IX. June 28, 1866
GENTLEMEN: There is a subject to which I have already alluded, and which, if not very important in your view, is quite so to mine, and which I am anxious to bring before you at this meeting of the Board, which, in view of my health, I think may probably be the last I shall be able to attend. I refer to the title of our College.
Its name, "Vassar Female College," as you know, was given by our first President (Mr. Jewett) with, I admit, my full concurrence; for I had not then examined the subject, nor, I am convinced, had he. He had been at the head of a "Female Seminary," and merely continued the title in " Vassar Female College." In 1864, however, Mr. Jewett wrote his report on organization. In that he had no running title, and he was very chary in the use of the term. "Vassar Female College" occurs but six times in the text, while "Vassar College" occurs thirteen times, showing that his former view was changed. You will probably remember, also, that in our first meeting, (February, 1861,) I stated to you that my object was to erect and endow a College for the education of young women. It is worthy of note that all places of learning mentioned in Mr. Jewett's first circulars for the daughters of America, have the name" Female" set in their titles, but we can not find a single school or seminary bearing the title of "Female" in the old world, as reported by him. There is the "Merchants' Maiden Hospital and School for Girls," "The Scottish Institution for Young Ladies," "The Ladies of the Assumption," (a Conventual Seminary,) "City of London College for Young Ladies," "Queen's College for Ladies," and various others.
This is important, proving as it does that our use of the term female is erroneous, and should be abandoned. Bear with me while I strive to show you my reasons for these views.
Woman is the root of humanity. - Whatever degrades her, lessens her moral influence and power for good. This degrades the race; and now I maintain that, to use the term" female," which applies to all animals and living creatures that bear young, as the name and synonym for woman, because she also bears young, degrades her, and corrupts the speech we use. To call woman “female," except in the one case of abstract terms, as in numbering the people where the masculine and feminine of all ages are included, is to her loss, injury, and shame. It is vulgar, because - it uses the lowest term, which is always imperfect; it is wrong, because it inflicts on her a title which she did not choose; it is vicious, because it signifies only sexual and sensuous qualities in woman. It violates good sense, that always selects the best terms; and good breeding, that always seeks to avoid unpleasant words. This term is also unscriptural and ungrammatical. The word "female" used for woman-the animal adjective of distinction for sex only-has been dragged into our Anglo-Saxon language, and has, unfortunately, gained considerable currency in its use, thus degrading the idea of feminine humanity to the level of the brute creation. Feminine is the true adjective for woman. "Female" does not certainly mean woman, unless placed in contradistinction to man or male. Truth is always definite - errors confuse. Truth dignifies - error degrades. The real meaning of a "Female College" is not definite, because it means all feminine humanity. Aged women,' little girls, and married women are females; but these are not included in the class of young women for whose benefit Vassar College was established. We have in this matter high legal authority on our side, which says: "The term Woman is the only one that distinctly expresses the being who is the mother of our race; the term female does not, without the other explanation, morally or intellectually express that being." It appears to me to be an affectation in the use of language, and to indicate an absence of a true conception of the dignity of the subject. This is no trifling matter. I certainly urge upon the members of this Board to look at the question seriously. This College is now in its infancy; it rests with you to make it what you will, an honor and a glory to America, or to foster and perpetuate an error which has more in it than the mere changing or retaining a name - an error which must have a moral effect upon every girl who is educated within these walls. Is it nothing to her whether she bears the holy name of woman, the name which our blessed Savior ever accorded to her-rather, we might say, selected for her in his own form of address-or whether she is to be merely known as a female, and ranked among other females of every species of the animal creation? It does seem to me that one can look at the title of our College calmly and without prejudice, and not feel that it contains a word too much; a word which we are constantly tempted to drop, and which our young pupils invariably do in every instance when they can, not only because it is too long, but that there is an innate feeling, whether acknowledged or not, that it mars the meaning of the title, because it does not fully describe the class of persons for whom the College was or is intended.
My friends, I wish you to look at this matter, and I beg of you to agree, at this meeting, to change the title of the College to "Vassar" College, or Lady or Woman's College, so that it may be presented to the next legislature at the early part of the session, and thus make " Vassar College" in name, as we hope to make it in fact, the blessed means of raising woman to her true position physically, intellectually, and morally.
Vassar's Communications to the Board of Trustees