Jane Stanford was a woman of the 19th century and not a 21st century progressive gender activist. For that, she can never be forgiven.
Today, Stanford commemorates the renaming of Serra Mall as Jane Stanford Way, but not everyone is happy about it. Indeed, several truly breathtaking pieces in other campus publications have bemoaned that the University didn’t choose the name of another to adorn our front door.
The accusation is this: “she was not a true feminist.”
In 1899, Jane sought to limit female enrollment to 500, apparently worried they would become the majority — a “Vassar of the Pacific Coast” — which she did not want. The Trustees eventually overruled Jane and amended the Charter to replace the 500-cap with a 40 percent quota, which in turn was done away with in the seventies.
For this, we are told by The Daily, “Jane Stanford is no role model.” The piece incredibly claims that by honoring Jane, “values of inequality are again being championed on campus;” and that “Stanford, and its women, deserve better.”
Really? I think Jane deserves better.
Jane Lathrop Stanford co-founded Leland Stanford Junior University with her husband Leland, as a co-educational, non-sectarian, multi-racial university. The death of Leland Sr. threw the University into years of financial crisis. On the verge of it being shut down, Jane insisted that Stanford stay open and led the school through its turbulent infancy until her murder in 1905.
To her leadership we owe the school’s survival, and to her vision we owe Stanford’s status as one of the world’s finest universities after a (relatively) short 128 years.
At Stanford’s founding, the only Ivy League University to admit women was Cornell, which was the Stanfords’ model school. For reference, Yale and Princeton did not admit undergraduate women until 1969. Until 1977, women “at” Harvard received their diplomas from Ratcliffe College, and as late as 1960 at MIT, women were a mere one to three percent of the student body. The MIT faculty actually proposed ending coeducation in 1955.
On the contrary, Jane Stanford started our University as coeducational from the beginning. In an undelivered speech (which I recommend you read in full) for Stanford’s first convocation, Jane wrote:
“I am also anxious that these young men should treat the young ladies who have entered this Institution with the greatest deference… We have started you both on the same equality and we hope for the best results.”
So, given Jane’s clear bigotry, especially compared to the progressive leadership at Yale, who instead deserves the honor?
Perhaps a Native American figure, suggests another Daily opinion. Or — and this is completely real — a living “diversity hero of our time,” 21-year-old former Cardinal soccer player, Tierna Davidson, who left Stanford last year with no degree to play professionally.
The purpose of a street sign is not to make empty declarations of wokeness; that’s what a Stanford Daily op-ed is for.
Rather, it is to recognize someone who did something foundational. A 21-year old dropout (against whom I have nothing!) doesn’t exactly meet the criterion. I’m sorry that Jane Stanford didn’t win an NAACP Image Award, but Michelle Alexander LAW ‘92 — who did, and whom the author suggests to replace Jane Stanford — has not done anything to warrant her name being put on the address.
Leland Stanford is alleged to have said to Jane after their son’s death that “the children of California shall be our children.”
Jane gave the last two decades of her life and nearly all of her family’s wealth in pursuit of this vision. Indeed, the University that Jane built out of love for her lost son opened the door to a world-class education for hundreds of thousands of children, from California and all throughout the world: male and female, rich and poor.
This is Jane’s legacy. There is nothing wrong with properly recognizing it. To pretend as if she is some kind of oppressor at whose name we ought to recoil is unbecoming of students at her University.
Concluding, I leave you with Jane’s final thoughts to the Stanford pioneer class, on how they ought to act:
“There is only one failure for you and that is not to be true to the best you know. Always be… resolute in purpose, and you will develop characters on which others can depend.”
Jane can rest easy knowing that at least some students at her University have found that “resolute purpose” of which she spoke: complaining that 2640 feet of concrete be named in her honor.
Godspeed, Mrs. Stanford.