret , but more to rejoice in; and find occasion every day to congratulate ourselves upon the satisfaction we are permitted to feel in our work. If this characteristic of Oberlin were set aside, full half the attractiveness of the work would be lost. If any new school or college should inquire of us in reference to the matter of joint education, we would say without any misgiving, or any particular inquiry as to circumstances -- try it. I speak solely upon my own responsibility, without consultation or instruction; but I have no doubt that I express the unanimous conviction of all who have been engaged in the work here, from the beginning until now."

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