Friday, April 9, 2010

The trouble with educated women

Friday, April 9, 2010
Loretta reports:

A short while ago, we learned that the French arranged marriages long after the English gave up the practice, and each side believed their approach assured more happy marriages.

This was before the days of marriage therapy, couples counseling, etc.

Let's move on to the U.S. in the 20th century.

I had heard about Eugenics but was startled to learn that Paul Popenoe, the man behind The Ladies Home Journal ongoing feature, "Can this marriage be saved?" (launched in 1953)and the man who seems to have started the marriage counseling business— had been a leader in the Eugenics campaign "to sterilize the unfit and urge the fit to marry."

I am indebted to a fascinating article by Jill Lepore, "Fixed: The Rise of marriage therapy, and other dreams of human betterment," (New Yorker 3/29/10--you can listen to audio here ) for sending me to a piece of early 20th century "scientific" writing that made my jaw drop: Applied Eugenics.

Among other things, Popenoe wrote, in 1918, that a college education rendered women unfit for marriage.

"The causes of the remarkable failure of college women to marry" he breaks down into two categories: avoidable and unavoidable. Among the "avoidable reasons"--(1) They desire not to marry, due to a preference for a career, or development of a cynical attitude toward men and matrimony, due to a faulty education." For those who desire to marry but can't, reasons include "(b) Their education makes them less desirable mates than girls who have had some training along the lines of home-making and mothercraft."

Further on he declares, as Lepore quotes, "Many a college girl of the finest innate qualities, who sincerely desires to enter matrimony, is unable to find a husband of her own class, simply because she has been rendered so cold and unattractive, so over stuffed intellectually and starved emotionally, that a typical man does not desire to spend the rest of his life in her company."
Good thing my husband never got around to reading that book.

Photos at top and center left courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Top:  The bride's prayer: "Make thy face to shine upon me.  Make my life a life of love." c 1905
Center:  College for Women of Western Reserve University c1913

17 comments:

Miss_Tami_Lee said...

Ugh that just pisses my inner bra-burner off to the max!

gentlewomanthief said...

Oh dear - I have a masters, maybe I should just get on with the PhD since there's no hope for me!

Thankfully, my boyfriend isn't threatened by my education (though I probably wouldn't be interested in him if he were!). We joke that we're competing for who has more qualifications as we've both spent a lot of time studying. I think he'd be bored with someone who was only interested in home-making and 'mothercraft', and I think many men are like that, which is why I find your article so fascinating!

The only people who have ever had negative reactions to my 'over stuffed intellect' have been from older generations, but even then they have been few and far between. Perhaps I have been lucky; perhaps it's that the likes of Popenoe have been unlucky and unable to perpetuate the myth that education makes a woman unfit for, well, anything!

Much as I love history and often romanticise it, it's this kind of thing that makes me very glad to be a citizen of the 21st century!

Marilyn said...

I probably had the opposite reaction to most of your Readers I laughed. Imagine having a mind makes you unmarriageable! Oh Dear...

Jane O said...

Oh that is too funny!
Just think how many of us would not exist had our parents and grandparents thought that way.
Isn't it amazing what nonsense people sometimes spout?

Vanessa Kelly said...

My mother used to get Ladies Home Journal, and I read the "Can this marriage be saved" column all the time. I loved it because it was like watching a train wreck. Who knew it was a lesson in applied Eugenics?

Fascinating!

Susan Holloway Scott said...

I am so very glad you have filed this under "Men Behaving Badly." *g*

Jenny Girl said...

Because educated women many have original thoughts and ideas, and heaven forbid, be smarter than their mates.

Oh dear, the world may surely end!

So since my hubby is encouraging me to go back for my Masters, he must be deranged :)

Too funny! I love reading historical cultural information. Thanks gals and enjoy your weekend!

Margaret Evans Porter said...

I met my husband when we were both in grad school working on our M.A.'s. So in my view, ask me, higher ed. is the best method of obtaining the M.R.S. degree.

MsHellion said...

There are no words, so I'm going to go for hysterical laughter and promise to drink an extra beer tonight at happy hour as a sort of "thumb my nose" at such an idiot.

Hilarious...but informative!

LorettaChase said...

See? This is why I love history so much!

Susan Wilbanks said...

This definitely gives a deeper context to Gaudy Night (one of my favorite books of all time).

d'Olivia said...

Oh, good grief. That guy sounds like a doozy.

LaDonna said...

Man's an eejit. End of story.

wanderlustnpixiedust said...

Took a little too long for the world to get beyond this mentality. Sad to know that there are still the occasional holdouts.

Elizabeth said...

Have times changed? 'Had a good friend tell me (late 1990s) that he'd never date an engineer, because she'd be more focused on her career than on rearing children. He was talking about another lady, but I was an engineer at the time!

But there's hope. He ended up marrying a woman who jumps out of helicopters to rescue people! Ha!

vrchristensen said...

Hi. I was referred to your blog by Hetty Sorrell, aka, Ruth Raven. I'm an author (yet unpublished) of late 19th cent. Historical Fic. My understanding is that the English gave up arranged marriages mostly because they ceased to be profitable after the Married Women's Property Act of 1882. Though of course royalty continued that tradition for some time later. Would your research contradict this, or, more specifically, would it challenge the idea that a marriage might be arranged even after that date?

LorettaChase said...

The English gave up arranged marriages long before 1882, as Mrs. Trollope (quoted above) points out. Amanda Vickery's The Gentleman's Daughter, and her more recent Behind Closed Doors give numerous examples, as do a number of other historians. It's evident in biographies & memoirs. And yes, marriages were arranged after 1882. I'd put Consuelo Vanderbilt's marriage to the Duke of Marlborough in that category.

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