V. February 23, 1864
GENTLEMEN: You will allow me, once again, to congratulate you that a kind Providence has spared our lives to assemble at this special adjourned meeting, to discuss the plan of organization for our College. I am truly happy to welcome you as my selected counselors, and beg your attention to some remarks upon the present and future aspects of our enterprise, and to such suggestions as have occurred to my mind.
As this paper, which I hold in my hand, embraces much thought and reflection, and will be the first I have ever addressed to you expressing fully my views and wishes on the several topics connected with the organization, so also it may be my last; and I therefore wish, if sanctioned by you, to have it placed on file in the archives of the Institution, for future reference.
With these brief remarks by way of preamble, I will attempt to read my address, craving your indulgence for fifteen or twenty minutes.
Perhaps, gentlemen, more than to any other, these reflections occur to me because a long and stirring life has developed habits of activity, which, physically, age may repress, but which, mentally, were never more in exercise. As I have now withdrawn from every other occupation my activities centre here to such an extent, that scarcely an hour occurs which does not bring with it reflections respecting the best mode of accomplishing this one great object which has become the nearest to my heart. Three years I have devoted to this cause alone-years full of information, discussion, and suggestion, from almost every source and every variety of experience and mind.
It is thus that my own education upon this special subject, in all its phases and relations, developed by such opportunities as offered, by reading and reflection, has given me a better confidence in my own convictions even upon matters not previously familiar to my thoughts; and yet it is due to truth to say that my great interest on the subject of female education was awakened not less than twenty years ago by an intimate female friend and relative, now deceased, who conducted a seminary of long standing and character in this city. That close intimacy and interest continued many years, until just before the institution passed into the hands of our President. It was this fact, more than any other, and more than all others, that awakened me early to the possibility and necessity of an institution like the one we now propose. This tendency of my mind is therefore of ancient date, and has gradually gained confidence and strength from my various associations, until it has finally caused me to devote to such an institution my property to a large extent; and it now occupies all my thoughts. Its complete expression is yet to be effected by your united aid.
Gentlemen, by the wise, constant, and careful aid of our Executive Committee, the College edifice and some of its appendages have gradually progressed, until we hope, if nothing unforeseen occurs, that it may be completed by the time limited in the contract, and without any serious loss or difficulty. Our funds have been wisely administered and protected; and my own efforts and your interest in these directions could not have been more ably, cautiously, and unanimously seconded, than they have been by these gentlemen. Up to this point there has been nothing wanted from that source that could have been properly expected or desired.
I take peculiar pleasure in thus publicly expressing my thanks for the aid I have derived from the Executive Committee, and my strong desire for and reliance upon a continuance upon the same wise counsel and assistance for the future.
We are far advanced in the exterior structure of the Astronomical Observatory, and have contracted, mainly, for its complete equipment under the valuable assistance and advice of Professor Farrar.
We have contracted for a Gate Lodge, which we hope to see finished by the coming midsummer.
We have excavated the road-ways, to some extent, and have adopted plans for completing, laying out, and planting the grounds. Their final completion must occasion much expense and occupy much time.
We have contracted for the cases of the Cabinet of Geology and Mineralogy. We have discussed and have obtained much valuable practical information upon the subject of heating and lighting the College: buildings. We have not altered our early design of introducing both from a building to be constructed specially for that purpose in the rear of the main edifice: and yet these subjects, especially that of heating, are undergoing such rapid changes as to require the greatest caution, if we hope to secure the best and simplest, most efficient and economical plan. We have secured plans and estimates for that purpose; but the work, thus tar, has not been commenced. For further information, I would beg to refer you to our Architect, Mr. Renwick.
The road-making, the walks, the planting, the farm buildings and sheds, and a heavy amount of grading, and boundary fences, as well as many details in various departments, remain to occupy our time and draw upon our funds.
The Library, the Art-Gallery, the Museum, and the Gymnasium are yet unprovided to any considerable extent. We have furnished to Professor R. A. Fisher, who is now in Europe, upon the recommendation of the appropriate Committee, five hundred dollars for the purchase of such apparatus and chemicals as' could not be found so well in this country. We were led to believe that, notwithstanding the high rate of exchange, an exceptional appropriation of this kind might and should be made.
The furnishing and equipping of the whole interior of the College building has yet to be effected, and will inevitably cause startling inroads upon our treasury. A report will be presented to you upon this very important subject, in detail, from facts collected by your Treasurer and Secretary, and reexamined by the Executive Committee, who have given it an elaborate study.
Allusion has been heretofore made In respect to the purchase by Professor Jewett, with my assent, while he was in Rome, of certain copies of celebrated pictures made by Miss Church, an American artist. Two of these pictures have arrived, and cost about one thousand dollars, and may be seen at my residence. The other copy, at a cost of some twelve hundred dollars at Rome is nearly finished, and will be forwarded next month. For this latter, I have assumed the payment; and when it comes to hand, the proper committee can examine it, and take it for the College or not.
The President will submit a schedule of the prices and terms, etc., on a sliding scale, estimated by him to cover the running expenses of the College. The ifs and provisos upon this subject are quite inevitable, the whole scheme being contingent upon circumstances against which there is no possibility of providing. The President will explain to you the details upon which I have been unable to form a satisfactory opinion. It will be very wise, however, to leave a large margin for those possibilities against which no forecast can provide, especially in the opening of an enterprise which braves opposition, and depends upon its securing the public attention and favor without trial and at once. Having thus detailed briefly the existing facts, I proceed with a more general statement of my ideas and desires.
In regard to the cost of furnishing the College throughout, I believe the report, upon that subject, covers it completely in every detail that can be foreseen. It is, however, a matter of the greatest consideration, whether these heavy outlays, exceeding one hundred thousand dollars, should be made in inevitable haste, and at vast extra expense, for the sake of opening the College in the coming fall, notwithstanding my intense desire to see it in full operation before my head is sleeping under the clods of the valley. The various arguments on this point have been all, perhaps, already urged upon me, and are familiar to yon. I am not able, however, to bring myself to a conclusion favorable to our opening in less than a year from the coming spring, and perhaps even six months longer. I do not see my way at all clear to a commencement next fall, excluding from the continuation any but the most meagre Library, Art-Gallery, and Cabinet and Apparatus. If these are all to compare with the cost of the Geological Department, the outlay at present prices must be generous to an extent which must most seriously exhaust our means.
It must all the while be borne in mind that, when the time comes for a change of values, securities will fall less rapidly than articles of merchandise, which, being held for sale, and not as capital to be retained, must go upon the market to maintain credit - and meet obligations at whatever sacrifice. Capital, meanwhile, can and will control itself with more permanence of value, and a slower rate of decline. On what day this event will arrive is, of course, unknown to any of us.
Gentlemen, upon the subject of opening the College, I must be permitted also to remark, that all I hold dear is involved in our success-in a complete and absolute success. My utmost wish has been to survive so grand a result. I would not have a doubt, which human foresight or care can remove, left to cloud it with a possibility. Every arrangement, without and within, should be first perfected, and, so far as possible, subjected to a full preparatory trial, so that no contingency of safety, health, or ease of working might be left unprovided for. This involves, to a very large extent, the element of time. I have never – I do not now – look upon the period of opening as in any sense fixed, or as important at all, in comparison with the certainty of opening without accident or imperfection, and with every accessory in the most exact order.
In this particular, success may be demonstrated and proven, whatever else may abide the ordinary accidents incident to human affairs. Contingencies enough must be encountered, be as careful as we may. So far, therefore, as it is by any means possible, I desire to be entirely assured in advance; and in regard to the expense, which is by no means to be overlooked, every element of change or chance seems in favor of wise delay.
It is, moreover, to be borne in mind, that there is certain to remain, when the building contract is closed, a great variety of details of construction and convenience within the building, to be planned and put in place, which will require time and thought and care. Indeed, it has just now become apparent that the relative positions of some important parts of the domestic apartments must be entirely changed, which will cause them to be remodeled to a great extent. In so large a structure it is impossible to foresee every thing. It is as we leave the larger features and turn to the details that defects force themselves upon the attention.
I have thus alluded to the subject of opening the College, not less in justice to myself, to you, and to the permanent interest of the College itself, than because of its bearing upon the special subject of organization, which we meet especially to discuss this morning. In doing this, I have by no means lost sight of the fact that, however perfect and unexceptionable the structure and its aids and equipments may be, there is yet another vital step upon which, in the end, the final success will turn. A defective organization or method, or a lack of the best ability on the part of any of those who may be called to perform its functions, will cause the whole to fail.
In this respect, gentlemen, I have no partialities for persons or means, save that they must be the very highest and best. I place the very strongest stress upon this point. Let nothing of a personal nature, let no prejudice and no prepossessions, I entreat you, enter here.
This Institution, as an impersonality, is the object of our care. We launch it for a blessing to all time. We have the world from which to choose our instruments. We, each and all of us, as individuals, sink out of sight, in view of the permanence and greatness of this design. Let us forget men, forget prejudice, forget favor, forget every other consideration, while we plant this seed, whose branches shall be for the healing of the nations, and whose growth shall be perpetual. Scrutinize, sift, weigh, gauge every proposition, every plan, every person, frankly, freely, and honestly. We can never afford to do this so well as now. When we shall have once acted, a correction afterward will invite a convulsion. In every instance give the doubt to the College, and in favor of no method and of no man. Be sure that the means and instruments are fully abreast of the magnitude of the endowment, of the idea involved, and of the highest public expectation, and be such that they may all grow and expand together.
Among other things respecting the organization, I call your attention to the subject of the age and requirements requisite to an entrance to the Institution, with the single remark, that both should be fixed at a period so early as to preclude the necessity of causing a scholar to begin her career by unlearning what may have been badly learned elsewhere. Take your pupils from the threshold of study to the summits of knowledge by your own paths, and you secure a higher result with no loss of either money or time. No half-mother can then claim any share in the honors your graduates will wear. I regard this as a great economy to pupil and parent alike, and as securing the advantage of an unbroken systematic training, which is the most valuable element in every educated life.
In respect to the general system of the organization proposed by your President, I heartily approve it. My attention was very much occupied during the summer, and indeed the whole year of 1862, with what is here spoken of as the University System. It was my great advantage to have had near me, and to have corresponded during that period, at very great length, with a gentleman quite familiar with not only the theory, but, to a great extent, with the practice of that system, so that when our President returned from Europe, I was already prepared to advocate and urge its introduction here. While, therefore, I regard this system as by no means a novelty, even in this country, I am not aware of its application to any such numbers of young women as we hope to gather here. However, it is not easy to discover why a system already proven in its applicability to young men, upon a large scale, and to young women only upon a smaller one, is not capable of almost indefinite expansion. For myself, I have no fears as to the success of the main features of this system.
In regard to the details, I see about me too many experienced and educated gentlemen to fear that any minor defects will escape attention or amendment.
If there should be any grave doubts, even in reference to these points, I trust there may be no such haste as will prevent their very deliberate consideration, and calm and intelligent settlement. Let no single point or subject be passed as "well enough," or as "one that will do." When the matter is final1y disposed of, I shall not be satisfied with any thing short of the intelligent and personal indorsement of the various members of this Board, every man pledging his individual responsibility to his conviction that it is, at all points, the best that can be devised.
Gentlemen, while I do not anticipate nor desire any action as to any appointments whatever at this meeting, I do wish to lay before you frankly, and as ful1y as may be, my views upon the general subject of appointments for your future reflection.
It is my hope - it was my early hope and desire - indeed, it has been the main incentive to all I have already done, or may hereafter do, or hope to do, to inaugurate a new era in the history and life of women.
The attempt you are to aid me in making fails whol1y of its point if it be not in advance, and a decided advance. I wish to give one sex al1 the advantages too long monopolized by the other. Ours is, and is to be, an institution for women-not men. In all its labors, positions, rewards, and hopes, the idea is the development and exposition, and the martialing to the front, and the preferment of women, of their powers, on every side, demonstrative of their equality with men. If possible, demonstrative of such capacity as, in certain fixed directions, may surpass those of men. This, I conceive, may be ful1y accomplished within the rational limits of true womanliness, and without the slightest hazard to the natural attractiveness of her character.
We are, indeed, already defeated before we commence, if development be in the least dangerous to the dearest attributes of her class. We are not the less defeated, if it be hazardous for her to avail herself of the highest educated powers when that point is gained. We are defeated, if we start upon the assumption that she has no powers save those she may derive or imitate from the other sex. We are defeated, if we recognize the idea that she may not, with every propriety, contribute to the world the matured faculties which education evokes. We are specially defeated, if we fail to express our practical belief in her preeminent powers as an instructor, of her own sex especially.
Gentlemen, no superior power has given, or will give us, an exclusive patent for originating the ability or genius of woman out of nothing. We must proceed upon the conviction that these are in the world before us. We shall fail to make all coming women what many already are. We can and shall fill up many valleys, elevate many plains, and build higher many natural summits. But we can scarcely hope that every future height shall wear our family crest alone. Go as high as we may, or can hope to do, and genius, which will not call our Col1ege mother, will stand al1 the time abreast of us. It is my wish to recognize not only the possibility, but the fact, of that genius and those high abilities at the very outset. Let us prove the certainty of woman's higher possible future by the best examples from the present. Let us recognize and honor her existing talent ourselves first, before we demand that recognition from the world. In my judgment, it is clearly due to the idea which underlies our entire structure that we do not hesitate here. Let us not add another to the examples of man's want of generosity, or of halfhearted recognition of the powers of one half of the world. We should be ashamed to do it, at least under the mask of an institution which professed to be her peculiar champion, and which is to be dedicated to her benefit alone.
We can not hope to maintain our belief before the world, when we voluntarily oppose it to our practice. We are to act upon our profession-to illustrate our idea at the very start; and I need not mention that this idea, since the commencement of our enterprise, has unfolded itself immensely. I have therefore no fear, of its failure. Only aid me judiciously in the selection of the best instruments to be found among the highly educated and accomplished women of this country, and let them take the hazard, if there be one. I, at least, have gone too far already to allow me to shrink one instant from sharing, or being intimidated, by that risk. Let woman at least share the most prominent and responsible positions in our gift, and let them be proffered her accordingly, as her unquestioned right, as far as she can fill them equally as well as man.
I spare you time by omitting here the great variety of reflections which have brought me unhesitatingly to this point. These will doubtless occur to you. I verily believe a generous partition between the sexes of all the professorships, is due no less to the idea underlying this enterprise than to woman herself, and the immediate and permanent success of our efforts. Inaugurate woman's elevation and power, genius and taste, at the same moment you open the door to her sex; for it is vain to educate woman's powers of thought, and then limit their operation. Give her a present confidence, and not push her back again upon a future hope. I have already staked my means upon my belief in her present practical powers. Let the foremost women of our land be among the most advanced and honored pilots and guardians of coming women, and I cheerfully leave my name to be associated with the result. I do not urge this point from any consideration of an economical nature. We must pay fairly, and even generously, whatsoever instruments we use.
Nine male professors, or even six, at any time, much more at the opening of our doors, will cause a perpetual drain upon our resources, which we may wish we had avoided when too late. Now, at least, it seems to me the dictate of the only enlightened prudence to reduce that number by at least one half, and to concentrate their duties of supervision and lectures, so that all the rest may be left to the natural province of woman as distinctly hers. I have not the slightest fear that those may be found fully equal to one half of the positions. Indeed, we have the testimony of our President that he finds the most distinguished student and copyist in Rome to be an American woman; and we also have his early recognition of the superior attainments of Miss Maria Mitchell. Music, languages, literature, the natural sciences, and hygiene are woman's native elements, and she has not failed to reach the highest point in astronomy and mathematics.
Against the time when the subject of appointment shall arrive, and even now, while the distribution of duties in the various departments will receive your attention, I shall venture to refresh your memories in regard to the care to be taken in the exclusion of sectarian influences, and to that end, that the appointees, in every grade, shall fairly represent the principal Christian denominations among us. I would rather be remembered as one who earnestly sought to fuse the Christian element of the world into one grand Catholic body-at any rate, as one who has endeavored to remove all barriers, rather' than recognize or cherish any exclusively.
As the legitimate and practical result of this idea, I would on this point invite to the College Desk, on the days of public worship, alternately the representatives of every Christian church. I am assured that no difficulty need be apprehended in effecting a permanent arrangement of this kind in this city. Let our pupils see and know that beyond every difference there is, after all, but one God, one Gospel; and that the spires of whatsoever church 'forever point toward one heaven. And upon this point again, without disparagement to any other religious source, permit me to add that the strongest incentives to goodness, and the most valuable religious tendencies, will be found to flow most of all, like an emanation, from the presence of gifted, cultivated Christian women.
It has not escaped my attention, gentlemen, that, after the completion of the College and furnishing in every department, there will remain certain duties of a financial and business character, to be provided for as a permanency. At a future time I shall take pleasure in submitting to you my general views upon this head. This does not seem to be the moment to elaborate that subject, and I therefore pass it for the present.
With these remarks, gentlemen, we turn to the more minute consideration of the plan of organization, which has brought us together this morning. I ask your deliberate counsel-nothing in haste, nothing premature, nothing in doubt, nothing rejected only because it is old-nothing adopted only because it is new.
It is in this institution that we are to launch, your reputation as well as mine is embarked, and I invoke a full expression of every individual opinion. Indeed, our reputations are as nothing in the grand success of this scheme, if we equip and direct it as we must for the most distant future. I am willing to take the fullest responsibility of the positions I have advanced; but not in my own favor nor in favor of any other individual or plan whatever, are your deliberate convictions to be expressed or suppressed. If upon any point I seem to be in advance of any of you, that time will not be lost which may be necessary to bring us all abreast.
Though no one of you can realize the extent of my deep solicitude that I may be spared by my Heavenly Father to see the final and successful achievement of a life already prolonged, I still deliberation and not haste.
Vassar's Communications to the Board of Trustees