Juliet Stuart Poyntz, Class of 1907

Juliet Stuart Points' photograph from the 1907 Mortarboard. Image courtesy of the Barnard College Archives.

On an early June day in 1937, Juliet Stuart Poyntz—Barnard class of 1907, known for her intellect, poise, and charisma—walked out of her rented room at the American Woman’s Association clubhouse and was never seen again. Her attorney reported her disappearance seven months later, launching Poyntz to a different kind of recognition than the intellectual was used to: notoriety. Newspaper headlines traded allegations: Poyntz was a Russian spy–she had been recalled to Russia–she was murdered by the OGPU (the Soviet secret police and the predecessor to the KGB)–she had turned against her communist ties and was placed in the Witness Protection Program. Who was Poyntz, and what happened to her?

Born Juliet Stuart Points on November 25th, 1886 in Omaha, Nebraska, Poyntz moved to New York City with her family at some point during her adolescence, and enrolled at Barnard College in 1903 as a 16 year old. Precocious and intelligent, Poyntz was extremely invested in Barnard as an institution and supplemented her coursework with leadership roles in extracurriculars. She was a member of the Pi Beta Phi Fraternity for women and of the Christian Association, President of her sophomore class, and President of the Undergraduate Association in her senior year. The scrapbook of her close friend, Sophie Parsons Woodman (also class of 1907) contains a letter from her about the proposed creation of a “senior society,” in which she worried over the possibility of creating divisions within her class. She also participated in the 1907 senior show and worked on the Board of Editors for the 1907 Mortarboard. Poyntz was voted “most popular” in her class and in the college, spoke as valedictorian for her graduating class, and went on to work as an instructor in the Barnard history department.

Page one of an article on feminism written for "The Barnard Bear" by Juliet Stuart Poyntz during her time as an instructor at Barnard. Image Courtesy of the Barnard College Archives.

During her years at Barnard and after her graduation, Poyntz was involved with the suffragette/feminist movement, which was gaining momentum during the early 20th century. In 1912, she gave an address to the Suffrage Club at Barnard, quoting freely from John Stuart Mill and calling for women to assert their individual freedoms. Ironically, referencing one of the fathers of laissez-faire economic policy was in direct opposition to her other great cause: socialism. Poyntz viewed the principles of equality touted in socialism as a natural extension of the women’s movement. In the 1912 Barnard Classbook, Poyntz reports having worked as a Special Agent for the U.S. Immigration Commission shortly after graduation, where she “found [her] proper level in the slums with the lowest of low delightful immigrants” and claims she is “still a woman’s suffragist or worse still a feminist and also a socialist (also of the worst brand).” In 1913, she married Dr. Frederick Franz Ludwig Glaser, a German immigrant. Though she kept her maiden name after the marriage, she legally changed the American spelling of her last name, “Points,” to an Eastern-European phonetic version, “Poyntz.” Though her reasons for doing this are unknown, it is around this time that Poyntz actively became involved in the Communist Party.

Poyntz rose to visibility as an activist for both the suffragette movement and the communist party in the years that followed her marriage. She published articles in the Nation about the economic future of various forms of government, and was one of the headlining speakers at Woman’s Day on April 31st, 1915–a historic event crucial in the women’s suffrage movement and associated with both the socialist and communist causes–where she was billed as a “Feminist Communist.” By 1920, Poyntz was “high in the circles of communists.” In 1934, disillusioned by the apparent inaction of the Communist Party in America, Poyntz withdrew her communist sympathies and visited Russia, where she became an agent for the OGPU. In 1936, Poyntz, disgusted by the brutality of the organization and the realities of the communist Gulag, withdrew from the OGPU. According to an article written by her close friend Carlo Tresca (labor organizer and opponent of Stalin) in which he accused the Soviet Union of murdering her, she began to unleash violent tirades against the self-serving and tyrannical activities in Soviet government to her personal friends. Less than a year later, she vanished.

Given her unpatriotic activities towards the end of her life, it is understandable that Poyntz is not listed as a notable alumna on any of the brochures that Barnard gives prospective students. However, throughout her life of activism, Poyntz worked to maintain her personal integrity and beliefs in the cause of social de-stratification even while she was being dragged progressively deeper into the activities of a dangerous organization. She is an unlikely but excellent example of the dauntless, committed spirit that Barnard prizes in its students.

Additional Information:

Tresca’s accusations can be read here, in an article entitled “Where is Juliet Stuart Poyntz?” written in 1938, just five years before he was murdered by Mafia gunmen for his anti-facist sentiments.

Dorothy Gallagher’s “Disappeared,” a dramatic essay on the Poyntz abduction (in which Gallagher accuses Poyntz of abducting another OGPU spy to the Soviet Union in 1936, before her break with the organization) that claims to draw information from Poyntz’ FBI file, can be read here.

-Johana Godfrey, BC ’13

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Report of the Lunch-Room Investigation Committee, 1908

"The accommodation is adequate if the students would not all insist on eating at once." Students eat lunch in the hallway of Fiske Hall, 1911. Photograph by the Brown brothers, courtesy of the Barnard College Archives.

While processing the Alumnae Affairs materials, we came across this report from 1908 concerning an issue that’s still pertinent today: the food at Barnard.  According to the findings of the Lunch-Room Investigation Committee, dining in the College’s early years was an iffy prospect at best. For the amusement of our readers, the Barnard Archives presents excerpts from the:

Report of the Lunch-Room Investigation Committee – May 1, 1908

Your Committee organized on December 16…At the first meeting, the plan of campaign was mapped out as follows: – firstly, to find out precisely what the conditions are at Barnard; secondly, to ascertain in what manner the present management satisfies those conditions; thirdly, to compare the lunch-room with others in the neighborhood, and with those in similar institutions…

Very briefly, the conditions are as follows: – The authorities have assigned the kitchen and two large and two small rooms for lunch-room purposes. These Dean Goetze, the Superintendent of Barnard Buildings and Grounds, allows a caterer, J. Cowen, to use on condition that he take entire care of the said rooms and pay a small percent of the profits…

The accommodation is adequate if the students would not all insist on eating at once.  The rooms could be made more attractive, but even as they are they surpass any of the lunch-rooms in other institutions which have been visited.  They accommodate two hundred easily, but when four hundred try to get lunch between twelve and half past there is much crowding and discomfort.  For this the caterer is not to blame, as his rooms are open from eleven until two.

The next question is what sort of food is demanded, – a “snack” or a regular meal? And as corollary to that, how much money do the girls expect to spend?  Fifty to a hundred buy nothing. The majority spend five cents for soup, cocoa, or dessert to eke out a luncheon brought from home.  Fifty, perhaps more, spend from ten to fifteen cents for a “pick-up” lunch; and only twenty or thirty are willing to spend a quarter for a substantial meal. In short, the great majority want a Dairy Lunch which would supply them with good cocoa, soup, sandwiches, rolls, and simple sweets, for very moderate rates; and a small minority want a more substantial meal for twenty-five cents…

The present caterer attempts to satisfy both demands by the “help-yourself” system.  Each person takes a tray and paper napkin and helps herself to the cold dishes of which an assorted collection of five cent portions is on the counter, and is helped to the hot dishes by a maid.  Of cold things there is a variety of sandwiches, jellies, salads, fruit in season, etc., and of hot, soup, cocoa, tea, and a choice of meats and vegetables.  The most is fifteen or twenty cents.  In theory, this is excellent; yet there is much complaint; so the undergraduates were questioned and the following statistics compiled by Miss Poole.

73 complained of the sandwiches as being hard and dry, with the meat scrappy and fat or all gristle and bone.

10 said the soup was watery and greasy.

26 said the pastry was stale.

20 said the muffins were doughy.

25 said the roast beef was tough.

4 said there were not enough vegetables.

3 said the butter was bad.

1 said the milk was sour.

2 said the salad dressing was rancid.

2 said the eggs were not fresh.

15 said there was an insufficient variety of wholesome food and too much of jellies.

All these statements are true, but never all at once.  The trouble is that there is very little profit in the lunch-room and the caterer cares only for his profit; so that he uses cheap and stale material, and in the kitchen unskilful [sic] labor.  The food seldom is absolutely uneatable, but it is always on the verge of falling from the not-good to the bad.  Your Committee took the complaints to the local manageress, who denied them in toto, but promised to improve and has sincerely tried.  She is, however, not particularly efficient and is of course under Mr. Cowen, who, though bland with promises, is not eager to lose one cent of possible profit, and in other cases both at Columbia and Barnard has not shown other than a mercenary spirit.  Your Committee regards him as a difficult, if not impossible, person to deal with…

The next thing was to find out if other lunch-rooms gave better food for the money.  It was not fair to compare those on business streets, where the total receipts are so much larger and where the service can be used all day.  Nor is the case of a men’s room just the same, because they are less fussy and usually spend more.  Around the college there is no place where a lunch can be had for the money except at Horace Mann or the Commons, which are served by the same caterer.  The charges are the same and the restaurants not materially better, although there is more variety and the food is hotter and fresher, because of the greater consumption.  At Barnard food is “carried over.”

At other institutions – Packer, Erasmus Hall, Pratt – the conditions are about the same.  The Pratt lunch-room is run by the Domestic Science Department, but is not a success.  Polytechnic, Manual Training, and Adelphi are run by a caterer…The [Adelphi] luncheon for $.25 was nicely served and consisted of soup, a choice of meats, a vegetable, tea or cocoa, and dessert.  The food was distinctly better than at Barnard.  The other room, where the students bring their lunches, is inferior, – perhaps because of the number of children.  On the whole the situation at Adelphi is similar to that at Barnard and somewhat better solved.  This is because the caterer is more liberal…

We would urge the Alumnae to petition the removal of the present caterer.  We think we could not do worse, and that a new man would for a time at least do better.

Respectfully submitted,
Charlotte E. Morgan,
Chairman.

This report can be found in full in the Alumnae Affairs Records, Barnard Archives