VII. April 13, 1865
GENTLEMEN: It is now some ten months since we last assembled in this room. To me it seems but half that number. Time flies swiftly as age advances and intervening topics engross our minds; and these we have certainly not lacked. Just four years ago tomorrow, we staked out the ground for the foundation of our College, a day which was made singularly memorable by the fall of Fort Sumter. Then, or soon thereafter, hostilities began in open conflicts, which have spread desolation, grief, and sadness throughout our wide domain. But during all these upturnings and exciting agitations, our enterprise has gone steadily along until it has substantially reached its material climax, but not without partial1y sharing in the effects of monetary convulsions incident to a state of war. We have, nevertheless, much cause for gratitude to our Heavenly Father, that, amidst all these calamities, the lives and health of the members of our Board have been spared to this hour.
It would be impossible for me to mention a tithe of the incidents and reflections which have occurred to my mind within this intervening period of four years, or of the unremitting draught made upon my mental and physical energies. But I have availed myself of the opportunity for free consultation and converse with our worthy and able President (Dr. Raymond) and our Executive Committee on the various departments of the enterprise as it progressed, and on the present occasion.
I shall confine my remarks to one or two topics, in respect to which my views may be regarded as somewhat chimerical, being in advance of the public sentiment; but I am confident and strongly persuaded that the longer you reflect the more nearly we shal1 agree.
Among the many points of interest embraced in the plan of organization, one, in relation to which I have frequently conversed with the President, is that of arranging the College terms and vacations so as to maintain a just proportion between the periods (If rest and labor, and at the same time to secure for collegiate uses the largest possible amount of that season which, in our climate, is the most propitious of the year. Without counseling any rash experiment, or a premature departure from existing usages, I beg to propose, as substantially expressing my idea, and to serve as a guide to your reflections, some such division of-time as the following:
Fall term, from 1st September to 1st January………………….4 months.
Spring term, from 1st April to 1st August……………………..4 months.
Total term-time………………………………………...............8 months.
Winter vacation, from 1st January to 1st April………………..3 months.
Summer vacation, from 1st August to 1st September…………1 month.
Total vacation time…………………………………..…..........4 months.
It will be seen that this arrangement reduces the amount of term-time, during the year, from ten months to eight months, say about two thirds of the whole, leaving one third to be spent at home or in traveling under parental direction; at the same time, it assigns a somewhat larger proportion than is usual of the summer months to the term of the winter months' vacation. The College, as you are aware, is already provided with an extensive and admirably effective heating apparatus, amply sufficient for the coldest winter weather, so that it is not from any economical necessity that this change is suggested, but from considerations of health, convenience, and utility, which, I think, will commend themselves to a reflective mind as of no trifling weight.
It is the late fall and winter season which, in our climate, is prolific of colds and the numerous diseases of northern latitudes, which are kindred to or consequent upon them. It will hardly be possible, I apprehend, to conduct the sanitary management of so large a school of young women through our inclement winter months in such a way as to prevent the occurrence of numerous such cases, and the occupation of our infirmary apartments with most undesirable frequency. And the tendency of the public mind would be to ascribe this to something unhealthy in the location, or unwise in the management of the. College. Besides, in carrying out what is not the least important part of our system-the thorough physical training of the students-extensive arrangements are to be made on the grounds for various gymnastic and athletic exercises, healthful recreations and physical accomplishments suitable for young ladies.
I also understand it to be the desire and purpose of our President to introduce into the College course a liberal supply of outdoor instruction, such, for instance, as geological excursions, the study of trees, plants, and flowers in living examples, drawing from nature, etc. Now, all these are suited to the summer; and in the winter season all the extraordinary advantages for them, possessed by the College, would be comparatively lost. To these advantages of the summer term, so intimately related to the health and perfect education of young ladies, may be added a portion of the winter. Those who reside in the rural districts could avail themselves of the long winter evenings assisting in household duties, repairing their own wardrobes, making up new garments, and, meanwhile, reviewing the studies of the preceding term, or preparing for those of the next; and those whose homes are in the cities or large towns, while doing the same, might enjoy the additional benefit of attending the intellectual and social entertainments usual in the winter months. It would not, however, be necessary to insist on the peremptory dismissal of all the pupils during the vacation. Such as had no parents or homes within convenient reach, could be allowed to remain, paying only for their board and for such special instruction as they might privately receive.
The fixing of the due proportion between term-time and vacation, is a matter of no less importance. In the order of nature, the Creator has wisely provided for the rest of man and beast. This is seen in the climatical division of the earth, the succession of seasons, the alternation of day and night. Even the earth itself amidst the untiring activity of those powers by which it generates, repairs, and fosters life, finds in the rolling year its appointed periods of repose -fall and winter contrasting with summer – seed time set over against the harvest, cold alternating with heat, and wet with dry. So in the conduct of our ordinary life, we divide our time from day to day, allotting one third for sleep, one third for labor, and one third to recruit our wasted energies by food and recreation. Is there not an analogy suggested here, in which we may find instruction in determining the proportions of the year to be assigned, first, to absolute vacation; secondly, to study; and third, to those refreshing and invigorating exercises with which even the term-time should be relieved and enlivened? Of this we may be sure, that wherever nature has fixed the limit we gain nothing and lose much by attempting to overleap it. Mind as well as matter is most healthily developed by observing the appointed seasons of growth. The latter we see expand and reach the zenith of its perfection within the natural allotted period. So, also, does the former; and if we attempt to force nature out of her regular channels by whatever means, we only impair her powers and hinder the accomplishment of her beneficent ends. Any overtaxation, mental or physical, defeats itself.
What I wish mainly to enforce is a more careful observance of these great laws, and a larger amount of physical exercises, pleasantly blended with the mental exercises of the College. I have long since seen, as you have, the pernicious effects resulting from the neglect of these precautions, and especially in our seminaries of learning, from stimulating the youthful brain to exhausting and protracted exertion, through long winter evenings, in rooms artificially heated and imperfectly ventilated, and by the light of lamps or gas. It is related of one of the most noted of the female seminaries in New-England, that incalculable injury is being done to the health of the pupils under the plea of thorough discipline, and by ill-ventilated apartments and over-taxation of their brains. Every hour in twenty-four is methodized. There is not a moment unoccupied, and the injury done is fearful. For proof of this, I refer you to the Transactions of the New-York State Medical Society's Report for 1864.
I may add that winter sessions are preferred in this, and in the generality of seminaries, on the ground that the season is most favorable to this high-pressure system of severe study and thorough discipline. Let us look on the pale faces and fragile forms of our not over-educated, but unwisely-educated young countrywomen, and try to correct the system.
I close as I began, by disclaiming any purpose of urging the Board to any premature action, or insisting on any particular scheme of division for the College year. It is general principles to which I attach importance, and the momentous interest of health and true womanly education involved therein. To these, gentlemen, I do earnestly solicit your attention, and ask a prompt and courageous action in that direction which your mature judgment shall approve.
And now, gentlemen, in closing this address, allow me to recall to your minds the expression which I made, on a former occasion of my opinion and wishes concerning the character of the instruction to be given in the College, and concerning those upon whom the responsibility of imparting it should be devolved. My views have undergone no change.
It is my wish now, as it was in the beginning of our enterprise -nay, many years before- to build an institution for the culture of women of the highest character – an institution where women may be instructed in all the branches of literature and science suited to the sphere assigned them in social, moral, and religious life, and for preparation for the successful pursuit of every vocation wherein they can be made useful for their own maintenance, and for the good of society and the race-an institution, too, where, in due time, women shall be the teachers and educators of women.
I am pleased to observe that, since the inauguration of our enterprise in 1861, great changes have taken place in the public mind regarding what may be appropriately considered the sphere of woman. From two of our Female Medical Colleges alone, that at Boston and that at Philadelphia, between twenty-five and thirty ladies have received the full degree of M.D.; and many evidences are recorded of the rapid diminution of unworthy prejudice 'which, for a while, denied professional recognition to female practitioners, however learned and skillful, and threw ungenerous obstacles in the way of their success. Among these evidences may be noted the fact, that the venerable Medical Society of Philadelphia that most professional, proud, and orthodox of cities-now permits its members to hold consultations with women physicians; a recognition which at first it sturdily refused. This is a long stride in the right direction, and I mention it merely as among many interesting facts which mark the drift in the current of the public mind. It is to me a matter of great encouragement. We have only to go steadily forward in the path we have begun to tread, and by a wise and liberal policy to give respectability to an idea which has already taken a strong hold on the conscience and heart of the community, and we may be certain, under God, of success. In dealing justly and generously by our sisters and daughters we may, with confidence, expect the favoring smile of our common 'Father, and in the surest possible way confer incalculable benefit on the whole family of man.
And now, gentlemen, I have only one more thought to mention, and I shall merely mention it, leaving the consideration of the propriety of it to the decision of your body. I refer to the change of the name of your College from "Vassar Female College" to "Vassar College," leaving out the word" Female." Your President knows my views on the subject, and is intimate with the long discussion for the past two years in some correspondence on that matter. I beg therefore, for further particulars, to refer you to him and other gentlemen of the Board.