Story type: Essay
It seems hardly worth while to say that this would be a more interesting country if there were more interesting people in it. But the remark is worth consideration in a land where things are so much estimated by what they cost. It is a very expensive country, especially so in the matter of education, and one cannot but reflect whether the result is in proportion to the outlay. It costs a great many thousands of dollars and over four years of time to produce a really good base-ball player, and the time and money invested in the production of a society young woman are not less. No complaint is made of the cost of these schools of the higher education; the point is whether they produce interesting people. Of course all women are interesting. It has got pretty well noised about the world that American women are, on the whole, more interesting than any others. This statement is not made boastfully, but simply as a market quotation, as one might say. They are sought for; they rule high. They have a “way”; they know how to be fascinating, to be agreeable; they unite freedom of manner with modesty of behavior; they are apt to have beauty, and if they have not, they know how to make others think they have. Probably the Greek girls in their highest development under Phidias were never so attractive as the American girls of this period; and if we had a Phidias who could put their charms in marble, all the antique galleries would close up and go out of business.
But it must be understood that in regard to them, as to the dictionaries, it is necessary to “get the best.” Not all women are equally interesting, and some of those on whom most educational money is lavished are the least so. It can be said broadly that everybody is interesting up to a certain point. There is no human being from whom the inquiring mind cannot learn something. It is so with women. Some are interesting for five minutes, some for ten, some for an hour; some are not exhausted in a whole day; and some (and this shows the signal leniency of Providence) are perennially entertaining, even in the presence of masculine stupidity. Of course the radical trouble of this world is that there are not more people who are interesting comrades, day in and day out, for a lifetime. It is greatly to the credit of American women that so many of them have this quality, and have developed it, unprotected, in free competition with all countries which have been pouring in women without the least duty laid upon their grace or beauty. We, have a tariff upon knowledge–we try to shut out all of that by a duty on books; we have a tariff on piety and intelligence in a duty on clergymen; we try to exclude art by a levy on it; but we have never excluded the raw material of beauty, and the result is that we can successfully compete in the markets of the world.
This, however, is a digression. The reader wants to know what this quality of being interesting has to do with girls’ schools. It is admitted that if one goes into a new place he estimates the agreeableness of it according to the number of people it contains with whom it is a pleasure to converse, who have either the ability to talk well or the intelligence to listen appreciatingly even if deceivingly, whose society has the beguiling charm that makes even natural scenery satisfactory. It is admitted also that in our day the burden of this end of life, making it agreeable, is mainly thrown upon women. Men make their business an excuse for not being entertaining, or the few who cultivate the mind (aside from the politicians, who always try to be winning) scarcely think it worth while to contribute anything to make society bright and engaging. Now if the girls’ schools and colleges, technical and other, merely add to the number of people who have practical training and knowledge without personal charm, what becomes of social life? We are impressed with the excellence of the schools and colleges for women –impressed also with the co-educating institutions. There is no sight more inspiring than an assemblage of four or five hundred young women attacking literature, science, and all the arts. The grace and courage of the attack alone are worth all it costs. All the arts and science and literature are benefited, but one of the chief purposes that should be in view is unattained if the young women are not made more interesting, both to themselves and to others. Ability to earn an independent living may be conceded to be important, health is indispensable, and beauty of face and form are desirable; knowledge is priceless, and unselfish amiability is above the price of rubies; but how shall we set a value, so far as the pleasure of living is concerned, upon the power to be interesting? We hear a good deal about the highly educated young woman with reverence, about the emancipated young woman with fear and trembling, but what can take the place of the interesting woman? Anxiety is this moment agitating the minds of tens of thousands of mothers about the education of their daughters. Suppose their education should be directed to the purpose of making them interesting women, what a fascinating country this would be about the year 1900.