Chapter 13

Long-Distance Learning

Keep Thinking.”

~ Ellen Swallow Richards

Ellen knew too well what it was to be a woman thirsting for knowledge and craving mental stimulation, but lacking the opportunity and resources to pursue an education. So, while she was instructing and managing operations at the Woman’s Laboratory, she also began teaching hundreds and hundreds of other women who were unable to attend MIT or any other scientific institution.

She reached these women through the Society to Encourage Study at Home, an educational experiment founded in 1873 and referred to as the “Silent University.” It has also been considered to be the first university extension school in America. The Society’s founder was Anna Eliot Ticknor, an educated daughter of a Harvard professor. She enlisted the help of other educated women willing to share their advantages with women over the age of seventeen who had not been as fortunate. In her article in The New England Quarterly (Sept. 2001), Harriet F. Bergmann describes “The Silent University” saying: “The means were simple: an enlightened, modern curriculum; a lending library; and a warm correspondence between woman teacher and woman learner. Ticknor and her friends wanted to give away what men had long refused to allow women to buy: a liberal education.” For Ellen, whatever form their school might have, women and girls should have the right to study science and “awaken a spirit of investigation” as well as to learn to see that science “has ...

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