LATE IN 1884, Wilson had been introduced to the dean of a new Quaker college for women that was to open the next fall at Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Martha Carey Thomas had returned from graduate study in Europe converted to worship of facts and reason and in full revolt against the Victorian sentimentality of her elders. With an inflexibility of purpose that to Southern gentlefolk seemed brazen, she resolved to exalt American girls to the level of masculine scholarship at a "Miss Johns Hopkins."
Wilson was interested in the new venture in spite of himself. He could pay only lip service to German scholasticism, and neither he nor Ellen was devoted to the ideal of education for women. He preferred not to teach girls; and it irked him to think that, although he might hope to be his own master and there would be other men on the faculty, his chief would be a woman no older than himself, and positive in her opinions.
On the other hand, here was a new frontier, with some of the glamour that pioneering always held for Woodrow and Wilson blood. "The higher education of women is certain to come in America whatever I think on the subject," he said to a Baltimore friend. Moreover, he wanted to "get a chair somewhere and get into permanent harness," and Bryn Mawr offered certain advantages: leisure for private study; proximity to the Johns Hopkins, where he hoped to give a course of lectures; and an opportunity to get experience before seeking a more conspicuous and more demanding place. And so at Bryn Mawr, as at the Hopkins, he plunged into a spawning pool of ideas that were to rule American education for a generation or more.
He expected to be offered a salary of $2,000 and was so shocked at an offer of $1,200 that he refused point-blank. Finally he informed Ellen that he had been elected "associate" in history for two years at $1,500 a year, and he asked: "Would you be altogether satisfied to have me accept? . . . Tell me without reserve exactly what you think . . ."
Ellen told him. She was not happy over the prospect. But Dean Thomas granted Wilson's request that he be allowed to add to his in-