Read To Miss Winifred Clayborne of A Woman of the World, free online book, by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, on

At Vassar College

My dear niece:-It was a pleasure to receive so long a letter from you after almost two years of silence.  It hardly seems possible that you are eighteen years old.  To have graduated from high school with such honours that you are able to enter Vassar at so early an age is much to your credit.

I indulged in a good-natured laugh over your request for my advice regarding a college course.  You say, “I remember that I once heard you state that you did not believe in higher education for women, and, therefore, I am anxious to have your opinion of this undertaking of mine.”

Now of course, my dear child, what you wish me to say is, that I am charmed with your resolution to graduate from Vassar.  You have entered the college fully determined to take a complete course, and you surely would not like a discouraging or disapproving letter from your auntie.

“Please give me your opinion of my course of action” always means, “Please approve of what I am doing.”

Well I do approve.  I always approve when a human being is carrying out a determination, even if I am confident it is the wrong determination.

The really useful knowledge of life must come through strong convictions.  Strong convictions are usually obtained only on the pathway of personal experience.

To argue a man out of a certain course of action rarely argues away his own beliefs and desires in the matter.  We may save him some bitter experience in the contemplated project, but he is almost certain to find that same bitter experience later, because he has been coerced, not enlightened.

Had he gained his knowledge in the first instance, he would have escaped the later disaster.

A college education does not seem to me the most desirable thing for a woman, unless she intends to enter into educational pursuits as a means of livelihood.  I understand it is your intention to become a teacher, and, therefore, you are wise to prepare yourself by a thorough education. Be the very best, in whatever line of employment you enter.

Scorn any half-way achievements.  Make yourself a brilliantly educated woman, but look to it that in the effort you do not forget two other important matters-health and sympathy.  My objection to higher education for women, which you once heard me express, is founded on the fact that I have met many college women who were anæmic and utterly devoid of emotion.  One beautiful young girl I recall who at fourteen years of age seemed to embody all the physical and temperamental charms possible for womankind.  Softly rounded features, vivid colouring, voluptuous curves of form, yet delicacy and refinement in every portion of her anatomy, she breathed love and radiated sympathy.  I thought of her as the ideal woman in embryo; and the brightness of her intellect was the finishing touch to a perfect girlhood.  I saw her again at twenty-four.  She had graduated from an American college and had taken two years in a foreign institution of learning.  She had carried away all the honours-but, alas, the higher education had carried away all her charms of person and of temperament.  Attenuated, pallid, sharp-featured, she appeared much older than her years, and the lovely, confiding and tender qualities of mind, which made her so attractive to older people, had given place to cold austerity and hypercriticism.

Men were only objects of amusement, indifference, or ridicule to her.  Sentiment she regarded as an indication of crudity, emotion as an insignia of vulgarity.  The heart was a purely physical organ, she knew from her studies in anatomy.  It was no more the seat of emotion than the liver or lungs.  The brain was the only portion of the human being which appealed to her, and “educated” people were the only ones who interested her, because they were capable of argument and discussion of intellectual problems-her one source of entertainment.

Half an hour in the society of this over-trained young person left one exhausted and disillusioned with brainy women.  I beg you to pay no such price for an education as this young girl paid.  I remember you as a robust, rosy girl, with charming manners.  Your mother was concerned, on my last visit, because I called you a pretty girl in your hearing.  She said the one effort of her life was to rear a sensible Christian daughter with no vanity.  She could not understand my point of view when I said I should regret it if a daughter of mine was without vanity, and that I should strive to awaken it in her.  Cultivate enough vanity to care about your personal appearance and your deportment.  No amount of education can recompense a woman for the loss of complexion, figure, or charm.  And do not let your emotional and affectional nature grow atrophied.

Control your emotions, but do not crucify them.

Do not mistake frigidity for serenity, nor austerity for self-control.  Be affable, amiable, and sweet, no matter how much you know.  And listen more than you talk.

The woman who knows how to show interest is tenfold more attractive than the woman who is for ever anxious to instruct.  Learn how to call out the best in other people, and lead them to talk of whatever most interests them.  In this way you will gain a wide knowledge of human nature, which is the best education possible.  Try and keep a little originality of thought, which is the most difficult of all undertakings while in college; and, if possible, be as lovable a woman when you go forth into the world “finished” as when you entered the doors of your Alma Mater:  for to be unlovable is a far greater disaster than to be uneducated.