A BEND in an unknown road is always alluring, but only at one other time in a girl's life does it open up such possibilities as when she goes to the school that is to link up her girlhood with real living. No wonder it’s an experience full of thrills from the earliest anticipation. The planning of the new clothes, the first glimpse of the Alma Mater set far back on the campus between avenues of flaming maples, the buzzing crowds of new people, the contact with whose lives is going to make her own so much richer, the promise of tramps on frosty, moonlight nights and corn-roasts and concerts and parties and the glorif ied vision of all that the college years may make of her—all these go to warm the heart of the girl rather than the real purpose of her coming to college, however seriously she may have taken that in the beginning. After all, she’s partly right; we must admit that college is not so much a place where things are studied or learned as it is a place where things happen, a place where a girl first finds herself.
This is where the old-fashioned “finishing school” failed; it did not teach a girl to express herself. It rather stifled all that was original in her and tried to conform her to the standard mold of what the school considered ladylike—to walk with her chin and shoulders at certain angles, to talk with a certain modulation, to say certain things on certain occasions. We cannot belittle a cultural education ; the world needs culture of the finest kind now more than it ever did, but cultural training goes deeper than imitation. And the “finishing school” failed because it fitted a girl only for the drawing-room; it did nothing to train her for living, and if the fabric of our national life is to be patched up and made stronger and finer than ever the girls of the next few years are going to have to meet life in earnest. The men who did the hard, interesting things have gone into the army ; a lot of the work they would have done must be carried on by women, and this requires training. In the second place, the cost of living for the next several years is going to make it important, and in many cases imperative, that a girl be able to earn money for herself. Is she to be equipped for some skilled work with a fair salary, or will she be left to take her chance at some makeshift job, the remuneration from which will never make it possible for her to provide, if necessary, against a possible time when she cannot work, and which will always be more or less drudgery, something which she would never have chosen for herself? Wise parents have come to allow their boys considerable freedom in choosing their careers, because they have found that parentally-ordained careers are usually failures. A girl should be just as free as her brother in choosing her career. We can do no less than give her an opportunity to determine for herself how best to make the most of. her life. If she does not know what she wants to do—and most girls don't—a college training will lay the broad foundation which is invaluable in any business or profession.
There is nothing to triumph over in the fact that women are going to do a lot of the things that men have done heretofore. And the doing of these things will mean little to either the woman or the world so long as she goes into the work with the spirit of competition or personal ambition. Neither will the thinking woman try to imitate a man’s way of doing a thing; she will realize that there are differences, that the laws of human nature are eternal, and whether she is a trained nurse or an electrical engineer, she will express herself through her work. With this viewpoint she can safely lay her plans for whatever life-work she chooses, provided she realizes that a career, like matrimony, “ought to be entered into reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God”—and I say this with reverence.
There are women at the top of almost every ladder, but the lower rungs of some are so overcrowded that a good many aspirants are likely to be pushed off in the jam. On others it has been hard to get a footing at all because of the “Keep Off” signs posted by prejudice. Law, for instance, has been sometimes considered a doubtful profession for a woman on account of the publicity with which she would have to face problems of all sorts of crime and general sordidness. To-day, however, when every woman is accepting her relation to life as social and civic as well as domestic, and when women are taking a hand in the solution of every question of disease and crime and disaster that can affect the world, there is no reason for any woman being frightened at the publicity of fighting these evils through the courts. In fact some of the reforms that Canadian women are struggling for in our own social laws might be brought about more quickly if we had more women in the profession. There is an opening here for the most brilliant girls with quick, logical minds to do some most valuable social service work.
In the same way, the profession of medicine offers unlimited scope for the right type of girl. The war has proved that even in a branch requiring such skill and “nerve” as surgery, women can perform a high quality of work. It is, perhaps, the exceptional woman who would take up this line, but it seems logical that a woman could excell in certain specialties like children’s troubles for example. Further, the successful consulting physleian deals with the psychological almost as much as the physiological; he probes deep into causes which to the layman seem to have no connection with the specific trouble. Isn’t it more natural for women to confide in a woman? And however strongly some people declare their lack of confidence in “women doctors,” the fact remains that of all hospitals, the women’s hospitals run entirely by women for women have the longest waiting list—which is the supreme test of any hospital. And again, the girl who -wants to be a doctor might be reminded that it is both unnecessary and one of the greatest mistakes she could make to try to •do things as men have always done them. This is a profession where personality counts supremely; if she tries to be anything but her natural self she is going to lose something. I have a picture in mind of a girl doctor only twenty-four years old, but notably skilful in maternity cases, making a new baby comfortable for his first sleep, her white gown and pink cheeks and burnished red hair under the electric light making a bright presence in the room, and the mother’s praises of her work always ended with “and she’s so lovely and restful to have around!” Perhaps this was in no small measure the secret of her success.
The professions of law and medicine, however, will attract only a small percentage of the girls going to college this year. The majority who enter the university do so with the idea of eventually drifting into teaching, a private secretaryship, social service work, journalism or some one of the other numberless fields calling for women. It is doubtful whether any other line offers possibilities of such far-reaching results as teaching, and there is always the option of specializing later in art, music, physical culture, household science, or in the higher branches of English, classics, or whatever appeals to the individual. Social service work affords endless opportunities for self-development and self-expression as well as for the “uplift work” which appeals so strongly to the girl with ideals. It has a special call for the girl with business sense, personal charm, deep religious instincts and some technical training, who has the executive to inspire others to service and who doesn’t mind having quite a lot to do alone. Newspaper work is steadily growing in its demand for women and it covers such a multitude of departments as to take in some scores of classes of writers. The journalism, which is the ultimate ambition of most newspaper women, usually begins with reporting. Reporting is hard work but full of valuable éxperience, and the prejudice against a woman “going into all sorts of places” as a reporter must is fast dying out, because people are beginning to see that this protective attitude is, after all, not the kindest thing. A proprietor of one newspaper used to object to having a woman reporter on his staff because “she would have to go out in the rain!” I knew an old laundress once who couldn’t get work because the people to whom she applied couldn’t bear to see her bending over the tubs—she looked so little and frail. She nearly starved to death on the commiseration of the kind-hearted. But while the girl journalist of to-day has a comparatively easy field to break into and while newspaper experience gives a splendid foundation for the creative writing of magazines and books, she will be seriously handicapped if she has not a broad, general school education. A university course is invaluable.
Then, of course, there is the question of training for the profession of homemaking. Most people agree now that anytraining which fits a woman for better living should make her a better wife and mother, but it must be admitted that actual training for home-making is the most neglected part of our girls’ education, especiallysince the necessity of so many girls earning their own living leaves them little time for learning even the practical things of housekeeping in their own homes. The night classes in our technical schools help out considerably, but the girl is fortunate who can have both practical and professional training in what is most likely to be her permanent “life work.” At the same time, for the university girl who takes her degree in Household Science or the dietician housekeeper who graduates at the end of a two-year course, there will, for some years to come, be no dearth of positions with good salaries, either teaching this interesting subject to other girls, or performing the miracle of putting an atmosphere of home into an institution. The increasing number of military hospitaU and convalescent homes as well as the uesidence colleges, schools and hospitals needing trained women should induce more girls to take up this work.
Anpther girl who will this fall be entering a university of a different kind, whosç training will also help her in her home or wherever she may be for the rest of her life, is the “student nurse.” It is doubtful if this is not the biggest professional opportunity open to the right kind of girl to-day. A few years ago being a nurse may have meant little more to us than wearing a fetching cap and carrying trays of broth and lemon jelly. Now we are having our eyes opened to a new vision; the work of the nurse to-day is fighting the greatest battle of the times —the conservation of human life. She may be swathed to the eyes in her sterilized uniform in the operating room, every muscle taut, sharing the swift work in which every move may count for life or death, or she may be meeting the emergencies and relieving the agonies in a Red Cross hospital back of the firing line in France, or in the public health service, flying here and there to the homes of some Canadian city or prairie district, meeting the stork at his every arrival and saving two lives over and over where one or both would probably have been lost without her, or she may (we hope before long) be teaching hygiene to the school children in the rural districts. The work of the nurse, the real one, is bound to be hard wherever she is, but if she is a girl who is born and then made for her work it will return her all that she puts into it. If she has the right kind of temperament and character to begin with, she will come through so strengthened, so mellowed by sympathy, so steadied by the leanings of others that it is no wonder a man is frequently heard to say, “What on earth is there about a nurse that makes a man want to marry her every time?”
And while the “finishing school” may be superficial, there is nothing superficial or unnecessary about the cultural subjects in the girl’s education. Music and art, especially music, is most important, not only for what she can do with it but for what it will do for her in giving her a finer appreciation of the best things in life, and making it possible for her to pass the influence on. This, too, is where the college life should help her. Contact with girls of all kinds and temperaments is going to make her more generous, broader, less self-centred, kindlier in her judgments of people, ready to face things honestly, to take responsibility, to come nearer to the ideal of Tennyson’s Edith, “She with all the charm of woman, she with all the breadth of man.” These are some of the things college should do for her, and it isn’t too much. The problems of the next several years are going to call for a womanhood of capability and culture and character raised to the nth power.
To keep our country free, our children fearOur women clean, men face the hell of war. Arm them with memories pure to courage peerless, Give them a womanhood worth dying for!
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.