Obligation of the Woman College Student to Christianity Today, August 8, 1901

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Obligation of the Woman College Student to Christianity To-day.

An American scholar who has been a Christian student of social matters for more than thirty years has lately said that the test which this generation, rightly or wrongly, is applying to Christianity, is the power of its adaptability to social problems.  If Christianity is going to be able to face the social situation with moral power and active ↑creative↓ energy, then rightly or wrongly, the verdict will be in its favor; if it fails to meet this test it will suffer, rightly or wrongly, and eclipse in favor of a theory, a doctrine, or a social life, which will be able to energetically ↑exhibit sufficient energy to↓ cope with these social problems ↑situation↓, and to ease "the social compunctions", which stir in the hears of all our contemporaries.

Let us assume the correctness of this statement, and ask ourselves what prospect there is that the college woman, avowedly Christian, may be of service in the process of making the finer adjustments of Christianity to social needs.  What can we reasonably expect her to contribute to the task of modifying its settled customs and habits ↑of adapting it,↓ to the changing demands of the moment, and in ↑of↓ bringing Christianity ↑it↓ to bear as an actual force upon human conduct.

One thing is clearly in favor of the college woman; she has presumably been taught to accurately observe and to clearly state what she sees, to reflect upon the data thus accumulated, and to [page 2] follow out the result of her observation and thinking to their full conclusion, without fear as to what the conclusion may be.  Certainly we have a right to demand ↑mental integrity↓ of ↑from↓ the college women, ↑be she↓ Christian or non Christian, mental integrity.  She, ↑moreover↓ with her brother students should have ↑has doubtless↓ been taught that society is susceptible of constant modifications, that "contented acquiescence in the ordering that has come down to us from the past is selfish and anti-social, and that the ↑all↓ institutions of the past demand progressive re-adaptation."  If she has firmly grasped these principles, if in addition she has convictions as to the truth of her Christian teaching, and sufficient training and character to act upon the teaching in every crisis, we should at once say ↑can imagine ourselves saying↓ "Hundreds of Christian young women in all our colleges are coming to this great task.  The surest sign of decadence is loss of power of adaptation, and we are not willing to admit that Christianity shows this sign ↑on the contrary↓ it is as full of vitality as ever.  Let us trust this ↑mere↓ task ↑of adaptation↓ to the generosity of youth, when we have been able to add to youth the restraint of mental ↑training and a↓ and sense of historic continuity".  Many older men and women at this very moment would be glad to give this message ↑say these words↓ to the Christian young people in the colleges, they would give the message with all heartiness and wish them Godspeed in their delicate and glorious task.  But ↑unfortunately↓ something checks the words on our lips, and in spite of ourselves, we see great difficulties arising from the very condition of your college life.  For many years you have been [page 3] in the preparatory school, in the college and the university, surrounded by conditions which make dead against your power of adaptability.  The first of these as I have seen and experienced them, is that the college woman --- I am going to talk about them as they were given to me as my subject, and I know more about them -- gets into habits of selfpreparation.  She habitually thinks that life is not here and now on the college campus, but somewhere outside,– that after a while she is going to live an earnest ↑Christian life↓ and cope with difficult situations, but at present she is going ↑it is her duty↓ to get ready for them.  She has fallen into "the snare of self-preparation",- to borrow a phrase from Tolstoy.  I ↑recently↓ called on a woman of ↑who was↓ ninety two recently, who ↑two years old, and who↓ apologized to me because she was not neighborly,– she said she had always meant to be neighborly, but had put it off ↑from time to time [although]↓ and she hoped that with the coming of warm weather this summer she would ↑that she might↓ begin.  She certainly had never been to a woman's college,– but for some reason she had got into the habit of postponing what she meant to do ↑until she was better prepared↓ and at the age of ninety-two, she was still postponing her action and deceiving herself ↑comforting herself with the promise of future achievement↓.

Another temptation to the college woman is a tendency to make an exception of herself,– to think that the college woman is different from other girls ↑women↓, especially from those who work with their hands, in the ordinary places of life.  I once heard Father Huntington say, that the essence of immortality is to make [page 4] an exception of oneself, and I would like to add, that to regard ↑consider↓ oneself as in anywise unlike the rank and file of human life is walk straight toward the pit of self righteousness.  Both of these temptations making against adaptability and against the perception of the situation, are peculiar temptations to the college student,  I do not doubt that all of the students in this room are guarding against these temptations.  ↑Certainly↓ twenty years ago, when I was a college student myself, these two, a sense of getting ready, and a sense of special privilege loomed big in our paths ↑minds↓.  The consciousness of being set apart, leads first of all to the ridiculous motive of doing things for the, "sake of example", which to my mind is a canker worm at the heart of many of the societies organized for Christian young people.  A church full of people, who have gone to the church for the sake of the example they thus set to their neighbors, is a church full of bored self righteousness.  A society of young people held together, or even partially held together by such a notion, are ↑is↓ a society of moral prigs, and every genuine person detects them as such.  Young people with such a phrase on their lips, with such a concept in their mind, can do nothing toward adapting Christianity to social needs, and it is on the whole better that they do not try.  If this adaptation is useful, it must be made with vigor and power, and it can never be done by a self conscious person.  ↑An↓ educated man, although he be a self conscious one, may [page 5] perform certain services for the community, but he cannot perform this particular service of adaptation.

A third danger inherent [in] college life, is that study too long continued without independent and virile action, tends to produce irresolute and timid people.  The modern world has come to believe that progress comes through variation, taking place now and again in individuals differing from the type, until finally a variation persists and makes a distinct modification.  It is difficult to see how this process can be carried on in society unless each individual who exhibits the variation, clearly states his difference and is ready to act upon it,– to be thrown out if his difference if not valuable, to find himself surrounded by an unconscious following, if his difference is genuine.  The consciousness of having reflected seriously on important questions, until our conclusions inspire our conduct, augments [our?] dignity and gives a certain coherence to character, but this ↑coherence can never be obtained and this↓ variation can never be ↑made↓ valuable, through an timid ↑irresolute↓ person.  The individual who differs from the type is always a subject of hostility to those who have held to this type.  If you urge that the Wednesday evening prayer meeting should be given up for the simple reason that people don't want to come to it, and that it answers no genuine need, you will be surprised by the amount of hostility you invoke.  You will be amazed at the opposition from people who have not been attending the meetings themselves for years, but [page 6] who think that "the meeting should be kept up".  They fail to ↑It lies with you to make them↓ see that a meeting filled with vigor and power would be willing to meet ↑might be held↓ on every evening of the week, or on all of them,– that it would change its ↑the↓ night ↑might be changed↓, as imperceptibly as the new sap within the plant shoves of the old sheath as of no further use.

In reviewing let us say that the adaptation of Christianity cannot be made (1) by self conscious people because they, from the very nature of the case can have no adaptability (2) It cannot be made by vain or conceited people ↑self absorbed people↓ because self absorption precludes the power of conception ↑perception↓ -– the egoist of every type becomes surrounded as in a shell, by his own thoughts and feelings ↑ambitions↓ and cannot break through. (3↑2↓) It, cannot be done by people careful of their reputation and influence, because the very situation demands those who must differ,- who must expose themselves to criticism and misunderstanding, -- who must moreover, see ↑receive↓ this criticism from people high in Christian places, because those high places often lose touch with the real world. (4↑3↓) It cannot be made by people who are habituated to an atmosphere of preparation, because the process of adaptation must be carried on, not only by quick perception, but by power of prompt action; to see an opportunity for furthering this delicate adjustment, and to decide "to wait ↑stay↓ a little" is to altogether lose that opportunity. (5↑4↓) Last of all, it cannot be done by self [page 7] righteous people, because they have from the very beginning been a stumbling block to Christianity,– the only people toward whom the gentle Founder allowed himself to be severe.  

For the last twelve years I have had the opportunity to see many young people in their first years "out of college", and I have also known hundreds of young people who have never been to college, but who sturdily began to earn their own livings when you young people were trying to find out how Caesar built his bridge over ↑across↓ the ↑Rhine.↓

These young people exhibit these fine ↑the↓ qualities which I have enumerated. (1) They are not self conscious,– to be one of a large family in a tenement full of large families is not conducive to thoughts of self, or ↑to↓ a life of inner absorption.  (2) They are not [conceited] ↑selfabsorbed↓ Unless they have had ability enough to go to a business college ↑to a Normal school↓ or to work their way to the university, [illegible] no one has ever told them that they were remarkable.  (3↑2↓) They are not doing things for the sake of example, simply ↑because↓ it had not occurred to them that they are of sufficient consequence to be observed.  (4↑3↓) They carry with them no marks of having stumbled in the snare of self preparation, and most of them are pitifully unprepared for the task of life.  (5↑4↓) They are not self-righteous, but act much too often from impulse and irrational motives.  Knowing as I do something of each of these streams of young people, which are found in Chicago and almost ↑in↓ every other large city, I sometimes stand blankly between the two, filled with a sort of despair; [page 8] the units in one stream are enfeebled ↑Hamletized↓ and pauperized, by constantly getting much and giving little,– the units in the other are enervated and ↑or↓ overworked, because they are put to the hard work ↑task↓ of life before they are ready for it.  Personally I believe that the adaptation of Christianity, if it is made at all by this generation, must be made by contributions from both sets ↑streams↓ of people.  ↑The↓ Christianity of the twentieth century must gather to itself, as did Christianity of the early centuries, both the learning of the wise and the virtues of the simple,- let us have clear thinking by all means,- but let us never separate ↑it↓ from action,- or we have thrown away the one clue which Jesus gave his followers,- the interdependence of the spirit and ↑the↓ world ↑the doctrine and the will.↓

Long ago a brilliant woman came to call at Hull-House, and flatly announced that she did not believe in settlements.  She said that they were all nonsense, and that this conviction had come to her at the age of four.  She related the ↑an↓ experience as follows: She was one day playing in her mother's garden when she discovered a large and disagreeable toad, which frightened her so much ↑badly↓ that she hastily ran to the other end of the garden.  Before she had scarcely recovered from her first fright, she there discovered a very small toad which gradually appealed to her pity, it seemed so lonesome and forlorn by itself.  With much fear and trembling, borne up only by her desire to be good to it, she final induced ↑poked↓ the little toad to go up to ↑into the neighborhood of↓ the big toad, when to her [page 9] horror and surprise ↑the big toad↓ opened his mouth and swallowed the little toad.  She said that never after that had she believed in displacing people and putting them into the company which they did not seek, and into which they did not naturally go.  It was in vain that I expounded, that the little toad might easily represent the settlement,– a group of insignificant people, only too anxious to be swallowed by the larger ↑big↓ toad, -- representing the vast ↑a large↓ group of working people,– that if we could be swallowed and adjusted ↑digested↓, and contribute anything to the strength or comeliness ↑of the larger group↓ then indeed the settlement would be a success.  She was skeptical of my interpretation, and said so quite clearly.  But it is a good story and perhaps you will permit me to give it another interpretation, which I hope will ↑fear however↓, be ↑no↓ more successful.  Let us say that the little toad represents the ↑members of↓ college women, ↑the Intercollegiate Alumnae [Association] if you please↓ that she is ↑[Association has been] hopping about in her ↑its↓ own end of the garden, but ↑with a certain sense of aimlessness and↓ without being very clear as to why it was put there, ↑that the usefullness and meaning of the Association can may be attained as its activities are lost in those of the rest of the community.

To give up the consciousness of one's own identity and achievements is perhaps the hardest demand which life can make of upon us - But certainly [page 10] those who call themselves Christians, who are striving to be of use to in this task of the adaptation of Christianity to social needs, should be ready to meet this demand.  In all crisis the college woman, who takes this task but must cling to the Christian training as are against the college training.

Her academic training has tended to disable her from making carefree observations unless she is surrounded by books, laboratories and a professor as a possible guide.  In any case her academic task was and has been chiefly concerned in adding to the amount of tabulated information upon a given subject. [page 11]

of the this again is another difficulty [illegible] for the fact that All this her college course she has also grown accustomed to working on a motive power which had been predetermined, the resolution "to go through" college had been settled for her or by her in the beginning.

of Christian adjustment [illegibleConclusion. To for this new task she must observe the situation accurately without labaratory aids, to act reflect and then act coherently upon her observation.

She must be able to extract from the situation itself to secure a a motive power to [fuse?] her energy and to give her zeal to find in situation the broken human nature her sturdy sense of brotherhood and to provide. Jesus alone of all great teachers made the a masterly combination of method, and aim, & source of motive power. [page 12] He clearly stated that the redemption of mankind man is the sole object of worthy effort, and love of men the only source of inspiration, by which one may carry on that effort.

The college woman must walk the same old [straight] path after all, and at last find out that to love one's life is to find it. The great moral power continually springing up in the life of the common people & perpetually recreating the world was may at last touch her learing & fuse her method & her aim.   She is at last will only then be equipped to devote her powers to the adaptation of [Christianity] to Social Needs and to fulfill her obligation.