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(Digital Collections) Item Spotlight – “Female Education: Address Delivered at the Annual Examination of the Baylor University by Col. William P. Rogers” (The Texas Collection – Selections)

Female Education: Address Delivered at the Annual Examination of the Baylor University by Col. William P. Rogers. Image via the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections, digitized from the original held by The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, Texas.

Our item spotlight this time around focuses on an antebellum publication that addresses two controversial issues – one directly, one obliquely – from the point of view of a former U.S. Consul to Mexico, an early law professor at Baylor University and, eventually, a Civil War casualty.

William P. Rogers

William Peleg Rogers (1819-1863) was born in Georgia and grew up in Mississippi. Following an education that included both medical school and law school, Rogers was practicing law in Mississippi when he joined Company K of the First Missisippi Volunteer Infantry Regiment for a stint of service in the Mexican War. There, he earned the rank of Captain and distinguished himself in combat. After the war he was appointed U.S. Consult to Veracruz, Mexico; his wife refused to leave Texas, however, and after a brief stint in Mexico he returned to Texas in 1851 and settled at Washington-on-the-Brazos. He served as one of three professors in the law department at Baylor University before moving to Houston in 1859.

Rogers was a delegate to the Texas secession convention and signed the ordinance of secession on February 1, 1861. He accepted a commission as lieutenant colonel in the Second Texas Infantry and eventually was promoted to colonel in charge of the regiment. Rogers led his men into the thick of the battle of Corinth, Mississippi, where he was killed in action in front of Battery Robinett. His last words were reportedly, “Men, save yourselves or sell your lives as dearly as possible.” [1]

One other piece of information worth noting: Rogers was the first cousin of Margaret Lea Houston – wife of Sam.

The Address

In 1852, during Rogers’ residency in Washington-on-the-Brazos, his association with Baylor University led to an invitation from the Board of Trustees to “deliver an address on the important and interesting subject of Female Education, on the occasion of the Annual Examination of the Students of said University.” [2] Rogers accepted the invitation and on June 10, 1852 delivered the address in the “College Room” of the university.

The address can be broken down into three distinct sections: an opening wherein Rogers discusses the historic role of women’s education, especially as it pertains to “home living”; a defense of the idea of educating women in the institutions of the South, as opposed to sending them “abroad” to study in the North; and an examination of the specific subjects Rogers believes to be of great importance in the education of women. The language employed throughout the text reads like a transcription of his spoken address, with many parenthetical asides (in fact, at times the modern reader is overwhelmed with the number of partial thoughts, backtracks, and run-on sentences present) and a distinct feeling that Rogers is addressing a controversial topic to a group of people who are at least open to his ideas, if not outwardly friendly to them.

Rogers wastes no time laying out his basic premise, namely, that women should be afforded an educational experience on par with their male counterparts – if not always in subject, certainly in quality. While couching his argument in terms of women’s ability to influence world events through their historic roles as wives and mothers, Rogers shows a sensitivity to the idea that women, properly “instructed in the grand arcana of the human mind,” can do contribute even more fully to world events if given access to better education.

The following passage is particularly illustrative of Rogers’ thoughts on the matter:

“How important then is it that these queenly sovereigns of the
home circle, should be themselves properly instructed in the
grand arcana of the human mind. How important, that they
too should be subjected in early lite to a system of mental training,
having for its object the proper discipline of the mind to
habits of thought and reflection ; for it is only by such
training that the mind can be induced to emit those sparks
of delicate purity and beauty so peculiarly the characteristics of
the female mind—sparks of chaste moral refinement, that analyse [sic]
and expound with such care and distinguishing excellence
the great principles of our being and existence.”

Rogers’ advocating on behalf of women’s education is tied up in a secondary theme of his address, namely the improving condition of education in the Southern United States. While acknowledging that the old practice of sending “our sons and daughters abroad to be educated” made sense because of the “meagerness of our educational facilities,” he points to the fact that “[o]ur schools may now claim equality with the schools of the north,” so it makes sense to educate women, “at your own schools, among the people with whom she is to live, and over whom she is to exercise an enduring control. Around whose hearts and affections her influences are to cluster, as the sweet spell of music or poetry.”

Rogers is outwardly dismissive of the educational institutions of the North, as in this passage:

“It is true our institutions
of learning may not have such high sounding names,
nor are our buildings as spacious and lofty as theirs ; but for all
the purposes of education, of solid, substantial, practical education,
our schools are as good as theirs. They may put on
more of tinsel, mere filagree [sic] work, ornamental appendages and
the like, all of which may make woman appear better in that
society, the basis of which is humbuggery, and its principal
actors buffoons, and comic performers. But for all the great
purposes of existence, for all the grand and trying scenes in
which woman is’ to appear in her true and proper character, the
education which she can get here is as good, I believe better,
than that which she can obtain abroad.”

But Rogers evokes a more contentious issue among his leaders, albeit without naming it outright.

“Ours is a broad
and extensive country, stretching from the cold and stormy regions
of the north, almost to the tropics ; amid although governed
by the same laws of State, yet the great law of ‘public opinion
is essentially different in different portions of the country. Our
manners, habits, and modes of thought differ. And although
I regret to say it, yet all will concede that there is among the
people of the north a deep and settled hostility to an institution,
which with us is almost patriarchal, and one from which we can
never part until we cease to be an independent people. They,
on the contrary, will never surrender their opinions, and never
I fear cease to taunt us with their wild and maddened bigotry. It
is already an essential element in the opinions of their private
society. In its hideous deformity it has already entered their
pulpits, and they carry it with them to the halls of federal legislation.
Where it will stop, in what it will end, human sagacity
cannot foretell, but its threatenings [sic] are already sufficient to
teach us the duty of staying at home, the duty of self-dependence.”

Rogers never uses the word “slavery” during this passage, but his audience would have known exactly what he was referring to when he referenced “an institution … from which we can never part until we cease to be an independent people.” As one might expect from a man who signed the Texas articles of secession, Rogers places the institution of slavery as a firm dividing line between North and South, a justification for an end to the practice of sending Southern children to Northern educational institutions.

Rogers goes on to suggest the kinds of subjects a woman’s education should include: History, Geography, the Classics, Mathematics and Latin are singled out as foundational building blocks for a full education. Rogers also questions the notion that a woman should only be educated superficially or to the highest level, that there is no room “in between,” for an education that provides an opportunity to expose women to a broad range of subjects.

“It is true, it is an old and favorite
adage, that a little learning is a dangerous thing ; but it is one
to which I can never subscribe. For the very persons who prate
so much about superficial knowledge, will, in the very next breath
tell you that knowledge is power. Now it is as absurd to contend
that all knowledge which is not complete, is therefore injurious,
as that any one who cannot attain to the highest degree of
knowledge in any particular science, would therefore do better
to learn nothing of it whatever—or that if we cannot keep pace
with all of the most recent discoveries and abstruse theories of
Chemistry, it would be better to forgot the simple principle that
heat expands.”

In other words, Rogers contends that exposing female students to a broad range of topics may not make them experts, but the very act of exposing them to it will make them better able to lead at home, at church, and in society at large.

The Physical Form

For being 163 years old, the piece is in very good condition. There are tears on the cover and evidence of damage from folded pages and minor tears, but the substance of the piece is remarkably intact. We can infer that the piece was in private hands after 1863 due to a discrepancy between the cover and the title page, specifically the title given for Rogers. On the cover, the typewritten text reads, “Captain William P. Rogers.” On the title page, however, someone has stricken the word “Captain” out and written “Col.” above it. This tells us that someone was reading (and updating) the piece after 1862, when Rogers was promoted to full colonel in the Second Texas.

This piece is a prime example of the importance of preserving the information found in physical items through digitization. While it has been kept in good physical condition and is currently housed in appropriate storage conditions at The Texas Collection, its fragile condition gives it a high potential for being damaged by repeated handling. Digitizing the piece and placing it online has given it a new usefulness through worldwide access, with the added benefit of reducing the number of requests to handle the physical item on-site.

You can read the entire Address on Female Education in the Texas Collection – Selections via the Digital Collections of Baylor University. For more information on this or other items held by The Texas Collection, contact them via email at txcoll@baylor.edu or visit http://www.baylor.edu/lib/texas.

SOURCES CONSULTED
[1] Rogers’ biographical information retrieved from T. Michael Parrish, “ROGERS, WILLIAM PELEG,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fro64), accessed May 16, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

[2] Quotes from Female Education: Address Delivered at the Annual Examination of the Baylor University by Col. William P. Rogers via the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections (http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/tx-coll/id/13795), accessed May 16, 2013. Digitized from the original item held in the collections of The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.