Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Did education drive Miss Yale crazy?

© 2012 Christy K. Robinson

When asked how much educated men were superior to those uneducated, Aristotle answered, 
'As much as the living are to the dead.' 
~Diogenes Laetius

1645--Lady Mary Fairfax,
with her tutor. Her father, General Thomas Fairfax,
was third Baron Fairfax of Cameron.
Stunning statements about education have come to light in the last few election cycles. One presidential candidate said that America needs “a leader, not a reader.” Another said that the desire to educate more Americans is snobbery and "There are good, decent men and women … that aren't taught by some liberal college professor, trying to indoctrinate them. Oh I understand why he wants [you] to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image." A radio commentator who flunked out of college after two semesters said that a female “authorette” with a recent BA degree and a journalism award for her first book was "over-educated." 

At the state level, we see groups rewriting history to make it align with a rosy utopia that is itself taken out of context or simply invented. And state legislators and governors have slashed public education funding by the billions, and/or diverted public education money to for-profit charter schools.

In the 1600s, higher education was prized, and boys and young men were trained in science, mathematics, literature, history, religion, and liberal arts. After the home-schooled Anne Hutchinson defended herself so eloquently and bested the magistrates in debates at trial in November 1637 and March 1638, Massachusetts established Harvard College to train its teen boys to the ministry.

New England women guided the household, but remained subject to their fathers’ or husbands’ authority. Men believed women had the mental capacity to manage large households, many children and servants, and often a cottage industry like brewing beer, seamstressing, or cooking, but apparently not to be formally-educated women who discussed theology, as did Anne Hutchinson and later, Mary Dyer.  
1630--Old Woman Reading a Bible,
Gerrit Dou, Netherlands

A few women were well-educated from their early years in England, as a result of tutors or fathers guiding their learning. They were the exception, not the rule. Most Puritan women could read well enough to get through their Bibles, but that was all. In the first decades of colonial New England, schools were only for boys.

Ann Yale Hopkins, the wife of Governor Edward Hopkins of Connecticut, was believed to have gone insane not because she inherited madness or was driven to it by illness, injury, fear, or unbearable hardships of first-generation settlers, but because of her scholarship and the resulting mental exhaustion.

Massachusetts Bay Gov. John Winthrop wrote:  
“Mr. Hopkins, the governor of Hartford upon Connecticut, came to Boston, and brought his wife with him, (a godly young woman, and of special parts,) who was fallen into a sad infirmity, the loss of her understanding and reason, which had been growing upon her divers years, by occasion of her giving herself wholly to reading and writing, and had written many books. Her husband, being very loving and tender of her, was loath to grieve her [about spending too much time in reading and writing]; but he saw his error, when it was too late. For if she had attended her household affairs, and such things as belong to women, and not gone out of her way and calling to meddle in such things as are proper for men, whose minds are stronger, etc., she had kept her wits, and might have improved them usefully and honorably in the place God had set her.” ~John Winthrop's Journal

The Hopkins' house
Edward Hopkins (born 1600) and Ann Yale Hopkins (born 1615) were among the co-founders of New Haven, Connecticut in 1637, but after only two months, moved to Hartford and set up a 120-acre farm and merchant trade with Turkey. Edward was elected governor or deputy governor for many one-year terms. The house they lived in from 1640, still exists on Popieluszko Court in Hartford.

It was at that time seen as a judgment from God that a woman was barren. Ann had no children, which was a huge disappointment to Puritans. As Winthrop wrote, “such things as belong to women," and "the place God had set her.” Coming from an education-minded family, reading and writing may have been a consolation to her, just as people in our day sometimes bury themselves in a creative pursuit or work. Ann exhibited signs of insanity beginning at about age 32 in 1647. Because men disapproved of women exhausting their brains, it is highly probable that her books and writing materials were removed from her at that time.

Interestingly, her husband survived an Indian assassination attempt in 1646, the year before Ann’s illness was observed. It’s possible that fear helped push Ann past the threshold of reason.

Edward and Ann returned to England permanently in 1652, perhaps because of Ann’s condition. He was engaged by Parliament as a naval commissioner (at the same time Sir Henry Vane was on the ruling council), but died in 1657. Ann was cared for until her death by her Yale relatives in north Wales.

Edward's large bequests helped fund a New Haven, Connecticut school named in his honor. ‘Hopkins is the third oldest independent school in the country. The School has been operating since 1660, and has retained as its historic mission, ‘the breeding up of hopeful youths...for the publique service of the country in future tymes.’ Congressmen, doctors, lawyers, Yale Presidents, and civil activists all had their start at Hopkins and are the embodiment of Hopkins' mission,” says a fundraising site. Another generous bequest by Edward Hopkins benefited Harvard College in Boston.

In the next generation, Elihu Yale, born in Boston in 1649, was one of the major benefactors of Yale University. Elihu is entombed at Wrexham, Wales, where there’s a Yale College, founded in 1950. Both the Welsh college and Connecticut university were named after Elihu Yale, Ann’s nephew. Wrexham's Yale College changed its name to Coleg Cambria, after the university threatened to sue.

A French asylum
Other New England women suffered mental illness, which was sometimes charged as witchcraft or being possessed by Satan. Several women killed or attempted murder on their children, and were hanged. One woman flung her child into a pond, and when the toddler crawled out and returned to its mother, the mother threw her child back in the water. A witness saved the child and reported the mother, who said that she wanted to spare her child from “further misery.” Yet another delusional mother wanted to save her baby from going to hell, so she killed it. The magistrates granted latitude to people who committed lesser crimes but were known to be seriously disturbed, but when it came to murder, the insane were executed for that crime. There were no asylums, but family members or hired help became caretakers of the insane.

That Ann Yale Hopkins was the wife and then widow of a wealthy man who was a governor probably lent to her long life in the care of family members instead of an insane asylum. Anne lived until 1698, and died at age 83, near Wrexham, Wales. Knowing the love of learning in the Yale family, perhaps Ann was permitted to read during times of lucidity, or be read to.

We can thank our 17th-century forefathers and foremothers for their deep commitment and personal sacrifices to improving their own minds and the minds of their children, and setting a tradition of pursuit of first-class education. Because they knew that with education comes prosperity in virtually every aspect of human life.

The foundation of every state is the education of its youth
~Diogenes Laetius


  1. Christy K Robinson
    Some have decided that educated people are snobs, "elite," and God-forsaken liberals. Did reading drive a Yale woman insane? Get your HOT topics here!

    Susan Thomas Thompson
    If that were the case they would have condemned me for being a lunatic...and that point is debatable these days :)

    Gina LoCicero-Froese
    The historical connections are so interesting, Christy. Loved the blog!

    Patty Nit
    This is a great blog post about women and education in the 1600's. Be thankful we're allowed to read! Really great post, Christy!

    Patti O'Sullivan
    ‎"For if she had attended her household affairs, and such things as belong to women, and not gone out of her way and calling to meddle in such things as are proper for men, whose minds are stronger, etc., she had kept her wits, and might have improved them usefully and honorably in the place God had set her.” ~John Winthrop's Journal

    Great blog post, Christy! So sad though that Winthrop's 17th-century beliefs still are with us today.

    Christy K Robinson
    Thank you! I find it a puzzle that the leaders of the 17th century desired and married intelligent women who could read and write (writing not always being linked with reading), and they educated their daughters privately. It was seen as a status symbol and a tribute to her husband's status if a woman had some facility in education and financial management. AND YET--maybe they didn't make a connection between women and society. Maybe they thought THEIR wife was the exception to all other women, like the racially prejudiced make exceptions for a few people they admire while marginalizing the rest.

    1. John Winthrop's backward beliefs about the education of women were not held by all of the Puritan leaders of the Massachusetts Bay. Assistant Governor Thomas Dudley is the father of prominent poet Anne Bradstreet. Dudley is said to have taken an active had to see that his four daughters were well educated.

    2. That's true, J.A. Frye. Margaret Winthrop was able to read and write, and I believe some of the Bay's female "founders" were educated by their parents or tutors. It would be very interesting to know what sort of books women read. In England, there were books on midwifery, recipe/remedy/DIY books, and herbals (garden cultivation and the use of plants). All of that knowledge was essential to forming a new civilization in the wilderness.

    3. It is accepted that Thomas Dudley educated his daughter Anne and she had been well tutored in literature and history in Greek, Latin, French, Hebrew, as well as English. On July 10, 1666, her North Andover family home burned in a fire that left the Bradstreets homeless and with few personal belongings. Of course the library of Simon and Anne Dudley Bradstreet was lost in the fire, but there is no doubt quite extensive.

  2. A literate wife was supposed to reflect glory upon her husband, not put him in the shade. Did any of Ann Yale Hopkins' writings survive? It would be interesting to read them, especially compared with her husbands'. Superb post, Christy!

  3. When Herman Cain said a "leader not a reader" - it is clear even to a simpleton that he was referring to Obama's constant reading of the teleprompter; reading words he undoubtedly did not write. I think it is extremely apparent that Obama was not capable of the job of president, nor was he educated properly to hold it. Regardless, spinning the meaning of "reader" to indicate education instead of blind reading shows your own lack of comprehension. The fact that our colleges and universities are largely liberal, i.e. socialist or Marxist in their education, is also indisputable.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Mark. You can't equate "liberal" with Marxist and socialist without showing your own bias.
      As a sub-simpleton (apparently), I'm not advocating liberalism (though I earned a degree at a liberal arts college of a Christian university), and worked for two universities, but I *am* highly critical of those who criticize and deride higher education. Universities are suspect to many conservatives because the best schools teach students critical thinking and to look at a subject from several angles, which is the polar opposite of "indoctrination." Conservatives tend to prefer a course that stays inside preset parameters. For that, you have Bob Jones, Oral Roberts, Liberty and others. Enjoy to your heart's content.


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