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Woman's Education, Professionalization...and War-Making?

Notes for Day 2 of Critical Feminist Studies

Woman's Education, Professionalization...and War-Making?
Reading Virginia Woolf's 1938 essays, Three Guineas--

"The photo on our front cover and back covers [of the Bryn Mawr Alumnae Bulletin (November 2005)] shows students at The Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers in Industry performing a skit, "Wealth and Poverty," in 1930. Opened in 1921, the School offered scholarships for programs in political economy, science and literature to factory workers until 1938. The first of its kind, it was the vision of President of the College M. Carey Thomas, who recognized the importance of women's roles in Progressive-era social reform.

Taking off from Tamarinda's observation in the course forum--

Though the goals of this course do not necessarily include race, I would be interested to explore the link between race relations and the struggle for recognition among the feminist community--

I'm distributing "guineas" (in the form of pennies) for you to engage in the same sort of "thought experiment" that Virginia Woolf conducts. She argues that three causes are identical:

  • establishing a woman's college
  • supporting a professional women's organization, and
  • preventing war.
"The three guineas...are all given to the same cause, for the causes are the same and inseparable" (144). I'm going to play "Study War No More" (sung by Sweet Honey in the Rock) as background, while you think through these connections for yourselves:
  • What is feminism to you?
  • With what causes (if any) is it separable?
  • To what causes will you donate your (meagre) funds?
    (Bins and labels provided.)

Having taken your stands (and explained them),
let's try to get a handle on Woolf's sort of feminism:

  • What is her understanding of sexual difference?
  • Does she minimalize or maximize it?
  • Does she see it as biological/natural/essential/socially constructed?
  • What does she see happening to difference when social conditions change
    (i.e., when women begin taking degrees and entering the professions)?
  • Do women then lose their differentness?
  • Should they?
  • Should they want to?
  • Should they try to?
Key passages from


"'we'...must differ in some essential respects from 'you,' whose body, brain and spirit have been so differently trained and are so differently influenced by memory and tradition. Though we see the same world, we see it through different eyes. Any help we can give you must be different from that you can give yourself, and perhaps the value of that help may lie in the fact of that difference." (18)

"Do we wish to join that procession, or don't we? On what terms shall we join that procession? Above all, where is it leading us, the procession of educated men?" (62)




"The professions have a certain undeniable effect upon the professors. They make the people who practise them possessive, jealous of any infringement of their rights, and highly combative. (66)

"to emphasize superiority...rouses competition and jealousy...which encourage a disposition towards war. We can refuse all such distinctions ourselves." (21)

"education, far from teaching the educated generosity and magnanimity, makes them on the contrary to anxious to keep their possessions...that they will use...much subtler methods than force when they are asked to share them? And are not force and possessiveness very closely connected with war?" (29-30)

"This is an awful mind- and soul-destroying life....Sight goes....sound goes...Speech goes...Humanity goes...Health goes...What then remains of a human being who has lost sight, sound, and sense of proportion? Only a cripple in a cave."(70-2)

"How can we enter the professions and yet remain civilized human beings...who wish to prevent war?" (75)

[Woolf ends w/ a refusal] "to be separated from the four great teachers of the daughters of educated men--poverty, chastity, derision and freedom from unreal loyalties." (79)

TAKE TIME HERE TO DEFINE ALL 4. With those passages under our belts/ringing in our ears,
let's return to two of (both Anne's and Virginia's) main themes:


  • "What is the aim of education, what kind of society,
    what kind of human being [should it] seek to produce?" (33)
    (Always the test case: what would Woolf's analyses of Bryn Mawr be?)

    What is key for me in Virginia Woolf's analysis: the claim that
    any distinctions made on a single axes of value lead to...war.
    I read this as a valuation of difference--
    and see an educational and political agenda following directly from that.

    There are limits to her vision, to her "outsider's society":
    she writes with the hauteur of the privileged woman--
    certainly exhibits no solidarity w/ the working class--
    she also claims none.
    Lots of feminists use the word "woman" as a universal category;
    Woolf is unusually precise in her use of categories:
    she speaks only about the "daughters of educated men";
    she was aware that she was not representative of all women
    (an ungenerous reading would be that this
    just gives her an alibi for not thinking about others,
    those maids in private houses that were so imprisoning for wealthy women).


    (Bringing it home...)

    From Examining Our History: Inclusion/Exclusion at Bryn Mawr (11/18/05):

    Joseph Taylor directed in his will that his money be used to erect buildings "for the comfort and
    advanced education and care of young women, or girls of the higher classes of society."

    From the College Archives

    Elizabeth Mosier '84 and Creative Writing instructor
    "Campus Life," Bryn Mawr College Homepage, accessed 4/3/00:

    What I felt from the moment I stepped through Pembroke Arch was that Bryn Mawr College was for me. It was the "room of one's own" that Virginia Woolf had counseled me to find. And in finding it at this women's college, I was surprised to discover that here, my gender wasn't the most noteworthy thing about me. For the first time in my life, the fact that I'm intelligent wasn't met with great surprise. At Bryn Mawr, it was quietly expected that I would go beyond what others had assumed were my limitations, laid on me with the parenthetical phrases following every accolade: "That's good work--or writing or reading--(for a girl)."


    Does providing "a room of one's own" seem to you
    a vision adequate as to guide a women's college?

    How about this, as an alternative?

    Would Virginia Woolf be know of this news from the 4/16/00 NYT: "In the largest donation ever to a woman's college, a New York couple has given $25 million to Wellesley College. The gift from Anthony Wang and his wife, Lily...was announced as the college began a five-year campaign to raise $400 million, the most ambitious fund-raising goal ever set by a woman's college...since women have traditionally lagged behind men in charitable giving, women's colleges have had less success than coeducation institutions in fund-raising...Wellesley's president said the gift from the Wangs "shattered that shibboleth. This says women are loyal and they care, and they care about causes that have to do with women and the institutions that help women to make a difference in the world," she said. 'When we pull this campaign off, it will say that women are every bit as capable of raising money to support an institution they love as men are. We don't have to think of them as any less capable in that realm any more than we have to think of them as less capable in any other realm.'"


    Does saying that "women are every bit as capable of raising money
    to support an institution that they love"
    seem to you a good end for women's education?

    Might we re-conceive our work on larger terms,
    as installing multiple different sorts of women in the public sphere?


Anne Dalke's picture

discussion continues... the course forum area on Virginia Woolf. Go there and add your thoughts!
Mary Clurman '63's picture

What is a Feminist?

topic: poverty, chastity, derision and freedom from unreal loyalties.

I live on about $2000/mo., an amount significantly greater than most of my neighbors, most of whom are retired with some sort of benefits.

Of that I pay
$513 in mortgage & taxes
$60 water (delivered here by truck
$35 in electricity
$72 phone & Internet
$50 LP gas
$54 car insurance (my car, having 250K mi on it, is paid off)
$200 food & groceries (organic foods)
$80 gasoline -- 200 mi. RT required for serious grocery shopping here
$125 charities, causes & gifts
$60 Medicare
$60 supplemental health ins.

The balance currently goes to house repairs and modifications, both labor (generally at $15/hr locally) & materials preparatory to selling my house. This cost has been consistent thruout 2007.

I make my own bread & ice cream and all meals from scratch (no prepared foods, no eating out if at all possible to avoid -- it's not as good anyway). For entertainment it's email, hiking w/ my dogs, library books, and +/- monthly motorcycle excursions w/ a friend on his Harley.

When I sell the house I will put money (affter mortgage) into savings or liquid investment (medical care being so insecure an issue) and hope to enter either the Peace Corps ($6500 stipend for 27 mos.) or the National Parks Svc. as a permanent seasonal employee (6mos paid, 6 mos. on Unemployment). I may buy a used truck & a travel trailer to live in. I will then have money left over, except the increased cost of gasoline and the possibility of having to pay for parking space. I plan to finally send that big donation to BMC

I look forward to this change, despite what my family thinks of my living in a trailer, as I have previously owned a motor home and loved it. I now own the prettiest house for miles around which I love, too, but which is too much maintenance and too much space. I don't need it; further, I am determined to erase all debt.

"By chastity is meant that when you have made enough to live on by your profession you must refuse to sell your brain for the sake of money.'

In the past few years I have created murals for a store, a motel, a school, and the Chamber of Commerce. They ranged in size from 3' diameter to 8' hi x 16' wide. I was paid $150-350 ea., tops. They are very good, much admired in my small town (pop. 850) and outside. I feel that I am learning (each of these has taken months, and if I'd known what I was doing it would have been but days or maybe weeks) as well as creating a track record/portfolio. I spent much too much time on each but I cannot quit until they meet my standard -- they must in fact be good.

I published a small newsletter for 3 yrs, lost money on it, and now use the archived articles to supplement new essays I write for my Web site,, which advertises only thru Google -- no flashy stuff. It is a resource library for nannies and their employers. I draw from it a flat monthly fee, included in the total above. I could perhaps get more but this would be enough if not for inflation -- not only gas but everything else as well, despite the official figures.

On principle, I don't buy trinkets or elaborate sets of tools or paints. I like living out here in seclusion as it has taught me real self-reliance: how to use power tools, plan flood control, landscape & garden, avoid TV & other junk pursuits.

Given all the above, I probably don't need to address "freedom from unreal loyalties"; in fact, with Ms. Woolf, I have developed this freedom through poverty and chastity, hers no more nor less relative than mine.

That I have surely encountered: family who feel that I squander my talents, am naive in the extreme, don't "dress for success" but keep a good shirt for 14 years if I still feel good in it, etc. Beyond family, for my love of ideas and lack of things, my feeling that I am as good as anyone else, which makes some feel that I think I'm better than I am, and maybe so. But I see no better standard than to square what I do with what I believe, rather than with what someone else believes.

I have learned tact, and learned also that tact is not enough. One must fight back, and I am working on that (hence my pugnacious, declarative style!). I have learned enormous independence and built my own self-confidence by work and independent thought and as much reading as I can do.

From this viewpoint my definition of feminism would probably be: the desire & striving to make the most of what I, as a person who happens to be a woman, possess, regardless of whatever anyone else has or thinks of what I have.

This does not seem like feminism, it seems more like honesty.

So I should add something about male vs. female. Yes, there is surely an enormous difference between what I value and what most of society values, and the values of society are largely masculine in origin. My experience with men-in-the-flesh suggests that they think more linearly than I, but I haven't seen anything else to say that there are other fundamental differences. Perhaps the array of differences -- fighting, conquering, physical prowess, drinking, debauchery, whatever comes up -- come from this one difference, but I have not tested 10,000, complete with controls so as to know from personal experience. Nor have I read enough, researched enough as did Ms. Woolf, to her credit.

But I do know that my way of life is a good one and that I as a woman both recommend it and see serious parallels -- do you not? -- with Ms. Woolf's ideals.

Finally, I have read almost thru the 3 Guineas, and I keep feeling that she is arguing not for feminism as such but for the ideals of individualism, self-sufficiency, poverty & chastity, etc., not for women as such but for the right of women to access all that men have access to, without of course succumbing to the same temptations.

So perhaps the question is, as she herself puts it, would women (having this slight difference in orientation) succeed where men fail?

It seems clear that if no one showed up for the draft, and penalties for launching war (not to mention acting uncooperatively or seeking world dominance, as the Bush Administration claims to do) were great enough, other solutions would have to be found. Then even men might come to believe in them, as this has not been their experience so far.

I believe in education for the poor, so that they need not be poor. I believe in discussion, in listening, in considering. I believe in openness/frankness without threat, I believe in an equal playing field. Much of this probably came with me from the start somehow, or from childhood; much also has come as a result of poverty, chastity, etc.

But if this is feminism, I am its strong advocate. This does not mean that I think women better than men. I just think we're all equal.

Mary Clurman '63

Deborah Jones Farquhar '68's picture

A Reaction to Virginia Woolf's Three Guineas

A Reaction to Three Guineas
I feel Woolf really reveals herself—it is as if one is looking at a work of art, and she is that work of art, possessing a vast interior landscape. Although Woolf “wanders”, she is brilliant in her wanderings, as she writes about morality, and absolute points of view--“the point of view of an educated man’s daughter.” Is she self-deprecating? The breadth of her topic is astounding. As an aside, is this astounding expansiveness simply a manifestation of her creativity or a precursor to the mental illness that plagued her? Virginia hears so many “voices.” The amalgamation of those voices might, understandably, be conducive to passivity; however, I feel “passivity” should be defined in the context of her era, and woman’s role in that era. She states, “I doubt whether at any time during the last fifty years young women have been more politically apathetic, more socially indifferent than at the present time.” Yet she is as determined as Joan of Arc. She states, “And you will agree that to oppose strong emotion needs courage; and that when courage fails, silence and evasion are likely to manifest themselves… There are two good reasons why we must try to analyse both our fear and…anger; first, because such fear and anger prevent real freedom.” I think she feels a significant loss—a theme I like to call the “Inheritance of Loss”— using the title of the latter book conceptually and not literally— is the younger generation of women passive?—I do not like to use that term pejoratively because I love to connect to that younger generation, but that very generation has not experienced that loss--that is, they have not lived through the Depression, WWII, Vietnam nor the sixties. Do they take for granted both the concrete achievements and intellectual freedom we strove to achieve?—do they even believe that discrimination and harassment exist in the workplace, sometimes especially for smart women? They do exist. These themes (discrimination and harassment) can be gratuitous and non-quantifiable. Virginia states, “Here, if indeed they consent to listen, they might very reasonably ask us to be more explicit—not indeed to define culture and intellectual liberty, for they have books and leisure and can define the words for themselves. But what, they may well ask, is meant by this gentleman’s ‘disinterested’ culture, and how are we to protect that and intellectual liberty in practice?” She was ahead of her time.

We need to educate our young women to be brave. In Virginia’s words: “However that may be, let the plural stand and continue: ‘Daughters of educated men who have enough to live upon, and read and write your own language for your own pleasure, may we very humbly entreat you to sign this gentleman’s manifesto with some intention of putting your promise into practice?’”

I think that is Bryn Mawr’s manifesto.

As for my reaction to Woolf's essay, in the context of "Day Two" and the questions posed, I will have to think about it and write more!--thank you for the opportunity.

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