The Proper Education of Our Daughters

by Mrs. T. P. Holman

(GOSPEL ADVOCATE, 13 April 1894)

I have often been struck with the inefficiency of our educational system as applied to both boys and girls, so utterly does it fail to prepare them or train them properly for the sterner duties of life. This is especially true of girls, and I would fain call the attention of parents to the matter, hoping that some day sufficient interest may be aroused to bring about a radical change for the better. Girls are sent to school from the time they are little tots until they are full-fledged young ladies. At school their time is so fully occupied with the ordinary school curriculum of reading, writing, arithmetic, grammar, geography, history, mathematics, the sciences, half a dozen foreign languages, music, art, etc., etc., that there hardly seems time to add anything to the list, however important it may seem. But, even though girls must learn these things, there are still other things of equal importance to their happiness and success in life. Perhaps all will admit this, but the school life is already so crowded with studies that teachers protest against the introduction of new courses. And mothers keep their daughters so continuously in school that even if they desired to give them the necessary training at home, and were in every way competent to do so, yet it seems difficult to find just the right time to do it. How or when girls should receive this instruction—whether by lengthening the school course, or lopping off some of the branches now taught and substituting the necessary branches instead—whether it shall be done in the regular schools or in special schools instituted for the purpose either during or after the regular course is finished—are matters that the future must determine. But that it must and will be done in some way many things seem to indicate.

Do not misunderstand me. I do not wish to depreciate the value of the branches now taught in school. I am an earnest advocate of the higher education of woman. I think her education should only be limited by her desire to learn, her capacity to receive instruction, and her financial ability to command such instruction as she may need. But, at the same time, if she cannot find time for the branches now taught in the school and the more practical branches necessary to her domestic happiness and her success in life, it would be far better to omit some of the branches now taught and substitute for them these others so much needed. As it is, the average girl is launched into life with a tolerably familiar acquaintance with the three rs—reading, riting, and rithmetic—a smattering of a few dozen other things, while utterly ignorant of all housekeeping accomplishments, unable to make herself a decent dress, unacquainted with her own nature and its requirements, ignorant of every principle of the laws of health, with little idea of her duties to her husband if she should have one, absolutely without an idea as to how to properly train children, should she ever be so blessed as to have children of her own, and with no knowledge or training whatever to enable her to earn a living for herself, should it be necessary for her to do so.

Without any instruction or training along any of these lines, which constitutes the very life of a large majority of our women, they are expected to stumble in some unaccountable way into successful wives, mothers, and housekeepers, and to be fully able to support themselves and their children, should it ever be necessary for them to do so. The wonder is that so many should succeed so well as they do. And when we come to think of the utter lack of any training along these lines, it is not surprising that the failures are so sadly numerous.

All girls should be taught the principles of careful, economical housekeeping. I think it must be the hope of every woman to some day have a home of her own to take care of and love. But few have any training to fit them to make this home just what it should be in every respect.

All girls should be taught to cook, not in the careless, slipshod way known in most American homes, but scientifically. They should be taught what articles are best for food, and how this food should be prepared so as to be not only palatable, but most easily assimilated.

They should be taught to sew. It is surprising to know how many girls who, with plenty of time on their hands, and not very well able to hire their sewing done, yet are compelled to hire every dress made, or else, if unable to hire it done, are compelled to wear an ill-fitting, badly-made garment.

They should be taught that their bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost, and as such they should bring them to their best development in every way—that good health is the greatest earthly blessing, and tight corsets are the greatest enemy to good health. So great is my abhorrence of a small waist in women, knowing as I do how nature must be deformed to secure it, that I sometimes feel as if I would like to lead a crusade against it. I think people who are studying the question of dress reform should receive the support and encouragement of all good people, instead of the ridicule and condemnation that is now so often meted out to them by many good people.

If girls were properly trained as to the importance of good health, and how to attain and preserve it by attention to proper dress, food, exercise, and fresh air, it is certain that an improved race would take the place of the present nervous, irritable, high-strung generation. And why should not a careful drill in these things be had in school along with —or, if needs be, instead of—the teaching of geology, astronomy, and such like? Along with these things all girls should be trained in the care and nursing of the sick, with at least some knowledge of medicine. But instead girls are taught anatomy and physiology, with little or no training as to the care of the body in sickness and in health. I would not abolish the study of these from the schools, but instead I would teach along with them the laws and requirements of the body in sickness and in health.

Then our girls should be taught their duties to their husbands, their duties to themselves as married women, and how best to train the children that may some day be intrusted to their care. Why not? Do girls make the better mothers by entering into this holy estate with no knowledge of its requirements but an instinct that may be perverted by the false teachings or the pernicious views of a fashionable life? Do women make the better mothers that, instead of being taught that motherhood is the most sacred of all relations and one most to be desire, they are taught by the false ideas now prevailing in the world to abhor it so intensely that they are in a constant state of rebellion throughout the entire prenatal life of their child? Are they better mothers for not knowing that this rebellious state, which sometimes engenders even murderous feelings in the womans heart, can but result in a deterioration of her offspring? Ah me! If prospective mothers could but be taught the principles of health and heredity, if they could but be taught the laws of mental and physical life for themselves and for their child during its prenatal existence as well as afterwards, if they could but know that no blessing the Lord could send us would be so great as that of a little child all our own, surely the world would be better than it is.

Sometimes when I read of those moral monstrosities who seem to live but to commit terrible crimes, and to know of the hate and murderous feelings in the hearts of many mothers in bearing children, I can but connect the one with the other, as cause and effect. A false delicacy should not prevent girls being taught things that may affect the happiness of their future life and that of generations unborn. The girl could have no better teaching than of good mothers. But where the mother herself is not sufficiently informed, there are many good women to whom such teaching might safely be intrusted.

Girls, to make ideal mothers, should be developed mentally, physically, morally, and socially to their highest possible capacity. “A high degree of intellectual capacity and a broad mental grasp is more important in those who have the training and molding of small children than if the children were older. The younger the mind the less able it is to guide itself, intelligently, and therefore the more important is it that the guide be both wise and well informed . . . She must understand the proportions of things and wherein they touch each other, and the bearing and trend of mental and physical phenomena. She must furnish self-poise to the nervous child, and stimulus to the phlegmatic one. She must be able to read signs and interpret indications in the mental and moral, as well as in the physical being of those within her care . . . More than this, she must be not only able to detect, but have the wisdom to guide, to stimulate, to restrain, and to develop the plastic creature in her keeping. If she had the wisdom of the fabled gods, and the self-poise of Milo, she would not be too well equipped for educating—to do the best for the race in her keeping.”

Then, is it possible for girls to be too well educated? And are the points I emphasize of minor importance?

Last, but not of least importance, the girls should be taught some business or profession by which they would be able to maintain themselves independently during their unmarried life, or should it be necessary for them to continue to do so after marriage, or if left a widow. I believe girls often make unsuitable marriages because they feel they are in the way of younger brothers and sisters at home, or are dependent upon other relatives, and marry without proper consideration, because they feel that they will be more independent to be “supported” by a husband than any other. It is unnatural that a girl should “marry for a living.” And when our girls are able to maintain themselves independently, they will be far less likely to make such a mercenary marriage. But even if such a consideration should be deemed insufficient to induce us to make our girls self-sustaining, the uncertainties of life, which may leave them maids, wives, or widows, compelled to support themselves, and perhaps others, demand of us that we do not leave them thus rudderless on the great ocean of life; but that the rather, we put into their hands the means of guiding themselves safely away from the bars and quicksands of poverty and dependence. When these things in relation to the proper training of our daughters receive due consideration, the world will be better and the millennium nearer.

(e-text: JoAnne Toews)

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