A Celebration of Women Writers

"University Extension." by Rev. Augusta J. Chapin, D. D. pp. 393-397.
From: The Congress of Women: Held in the Woman's Building, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, U. S. A., 1893, With Portraits, Biographies and Addresses. Edited by Mary Kavanaugh Oldham Eagle, 1854-1903. Chicago: Monarch Book Company, 1894.


woman's portrait, head and shoulders

If we look for the distinguishing characteristics of this age, we shall find them in the present diffusion of knowledge and the tendency to the increase of popular education. The spirit of democracy, which has so stirred society during the last century, has inspired universal interest in this work, and given it a mighty impetus.

In all former ages the aristocracy of learning was even more limited and select than that of rank and wealth. Knowledge was not for the many. It is true that the ancients reached intellectual heights never surpassed, but it must be remembered that the wise and learned among them were few in number, while the masses of the people remained in utter ignorance. The wealth of the people was also in the hands of a few. There was industrial activity, often of marvelous extent, but it was carried on by slaves who were powerless under the control of their masters. With growing freedom there came a gradual mental awakening; and then a demand for instruction. Our common schools are of recent origin. They have everywhere come into being in answer to the demand that all the children should be taught. Public interest and sentiment once awakened have advanced along this line, until the demand is that every child shall be taught at the public expense. The misfortunes of the parents no longer deprive the children of opportunity for the acquirement of knowledge, nor does the ignorance, greed, bigotry, or negligence of parents deprive the child of this privilege and right to the rudiments of education. We are now providing for even the higher education at the public expense, and there is every reason to believe that the period of attendance required will be increased, until all doors, even those of institutions of highest training, will be thrown open without price.

The importance of educating girls, as well as boys, formerly not recognized at all, has been fully conceded, although there still is in some quarters a practical hesitancy about extending all the privileges of higher education to women. In recent years much thought and labor has been given by the wisest educators and foremost philanthropists of the civilized world to the subject of extending the highest opportunities to all people. Among the plans devised to reach those who, for any reason, cannot come to the schools, are the correspondence methods of study. Of the value of this correspondence work as carried on by one of our great universities, and by some other organizations, no one who has personal knowledge will speak in other than in terms of highest praise. Languages are taught in this manner no less thoroughly and systematically than by the present aid of the instructor. Bible studies arc carried on in this manner under the supervision of the university. Much has also been done by the "society to encourage study at home," which has its central office in Boston. Through these and kindred organizations, many who otherwise would have made little or no progress, have been assisted in their studies, encouraged and guided in systematic work.

Greatest of all organizations for this purpose is that known as "University Extension." The idea is not altogether a new one. It has for years been growing in the minds of scholars who have earnestly desired to bring the advantages of liberal culture within the reach of people of all ages and of both sexes who cannot go to the university. Its purpose is to bring the university to the people where they are, and while engaged in their usual avocations, and thus make up to them in some measure, at least, the loss they have suffered. There is extant a letter from Dr. Channing to Josiah Quincy, in which he suggests the organization of scholars for "the spreading of their own intelligence and shedding a light around among the people." At Oxford University the subject was considered nearly thirty years ago, or as early as 1835.

In early life, as society now exists, the majority are cut off from the higher educational privileges. Thousands upon thousands feel their deprivation keenly, but have had heretofore no adequate means of satisfying this intellectual hunger and thirst. University Extension is a new phase, and in its present form a new work. But the idea of University Extension is as old as the idea of the universal right of man to learning.

Charlemagne was in the true spirit of this movement when he summoned England's grandest scholar to Paris, and set him to establishing schools for the people throughout the dominions over which he ruled, and when he and his courtiers sat at the feet of this scholar to be instructed in philosophy, mathematics and other branches, he manifested his eager earnestness in the intellectual welfare of the people. He had become convinced that the learning which made the church so powerful would be good for the state, if possessed by king and people. Alcuin, working under the great monarch in the eighth century, was the real founder of the universities of Paris, Tour, and other places. Those of which he was not the actual founder were immensely benefited by his preliminary work, if not directly inspired by it. By him and Abelard, who came two centuries later, and who moved his lectureship from place to place, learning was brought out of the monasteries and given in France to schools which were open to the people. Much the same work was done in course of time for other countries.

Everything that tended to popularize knowledge, particularly the invention of printing and the plentiful distribution of books, helped on this movement, and brought learning more and more within reach of the people. All the great universities founded in the Middle Ages were pre-eminently for the people. Students of all ages and of all classes of society attended the lectures in great numbers. The industrial classes came and gave what time they could from their regular occupations. The very poor came, and thought it no disgrace to beg the bread that sustained them while they remained at the seat of learning. The rich and the noble came, not too proud to drink at the common fountain. In those days it was only necessary to establish great educational centers, and the people came in throngs from all parts of Europe to study and to listen, many thousands being at one great school. Students came to the University of Paris in such numbers from all parts of Europe that separate colleges were erected for the reception of the different nationalities. Sometimes they followed a great teacher from place to place, as when Abelard in his sorrow and discouragement fled to the wilderness, the whole region around was covered with the tents of the students who followed him to his retreat to profit by his instructions.

Many of the universities were originally founded for the benefit of the poor. This was the origin of the University of Naples, established by Frederick II. in 1225. He desired that his subjects might be instructed at home in every branch of learning, and not be compelled in pursuit of learning to have recourse to foreign orations or to beg in other lands. Boniface VIII. established the University of Rome for the special benefit of poor foreign students, sojourning at the capital.

In the course of centuries, however, social changes, not necessary to trace here, gradually eliminated this principle of democracy, and the throngs of students of all grades, ages and nationalities ceased to gather, and the universities no longer reached the people. The old conditions have never been restored. Learning is again imprisoned, this time not in the monasteries, but in the universities themselves. There are now barriers at their gates which exclude all but a favored few. To the masses these barriers are impassable. One of these barriers is the long and exhaustive preparation that must be made, and which only the few can undertake. Another barrier is that of age, only the young being now thought eligible as students. The continuity of work required is another barrier, for only the few can give such attendance; while still another insuperable obstacle is the lack of money to defray the large expense that residence at the university in our time involves. These are among the chief causes which have so diminished the number of students, and which have practically excluded the masses from the pursuit of knowledge under any competent guidance.

History is repeating itself. The popular need which anciently demanded that learning be brought out of the cloister, now requires that it be brought out of the university. The people can no longer go in crowds to the universities; therefore, we must bring the university instruction to the people.

Out of this need, which has now for many reasons become imperative, has grown the work which we call University Extension. It is nothing less than a revolution which will be as fruitful in intellectual results, as religious and political revolutions have been in their respective fields. We have today religious and political freedom, but both are practically useless without the trained and enlightened intellect. University Extension, the emancipation of the popular mind, becomes therefore the complement of the liberties already won. The universities are now called to minister, as in early times, not to a class, but to all the people. And since the people, on account of the social and economic conditions of the times, can no longer go to the university, we must take the university to the people. That the people are intellectually hungry is manifest from the great number of study classes and clubs, for the most part under inefficient leadership, which have in recent years sprung into existence everywhere. And that the people are ready for the University Extension movement is abundantly shown by the large number who hasten to avail themselves of its aid.

The first lectures were given by professors of Cambridge University, England, in 1873, in response to the request of a company of women, that they might have the privilege of listening to lectures by the university instructors. Other courses followed, and the work has increased in extent and popularity up to the present time. Oxford University entered upon the active work in 1878. The annual reports show a steady growth of interest and attendance. There are now more than one hundred and fifty lecture centers, at each of which several courses of lectures are annually delivered. These courses are upon any and every subject upon which the university gives instruction. The topic is in all cases determined by vote of the class desiring to attend and study. At first courses in history and literature were most popular, but recently the choice of subjects has taken a very wide range. At a recent summer school of University Extension students at Oxford, there were classes in the Constitutional History of England, in practical chemistry and geology, in geographical mapping, in Homer's Odyssey, in Herodotus, in Dante, in Gothic architecture with illustrative excursions, in instrumental astronomy, and many other subjects. A center composed of working men in one of the manufacturing districts has been engaged in the study of the classical novel. They were studying George Eliot's "Romola" when the report was made. A course of six lectures on the Bible was given at Newcastle-upon-Tyne to immense audiences of iron workers. Courses upon electricity, agriculture, mining, social science and art, are also among the subjects commonly chosen.

The representative of the American Society, sent recently to study the development of the University Extension in England, reports that the work done in some of the established centers is such that the extension students are admitted to the universities as second-year students, showing that it is possible by this method to reach the same results as are attained by residence at the universities. He also reports interest among English farmers, who are availing themselves of courses of lectures upon topics pertaining to their occupation. The principle upon which the centers have been organized has been strictly democratic, persons of various ages, stations and degrees of culture, of both sexes, being frequently associated in the same classes. As an example of this, a lecturer reports that in a certain course the best examination was passed by a coal miner, and the second best by the daughter of a wealthy banker. The working men and miners have taken up the work in large numbers, and the results are already discernible in the general improvement of the condition of many. The dramshop gets less attention, while books and magazines appear in homes where they were before unknown. The women of England have from the first taken the deepest interest in this movement, and women of birth and education have been among the first to avail themselves of the advantages offered thereby. Women became everywhere, not only the eager recipients of the instruction offered, but active in the organization of centers. University Extension work has also been inaugurated and organized in Canada, Austria, Denmark and other countries.

In America the organization is quite recent. Four or five years ago it was practically unknown. The work once inaugurated, however, our colleges and universities have promptly taken it up, and it has already assumed large proportions. Such is the favor with which the plan is received by the people, that to explain clearly the aims and methods of University Extension is almost certain to organize a center.

The Philadelphia Society was formed in June, 1890. In December of the same year the American Society was established, in July following, the "Journal of University Extension" was issued. National conferences have been held each succeeding year, with delegates present from the leading universities of England and Canada. As a result of all these activities, taken in connection with the enthusiastic work of many established centers, the whole country is becoming awakened to the keenest interest in all that concerns the movement. Our leading universities and colleges have fully launched themselves into the work. The Johns Hopkins and Michigan universities, Bryn Mawr, Cornell, most of the state universities, all the magnificent educational institutions that center about Chicago, are committed to this greatest educational movement our world has ever seen. It is already apparent that the eager acceptance of this aid to systematize study will tax the universities to the utmost, and the question is asked: "What will they do with the material that University Extension is bringing to their very doors?" The University of Chicago has already answered the question by making University Extension one of its regular departments, with officers, professors and lecturers set apart for this special work. Other great universities must soon move in this direction, for the already overworked professors cannot leave their class-rooms to lecture outside to any great extent.

The plan adopted in our country has contemplated in all cases courses of six lectures each, which may be supplemented by other courses on the same subject, if desired. All the advantages offered are optional with the student. He may simply attend the lectures, and he may in addition attend the classes held before or after lectures, when he may question the professors on points not understood. He may read recommended articles or books; he may pursue independent investigation on the subject, and prepare papers to be examined by the professor in charge. If he does all this work, and does it satisfactorily to the committee on examination, he receives a certificate or credit for the amount of work accomplished, which will be accepted if presented to the university or college to which that center belongs.

University Extension is not intended to take the place of college training. It must always lack much that the university can supply; but it is intended that the work under- taken shall be, as far as it goes, strictly first-class, and the student who cannot go to the university will be aided at home to the utmost of his desire or capacity to receive.

The privilege and possibilities of University Extension must appeal to American women even more strongly than to those of England. In view of all the opportunities which are here open to women, and in view of the constantly increasing responsibilities which rest upon them, the need of the most liberal training is imperative. Here is an opportunity to make up deficiencies and to pursue studies in any direction, without interfering with the duties of home or society. It is safe to say that the majority of the Extension students in our country are women. Thus far, however, few women have offered themselves as instructors or lecturers in this inviting field. College women should be especially interested and active. They can make themselves especially useful in establishing centers and in promoting the work in their immediate neighborhoods. Many of them are especially qualified to lecture upon their favorite studies. There is to be in the immediate future an immense demand for the best lecturers. The professors in the colleges already have their hands more than full. They cannot go out to any great extent without neglecting work in the university itself. If competent women offer their services they will be gladly accepted.

University Extension should commend itself to liberally educated women because of its value to the people in general, and because of its adaptation to the present needs of women.

It is not yet twenty-five years since the first great university opened its doors to women students, and it is much less time since anything like adequate advantages have been at the command of women who seek thorough training. Women now in mature life, surrounded by many cares, have not forgotten how sadly they realized that their school-days were over when they had advanced just far enough to know that they had made a beginning. They vividly remember how, as they saw their brothers prepare for college they silently brushed away the unseen tears and bravely turned to face a life of intellectual privation. These women have not lost their intellectual hunger, though many of them do wear gray hairs. They are turning with avidity to gather the intellectual food now so freely offered. Educated women who appreciate their own happier lot will be earnest and quick in their endeavor to bring whatever is best within reach of these defrauded sisters.

It is not my purpose at this time to make practical suggestions. These will readily occur to all who give thought to this important subject. But I cannot refrain from expressing the earnest hope that college bred women everywhere may put themselves in line with this great work for the elevation of humanity—a work worthy of the best efforts of heart and hand and brain.

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Rev. Augusta J. Chapin was born in Lakeville, N. Y. Her parents were Americans, her ancestors having settled in Springfield, Mass., in the seventeenth century. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan with the degree of Master of Arts. She received the degree of Doctor of Divinity in June, 1893; has traveled extensively in the United States and British America, and has twice visited Europe. Her special work has been in the interest of religious, charitable and educational enterprises. Her principal literary works are lectures on literature, art, and philosophy. Her profession is that of minister of the Gospel, to which she was ordained in 1863. In religious faith she is a Universalist. Miss Chapin is a member of the Chicago Woman's Club, the Association for the Advancement of Woman, the W. C. T. U.. and many other organizations. Her postoffice address is 3848 Lake Avenue, Chicago, Ill.


About This Edition

This chapter has been put on-line as part of the BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at A Celebration of Women Writers. Initial text entry and proof-reading of this chapter were the work of volunteer Mary Mark Ockerbloom.