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The term is now generally reserved to the practice of educating the sexes together; but even in this sense it has a variety of meanings.

  • Mere juxtaposition; this implies the use of the same buildings and equipment under the same teaching staff for the education of both sexes, but does not oblige the sexes to follow the same methods or to live under the same regimen.
  • Co-ordinate education ; the students are taught by the same methods and the same teachers and are governed by the same general administration; but each sex has its own classes and, in the case of a university, its separate college.
  • Identical education ; both sexes are taught "the same things, at the same time, in the same place, by the same faculty, with the same methods and under the same regimen. This admits age and proficiency, but not sex, as a factor in classification" (Clarke, op. cit. below, p. 121). It is in this third and narrowest sense that co-education has been the subject of widespread discussion for some time past. In the United States especially the practice has grown rapidly during the last fifty years, while in European countries it has developed more slowly.


Elementary Schools

At present co-education is practically universal in the elementary grades of the public schools of the United States. It also prevails to a large extent in the elementary grades of private and denominational schools, including those which are under Catholic direction, notably the parochial schools.

Secondary Schools

According to the Commissioner's Report for 1905-6, there were in the United States 40 public high schools for boys only, with 22,044 students, and 29 schools for girls only, with 23,203 students; while the co-educational high schools numbered 7,962 having on their rolls 283,264 boys and 394,181 girls; the difference indicated by these last figures is noteworthy. During the same year there were under private direction 304 high schools for boys only, with 22,619 students; 500 high schools for girls only, with 27,081 students; while the private co-educational schools numbered 725 with an attendance of 26,487 boys and 25,568 gifts. From these statistics it appears that even in private high schools the number of boys is larger where co-education prevails than it is in schools exclusively for boys; and that the number of girls in co-educational schools is not very far below the number in schools exclusively for girls

Higher and Technical Educational Institutions

Of 622 universities, colleges, and technological schools reporting to the United States Bureau of Education for the year ended June, 1906, there were for men only, 158; for women only, 129; for both men and women, 335. Comparison with earlier statistics shows a decided advance in co-education. In 1889-90 the women in co-educational colleges numbered 8075, in schools of technology, 707, and in colleges for women only, 1979; the men in all colleges numbered 44,926. In 1905-6 there were 31,443 women in co-educational colleges and 6653 in colleges for women only; the number of men students was 97,738.

The tendency in Europe, generally speaking, is to admit women to university courses of study. but under restrictions which vary considerably from one country to another. In Germany, women, for the most part, attend the university as "hearers", not as matriculated students. The custom in England is that women should reside in colleges of their own while receiving the benefit of university education. There is also considerable variety in the regulations concerning the granting of degrees to women. Replies to an inquiry issued by the English Department of Education in 1897, with later revision (United States Commissioner's Report for 1904, chap. xx), showed that of 112 universities on the Continent, in Great Britain, and in the British colonies, 86 made no distinction between men and women students, 6 admitted women by courtesy to lectures and examinations, 20 permitted them to attend some lectures only; of these 20 universities, 14 were German and 6 Austrian. The proportion of women students to the total enrollment in the universities of Central Europe is shown in the following table:--

Country Total No.
of Students Women Austria 22,749 1,323 France 33,618 1,922 Germany 51,535 1,938 Switzerland 9,483 2,594

In England, provision for the higher education of women began with the founding of Queen's College, London (1848) and Bedford College (1849). In 1878 the University of London admitted women to examinations and degrees. The honour degree examinations of Cambridge were opened to women (students of Girton and Newnham colleges ) in 1881; some of the Oxford examinations were opened to women (students of Somerville College and Lady Margaret Hall) in 1884; the Scottish universities admitted women in 1892; the University of Durham in 1895; the University of Wales from its foundation in 1893. In Ireland, both the Royal University and Trinity College, Dublin, receive women students. It should, however, be noted that the number of women following university courses in England is still comparatively small. In 1905-6 the colleges mentioned above in connexion with Oxford had in residence 136 students, and those at Cambridge, 316. On the other hand, the movement is stronger in some of the recently founded universities. Thus the institutions for women affiliated with the London University (Bedford, Halloway, Westfield, and Royal Free hospital ) in 1905-6 numbered 628 students. It may therefore be said that co-education in Europe, though it has made a beginning, is by no means so prominent a feature of the schools as it is in the United States. Its growth and effects are for this reason best studied in American institutions; and in these the historical facts are the more important inasmuch as they are said to furnish ample justification of the policy.


The explanation of these facts is to be sought in a variety of conditions, some of which are naturally connected with the general development of the country while others may be called artificial, in the sense that they are the application of theories or policies rather than direct responses to needs, or final solutions of problems. Thus it is significant that co-education has found its stronghold in the Northern, Central, and Western States of the Union which profited most by the Congressional land grants of 1787 and 1862 and by similar grants on the part of the several States. It was easy to argue, on the basis of democratic principles, that institutions supported by public funds should offer the same advantages to all citizens. From the founding of Oberlin College, Ohio (1833), which was the first institution of its class to introduce co-education (1837). the policy spread at such a rate that by 1880 more than half the colleges, and by 1900 nearly three-fourths, had adopted it. In the more conservative East segregation was the general practice until the last quarter of the nineteenth century. But the precedent established by Boston University (1869) and by Cornell (1872) was soon followed by many other Eastern institutions.

A still more powerful factor has been the public high school, which since 1850 has held an important place in the educational system. Some schools of this class, notably those in the West were co-educational from the start; others were opened at first for boys only, but eventually they admitted girls on the same terms; this was the case in the larger cities of the East. In 1891, only 15 out of 628 leading cities of the country had separate high schools, in 1901 the number had fallen to 12. The growth of these schools coincided with the movement in favour of higher education for women. The leaders of this movement insisted on the right of women to have equal advantages with men in the line of education ; they quite overlooked or disregarded the fact that equality in this case does not mean identity. But any defect in their reasoning on the subject was more than compensated for by their enthusiasm and perseverance. Their efforts, however, were in accordance with the demands made by industrial changes. The introduction of labour-saving machinery which gradually brought about the factory organization of industry, took from woman, one by one, her traditional employments in the home and compelled her to seek new occupations in fields hitherto occupied exclusive by man : hence the very natural demand for equal educational opportunities, not merely to secure the more complete development of woman's faculties, but also as a necessary means to equip her for her new position. The demand of course grew more imperative as the professions were opened to women. Once it was admitted that a woman might, for instance, take up the practice of medicine, it was quite obvious as a matter of public policy that she should receive the training given to every physician. How fully her claims have been recognized will appear from statistics given above of the growth of universities, colleges, and schools of technology since 1889.

The rapid spread of co-education aroused intense interest not only among educators but also in the mind of the public at large. The subject was discussed from every point of view, moral, medical, and economic, no less than educational. Special inquiries were sent out by school committees, State boards, and the United States Bureau of Education, with a view to obtaining statistics and expressions of opinion. Replies to these inquiries served as a basis for numerous reports, such as that of the Boston School Committee (Document 19, 1890) and that. of the Commissioner of Education based on the inquiry of 1891. (See Commissioner's Report for 1900-1901, chap. xxviii.) The outcome of the discussion may be summarized as follows:

  • the tendency towards co-education as a universal policy was freely admitted by all parties;
  • considerable divergence of opinion was manifested as to the wisdom of co-education, particularly in secondary schools ;
  • in many cases the issue was obscured by treating co-education as though it were synonymous with the higher education of women.

In order to set this phase of the question in a somewhat clearer light, it should be noted first of all that the reasons advanced in favour of the higher education of women, valid as they certainly are, do not of themselves require that this education shall be identical with that given to men. Passing over for the present the question whether both sexes should study the same subjects by identical methods for the same length of time, or even supposing that this question should be answered in the affirmative, one is not thereby compelled to admit that co-education is the only acceptable policy. The efficient work of those colleges which are exclusively for women tells strongly in favour of separate education. On the other hand, it should be remarked that the unification of the schools into a system does not necessarily imply co-education all the way through. While endorsing the practice in the elementary school for certain reasons and in the university for other reasons, one may consistently refuse to approve its introduction in the secondary school. A third consideration turns on the moral factor. This is, and always has been, of paramount importance in Catholic education. Whatever advantages of an intellectual sort may be claimed for the co-educational school, these must, from the Catholic point of view, be waived if they cannot be obtained without danger to morality. This view of course is shared by many non-Catholic parents and teachers, some of whom have made it the basis of their criticism of co-education. Doubtless, too, it would have counted for more in the discussion if the whole problem of moral education had received the attention bestowed in late years on everything pertaining to purely intellectual culture. Where that problem is overlooked or lightly dismissed, some of the most serious objections to co-education naturally lose their force, while too much weight is attached to some of the reasons on the opposite side.


As noted above co-education prevails in most of the Catholic elementary schools. That women should also share in the advantages of higher education is quite in keeping with Catholic policy. An instance of this is the authorization granted by Rome for women to follow, under requisite conditions, courses at the English universities (Decision of Propaganda, 13 July, 1907). Another is furnished by such institutions as the Anna-Stift, a university school for Catholic teaching sisters founded at the University of Münster in 1899 to meet the wishes of the German bishops. Instruction is given by university professors not in the halls of the university but in the institute itself, an arrangement that is equivalent to what has been mentioned above as co-ordinate education. (See Engelkemper in Cath. Univ. Bulletin, May, 1908.) But in secondary schools, the Catholic policy is decidedly Opposed to co-education. The high schools, academies, and colleges for boys are altogether separate from those for girls. Boys are taught by male teachers, girls by women, usually religious. Nothing in fact so strongly emphasizes the Catholic attitude in this matter as the work of various orders of men established to teach boys, and of no less various orders of women to teach girls. This is the century-old practice of the Church, and it is observed in all countries. Catholics, moreover, have followed with interest the discussions concerning co-education; and though in many other respects they have adopted in their own work the methods approved by experience in non-Catholic schools, they have not been convinced by the arguments advanced in favour of the co-educational plan.

From the viewpoint of economy co-education might seem the wiser plan; but as a matter of fact, by increasing the number of pupils in each class it throws a heavier burden on the teacher and it makes difficult if not impossible that individual instruction, the need of which is now so generally recognized. A saving that impairs the efficiency of the school is hardly desirable. The advantage also that is claimed on the score of improved discipline, is more apparent than real. While the boys probably part with some of their roughness it is by no means certain that the delicacy of feeling and the refinement of manner that are expected in girls, gain much by the association. Moreover, if there is a demand for better discipline, the right way to meet it is to train teachers more thoroughly in the art of school management. A skilful teacher will easily control a class either of boys or of girls by arousing and maintaining their interest in what is really the work of the school. On the other hand, it can do no harm to young people, especially boys, to cultivate betimes a spirit of obedience to law for its own sake, and not merely teach them to behave themselves out of deference for the opposite sex. There is no doubt a decided benefit to be gotten from social intercourse, provided this is accompanied by the proper conditions. The place for it is in the home, under the supervision of parents, who will see to it that their children have the right kind of associates, and will not leave them to the chance companionships which the mixed school affords. It has often been held that the co-educational system extends to the school the "good effects that flow from the mutual influence of mingling the sexes in the family circle"; but this contention evidently overlooks the profound difference between the home situation which associates children by natural ties of kindred, and the situation in school where these ties do not exist. And it further forgets, apparently, that the home influence itself has latterly been weakened in many ways and by various causes; how far co-education has contributed to this result is of course another question. At any rate, it avails nothing to argue that because boys and girls live together in the same family, it is more natural that they should be educated in the same classes. When appeal is taken to the "natural" order of things, the decision is plainly in favour of separate schools.

On physiological grounds, identical education presents serious difficulties. As no arrangement has been devised, and as none can be devised, to make the conditions of study exactly the same for both sexes, co-education really means that girls are subjected to a regimen intended and conducted for boys. To the physical strain which is thus imposed on them, girls as a rule are not equal; in particular they are apt to suffer from that very rivalry which is often cited as a desirable feature of the mixed school. If education is to take as its first principle conformity to nature, it must certainly make allowance for differences of organism and function. This need becomes the more imperative in proportion as the dependence of mind upon organic processes is more fully realized and turned to practical account in educational work. It then appears beyond question that from a psychological standpoint woman should have a different training from that which men receive. There is no question here as to the superiority or inferiority of either sex, nor will it profit to say that " soul has no gender". The fact is that each sex has its own mental constitution and its special capacities. To develop these is the work of education ; but this does not mean that unlike natures shall be moulded into a superficial resemblance to each other. Even if it were desirable to have the finished product exactly the same in both sexes, it does not follow that this result is to be obtained by subjecting men and women to the same discipline. Educationists are agreed that the need of the developing mind is the first thing to be consulted in framing methods and in organizing the work of the school. They rightly condemn not only a system which treats the boy as though he were a man, but also any feature of method that fails to secure adaptation, even in detail, of the teaching to the present condition of the pupil's mind. Yet many of them, strangely enough, insist that the same training shall he given to boys and girls in the secondary schools, that is at a period which is chiefly characterized by the manifestation of profound mental differences between one sex and the other. The attempt now so generally made to obviate the physiological and psychological difficulties of co-education by adapting the work of the school to the capacities and requirements of girls, can evidently have but one result, and that not a desirable one, so far as boys are concerned.

It must further be pointed out on vocational grounds that, since woman's work in the world is necessarily different from man's, there should he a corresponding difference in the preparation. Here again it is singular that while the whole trend of our schools is towards specialization in view of the needs of after-life, no such consideration should be had for diversity of calling based on diversity of sex. The student is encouraged to take up as early as possible the special lines of work that fit him for his chosen career in business, in literary work, or in any of the professions; yet for the essential duties of life, widely different as these are, men and women receive an identical education. However great be the share which woman is to take in "the public expression of the ideal energies, for morality and religion, for education and social reforms, and their embodiment, not in the home, but in the public consciousness " -- it still remains true that her success as a supporter of these ideal endeavours is closely bound up with the right discharge of those duties which are at once the lot and the privilege of her sex. Any influence that tends to make those duties less sacred to her or less attractive, is a menace to her individual perfection and may lead to far-reaching calamity. The lowering of sex tension, which is the strongest argument brought forward to support Co-education from the view-point of morality, turns out on closer inspection to be a fatal objection; it proves too much. The "indifference" which it is said to produce has its consequences beyond the limit of school-life, and these if left to work out their own results would be, as they undoubtedly are in many instances, antagonistic to the essential interests of family and home, and eventually of the national life as well.

The element of religious instruction, essential to Catholic schools, has a peculiar significance in the present problem. It not only gives free scope to ideal and æsthetic tendencies, but it also provides effectual safeguards against the dangers to which adolescence is exposed. As President Hall has said, "every glow of æsthetic appreciation for a great work of art, every thrill aroused by an act of sublime heroism, every pulse of religious aspiration weakens by just so much the potential energy of passion because it has found its kinetic equivalent in a higher form of expression" (Pedagogical Seminary, March, 1908). The "prophylactic value" of religious training is, from the Catholic point of view, far greater than that of the conditions which co-education involves and on which it depends for the development of character and morals. But this value of course can be got only hr teaching religion with the same thoroughness and the same perfection of method that characterizes the teaching of other subjects, and in such a way as to make the duties which religion imposes on both the sexes not merely pleasing items of knowledge, but also vital elements in habit and action. ( See E DUCATION ; S CHOOLS .)

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