False Prophets
Claudia T. White, Coll. Prep. Class of '97

"In almost all great movements," says one, "I observe the simultaneous action of currents and counter-currents. The thunder-cloud of summer often floats to us apparently right in the teeth of the wind which sweeps along our dusty path; the vast iceberg mover southwards under the force of a rapid river, all hidden from the mariner who rolls along before the tide, the wind, and the waves."

So it is that those who have inaugurated great movements have had to listen to words of disapproval, as well as words of encouragement, and rather more of the former than of the latter, usually. There are some who believe and hope and encourage, and others who doubt and fear and discourage. There are those who see good in everything, and then there are those who see in the first flush of dawn, not the rosy herald of the king of day in his glory, but the fearful portent of some catastrophe about to come upon them - perhaps the day of judgement. To these progress is a word of idle meaning; they wish to continue in the way the fathers trod, considering any one who wishes to step out of the beaten paths to one on a higher plane, as one in whose steps follows destruction. . . .

Probably no question has aroused more universal interest than that of the higher education of woman, and, as a natural consequence, none has called forth more dire forebodings. It had been believed that lack of logic was her privilege and lack of learning her duty. She was brought up to believe and not to reason, as Napoleon I is said to have advised. So it was that when this question was presented to the world there were many who opposed it.
Comic papers, society journals, daily papers and magazines discussed the question each in its own manner.

The question rang from north to south, from east to west, What shall become of us, the world, and them, if we admit our sisters to a place beside us in our colleges, in our schools of theology, law and medicine, and afterward as our equals at the bar, in the pulpit, in the hospital and operating-room and in the office?

They predicted, first of all, a failure in the preparation, for as they thought, they would not be able to complete the courses of study that their brothers took, for lack of brains. Then they predicted the speedy destruction of the home, the loss of all womanly virtues, and the ruin of the world when woman should begin to lay hands on the helm.

Now schools have thrown open their doors to her, and she is standing by the side of her brother, and the world remains intact, we still worship the goddess of the hearth, and woman is still the standard of purity for the world.

It was said of Gail Hamilton that James G. Blaine always leaned heavily on her judgement, and that, with her and his wife as advisors, he had a cabinet that a President might envy. And she is only one woman out of the many who have compelled men to acknowledge their equality with and sometimes their superiority to them. One need only think a moment of the names of women who have shown that they were capable of receiving as high an education as men and of using it in filling ably and well positions once considered sacred to men, to satisfy himself that the predictions of the prophets have proved superlatively false.

Now, this question of the higher education of our women confronts us, and as it has happened with the other races, it is happening with us, that there are those who prophesy a grievous fall for any who may attempt it. "The question with us," as Booker T. Washington says, "is: Are we going to take advantage of the mistakes the white man has made during the past two thousand years, or are we going over the same rough ground and learn by the same hard experience what he is just realizing?"

We, too, are heirs of all the ages, and why should we not accept our inheritance? It would be better for those who are disposed to prophesy evils that will never come, to save themselves the humiliation of seeing their predictions proved false, and, believing that what man has done woman can do, raise no further objections, for, if it is true, as Byron says, that the past is the best prophet of the future, with Tennyson we may
"Dip into the future, far as human eyes can see,"
and see woman steadily advancing side by side with her brother, leaving far behind her the false prophets, their cry growing fainter and fainter, in her heart the words of an inscription in an old Scottish cathedral -
"They say - what say they? - let them say!"

"False Prophets," Spelman Messenger 13.8 (June 1897): 1.
Courtesy of the Spelman College Archive