Original Document
Original Document
J. R. Tyson, LL.D., Excerpts from the first "Commencement Address" for the Pennsylvania Female College, Harrisburg, PA, 1854.

THE SEMINARY; ITS AIMS– "We have met to witness the first annual commencement of the Pennsylvania Female College, at Harrisburg. I sincerely trust that it has now fairly entered upon a long and flourishing career, and that by its high aims it will approve itself a useful and honored seat of learning.

"Situated in the capital of Pennsylvania, fortunate in the selection of a judicious and able principal, and enjoying the most favorable auspices, it had a right to look forward with confident expectations of success. So far, these expectations have been well fulfilled. The number of scholars has steadily increased. Their deportment and improvement have been such as to justify the belief that both they and the teachers will redeem all the reasonable promises of the institution.

"The locality of this college at Harrisburg, and the prudent course adopted in its management, encourage the most sanguine hopes. All that remains for me is cursorily to consider some of the principles upon which it is founded, in order to ascertain whether these entitle it to public patronage.

"It must be apparent that a part of the success it has already met with is owing to a pretty general conviction in its favor. I believe that the principles which lie at its base are destined, under Providence, to scatter seeds of inappreciable value, and to yield a large harvest or moral and social blessings.

"It is one of the glories of our free land that such institutions as this have had their origin in this country. They have already become numerous. No country but ours could have given them existence. The prejudices of society would not permit them to flourish elsewhere.

"Rudimental schools founded for her benefit, avenues opened for her employment, colleges established for her more complete education: these are all owing to the universality of the opinion that the training of the intellect of woman, and the elevation of her moral being, are of the highest social concern."¦

WOMAN'S NEED OF EDUCATION FOR HER SPHERE.– "There is a law, the law of capability or infirmity which points out the fitness of things, and vindicates the wisdom of the Creator in the government of the world. That law, in denying to woman the more rugged form of man, a cold and unimpassioned reason, an inductive power to explore the secrets of nature by the slow but sure and certain processes of the understanding, has given to her greater personal beauty, a more delicate and complicated organization, a brighter perception, a nicer acuteness of feeling, better capacities of adaptation, and finer susceptibilities of taste. She excels in those arts which lead to the ornate, the beautiful, and the tasteful. I would not be understood to say that nature has not poured out to her in equal profusion those high faculties with which man is endowed, for I believe many women have them all in an eminent degree. But it is evident, from the delicate texture of her nervous system and the infirmities and disabilities resulting from her sex, that these powers are more limited in their range, or less under her control, or more affected or clouded by inimical and counteracting influences. Man has the qualities which enable him to breast the storm, while woman's genius enables her to embellish the retreats which form its sheltered coverts. The precincts of private life and its sacred ministrations are the lot of one sex; its struggles, combats, and external duties form more properly the province of the other. But, on the other hand, is a being thus highly gifted and formed for these, and even greater purposes, not to be trained and cultivated? Because her person is cast in a finer mould, are its latent powers not to be brought out, and its fair proportions strengthened and developed? Is her spirit so ethereal as to bloom only in a genial sunshine, and not to be invigorated for the shade and the tempest? Is it to be put to no valuable use?"

WOMAN'S INFLUENCE.– "Woman is the presiding deity of the household. The inferior genii imbibe her spirit, and become, in obedience to it, the bright agents of heaven for the diffusion of its blessings, or malignant demons of mischief to poison the atmosphere of domestic joy. The household gods– the Penates and the Lares of the ancients– were either propitious and benevolent, or unkind and cruel, according to the affections of the wife or the mother who ruled the establishment. The domestic principality presents a scene of order or chaos, of beauty or ugliness, as her spirit is elevated or ignoble.

"No one can go abroad in society without feeling the social influence of woman. Unseen, she often forms the opinions, and moulds the character of her husband. Her children inhale the very breathings of her soul, and what she is for good or for evil, they permanently become.

"Education, to be valuable, should be appropriate. We find woman fitted by nature for the retired walks of life, and endowed by a bountiful Providence with the most beautiful and delicate germs of character. Her training, then, to render her happy in herself and useful to others, should fit her for those practical and domestic duties which she is called upon to discharge in life."

EVILS OF DEFECTIVE EDUCATION.– "Young ladies now grow up without much attention being given to their physical development or mental training. Their minds are generally undisciplined by the study of any one subject sufficiently long to make them thoroughly acquainted with it. The powers of the understanding are never excited into vigorous play; and those tendencies of the female sex, which, if properly kept in reserve, would aid its acquisitions, are alone called forth at the expense of every other.

"What hope has her husband in the continuance of those affections which are as slight as the framework of her mental being; as superficial as her general attainments? What qualifications does she present to fulfill that high vocation of a mother, 'to teach the young idea how to shoot,' or to take her position in society, as one that should adorn, embellish, and improve it? So far as her influence in society extends, it is injurious. She has not the materials of thought. Her mind, from neglect, has become a thin and unfruitful soil, without strength or depth, yielding only a wilderness of brambles, intermingled with a few stray wild-flowers. Society, under such a directress, must have a low standard; it becomes as frivolous and superficial as herself, and, with mean aims, degrades its votaries.

"Life has been to her a dreamy and shadowy land. She has never been awakened to a full sense of its solemn realities. Removed from the world, she leaves no footprint upon its neglected sands. Her flight through existence has been like the path of an arrow, unmarked by a trace of its passage.

"Cowper, in his letters, ingeniously explains the description, the weaker vessel, as applied to woman, by those other words of Scripture, that she is 'made perfect in weakness.' True to her allotted sphere, she could attain a degree of perfection, I devoutly believe, only a 'little lower than the angels.' Proper culture and corresponding good works would multiply the motives to her own self-respect, and secure for her a station of simple dignity, the most exalted of human beings."

GOOD RESULTS OF THOROUGH EDUCATION.– The mischiefs of luxury in producing effeminacy of character and degradation of principle, stand out conspicuously upon the historic canvas of all nations.

"Plutarch informs us that, in the early times of ancient Briton, such were the temperance and simplicity of the early inhabitants that they did not begin to grow old until they attained the age of more than a century. The effects of luxurious refinement in the British Isles, surpassing, as it now does, in elaborate conveniences and artificial excess, the wildest flight of oriental fable, are visible in the destitution and misery of the lower classes, and the unnatural struggle rendered necessary among the higher.

"The universal prevalence of luxury, fostered in the large cities by the increase of wealth, and spread through our wide empire by the telegraph, the press, the railway, and the steamer, threatens to overturn the simplicity of our ancient manners.

"When this college, and others like it, shall have done their perfect work, woman will stem the progress of this blighting mildew upon the fair garden of our republic. If she prefer the simple virtues; if her taste rest rather in the real than the seeming; if she encourage her husband, her brother, her friend, to discard useless glitter and fastidious ornaments; if she adopt frugal comforts befitting his lot; if, above all, she inculcate the sentiment that one of the cardinal duties of a man and a citizen is to live within his means, she will do a greater good to society than by becoming eligible to political office."

OF WOMAN IN HER RIGHT PLACE.– "If, then, I be asked the proper sphere of woman, and where I would place her, the answer is at hand. From her nature and organization, she proves herself to be
born to dignify retreat,
Unseen to flourish and unknown be great!'

"I would exempt her from the active cares of political life, while I would invest her with the greater honors of its wise and just administration. She would form those who take with its powers, the responsibilities and troubles of political office.

"If man be the active governor, woman is the true mother of the State. She it is who is the real agent of the glory of man, and hers the plastic hand to mould him for the purposes of the nation. If we would have rulers worthy of their high vocation; if we would have 'virtue and intelligence' as the distinguishing attributes of our citizens, we must elevate the mental, the moral, the religious condition of woman. While the political husbandmen of other nations are intent only upon preserving the weedy and worn-out distinctions of social rank, let our aim be to cultivate the soil of the mind and heart of all classes....

Credit: Godey's Lady's Book, (November, 1854), 458.
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