It was with no little interest that we saw the first female students of Hanover College enter chapel last September. In the years of our connection with literary societies, we had heard co-education frequently discussed and variously decided. We had long observed that the question was one upon which speculators could produce arguments of equal weight upon both sides; and had become convinced that we should never form a satisfactory opinion by weighing probabilities as to what advantages or disadvantages would attend co-education. Therefore we were gratified at the prospect of seeing the plan in practice.
After six months’ observation our editorial eyes have failed to see any of the evils so dismally pictured by the opponents of mixed schools. If time has been dissipated by our fellow students of either sex, the loss has not made itself evident in the reports of the first term. As for the young ladies they have not been beguiled into frivolous waste of time, if we may infer anything from the fact that their average scholarship was higher than that of the other sex. We believe that there was more hard work done in Hanover last term than at any previous time of our connection with the college. Many advantages are also apparent in the new order of things. Gentlemanly deportment among the students was never more marked, and during our stay in Hanover we have never seen fewer irregularities, whether in etiquette, morals, or collegiate discipline. It is a significant fact that the question of co-education which used to be debated nearly every term in the societies, has not been discussed this year. If it were proposed now in either hall it would be impossible to get any thing like an even division: the opponents of the plan would find their arguments answered by the facts observed in their own institution.
As far as the HANOVERIAN is concerned the question is fully settled. We are aware that our opinion will be of small moment to the many older friends of Hanover College, who regret that the institution has opened its doors to both sexes. These will agree with us that the only fair way to judge the matter is by observing the fruits of the experiment, and not by speculation. If practical co-education is injurious, it is strange that the instructors in all the hundred and seventy mixed colleges of our land should fail to report it, and should strongly affirm the contrary. It is idle to say that these men are influenced by desire to defend their institutions. In the first place they are not the kind of men who deal in falsehood, and if they found the experiment was disadvantageous to their schools, it would be to their interest to say so, and use their influence against co-education. This ought to be sufficient to dissipate any preconceived prejudices against mixed schools; but to those who are not satisfied we can extend an invitation to visit Hanover, to “come and see” for themselves.
An objection is urged against co-education on the ground that men and women are destined to fill different “spheres” in life. Therefore, we are told, they require different courses of preparatory study. This is a point which every parent must settle for himself, and we shall not presume to advise such. We may remark, however, that the force of the argument depends upon the assumption that the collegiate course is intended to fit its graduates for their special vocations in the world. But the aim of collegiate culture is not this but the “symmetrical development and discipline of all the faculties of the individual.” The college does not—aim to prepare any one for his “sphere”—if we mean by that word, his profession or special mission in the world. If it be admitted, however, that to live well and wisely is a “sphere,” and one more comprehensive than the sphere of professional duty or domestic economy, then the college by this development of the faculties does prepare for a most important sphere, and for one which both sexes ought to fill. Education is the “unfolding of manhood,” and is no more necessary at the bar and in the pulpit, than in the home. We fail to see why masculine humanity and feminine humanity—created alike in the image of God—should not be equally worthy of cultivation and the highest possible development. The minister and the lawyer are made minister and lawyer in separate professional schools; but this professional education is more valuable after the manhood common to both has been developed by the same collegiate culture. In the same way, altho’ boys and girls are to fill very different places in the social economy, would it not be better to make them men and women by the education which is not peculiar to any one sphere but which is the best preparation for all?
We do not profess wisdom on such subjects. Of one thing, however, we are certain, that in this land there are hundreds of young women who are hungering for more substantial knowledge and more thorough culture than are afforded by the superficial curricula of female seminaries. One of the most brilliant newspaper correspondents of our day, voices the sentiments of many of her sex in the words with which we close this article. “When I consider the size of the matters upon which woman has broken her mind, away back to the time when Eve plucked the apple, but failed to pluck with it knowledge, I cease to marvel at the ‘littleness’ which Margaret Fuller lamented as woman’s besetting sin. I hail the enlarged resources, the nobler training which is hers to-day chiefly because of their power to lift her from the bondage of little things, and the dwarfing minuteness of microscopic vision.”