16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today:
Friday, November 3, 1911: Nothing very much doing today. Didn’t get any of my lessons out this evening. I wasn’t in a very studious mood.
Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:
Grandma so often worried about school—though she often seemed to not quite get around to studying. I wonder if Grandma ever considered going to college after she graduated from high school.
I suppose college seemed beyond the realm of possibilities to a farm girl in rural central Pennsylvania a hundred years ago. Less than 3% of the people were college graduates back then—and the rate would have been much lower than that for women.
There was an article in the November 6, 1911 issue of Youth’s Companion about why men—the article didn’t mention women—attended college.
The College in the Service of the Nation
Arthur Twining Hadley (President of Yale University)
The American college serves the nation in three conspicuous ways: first, by training men for public office; second by establishing standards of professional success in private business which lead men to do what the public needs, instead of trying merely to make money for themselves; third, by promoting the search for the truth and the spirit of discovery and invention that are necessary for national progress. . .
When we think of public service, we naturally think of these meanings. So did the founders who established the earliest colleges. The founders of the collegiate school at New Haven [Yale] stated in the charter of 1701, that it was the purpose of their institution to fit youth for employment in church and state. . .
Every man, whatever his business can conduct it in such a way as to serve the public. The lawyer who pleads in the courts ought to be doing the same sort of service to the public as the judge who decides the cases. The physician can render and ought to render the same service in providing for public health that the watchman or the signalman provides for public security against accidents.
Any business however simple in its character, where a man thinks first of the work that he is doing and only secondarily of the pay that he is going to get deserves the name of profession.
One of the most valuable things that our colleges can do is to emphasize this ideal of public service, so that the professional element will count for more in men’s lives and the trade element will county for less.
A third way in which our colleges can render public service is by keeping alive the spirit of exploration and discovery-the spirit which leads men to test new methods of action and to pursue new lines of truth. I believe that this is the most important and necessary service of all.
So far as our colleges teach their students the love of pursuing truth for truth’s sake, without regard to the material reward, they fulfill their highest and most necessary duty in the service of the nation.