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Whatever the gains and losses of the Industrial Revolution, reproductive need endures. Feminists who proclaim the advice to their sisters, "Have a baby; just don't have two." ignore some pretty simple arithmetic about population growth. What's perhaps worse, they fail to notice conflict with the goal of marrying rich. Rich men can afford a lot of things, but most of them can't afford a working wife. There's a fantasy in soap opera about meeting a fabulously rich man, one who owns motorboats and horses. How glamorous to be swept up by such a paragon; after all, every American hope to get rich.
, In fact, it takes training to run a big house, organize big parties, cope with artisans and servants, facilitate the complicated diplomacy of business and political affairs. A rich man expects his wife to run a big establishment, facilitate a complicated social life with those horses, sailboats and extensive travel. And she better maintains her personal glamor, too, because there are lots of younger women who toy with the idea of grabbing him in a weak moment. So even a fun time at the dress shops and hairdressers is obligatory. A man in an exalted position can't afford to have a wife who is employed in some dumb profession; the money she earns is a nuisance.
So that brings us to colleges and Quakers. A handful of elite women's colleges once tried to accommodate the finishing school with career preparation for blue-stocking women. The student could choose which path to follow but until recently finishing school was predominant, and comparatively few chose to be spinsters. Bryn Mawr College quickly grew to be the most prestigious college in the Philadelphia area, since both the finishing school and the bluestocking career had the needs of the upper class in mind. Quakers don't admit to an upper class but look at their colleges. Haverford was for Quaker males, Bryn Mawr for Quaker women, and Swarthmore for Quakers who fancied co-education. It was a nice arrangement, with Quaker students almost always in the minority, the rest either upper-class (read Katherine Hepburn) or brilliant scholarship students. Bryn Mawr was a little sniffy about the farm-boys at Haverford and the engineering nerds at Swarthmore. Much of that was an adolescent pose, but it created quite a rearrangement when Haverford went co-ed.
Almost overnight, women college applicants declared a preference for going to Haverford if there was a choice. Within a few years, Haverford students became 57% female, and Bryn Mawr suffered a decline in average aptitude scores. Why ever would girls prefer Haverford to Bryn Mawr? Indeed, if Haverford was headed in the direction of an all-female student body, Bryn Mawr would seem to be the better woman's college to pick. Somewhere buried in this adolescent stampede is probably some television-inspired confusion between the life of a suburban housewife and the life of a rich man's wife, but there certainly is a big difference in attitude about two-career families. On the other hand, there are lots more opportunities for the upper middle class than the lower upper class, both in the number of available mates and in the fall-back opportunity to try to make it as a career woman. Rich men are no longer invariably upper class, nudged by their chums to be wary of career girls. Anyway, college freshmen are pretty malleable; Haverford is a little safer bet if you aren't entirely sure of yourself.
Originally published: Thursday, June 22, 2006; most-recently modified: Thursday, September 16, 2021