A Harvard alumna who specializes in women's history in higher education wrote in to point out that a previous Harvard president created a flap with his remarks on women -- in 1889. According to a 1999 Harvard Magazine piece, Charles W. Eliot chose the inauguration of a new president at Wellesley College to point out that society "has not made up its mind in what intellectual fields women may be safely and profitably employed." Eliot said women's college should be schools of manners, because of women's "delicate qualities." He added there was no need for grades, frequent exams, and prizes, since women would work hard without such incentives. "It would be a wonder, indeed, if the intellecutal capacities of women were not at least as unlike those of men as their bodily capacities are," he said. While this was probably not quite as controversial in his day, it did spark a response from the Bryn Mawr president, M. Carey Thomas, who said "Eliot disgraced himself." Patricia Palmieri, a Harvard alum who teaches at the College of Staten Island and Columbia University's Teachers College, saw parallels. Summers's talk "sounds new, but in reality it is just a rehash of the old biological inferiority theories that were trotted out during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era," she wrote in an e-mail.
Not the first time
I don't really have anything to say about Harvard president Larry Summers' comments concerning men and women in the "hard" and "soft" sciences that's any better than what Spice and Sophist have already written, but I found this snippet on the Boston Globe and I wanted to share it. The paragraph below was preceded in the article by one about how Summers was simply serving his role as university president by stirring up research and spurring academics to new ideas. That's bullshit - (1) it's an old stereotype masked as a new idea, and (2) given the amount of knowledge accumulated about gender issues between the 1889 comment below and Summers' comment, it's ignoring generations of research not spawning new research.