5 Barnard Alums That Should Be on Your Radar

Though these five alumnae may not hold the star power of Martha Stewart or Cynthia Nixon, they have all been very influential in their respective fields. Read on to discover how a daring debutante traveled to the Lower East Side pre-subway system, how a young editor started a major magazine at age 26, and how Barnard students have generally gone on to challenge the status quo.

Ida Rolf

Ida Rolf

Ida Rolf (1896-1979, BC Class of 1916) Ida Rolf was a biochemist and the inventor of Rolfing Structural Integration. Rolf began her career as an Associate in the Chemistry department at the Rockefeller Institute. While working in academia, she maintained an interest in alternative forms of healing such as yoga and homeopathy. In the 1930s, Rolf began to seek answers to problems in her and her family’s personal health. She formed new theories on imbalances in the body, suggesting that placing  pressure on the soft tissues could help the body realign in its natural form.  After functioning as an independent practitioner, Rolf started the first Guild for Structural Integration in 1967 in Boulder, Colorado. Today, there are almost 2,000 certified Rolf practitioners.

Dean Spade (b.1977, BC Class of 1997) Dean Spade is an Associate Professor at Seattle University School of Law. Studying Political Science and Women’s Studies at Barnard, Spade went on obtain a J.D. in Public Interest Law and Policy. He founded the Sylvia Riviera Law Project in 2002, which provides free legal service to transgender, intersex, and gender non-conforming people who are low-income and/or people of color.

Norma Sklarek (1926-2012, BC Class of 1950)  Norma Sklarek was the first Black woman to register as an architect in New York and California. She worked for 20 years at Gruen Associates, an architecture and design firm based out of Los Angeles. Much of Sklarek’s most important work was accomplished at Gruen, including Fox Plaza in San Francisco, the American Embassy in Tokyo, and the Queens Fashion Mall in New York. Gruen Associates is now 49 percent female and 60 percent ethnic minorities, and some have credited Sklarek for paving the way for minorities. She also formed Siegel, Sklarek, Diamond in the 1980s, the first firm to be formed and managed by an African-American woman.

Atoosa Rubinstein

Atoosa Rubinstein

Atoosa Rubenstein (b. 1972, BC Class of 1993) Atoosa Rubenstein started her career as an assistant to Helen Gurley Brown at Cosmopolitan. She quickly rose to the position of senior fashion editor, and, at 26, she became the youngest editor-in-chief in Hearst history when she conceived of and founded CosmoGIRL! When Hearst acquired Seventeen magazine, Rubinstein transferred to editor-in-chief at that publication. She did not, however, conceive of her career in terms of the corporate structure of publications and retired from Seventeen at only 35.  She now plans to start a new career in digital media.

Mary Harriman Rumsey (1881-1934, BC Class of 1905) Mary Harriman Rumsey founded the Junior League for the Promotion of Settlement Movements with her Barnard friend Nathalie Henderson at age 19. She was looking to organize her class of 85 debutantes into an activity with purpose and had the idea to help with the settlement movement. She and Nathalie brought their colleagues to help out with the College Settlement on Rivington Street, teaching children art and dance. Her participation in the Junior League led her to get involved with FDR’s New Deal, and she assisted in writing the Social Security Act of 1935. In addition to her political career, she worked with her brother Averell to launch Today, which became Newsweek in 1957, one of the nation’s leading news magazines.


-Cleo Levin BC ’14

Barnard Summer School for Women Workers in Industry 1927-1933


Industrial Summer School, c. 1928

From 1927-1933, Barnard ran the Barnard Summer School for Women Workers in Industry. The school was modeled on the Bryn Mawr Summer School, the pioneering program started in 1921. Unlike the Bryn Mawr program, Barnard’s school was non-residential. Students travelled to campus every day and stayed from 9 AM to 9:30 PM, eating in the cafeteria, attending lecture, and participating in extracurricular activities such as tennis or musical instruction. The students felt that they could not be productive studying all day, so athletics played a large part in the daily routine. They wrote in their “Write-Ups on Athletics, “If you have never been to the gymnasium during the session of the Barnard Summer School you have missed one half of your life. And if you have never been on the tennis court then you are dead to what is most fun.” The Barnard program accepted around 50 students for their seven-week term, and they only needed to have attended school through the 6th grade . The students were 20-35 years old and were mostly immigrants, the majority being of Russian or Polish descent. They came primarily from the garment trade, but also from millinery, upholstery, electrical, and waitress trades. Their tuition was free, raised through contributions from donors.

BC13-06_Industrial Summer SchoolC1928

The students in the lab, c. 1928

Students took classes in three categories: Modern Industrial Society, English Literature and Composition, and Science. The program was not meant to help the women obtain promotions or better jobs, but to develop in the women, “an increased understanding of their own industrial problems.” The Calendar of Special Events for 1931 included activities like a dance given to the current students by the summer school alumnae, a visit to the I. Miller & Co. Shoe Factory in Long Island, and several lectures and tea hours at which labor issues were discussed. The hope was that the students would also come away with a better understanding of the world at large and would be encouraged to engage in studying and creative activities in their free time.

At the end of the summer, the students compiled their writings into “The Barnard Record.” The pieces were mainly personal essays and opinion pieces on industry and women’s roles. One student wrote an essay, “The Importance of Reading to Me” in 1931. She relates how a life-long interest in reading morphed from a passion for fairy tales, to religious pieces, to geography and stories about foreign lands. This last interest was labelled as for boys, not girls. She writes, “The resentment against the injustice arose in me. I started to think, and later…. I started my reading on feminism.” This type of energy and defiant attitude is typical of the tone of the summer students’ writing.

In 1931, in the wake of the Great Depression, the Barnard Summer School was able to accept only 34 students, despite increasing interest. The program closed in 1933. For the seven summers the school was in session, the program was an excellent example of a purely educational endeavor that in turn inspired its ideals in its students.


-Cleo Levin ’14, Archives Assistant

So What’s the Deal??: Columbia-Barnard Relations (1979-1983)


Graphic by Stephanie Mannheim and Cleo Levin

To Merge or not to Merge?

In the 1880s, the president of Columbia, Fredrick A.P. Barnard, argued for the admission of women to Columbia University. When his efforts were unsuccessful, Annie Nathan Meyer, a self-educated scholar, took up his cause and petitioned the University for an independent liberal arts college for women connected to Columbia. In 1889, Barnard College was founded.

Eighty years into Barnard’s existence, both Barnard and Columbia agreed that the schools needed to reassess their relationship. The politically radical atmosphere of the 1960s had made students at both colleges question the continuing relevancy of a single-sex education, and Barnard feminists began to think of separate curricula as discriminatory. The Columbia administration also had qualms about the relationship between the schools, but for different reasons. Beginning in the 1960s, Columbia had been struggling financially and began to examine Barnard as a place to cut costs. In reaction to the discontent from both the student bodies and the Columbia administration, the Committees on Instruction established the Barnard College-Columbia College Joint Committee on Cooperation in April 1969. Student senators and members of select academic departments came together to discuss the possibilities for increased collaboration.

Fluid enrollment?

The Joint Committee on Cooperation saw the main difference between the two institutions existing in their academic goals. They stated that Columbia’s general education program “makes available to students a wide range of intellectual experience” while Barnard’s emphasis was on “the flexibility of the program, with a minimal distribution requirement, the possibility of early specialization, and a number of interdisciplinary programs.”  The Committee suggested that both schools maintain their present corporate identities, with Barnard admitting only women and Columbia admitting only men, but allowing the students to complete the academic program of either college.


Barnard and Columbia students protest in Morningside Heights, 1972

One academic enterprise?

The Columbia administrators had different ideas about collaboration. The dean of the graduate faculties, George Fraenkel, had been recruited to work on merging Columbia’s constituent colleges to cut costs. Fraenkel found that Barnard had not been paying enough for the numbers of students enrolled in Columbia courses. Nor were they paying for facilities, namely Barnard’s use of Columbia’s research library. Rather than preserving the school’s separate curricula, Fraenkel’s focus was on eliminating inefficiency in redundant course offerings. He sent letters to various departments in 1976 encouraging them to create “V” courses, joint-listings between Barnard and Columbia. Ultimately, Fraenkel saw the school’s academic programs merging; he wrote to Columbia President William McGill that there should be “one academic enterprise with one set of co-educational courses, one curriculum, one set of departments and one faculty.” The separation between the colleges would remain in finances, admissions, and extra-curricular activities.

“Small Barnard” retains its autonomy and Columbia goes Co-Ed

dances_harvest_hop_ca42 copy

Barnard-Columbia Dance 1942

In 1969, Princeton and Yale began admitting women, and Columbia’s peer institutions steadily followed suit. By the mid-60s, Columbia had already begun experiencing difficulties getting their pick of applicants, and, as other schools began to go co-ed, the quality of the Columbia applicants began to drop even further. Columbia was not only losing the potential for strong female students, but also the male applicants who would now choose to attend a co-ed institution. Admitting qualified females would increase the Columbia applicant pool and eliminate the problem of considering the less qualified males that had been applying. Yet, McGill held off, hoping to make Columbia more co-educational with Barnard. Columbia administrators felt certain that accepting women would eliminate their sister school, and they wanted to prevent the bad blood and bad press that would accompany this decision.

When Ellen Futter assumed the Barnard presidency in the 1980, she encountered faculty and trustees divided over whether to merge with Columbia. Though there was a small contingency who prized the relationship with Columbia over Barnard’s personal agenda, the majority continued to champion “small Barnard” and women’s education. It became clear in the spring of 1981 that it would not be possible to reach a compromise between Barnard and Columbia’s values. The Columbia trustees voted to admit women to Columbia in May 1981, and women were able to enroll at the university starting in 1983.

Barnard Today

In the years after Columbia’s decision to admit women, Barnard struggled. There was skepticism from both institutions on what role Barnard would play after Columbia went co-ed. In 1983, of the women admitted to both Barnard and Columbia, 90% chose to go to Columbia. Even worse, as the women’s movement encouraged universities to hire more female faculty, many professors from Barnard were courted by rival schools like Princeton and City University.

Yet, the faculty and administration have been steadily working to cultivate this small women’s liberal arts college, and the school can now uphold the values that Ellen Futter and the Barnard faculty fought for in 1980. Today, Barnard represents a wholly different experience for students from Columbia or other co-ed institutions. Sixty-five percent of faculty at Barnard are women, and students at the college have access to opportunities like the Athena Center for Leadership Studies and the Barnard Center for Research on Women. Barnard now represents a distinct and essential place among American colleges.

-Cleo Levin ’14

(With the consultation of Stand, Columbia by Robert A. McCaughey and Changing the Subject: How the Women of Columbia Shaped the Way We Think About Sex and Politics by Rosalind Rosenberg)


Smoking at Barnard


Source: 1943 Barnard Mortarboard

While cigarettes might seem to be everywhere in New York City, it only takes a look into the past to see how far we’ve come in our collective smoking habits. Barnard is no exception.


A heartwarming family affair. Happy Birthday, Dad!

Until April 1924, no smoking restrictions existed on Barnard’s campus. Dean Gildersleeve cited “[a] serious danger of fire caused by careless smoking by guests at certain recent social functions” as a reason for instituting a ban in select locations—Milbank, Brinckerhoff, and Fiske Halls were off-limits—and subsequent student handbooks continued to stress this notion of fire safety. However, it appeared that students routinely ignored any restrictions, smoking wherever they pleased, as The Barnard Bulletin had to regularly remind students of the rules. Over the following years, cigarettes remained a staple of Barnard life. A 1941 yearbook listed the most important locations for students as “Jake [the nickname for a popular meeting place in Barnard Hall at the time], library, tea room, lunch room, and smoking room”. The Barnard Bulletin and Barnard Alumnae Magazine, two of the school’s most prominent publications, also regularly ran cigarette advertisements. One Bulletin ad from 1936 claimed that smoking Camels aided digestion, an assertion that sounds laughable today, though it wasn’t much of a stretch from the many endorsements from athletes that also appeared on those pages. Alumnae Magazine ads were extravagant, full-page and full-color affairs, containing portraits of soldiers, happy families, and even Santa Claus enjoying Camel and Chesterfield cigarettes.


Ho, ho, ho! Pass the cigarettes!

Among students, one staple of this time period was the smoking room, where students gathered to study, play cards, chat, and—of course—smoke cigarettes. In an informal 1942 Bulletin survey, one student noted, “an hour a day is my average in Barnard’s dissipation room”. Another, when asked how much time she spent in the smoking room, simply replied, “Too much”. When, in 1926, the smoking room was closed for a week, The Barnard Bulletin noted that “there has been enough violent comment to show that the need for the inevitable [cigarette] is nothing to be reckoned with lightly”. The room quickly reopened after that incident. As the decades wore on and public attitudes toward cigarettes changed, restrictions on smoking became more of a matter of health than of avoiding fires. Smoke-outs, where students were taught about the dangers of cigarettes, were held on Barnard’s campus, while many Barnard students campaigned for tighter restrictions on smoking throughout the 1980s and 1990s as a means of respecting non-smokers. Wrote Ava Chien in 1981, “Everyone, even smokers, is entitled to clean indoor air”. Many students favored the McIntosh Student Center’s complete smoking ban in 1995. Still, 26 percent of Barnard students continued to smoke in 1994, according to a Barnard Health Services poll. By the time I arrived at Barnard in 2010, smoking was limited to only two locations, both outdoors. Following a 2011 ban on smoking within the school’s campus, students now huddle outside the Barnard gates before lighting their cigarettes. While a smoking culture continues to exist at Barnard to an extent, shifts in public opinion have led to a much different environment from afternoons spent in the smoking room in decades past. -Stephanie Mannheim, BC ’14

Margaret Mead: Editor-in-Chief

Margaret Mead, Class of 1925, Mortarboard

Margaret Mead, Class of 1925, Mortarboard. Courtesy of the Barnard College Archives

Next to Margaret Mead’s yearbook photo in the 1923 Barnard Mortarboard it says:

 Economics, social science,

Peggy has advanced idees!

Discourseful quite, with forceful might,

She ponders immortality.

Margaret Mead passed away in 1978, but her anthropological legacy has certainly proved to be immortal. As a graduate student at Columbia University under the teachings of Franz Boas, a man considered to be the “Father of American Anthropology,” Mead attained her Ph.D. in 1929. Despite having such a prominent instructor, Mead was not overshadowed and gained prominence herself. She is best known for her work in Polynesia, her most famous publication probably being Coming of Age in Samoa, an ethnography exploring adolescence in Samoa. Mead also examined the U.S. anthropologically, as in And Keep Your Powder Dry: An Anthropologist Looks at America (1942). Mead also worked at the American Museum of Natural History for most of her career, and taught at Columbia as an adjunct professor of anthropology.

Mead’s professional life is well known, but what about her time at Barnard? What did Mead do before she became a disciple of Franz Boas and travelled to New Guinea to conduct fieldwork?

Three "Ash Can Cats" seated on a bench holding balloons. From left to right: Léonie Adams '22, Margaret Mead '23, and Eleanor Pelham Kortheuer '24, the Jungle, circa, 1921. Courtesy of the Barnard College Archives.

Three “Ash Can Cats” seated on a bench holding balloons. From left to right: Léonie Adams ’22, Margaret Mead ’23, and Eleanor Pelham Kortheuer ’24, the Jungle, circa, 1921. Courtesy of the Barnard College Archives

It seems that Margaret Mead’s yearbook quote holds many truths of Mead’s personality. She was assistant news editor of the Barnard Bulletin during the 1921-1922 school year and became editor-in-chief during her last year at Barnard. Mead used the Barnard Bulletin as a platform to share her “advanced idees” with the student body. In her editorial note, “Voicing the Unpopular,” from the January 12, 1923 Bulletin, Mead responded to a call for a column to be dedicated to the expression of unpopular opinion. Writes Mead: “Must such a group be tricked into coming from under cover for a new column, made to order just for its use? Surely students who have really valuable criticisms and suggestions which they wish to put before the college need no such stimulus.” Despite its short length, Mead’s piece about the necessity for well-informed criticisms and dissenting opinions in our society is very effective. (http://barnardcollege.newspaperarchive.com/barnard-bulletin/1923-01-12/page-2/?tag=voicing+the+unpopular&rtserp=tags/voicing-the-unpopular)

I wish I could share all of Mead’s editorials with you, but I will just highlight a couple more. In an editorial published on April 13, 1923, Mead defended the administration’s ban on smoking in Milbank due to fire hazard regulations. She scolds students who defied the ruling because they thought it was a type of “moral regulation.” Keep in mind that Margaret Mead was not a woman to put much investment in propriety, so I think it makes her words even stronger. She says: “Some of the Faculty offices contain the results of years of research; every cigarette lit in Milbank places them in danger. We are sure that those students who, careless of prohibitions, have permitted their escorts to smoke, will be willing to safeguard the life work of others, and consider it a point of honor to stop this dangerous abuse.” I wonder if, during her professional life, Mead forbade people from smoking in her office to protect her own life’s work and intellectual treasures. (http://barnardcollege.newspaperarchive.com/barnard-bulletin/1923-04-13/page-2/?tag=danger&rtserp=tags/danger?page=7)

If you thought that was spunky, check out this editorial from April 20, 1923 titled “An Empty Gesture,” about the rumor that the Barnard debating team was going to be sent to England. As a result of this rumor, many Barnard women tried out for the team. Mead did not approve: “It would be an empty spectacular gesture to send, at enormous expense, three practically untrained speakers to represent to English colleges and activity which has no vital existence in Barnard…Under present conditions the trip would be a meaningless piece of conceit.” (http://barnardcollege.newspaperarchive.com/barnard-bulletin/1923-04-20/page-2/?tag=an+empty+gesture&rtserp=tags/?pep=an-empty-gesture)

Do I need to add that Mead had been on the debating team in 1922, the year before these editorials were written? Perhaps the Barnard debating team helped her craft her effective persuasive writing or maybe she was so accomplished the Barnard debating team wasn’t enough for her!

Margaret Mead certainly had a lot of opinions about the goings-on at Barnard, but it seems she concluded that it was exactly right for her. In her autobiography Blackberry Winter: Earlier Years (1972), Mead says: “I came to Barnard, where I found—and in some measure created—the kind of student life that matched my earlier dreams. In the course of those three undergraduate years [she transferred from DePauw] friendships were founded that have endured a lifetime of change, and by the end of those years I knew what I could do in life.”

-Alice Griffin, BC ’15

Jeannette Mirsky: In the Words of an Archivist

“In drawing on the letters and unpublished personal narratives, I have taken the liberty of letting the story run along without denoting ellipses; the pages filled with dots looked unseemly… I have utilized whatever books and articles would carry the story ahead fully and honestly and so obviated the repetitiousness of an archivist’s bibliography.”

-Jeannette Mirsky, from the Preface of Sir Aurel Stein: Archaeological Explorer


Last month I referred to Barnard alumna, author, and world traveler, Jeannette Mirsky, as “the coolest person I never heard of until last week.” Considering that her personal papers, recently acquired by the Barnard College Archives, remained unprocessed until this week, it is not surprising I had not encountered Mirsky previously. Last week I completed processing Jeannette Mirsky’s personal papers and reading her book, To the Arctic! Having spent so much time with her collection, and because there is so little information online about her, I found it fitting to pay her a brief tribute by sharing a few words about Mirsky and her work.

Jeannette Mirsky was born in New Jersey in 1903, and raised in New York City where she went on to earn her A.B. from Barnard College in 1924. From 1935-1938 Mirsky did graduate work at Columbia University, where she studied under Franz Boas and Margaret Mead. Mirsky’s academic records from this time and a notebook from a 1935 Anthropology course entitled “Social Organization,” are included among her papers.

As Mirsky embarked on her graduate studies, her inaugural book, To the North! was published. This time period is documented by extensive correspondence with publishers, manuscript drafts, and a collection of maps, illustrations, and photographs to be considered for inclusion in the publication. To the North! recounts the history of Arctic exploration, utilizing primary source materials to detail Arctic journeys in the words of the explorers themselves. To the North! begins: “Not so long ago there was a custom among sailors that accorded to all those who had sailed round Cape Horn the right to put one foot on the table after dinner, while those who had crossed the Arctic Circle could put both feet on the table. Here will be found the stories of those men who have both feet on the table, told whenever possible in their own words.”

Despite Mirksy’s extensive research and utilization of primary source documents, To the North! was controversial for largely discrediting Frederick Cook’s claims of discovering the North Pole. Mirsky wrote, “Cook was an extraordinary figure. It is impossible to dismiss him simply by calling him a liar. Rather it may be said that he was a great teller of stories, a fiction-writer who on a certain amount of fact built a vivid and absorbing yarn. For a man of his ability and experience he harbored too puissant an imagination…The story told in Cook’s My Attainment of the Pole is exciting and well written, but it nevertheless appears to be mainly fiction.”


Jeannette Mirsky outside a bar

To the North! subsequently went out of print for a number of years due to a lawsuit by Cook, but was re-released in 1946 under the title, To the Arctic: The Story of Northern Exploration from the Earliest Times to the Present. In addition to English, the book has been published in German, Spanish, and French. Although the book is largely remembered for the controversy ignited by Mirsky’s assertion that it was Robert Peary, and not Frederick Cook who first reached the North Pole; the vast majority of To the North! is interested in what happened prior to the so-called attainment of the Pole. Near the end of the book, after devoting a chapter to the North Pole claims, Mirksy concedes: “It has been many years now since the Pole was reached, and viewing Peary’s exploit from such a vantage-point, it would seem fair to say that if any man were to reach the Pole, that man would be Peary…But like all deeds whose import is self-contained, it seems a strange goal on which to have lavished so much energy and planning and money. Like so many grand gestures, when seen in retrospect, it does not seem to matter greatly.”

 Mirsky expressed a lifelong interest in travel and exploration. Her personal papers are full of her research on explorers, letters and correspondence from around the world, and boxes of postcards and photographs documenting these pursuits. Her years of research culminated in a number of publications, which includes The Westward Crossings, The World of Eli Whitney, Elisha Kent Kane and the Seafaring Frontier, The Great Chinese Travelers: An Anthology, Houses of God, and Sir Aurel Stein: Archaeological Explorer.

Prior to Barnard’s acquisition of Mirsky’s personal papers, the extent of our knowledge ended with her non-fiction and anthropological writings. It is my hope that with the availability of the Jeannette Mirsky collection that interest is sparked and a biographer of Jeannette Mirsky will emerge to tell her story, in her own words, just as she spent her life doing for others.

Written by: Heather Lember, Barnard College Archives Graduate Assistant

What the Well Dressed Girl is Wearing

Barnard girls as a well-heeled chorus line, directing their siren song  at the Columbia boys across the street.  From the 1930 Mortarboard.  Image courtesy of the Barnard College Archives.

Barnard girls as a well-heeled chorus line, directing their siren song at the Columbia boys across the street. From the 1930 Mortarboard. Image courtesy of the Barnard College Archives.

Woman’s colleges and fashion magazines rose to prominence simultaneously; Barnard was founded just three years after Cosmopolitan.  Though the career driven girl produced by the Seven Sisters is easily placed in opposition to the doe-eyed models of Harpers and Vogue, commercial fashion and for-profit education both found their most eager customers in the female college student: they were young, wealthy, impressionable, and eager to grow up.  Serious student publications in these early days were broken by ads promising minks, hair ribbons, silk stockings, and high heels.  The Barnard girl of the early 20th century was a creature caught between the lure of easy elegance and desirability promised by the fashion industry and no-nonsense denouncement of frippery in favor of scholarship.

Students dressed up for senior week in 1931.  Image Courtesy of the Barnard College Archives.

Students dressed up for senior week in 1931. Image Courtesy of the Barnard College Archives.

As rationing instituted during World War I metamorphosed into thrift necessitated by the depression, Barnard students were ostensibly on a budget.  But they also were momentarily allowed to be girls instead of women working for the war effort.  The children of the wealthy, they spent hundreds of dollars trolling the big department stores for furs, shoes, and pearls.  In 1930, students organized a budget fashion show to demonstrate ready to wear wardrobes at different price points.  By spending only $100 on clothes for a single school year, girls could purchase “a coat, two silk afternoon frocks, one woolen dress, one wool crepe, a combination dinner dress and evening dress, a sports sweater and skirt that can be worn with innumerable combinations, a leather coat, and an evening wrap.”  While these modes captivated the audience, photographs from the time show students violating these suggested sumptuary laws and struggling under the weight of capacious furs or dressed in various couture evening gowns for college dances.  The Junior Prom was extremely popular in the 20s and 30s.  For a night, Barnard girls could abandon their sensible shoes and transfer their sorority pins from their cardigans to gauzy chiffon wraps.  Like Beauty, they were transformed from inkstained scholars into smiling dress models made radiant by silk that fluttered above the ankle.

Members of the theatrical club "Wigs and Cues" in the 1934 Barnard Mortarboard.  Image Courtesy of the Barnard College Archives.

Members of the theatrical club “Wigs and Cues” in the 1934 Barnard Mortarboard. Image Courtesy of the Barnard College Archives.

Students conformed to the broad styles of the time, and various campus organizations fundraised by holding combined afternoon teas and fashion shows; still, the taste and glamour cultivated for special occasions didn’t always seep into everyday dress.  There were a few collegiate staples in the fashions of young Barnardites.  Students wore caps and gowns for formal teas and dinners, sorority members sported tiny gold broaches with their Greek letters, “bear pins” were awarded to seniors based on merit, and athletes had jackets with various patches.  Aside from this, students wore whatever they could lay hand on at 7 am before they had to be at the greenhouse.  A 1936 issue of the Barnard Bulletin records student opinions on campus style:

“When I was a freshman I thought they all looked terrible. Now I look terrible too.”

“Yes, I think the large majority of them are well dressed.”

“Personally, I don’t approve of high heels and nailpolish for college.”

“The dorm students dress like pigs and the day students dress like they’re going to the opera.”

“Now I know what the weird sisters in MacBeth look like.”

“What do I care? Ask Columbia.”

The flippancy of these responses suggests that the majority of Barnard students–though flash with furs and satin in their yearbook photos–were most often seen dashing through the jungle to Milbank with mis-buttoned cardigans and remnants of that morning’s dippy eggs bedewing their blouses.  As it was then, so it is today.

-Johana Godfrey, ‘BC 13