Sunday, 20 October 2013

Did education drive Miss Yale crazy?

 This week the Hoydens are delighted to welcome CHRISTY K. ROBINSON to their den. Christy is passionate about all things seventeenth century and the author of two recent autobiographical novels on Mary Dyer (more about Christy and Mary later...)

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

1647--Lady Mary Fairfax,
with her tutor.  Her father was Thomas Fairfax,
third Baron Fairfax of Cameron,
a general in Cromwell’s New Model Army.

Stunning statements about education have come to light in the American political process. 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.” 

In the 1600s, higher education was prized, and boys and young men were trained in science, 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, tending a shop, seamstressing, or cooking, but apparently not to be formally-educated women who discussed theology, as did Anne Hutchinson and later, Mary Dyer. Both of those women were logical thinkers who could read and write—a dangerous combination which could lead to unorthodoxy and heresy.  

1630--Old Woman Reading a Bible,
Gerrit DouNetherlands
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 in the 1640s and ‘50s, 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 (understandable contributing factors), but because of her scholarship and the resulting mental exhaustion.

Massachusetts Bay colonial Gov. John Winthrop, whose beloved wife Margaret wrote letters and conducted her husband’s business in England while he started the colony in Boston, wrote of Ann Hopkins: 
“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,
Hartford, Connecticut
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, even after he returned to England. The house they lived in from 1640 still exists on Popieluszko Court in Hartford.

It was sometimes 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 creative pursuits 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, 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 are named after Elihu Yale, Ann’s nephew.

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.

There were no asylums, but family members or hired help became caretakers of the insane. The magistrates granted latitude to people who were known to be seriously disturbed when committing lesser crimes, but when it came to murder, the insane were executed for that crime.

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. 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

Christy K Robinson is a freelance copy editor of books, magazines, and websites. She recently published the first of two biographical novels on Mary Dyer, an Englishwoman who committed civil disobedience in the cause of liberty of conscience and separation of church and state. Mary Dyer was hanged in Boston in 1660, and her death brought Charles II’s order for tolerance and cessation of death penalty that was echoed in a colonial charter the next year *breathe here* which became a model for America’s constitutional rights to free speech and religious expression. (That sentence is nearly as long as the time it took to bring Mary’s sacrifice to codification!). Mary Dyer Illuminated is available in paperback and Kindle editions, worldwide. Christy’s website is .


Alison Stuart said...

Thanks for being our guest today, Christy. You have mentioned the similarity to the persecution of young women like Malala Yousafzai and while we think how wonderful it is to be an educated woman in the 21st century, it is important to remember that the sort of rhetoric used against Ann is certainly alive and well in our world today.

Anita Davison said...

Welcome to Hoydens Christy with this thought provoking post, but as a woman maybe I should pack in all that reading and writing [!] I always feel a society which keeps women 'in their place'only emphasises the inadequacies of the men who regard themselves as superior.

Jo Ann Butler said...

Great post, Christy! Anne Hutchinson was described by a supporter as "a woman that preaches better Gospel than any of your black-coates that have been at the Ninniversity ... [who] speakes from the meere motion of the spirit, without any study at all, then any of your learned Scollers, although they may be fuller of Scripture.” Given the challenge to authority she and her supporters presented, the Puritans had to banish her. Anne was fortunate they didn't try her for witchcraft as well.

Christy K Robinson said...

Thank you for inviting me to write for this esteemed blog. I've been a fan for several years, and have shared many of its articles in Facebook and Twitter.

Because of certain roadblocks in my parents' lives, they never earned university degrees, but they were self-educated, and never stopped reading biographies, histories, politics, philosophy, art and music, religion (OK, all the liberal arts!). There was never a time even in my early childhood when it was not a foregone conclusion that I was college-bound. And when the time came, I earned my own private-university tuition and room and board where the scholarships weren't enough.

The research and brain-stuffing I do every day to back up my historical novel writing is the BEST part of any day. I think other histfic writers would agree!

My protagonist, Mary Dyer, was described by Dutch historian George DeCroese as "a person of no mean extract or parentage, of an estate pretty plentiful, of a comely stature and countenance, of a piercing knowledge of many things, of a wonderful sweet and pleasant discourse, so fit for great affairs, that she wanted nothing that was manly, except only name and sex."

Mary Dyer didn't need a man's name or gender. She was an intelligent, educated woman!

Melissa Berry said...

Excellent! Absolutely loved this! Thank You for sharing!