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11 February 2012

Eugenic Education for Women and Girls - Part 2

Alice Ravenhill

Editor's Note: Continued from yesterday. Alice Ravenhill was an educational pioneer, a developer of Women's Institutes, and one of the first authors to advocate aboriginal rights. Yet, she also wrote the following essay in 1914, which should perhaps not surprise, as eugenics was initially associated with progressive causes, such as conservation. Much of what is said here still holds true today.

But, because the recent trend and resultant stress of industrial and social progress have contributed to foster the modern girl's disinclination to assume the cares of maternity or to wear the yoke of domestic drudgery, because for the moment her sense of personal responsibility towards the race is enfeebled, and her eyes are blinded to her ignorance of the claims and needs of infancy, she will not be coerced into shaping a different course of conduct by compulsory and premature specialisation in the domestic arts, or by assigning to them undue prominence in her curriculum. Time for her own individual development must be accorded her, her reason must be appealed to, her interest must be excited, and her own wishes as well as those of her parents must be considered. This last point especially cannot be overlooked, for there are still parents who attach more value to preparation for earning a livelihood than for qualifying as a perfect woman, and to whom the possible combination of higher education with the popular conception of a good wife and mother is not easily evident. Miss Catherine Webb drew attention to some points relevant in this consideration when writing in the University Review for June, 1906. " To-day," she says,

the girl has become as much a wage-earning asset to her parents as the boy. . . . In the well-meant desire to promote the physical well-being of the nation, physicians and educationists alike are inclined to insist that, willy-nily, . . . girls should early specialise as housewives and mothers, while parents still require that they should become wage-earners. . . . The consequence is an unrecognised clash of interests between which the child is likely to suffer,

and, may I add, the ideals also. This "clash" and its echoes resound to-day in some of the newer type of secondary as well as in elementary schools, and conduce to confusion of aim and much vexation of spirit. The economic interests of the parents and the ambitions of their daughters lead to a great striving after occupations external to the home. A recognition of her economic value has also brought to many a woman worker a corresponding realisation of, and desire to assume, her civic responsibilities, while it is not always clear to her that the adequate and intelligent fulfilment of domestic duties is one form of active citizenship or calls for the exercise of a trained mind. How can the short period of school life offer training in all these objects or serve to correct false values? Manifestly, it would be impossible. To attain this end close co-operation between a girl's mother and teacher is desirable, as well as the support of dignified home ideals. It is not easy to frame a scheme of education which must most certainly strengthen the feeble maternal instinct by judicious direction and encouragement, though in no way must it over-accentuate the emotional side at this very critical phase of girlhood; which, while it presents the science of home-making in its right light as a dignified and most important profession, in the elements of which all girls should be grounded, nevertheless accords recognition to the fact that the more advanced branches of the subject may be legitimately left in the hands of well-trained experts. Woman's great and incomparable gift of motherhood must be set in the new light of racial responsibility, and must be shown to involve broad and large culture if it is to be turned to its fullest account in later life, for it embraces the moral training of children during the most impressionable years of life. More attention might advisedly be given throughout the curriculum to indicating the true intention of education, namely, the better adjustment of mankind to his environment and the acquirement of power to exercise control over conditions. A truer judgment should be cultivated upon matters economic and social, and a higher value than hitherto ought to be attached to moral and biological responsibilities. To accomplish this, even partially, the period of elementary education must obviously be prolonged, for few girls are sufficiently developed until fifteen or sixteen years of age to grasp the true meaning of school training as a groundwork for future action, to appreciate the relative value of claims and interests, or to connect lessons with life. Some revision and readjustment of timetables would also be called for in the great mass of secondary schools, which are subject to the sway of external examinations, and further opportunities to study human life in its biological, economic, social, and national aspects must be afforded in institutions for higher education. Observation of existing school courses and a knowledge of college schemes, which are, though tardily, being realised, afford satisfactory proof that the suggestions advanced in the chapter on "Direct Preparation for Practical Life especially in the Home " in Miss Burstall's book on English High Schools for Girls are bearing fruit. Witness, for instance, the admirable work now being carried out in Training Colleges, as well as among parents and teachers, by so able an exponent as Miss Norah March on these problems of sex education and their bearing on our national life, a movement which has the support of leading authorities, parental, educational and medical. Some of those to whom is entrusted the education of our girls and young women at the present time are quite alive to the national need for purer, nobler parentage, and for more intelligent parenthood; but, while determining that it shall be gratified, they plead for patience, and point out that a movement of such importance and magnitude must be given time to grow, freedom also must be granted, so that it may develop along various lines, and a frank interchange of views, with ample opportunities for discussion on debatable points, must take place between the medical and educational professions.

Meanwhile, our far-sighted leaders call attention to the urgent need of this movement for two forms of support, parental and financial.

In the case of elementary school girls, parental opposition to training in domestic duties and in the care of infants has practically disappeared, if it be given during the very limited period of school life, when time is unfortunately unduly short for the general training requisite for mind and body and when the child is not ripe for the teaching. There is a steady increase in the number of towns in England, Scotland and Wales, where a small proportion of the elementary school product is being caught on leaving school at thirteen or fourteen, and where parents have been coaxed to allow their daughters to attend a six or eight months' course of technical training in housewifery, the results have, beyond all anticipation, confirmed the belief that this is the psychological moment at which to introduce this class of girl to the interests, obligations, and arts of home-making. She is at an age when she begins to think, when she has time to try her powers, when her mother is glad to trust her with some real responsibility in home duties, so that she has the chance of introducing new methods in cooking and cleaning, above all when her dawning womanhood reawakens her interest in babies, an interest healthily blunted during the immediately preceding years, when her leisure should be absorbed by play and suitable recreation, not by precocious mothering. I am convinced that it is by the adoption of such Continuation Courses, in conjunction, of course, with other agencies, that we shall strike at the root of maternal inefficiency among the working classes; but it is a method which depends upon financial as well as upon parental support. Happily these courses have more than one economic aspect, for teaching on the economic and moral duties and obligations of parenthood and citizenship should find a natural place in such schemes, the false economics of earning a pittance outside the home while its inmates remain neglected should be clearly explained, while the civic and national duties of each individual in respect of personal inefficiency can be emphasised. It is scarcely necessary to add that similar systematic training in suitable form must be provided for lads, upon whom also the duty of leading healthy, pure lives, of bearing their share in the upbringing of children, and of making provision for the wife's maintenance during the period of maternity, must of course be impressed.

Much more trouble, too, must be taken to make known the fact that biological principles apply to the vital processes of human beings, including that of reproduction. It is true that the general physical characteristics of vegetable life and the laws to which it is subject are now brought under the notice of an increasing number of school children in the form of nature study. They are familiarised with the general principles of growth and reproduction in plants, and are led to observe for themselves something of the influences of inherited nature and nutrition and of the capacity for and advantage derived from rapid adaptation to environment. If in the last year of school life girls were led on to trace in human life the qualities, requirements, and functions they had previously observed in plants and in simpler forms of animal life, not only would an admirable foundation be laid for these special Continuation Courses of training, but the great function of perpetuating life would be presented in an entirety impersonal, biological setting, and knowledge so gained could be employed later on to awaken a sense of the vivid responsibilities the function involves. Girls need help to understand the deep mysteries of maternity; they need specific, detailed guidance, moral and mental as well as physical, at a difficult period of their lives. They must no longer be allowed to pick up their knowledge of the most vital of all human functions literally from the filthy lips of ignorance and vice ; individual direct teaching must be given at some time or other, with sympathy and tact, on the care and exercise of the newly acquired power. It is the firm conviction of many women, whose experience lends weight to their opinion, that those to whose guardianship girls are entrusted must prepare themselves to gratify suitably the legitimate desire for information and to raise the function of maternity to a purer level from the degraded, unclean abyss to which it has been debased. They must be prepared to recognise the strength of temptation to the unlawful gratification of a fundamental instinct which proves overwhelming to some natures, and generally they must afford opportunity for wholesome confidences and sympathetic direction to girls, to whom too often no training whatever is vouchsafed on the physiological process, which affects, not them alone, but those for whose lives they become responsible. In secondary schools there is practically as much need as in elementary schools for tactful, truthful teaching on these physiological, economic, and moral aspects of the function of motherhood, though from a somewhat different standpoint and for rather diverse reasons. The teaching may be entirely individual and direct, or the phenomena of reproduction may be touched upon in their biological setting, as a part of a worldwide process in class teaching on botany and zoology; this is a matter for the head of each school to determine after consultation with parents and staff. This only is certain, existing ignorance and misconceptions are unjustifiable.

Ignorance and innocence, prudery and modesty must no longer be confused. It has been hitherto a serious anomaly that, in an age when every possible study is introduced into the curriculum, at a time when effects are being traced to causes, and the influence of deferred results is ever more intelligently appreciated by physicians and sociologists, when, too, press and novelist publish pages of immoral, debasing, and nauseous matter, no direct allusion to the great responsibility attaching to the transmission of life has been permitted between teacher and pupil, and a matter of supreme importance to the community as well as to the individual has been habitually and intentionally ignored. For though, as has been said, some attention to life processes characterises school classes in nature study, teachers have hesitated to refer, after the first year or two, in even just proportion to those functions associated with reproduction ; possibly from shyness or from dread of parental resentment. In a few girls' private schools a little systematic teaching on the subject has been attempted, happily with excellent results. Sometimes the biological method of approach has been pursued, sometimes the moral obligations are first discussed ; but, without exception, not only have the girls been grateful, but their mothers also, while the value received is enduring, and prompts many expressions of appreciation in later life, when these girls have become wives and mothers. The success of this tactful, restrained teaching in a few English private schools and published reports upon biological courses carried on in certain high schools in the U.S.A. (guaranteed as accurate by the Special Commissioners of the American Academy of Medicine) prove that both shyness and fear are misplaced. Naturally girls are merely introduced to the general principles of this as of other functions in these courses, that is to say, they learn but a very small part of the biological alphabet; but so helpful and successful does this prove that in one or two cases these school courses have concluded, for the last four or five years, when girls are about eighteen or nineteen years of age, with three or four lectures from a medical woman on pregnancy, child-birth, the care of infants, and a general consideration of the institution of the family, heredity, " the social evil," and a brief reference to the diseases, associated with immorality, which sap the bodily and mental vigour of a people.

The measures now active and the methods in general use to prepare for family life in our elementary schools are fairly familiar to all. Though admirable in intention they are susceptible of much extension and improvement. In respect of the household arts, secondary schools are, I think, doing and experimenting far more than is generally known. At one time only the dullards were encouraged to pursue the purely technical practice of cookery in the school, then fuller post-scholastic courses were provided for girls who were not passing on to a University career or to some immediate wage-earning occupation, a method which is being still further developed with advantage. Meanwhile the Board of Education "recognised" the subject in secondary schools, and encouraged its introduction, so that there are now in existence quite a variety of courses, all of a more or less tentative character, it is true, but all making for good results. Some are wholly technical and distinctly limited in scope, others are linked with one or more school studies, such as elementary chemistry and physics, or, in the case of needlework, with design, while one or two schools are remodelling their curriculum in such a way as to correlate science, literature, art, indeed almost every subject in the time-table, with home, social, and civic life. One or two of these schools find it even possible for all the girls to share in the delight of practically applying their knowledge to the arts of cooking and cleaning, without depriving them of the satisfaction of testing their intellectual attainments by the prescribed standard, matriculation at the London University, for instance, or similar qualifying examinations. Other schools find it comparatively easy to provide some of the scientific foundations for housecraft, but do not yet see their way to make a place for their applications without calling in the co-operation of the parents, in order that some practice in the arts should be acquired in the home, hoping that this method may also serve to forge useful links between the girls' two centres of interest, home and school.

Thus some of our most prominent head-mistresses are prepared to recognise the new movement in women's education, but they ask for the public support in three directions: money must be found for the necessary equipment, the point of view and the demands on time must be taken into account by those who regulate examinations and fix standards of attainment, and cultured women must have opportunities provided to gain an insight into the principles which underlie processes and to study the factors which have influenced conditions, in order that the demand for teaching power of the highest order may be met. Courses of University status are needed not only for this purpose, but for the advantage of all women who desire to pursue the subject in its more advanced stages, and thus to qualify themselves to elevate the sphere of home and family life to that national importance which is its due, while at the same time they introduce improved methods into conventional practices. Much credit is due to King's College for Women, University of London, for its courageous pioneer work along these lines.

There is abundant evidence also of widespread and better organised efforts to reach those whose mode of life or whose age does not bring them within the range of any obligatory educational influence. In addition to the splendid work of health visitors and district nurses, other agencies of various kinds are active, such, for example, as the numerous schools for mothers and infant consultations and popular lectures. The extreme importance of the matter is recognised by the University Extension Boards, County Councils, and various societies; lectures on the Requirements of Infancy and the Elements of a Healthy Life are offered and are found useful in raising the standard of parenthood among all classes, for among those whose lot is cast in very pleasant places an ignorance prevails, alas, which is out of all proportion to their opportunities.

Thus the signs of the times are altogether far more hopeful than was the case ten years ago. The chief things wanted, as it seems to me, to quicken the seeds of good into more active life are (i) a prolongation of the period of elementary education, in order that girls may be trained, not only in the duties, but in the functions of womanhood at an age appropriate for the purpose; (2) freedom to those in charge of secondary schools to test and to elaborate varied schemes, adapted to the requirements and future lives of their particular types of pupils; (3) financial support to the training schools and colleges where opportunities are offered to acquire purely technical skill in the arts, upon the intelligent practice of which human efficiency depends, or to pursue advanced study of those branches of the subject upon which civilised life is based in the home and in the community ; (4) judicious encouragement by every legitimate means in all our young people, not in girls only, of a higher conception of the dignity, duties, requirements, and potentialities of human life and of the vital responsibilities of parenthood. To this end a better sense of proportion must be developed. In the laudable desire to provide social culture for the masses, the equally essential element in national stability of biological fitness has been overlooked or undervalued. -As a matter of fact both lines of development must be pursued, and the rising generation must be trained to follow them. It is surely already evident that a lopsided method of education, designed only to the attainment of intellectual culture, defeats its own ends. The youth of the nation must grasp the facts during its period of plastic impressionability that material and moral success have physical foundations.

Capacity for physical endurance is perhaps the only popular test of " fitness " ever applied to the national standard of vitality, therefore this conception of biological fitness must henceforth be enlarged ; it must in future include capacity for rapid adaptation to new conditions, capacity for self-control, capacity to reproduce life in its healthiest form, and capacity to resist immorality and the importation of foreign vices. This is not a task beyond the power of education to achieve, for true education means the development of all that is best in body, mind, and spirit. It is competent to strengthen that which is biologically or ethically weak, to reform that which is economically unsound, and thus to afford to the pregnant possibilities, now dawning on the social horizon, ample scope to bring forth fruitful actualities. But for this great achievement, time, patience, funds, tact, good judgment, and freedom to experiment must all be called into requisition and given fair play. Character, it has been wisely said, is the aftergrowth of activities under the influence of ideals, ideals which, to my way of thinking, must be permeated with the vivifying social principle of religion. The ideal of those concerned with the education of girls to-day is the production of a living, concrete, capable woman, possessed of any and every human virtue. I have briefly drawn your attention to some of the forces now directed towards or militating against the attainment of this ideal. In conclusion may I also remind you that the exhibition of these human virtues is the privilege of men as well as of women, and that it is only by the well-adjusted combination of male and female activities and ideals that one can hope to meet the national reproach of parental inefficiency, an unhealthy population, and an undisciplined youth.

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