Education For Young Women In California
By This Hettie B. Ege



Writers on the early days of California tells that shortly after the discovery of gold on the Pacific Coast great need was felt for educational opportunities of for the children of the pioneers, and particularly for the girls of those days.An immediate response to this need was made in the little town of the Benicia.Here, in the fall of 1852, a boarding and day school for girls and young women was opened.This school was a connecting link between the East and the Far West, as its first teacher, Miss Susan A. Lord, came from Boston.After a few years the school was purchased by Miss Mary Atkins of Cincinnati, who increased the scope of its work, and administered its affairs ably for 13 years.Then the school again changed hands, having been purchased in 1865 by Dr. and Mrs. Cyrus T. Mills.Mr. Mills was an alumnus of Williams College and had come under the stimulating influence of that wonderful leader, Mark Hopkins.Mrs. Mills was graduated from Mount Holyoke Seminary and for some years after graduation was associated with Mary Lyon as a teacher.The name of the school was now changed to Mills Seminary and was continued at the Benicia for six years longer.The question had arisen regarding removal to some locality which was developing more rapidly than Benicia and which would offer the students more advantages.It was transferred accordingly to the suburbs of Oakland in the beautiful foothills of this region where a tract of 150 acres was purchased.It continued with approximately the same course of study for some years.Mills Seminary had been deeded in 1877 to a board of trustees having been incorporated under the laws of the State, and it is to be held in trust by these trustees and their successors forever.The purpose of the institution was understood to be that of educating young women.By the terms of the gift it is to be Christian in character but not sectarian, and "students of every faith are to be made welcome."


Dr. Mills death occurred in the spring of 1884.He had been prominent not only as an educator but as a man of business affairs.It was said of him that he was entitled to a place among the educational benefactors of the State, and that he had enriched the public. The people of the Pomona, where he had certain business interests, wrote at the time of his death: "He made the unknown town of the Pomona waken, and grow, and bloom, and blossom, and waft the perfume of its orange blossoms throughout all the states."This school up to this time had accomplished much fine work for the young women of that day.Among its graduates are women of prominence in the State--women who have served and are serving successfully on boards of education; those who have been prominent in church and missionary work; leaders in welfare work, hospitals, as social service; homemakers and teachers.


It had been the plan of Dr. and Mrs. Mills to enlarge the curriculum of their school.In 1885 this was done, a college charter was granted by the State, the name was changed to Mills College and Seminary, and Mills College was authorized to confer degrees upon its graduates.The two departments of college and seminary are carried on together until 1911, when the last seminary class was graduated.


Upon the death of Dr. Mills, Mrs. Mills became president.In 1909 she resigned this office and Mrs. Luella Clay Carson of the State University of Oregon succeeded her.Miss Carson filled the position until 1914.




Mrs. Mills, whose death occurred in 1912, was a woman of executive ability, of remarkable courage, and great breadth of sympathy.Many California women testified to her helpful and lasting influence upon their lives.


During the past six years Mills College has strengthened and broadened its curriculum and has made its entrance requirements more rigid, so that they now are equivalent to the requirements for entrance to the State University.Graduates of the college are doing credible post-graduate work in different universities, taking their second degree in one year after graduation.The so-called standard departments are included in the curriculum; attention, however, is being given to such subjects as changes in the social order from time to time demand, and due emphasis is placed upon those fields of work which women are becoming increasingly interested in which they play a large role.In California, where the opportunity for outdoor life is so great and where the public playground is being so well developed, their arises a demand for trained workers in the line; accordingly to the college has enlarged its department of physical education and students are now majoring in this subject.The gymnasium is comparatively new and well equipped; there are courts for tennis and basketball on the campus.Students row on Lake Merritt, which is within easy reach of the college.The completion of the course fits graduates as teachers of gymnasium work in the schools or as playground directors.


After finishing four-year course in the home economics department, graduates are appointed to positions in high schools.The factories, shops and refineries of San Francisco and its environs offer opportunity for fieldwork.The schools of Oakland are available for practice teaching in home economics, physical training, and for student investigation in child psychology.The settlements, juvenile court, in some of its phases, civic leagues, the meetings of the Associated Charities, in the neighboring cities, are open to the students of sociology for investigation and observation.


The college offers good opportunities for the study of the theory and practice of music, and for the history and practice of art.




Under the auspices of the English department an annual play is given; recent productions have been: Ben Jonson's "Sad Shepherd"; "Much Ado About Nothing"; Mackaye's "Canterbury Pilgrims," and Yeats's "Countless Cathleen."There is also an annual May Day fete, at which the physical education department presents a pageant.


The student body maintains the usual college institutions and organizations: Self government, the Young Women's Christian Association, the athletic association, the walking club, the rowing crew.A student council made up of representatives elected from the various classes confers with the student affairs committee of the faculty on extra-academic matters.The students uphold the Mills College tradition of attendance at morning chapel in church service.


Mills College aims to equip young women for efficiency in the home and in the world, for carrying into life the spirit of co-operation and unselfish service.


EDITORíS NOTE: MISS HETTIE EGE [Dean of the Faculty and Acting President of Mills College] is dean of the faculty of Mills College, and in that capacity is virtually the president of the institution, since no president has been named since the administration of Dr. Luella Clay Carson.Miss Ege has been connected with Mills for many years, and is generally beloved by students and graduates of the college.She enjoys this esteem of educators all over the world.Since Mills is to California what Wellesley is to the East, it is most apparent that the leading spirit of the institution is a dominant figure in the educational activities of this State.


Source: California's Magazine, New Call Building, San Francisco, 1915, Pages 391-393.

© 2002 Nancy Pratt Melton