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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 78

Sir James Crichton Browne

Sir James Crichton Browne.

Sir James Crichton Browne says in his exhaustive essay on 'Education and the Nervous System,' published a quarter of a century ago :—

In the education of girls, the great point is to see that they study wisely. . . . Forgetful of the peculiarities of their organisation, they often study continuously like the other sex, and so induce depression, exhaustion, and irritability, and lay the foundation of many nervous derangements and mortal diseases. The late earnest and scholarly Dr Edward H. Clarke, of Boston, U.S.A., collected a large amount of testimony bearing on the effects on health of the higher education of women in America, where it is often pushed with a remorseless eagerness as yet but little known in this country. And all the testimony collected by Dr Clarke is in favor of one conclusion : that severe brain work for girls, kept up continuously, is most injurious to health, and that its disastrous consequences are most frequently exhibited in the nervous system. . . . .

The State Board of Health of Massachusetts, which in 1874 instituted inquiries on the subject, says :—

The evil effects to be charged to wrong methods of education of women in America are, according to the witnesses, numerous and deplorable. Dr page 44 Fordyce Baker intimates that few women who as girls have been submitted to these methods are able to nurse their children, and they are thus deprived of a needed stimulus, and rendered liable to many disorders which are likely to enfeeble their constitution. The principal of the New York State Normal School, Dr Cohran, thus expresses himself : "I have been compelled to the conclusion that the sexes cannot be educated on the same system with advantage, and that the physical disadvantages under which the female labors render it necessary that a system be devised so clastic, with so much optional work, that the female may rest at least comparatively as the occasion requires." Professor Loomis, of Yale College, after describing the ability of girls in the study of mathematics, and the intensity of interest of his own pupils in the mathematical examinations, which sometimes reached such a pitch that it was "necessary to allay the excitement of the throbbing brain by putting bandages of ice on the temples of the competitors," goes on to express his repentance for such proceedings, and intimates that he has abolished medals, public examinations, and all unnecessary stimulants to the mental discipline of girls. . . . Already we hear in England of distinguished girl graduates being incapacitated for work by brain exhaustion and bodily infirmities, similar to those which have been alluded to as afflicting American girls devoted to intellectual work; nay, more than this, we hear of many exceptionally well-educated and clever girls sinking into pulmonary consumption. Few physicians will doubt that if female education is to be carried on between the ages of fourteen and twenty without careful adaptation to the requirements cf the female organisation, we shall have many cases of pulmonary degeneration, directly or indirectly, resulting from it.

When in England in 1894 my attention was drawn to several young women in asylums whose insanity was attributed to over-study at Newnham or Girton. Mr Frank Morton, of the 'Daily Time's' literary staff, informs me that Amy Levy, the young "Poetess of Pain," who committed suicide, was a Girton graduate.