Long before the sweets and fruits were reached, the conversation had drifted from one conventional topic to another, until Mrs. Harris asked Hugh Searles what he thought of higher education for women.
“Yes, yes, Mr. Searles,” said Gertrude, “please tell us all about the English girl.”
“Does she go to college, and does she ride a bicycle!” queried Lucille.
Mrs. Harris was eager to listen to the Englishman’s reply for often she had earnestly talked the matter over in her home. Mr. Searles was very frank in his views, and surprisingly liberal for an Englishman, and well he might be, for his own mother was a power, and his sisters were strong mental forces in Lincolnshire. Aided by tutors and their scholarly mother, they had pursued at home, under difficulties, about the same course of studies, that Hugh, their brother, had followed in the university.
Searles believed that absolute freedom should be given to women to do anything they wished to do in the world, provided they could do it as well as men, and that nobody had any right to assert they should not.
Colonel Harris, even for a business man, was also advanced in his ideas. He had advocated for his daughters that they should possess healthy bodies and minds, and be able to observe closely and reason soundly.
Lucille said that she favored an education which would best conserve and enlarge woman’s graces, her delicate feeling and thought, and her love for the beautiful.
Then Leo and Alfonso both declared that Lucille had expressed fully their own opinions.
Colonel Harris added, “Come, Gertrude, tell us what you think.”
Her face flushed a little as she replied, for she felt all that she said, “Father, I like what Mr. Searles has told us. I think higher education for women should develop purity of heart, self-forgetfulness, and enlarged and enriched minds.”
“Well spoken, daughter,” said Colonel Harris. “Now, dear, what have you to say?”
Mrs. Harris had listened well, as she had been a slave in the interests of her children, especially of her daughters. She thought that the last twenty-five years had proved that women in physical and intellectual capacity were able to receive and profit by a college education. Often she had longed for the same training of mind that men of her acquaintance enjoyed. The subject was thus discussed with profit, till the Turkish coffee was served. Closing the discussion, Searles thought that America led England in offering better education to woman, but that England had given her more freedom in politics; the English woman voted for nearly all the elective officers, except members of Parliament. He believed that the principle of education of woman belonged to her as a part of humanity; that it gave to her a self-centered poise, that it made her a competent head of the home, where the family is trained as a unit of civilization.