This article originally appeared in the August 30, 1866, issue.
In most of the discussions in relation to the improvement of female education, the objectors have shown themselves unable to rise above the utilitarian, or rather the purely material, argument, and have assumed that those who ask a higher intellectual training for woman are as incapable as themselves of regarding the question from a loftier point of view. The range of woman’s powers and duties, say they, is confined, by her physical and her mental nature alike, to a narrow and a humble sphere. Of what use is it for her to pursue studies or cultivate arts, which for her can have no practical application? Why should she concern herself about the political history, the constitution, or the jurisprudence of her country, seeing that she is deprived of the political franchise, and ineligible to legislative or judicial office? Why should she know anything of theology, except as a body of positive dogmas, inasmuch as she can neither preach nor perform any priestly function? Why should she study the rules of aesthetical criticism or the fundamental principles of any art, when it is notorious that she can neither invent a character, paint a historical picture, model a group, nor compose an anthem?
Now this reasoning is objectionable, not merely as assuming much that is disputable, much even that this generation has seen dispelled, but because it raises a false issue, while, at the same time, it places a low and degrading estimate on the uses of knowledge, and virtually denies that it is, in and of itself, a good. Our intellectual training, our discernment of good and evil, of the true and the false, of the beautiful and the base–these are as much constituents of that complex entity which we call self, as our physical appetites and sensations. Discipline, self-culture, soundness of judgment, positive attainment, all which are implied in knowledge, are equally necessary for the discharge of our duties to our Maker, to ourselves, and to our brother. Knowledge, then, helps us alike to be and to do, and the obscurantists, in refusing a better education to woman, are denying her the choicest of jewels as a possession, the most efficient of instrumentalities as a means of action.
The present question is not, as is perversely insisted, What shall women do? Shall they command fleets and armies? Shall they preside in the councils of the nation? Shall they defend criminals at the bar of justice? Shall they expound Scripture and enforce religious and moral obligation in the pulpit? Shall they administer potions and perform capital operations? Shall they be allowed publicly to buy and sell and get gain? But it is: Shall woman be encouraged, or at least permitted freely, to cultivate such humble faculties as she is admitted to enjoy, and develop those intellectual powers which, in common with what grammarians call the “sexus dignior,” the worthier sex–though, as a half-reasoning animal, in an inferior degree–she appears to possess; may she receive a mental training which will raise her in her own self-respect, contribute to her rational enjoyment, and render her a more useful and less tiresome companion to the Solomon who is destined to lord it over her?