College women on college men (1898)

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Three women UC Berkeley students wearing senior plug hats c1900
Though this article stands on its own merits, I’m always partial to stories related to UC Berkeley. There’s family history there, starting with the fact that my great-great grandfather, Guy C Earl, graduated from the university in 1883, and went on to serve as a regent of the University of California from 1902 through 1934.

Women at college 1900

College women’s opinion of college men

I waited in the pleasant parlor of the Girls’ Fraternity for the president of the Associated Women Students to appear. A table with some dainty tea things stood invitingly by, delightfully suggestive of feminine taste the world over.

The president, Miss Marion Whipple of Los Angeles, is a typical college woman, tall, self-possessed, with an intellectual face. She grasped my idea instantly and settled back luxuriously in her chair, the better to discuss the college-bred man.

“The college men of Berkeley seem rather young to me, as I compare them with the Eastern college men I know. I think it is because we are allowed to enter with less required work to our credit. As to their attractiveness? Certainly the environments are the most favorable for proper development, the environments of college life, but everything depends on the man. Without the right material to act on, the environment can do nothing, of course.

“One always wonders why some men ever come to college. I think men who never go to college sometimes are quite as attractive as the college-bred men, but it means more when they are. They deserve more credit for what they have taken on of polish.

Berkeley men from a social standpoint

“How do I regard the Berkeley men from the social standpoint? They fall into two classes — one class, the small minority, who are discourteous and rude, I will not discuss. Their faults are due most likely to wrong home training; but the other class, the courteous, helpful men, I will discuss. They are thoughtful of little things, and delightful at parties. Of course, there are some who have been spoiled, but one expects that. Then they are enthusiastic over athletics and the true college woman likes that — she is enthusiastic herself.”

“Are not Berkeley men of the opinion that the really nice, high-bred sort of girl doesn’t take a college course?”

“Oh, no indeed! That is a tradition that has been handed down, but it is pretty well exploded now. They like us — that is, collectively. We are entirely welcome here.”

Three women UC Berkeley students wearing senior plug hats c1900

“But is it not true that in extending invitations to hops they give the preference to the young society ladies of Oakland and San Francisco?”

Miss Whipple laughed, “That is another tradition. I have always thought they invite the girls they know best. The college etiquette is very rigid here and acquaintances are not easily made. When the college boys get up a hop, they want the girls to come that they know well, and those who have been brought up in San Francisco and Oakland naturally invite young ladies from those places — those at whose homes they have been entertained most likely.

MORE: Women college graduates marry later (1922)

“I think on the whole, their standard of womanhood is high. The sentimental, foolish girl is not encouraged here. If ever she comes here by mistake, the hard work or the lack of appreciation on the part of the masculine side of the university drives her away again. College engagements rarely occur — it is different from Stanford in that respect.”

The girls’ parlor

Very different from the quiet parlor of the girls’ fraternity use was the busy waiting-room at North Hall. Co-eds were everywhere and the air was full of the hum of these literary bees. The two rather gloomy waiting-rooms are the exclusive property of the university girls. Here they tell their secrets, prepare their lessons and eat their lunches.

Above the hum of voices floated the words: “He is the most out-and-out woman hater I ever saw. Of course you know about – – – ”

My guide through this maddening throng smiled intelligently at these words. “They are discussing one of the professors now. There are certain characteristics by which each one is known.”

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A young woman with soft brown hair and brown eyes sat with me in a corner. She is a graduate student and very bright.

“Do college women prefer college-bred men?” she repeated. “Yes, on the whole, I think they do. The facts stand something like this. The college woman of today is not the bespectacled blue-stocking of a former generation. Many years of widening opportunities have come to accustom her to her privileges and to emancipate her from the freakishness of which in her social isolation she used to be guilty. Is this the line of treatment you wish me to follow?

“Well, then, it seems to me that intellectually she stands on common ground with man. She doesn’t forget as she used to that spiritually she is different from man — that there is the feminine and the masculine in human nature — that neither is complete without the other, that both are needed for truest development. Her demands are high-moral purity, intellectual insight, and the strength to do and dare. Men must have these qualities in order to win her respect.”

“Are not these basal qualities which one might expect in all men?”

“Possibly. The college woman would be narrow indeed in her culture if she despised sterling worth in a man because he had not had her own superior advantages. But in general society, how many that are not college-bred have these qualities? Political jugglery, the narrow horizon of the business world, and a tendency to plod along in ruts is the common order.

“But the college man? Well, he has been in contact with great minds — he has had access to all the wisdom of the ages for a time at least — that is, if he wished for success. And according to evolution, he can never go back to just where he was before; there has been infused into his nature a spiritual essence.

The college woman can afford to wait

“‘As to the comradeship of life?’ The college woman can afford to wait and judge. She knows that life will be as she makes it; but as Ella Wheeler Wilcox says, she will make it according to the kind of man whose love she accepts. And I believe I am right in thinking that she more often trusts the man who has had the same training as herself, and the same broad outlook upon life and its possibilities.”

A bell rang and the graduate girl hurried away to a class.

Said the senior girl in her turn: “Other things being equal, yes. But unfortunately, strong meat is not meant for babes. And many a youth goes to college with a mental apparatus unadapted to assimilate the virile food he must take in there. Then he is spoiled for practical purposes and all other purposes, social included.

“Unfortunately, again, the world does not discriminate in this matter. And a man’s ability to turn a few glib compliments, to dance à deux temps gracefully and to insinuate himself into the graces of the chaperone, is considered all that is essential to his social outfit; this, however, is the proprium of many callow fledgings, outside of college circles.

“No, this is hardly the type to attract the college-bred woman.

“On the other hand, if the college woman is herself a weakling mentally, and sees with distorted vision nothing but a desert of books over which she must eagerly press to that mirage on the horizon, a career with a capital C, she is apt to lose sight of the vital things about her and become that creature men most dread — the rampant blue-stocking. Then it is scarcely a question as to whether the college man will attract this particular woman — he may, be he callow fledgling or not — but he will have none of her.

Top photo: Three women students wearing senior plug hats, seated on wooden railing at the University of California at Berkeley in the late 1890s/early 1900s. Second photo: Civil engineering students in their junior plug hats in 1898. Distinctive garb was a tradition of each class, and these hats were colorfully decorated by their owners. Thanks to Berkeley’s Bancroft Library.

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