And the Miss Barnard title goes to…

Here you are, a heterogeneous group of individuals with a variety of educational and social backgrounds. Having been exposed to the same physical educational background for several months, you are not quite as heterogeneous as you were in September 1941. That is one thing which physical education should do—give you a “common denominator,” so to speak.         

Educationally, you represent public and private schools, cities and towns and rural districts as well as [10] foreign countries.

No two of you have the same background or are the same.

Each has a certain physique, certain emotional characteristics, a certain personality, certain skills as well as certain intellectual equipment- which sets you apart as an individual. Because of this, some of are you are destined to succeed and some to fail. We hope that we can help decrease the latter.

One of you will be Undergraduate President in 1944-45.
Another will be the Athletic Association President.
Three of you will be Class Presidents.
One will be Greek Games chairman next year.
Many of you will lead in lesser ways.
Some will be dropped from college or will drop voluntarily.
Some of you will live these college years richly and deeply, giving as well as taking.
Some will lead neutral, colorless lives and give little.

You really are “war babies”—the war class—and you have a chance to make history.

Imagine living in a world where beauty trumped brains and physicality ruled the fairest of them all. Well, if you happen to be a “war baby,” you might have experienced just that (and if you are reading this post, then I doubt you’re a 90 year old member of the class of ’45—no offense, but you classy ladies were amazing in your own way)!

It’s the beginning  of autumn 1945 and once again, the Barnard College physical education instructors have called upon the senior class to assess the incoming first years. At that time, during the height and aftermath of World War II, Barnard women were treated very differently from those of earlier graduates. The wartime era had affected everyone in the country, and a rise in feminine inspiration, work ethic, and patriotism were evident results of this long and costly ordeal. Women as a whole needed to stand up and face men in the working field, to work side by side creating American-made artillery, equipment, and much more! In retrospect, they needed to maintain their “perfect” image as well. So here comes the dilemma, how can a young industrial girl both keep up with changing times but also keep to the traditional values of beauty and homemaking? By going to Barnard and taking physical education classes of course (a very serious answer to a very rhetorical question)!

Barnard had an image of the perfect girl—someone with a specific height, weight, bra cup size, hip size, shoulder length, skin complexion, “normal” medical conditions (and by normal, I mean steady heart, lung performance, and menstruation cycle—yuck! how do you define steady?!), posture and social charm. The 1940s birthed a new type of Barnard girl, the Miss Barnard girl, the idealized conception of what a suitable girl attending a prestigious liberal arts college would look like. Of course Miss Barnard could have any color hair and any color skin in theory, but she was contracted of an image serving the whole of the Barnard class—a fictionalized attempt to compile a Wonder Woman of all Wonder Women. Barnard physical education instructors gathered the image of Miss Barnard to be the average of all the girls in one graduating class, meaning the perfect combination of all physical and social characteristics, as well as all health and educational attributes. Miss Barnard 1945 was one such example of an impeccable girl, and I wonder how many Barnard women strove to be like her? How healthy was it for adults to conceptualize womanhood and define it as a standard of living? It’s quite surprising to see how the traditional mores of one American era carried on throughout further generations to uphold the affirmation that yes, a woman was supposed to be brought up in one way and that yes, society was meant to shape her. Hmm, I don’t know how Rosie the Riveter would feel about this.

The rigor to uphold a well-mannered and well-structured Barnard woman has deep roots within Barnard College history. Despite Miss Barnard being a “mythical” figure, she was still a large part of the central physical education classes. The Miss Barnard phenomenon may have only lasted a decade but its spirit carried on through more modern years. For example, the prominence of certain classes like posture date back much earlier than the 1940s (starting in the early 1900s) and continue well into the late 1960s (the last mandated posture exam was offered in 1972, in years subsequent that students were only recommended to take posture classes as an elective). Posture classes helped students to maintain their bodily shape and figure and in addition gave young women the confidence to carry themselves out in public. There were Do’s and Don’ts exemplified in these classes and such behavior would have been ideal for Miss Barnard. The purpose of these classes was to properly educate young women how to maintain themselves as they were socially meant to be and while I wish Barnard kept posture classes for the purpose of helping body structure, I would not have liked to be one of the hundreds of previous Barnard women scrutinized for not knowing how to walk properly! It’s one thing for my mother to comment on my gait but for my administrators and professors to do so?! I can’t imagine!

Now we live in a time where we are told that it’s acceptable to be ourselves and not have to pertain to a definition of who we were designed to be. But is that really true? How many previous Barnard women would have accepted this radical notion? How many future Barnard women can we hope to accept this idea? In the time we have left, I think it’s important to respect one another and our bodies such that we can help alleviate the overarching perfectionist (and societal) view of women as a whole. The (ancient) physical education platform on Miss Barnard should not be looked down upon, rather we should take the opportunity to learn from it and (while preventing the rise of future complaisant feminine molds) decide for ourselves how women should be. Miss Barnard 2013 should have whatever hair color she wants, be whatever weight, height or race; it shouldn’t matter how often she gets cramps or how full her chest is. And above all, she should be beautiful in her own unique way.

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Miss Barnard 1945 standards

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Barnard 1950s posture class

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Barnard student awarded for best posture (1952-53)

Written by Nazia Jannat, BC’14

(Barnard in a time) Of Love and War

7:30am. A solitary ray of red sunlight found its way through the dirty brown curtains of their W106th St. apartment window. The soft sky began to part into a pinkish-blue morning and the clouds stretched up and out, as if to say hello. Birds began to sing their daily alarm. Without warning, the light disturbed the dust in the air and shone upon the clutter of things that was their bedroom. Their messy mattress, their lonely mirror, their leftover food containers, an open closet spitting out blue dresses and worn loafers, a pile of philosophy books, two old lamps, angry letters torn into shreds, and a few pill boxes that looked as though they hadn’t been touched in months. Peter was still asleep, but he would awake now. They would soon eat their breakfast and drink their coffee and put on their individual identities, she knew.

There was a time long ago when women were forced to keep to themselves as mere housewives and live according to boring social laws, thought Linda LeClair. But not today. And certainly not for the past two years of her vibrant life. Today she was ready to fight whatever indictment came in her way. It was as though the mighty officials of her college acted like mortal gods, they deemed her living arrangements offensive and unacceptable. This was not true, and Linda was sure of it. She turned over on the mattress and softly kissed Peter on the nose.

The day was April 16th, 1968 and Barnard College sophomore Linda LeClair was about to present her case to a joint student-administrator judicial committee concerning the implications of her social freedom. Linda had set the stage for a national outburst due to her audacious living arrangements with her then boyfriend, Peter Behr, a Columbia College junior. Barnard’s housing regulations at the time mandated all undergraduate students who lived more than 50 miles away from the college to dorm on campus. However Linda LeClair, the 20 year old brunette originating from a small town in New Hampshire, clearly found a loop around that strict rule.

Linda knew the only way she can get around Barnard’s housing rule was to apply and work as a live-in domestic aid. With the help of an older married friend who posted a fake employment advertisement, Linda was able to fool not only Barnard career development officials but the administrators as well. She soon had an excuse to move off campus and into the (spacious four-room) $100-a-month W106th St. apartment with her boyfriend. Given the intimacy of their relationship, Linda and Peter were able to live off-campus away from the watchful eyes of rigid college officials. However, word of their taboo lifestyle leaked the morning of March 14th ,1968 when the New York Times ran an article about college couples living off campus because of “convenience, security, and sex.”

The New York Times referred to Linda as “Susan” but given the details of the article, Barnard officials were able to piece two and two together to figure out the identity of the missing housing culprit. What emerged was an uproar of dissent coming from parents, administrators, and national newspapers. She became Barnard’s “Kiss-and-Tell Girl” and was the face of numerous broadcasted interviews and hateful opinionated letters. Barnard students however, supported Linda and her decision to get away from an oppressive dorm life (some of whom themselves admitted to living off campus as well after this incident). Linda herself described what it was like to live in the freshman dorms and at first lamented the fact that her boyfriend Peter could go “out into the night to do whatever the hell he wanted to do” while she remained “locked in the tower like Rapunzel.” Students who lived on campus were not given permission to leave past 9:30pm on weeknights (4:30pm on weekends) and could only have male guests visit on Sundays between daylight hours. If a Barnard student had a male guest in her room, she was required to leave her door ajar during the duration of his visit. You can only imagine Linda’s frustration at the time!

Barnard’s prominent in loco parentis policies served as the basis for the structural argument against Linda’s living arrangements. While her own parents vehemently disapproved and cut off her monetary allowances, Barnard administrators decided to take the matter in their own hands and determine the consequences of Linda’s lie. Linda faced a judicial committee and argued that her life was “none of their business” and that “Barnard has no right to control personal behavior.” A month after the LeClair affair sprang up the judicial committee sympathized with Linda and did not decide to expel her, only to ban her from campus social events and from the student cafeteria. But the community outside Barnard felt that the verdict was not enough. Barnard president Martha Peterson faced austere disapproval from alumnae and was provoked to expel Linda LeClair. Although she faced minimal punishment, Linda felt as though her time at Barnard was enough and Linda made the decision easy on everyone by deciding to drop out of college along with Peter (who then faced near imprisonment because he denied his draft card). Linda’s decision to stand up for herself and her civil rights showed how the mores of an era were being challenged. It’s often difficult to recall that Linda grew up in a very cultured and traditionalist world, one where it was deemed provocative for young couples to live together unmarried. Her determination to protect her private life against the face of harsh public scrutiny proves how strong she remained under a critical attack. 

The “Linda LeClair affair” set aside for new future housing rules, as to assure no scandal of this nature would ever occur again. To denounce her freedom would be to allow Barnard College officials to dictate how her life would be come, and that was not an option. In the face of a social war between the youth and the aged, Linda came out triumphant. As the 45th anniversary of the long forgotten controversy, think about where Barnard College (and in fact, all college) students would be had Linda not made a stand about oppressive norms. Are we not to progress with the age of modern technology and growing populations or are we meant to uphold the status of our grandparent’s Victorian mores? It is because of phenomenal figures like Linda LeClair that society has accepted the standards of privacy, modern love, and social justice. Linda would agree that today we are all moving up for the better.

(Happy Valentine’s Day!)   

Written by Nazia Jannat, BC’14

Barnard College: “a Most Promising and Attractive Child”

People often question the relevance and role of women’s colleges today. Now that most colleges and universities in the U.S. are co-ed, why do women’s colleges still exist? When Columbia College started admitting women in fall of 1982 a merger was proposed, but ultimately decided against because of bureaucratic complexities and the belief that Barnard College served the community well as a separate institution. And so it has.

Flashback to spring 1915, when Barnard administrators were preparing for the 25th anniversary celebration of Barnard College. Originally planned for November 1914, the event was postponed because, according to a write-up of the event from the Dean’s Office, “there was a common feeling that the grave issues before the civilized world did not permit the occasion to be commemorated with sufficient joy and enthusiasm.” Unfortunately, the events in Europe meant Jane Addams, founder of Hull House in Chicago, had to send her regrets that she could not attend. As national chairman of the Women’s Peace Party, she was wanted at a conference in the Netherlands. This letter, typed up on Hull House stationery and signed by Jane Addams, is one of the many treasures held in the Barnard Archives.

Despite its characterization as “war-belated,” the celebration was a wonderful commemoration of Barnard College, what it stood for, and where it was going in the future. While looking through a box of the Dean’s Office Departmental Correspondence from 1914-15, I came across an article titled “Barnard College, 1889-1914” from the June, 1915 issue of the Columbia University Quarterly. In the left-hand margin of the first page someone wrote “President Butler,” indicating Nicholas Murray Butler, president of Columbia University from 1901-1945, as the author, however, it is unclear whether this article is also the address he gave during the 25th anniversary commemorative exercises on April 29th. I expected the article to be a routine address: probably a brief history of the college and an acknowledgement of the trustees and administrators that made it all possible. Instead, it is a beautiful testament to the necessity of higher education for women and therefore the necessity of Barnard College. Butler includes a quote from November 21, 1890 by Rev. Arthur Brooks, Chairman of the Trustees of Barnard College. On that day, the trustees met to go over the events of the first year of the College and Rev. Brooks spoke on behalf of Barnard:

[…]to allow Barnard College to suffer or to languish would now mean the maiming of Columbia College, which, to the pride and glory of New York, is at the present time taking so many forward steps[…].We gladly believe that the bond between the two Colleges is so strong that the parent, old and yet young with new energy, would sadly feel the loss of this, its youngest and most promising and attractive child.

 Characterizing Barnard College as a “most promising and attractive child” might seem a bit silly today, but as a Barnard student who has felt not quite welcome by the Columbia University community, these words are what I have needed to hear for a long time. Butler goes on to write a defense of Barnard College that celebrates its place as a unique institution, but also commends the awe-inspiring backdrop of Columbia University. I must admit the last paragraph of Butler’s piece gave me chills:

Barnard College is nothing so temporary […]. It is a serious and solemn human undertaking which conceives itself as bearing a grave responsibility toward womanhood, toward society, and toward the University whose traditions and unconquerable vitality it shares. […]if it [the College] continue catholic, large-minded, sincere and scholarly, it will increase with each year in power as a builder of character and a shaper of intelligence in that womanhood which is at once the glory and the hope of our civilization.

What a relief to know that these words will be preserved in the Barnard Archives, a humidity-controlled tribute to the rich history of Barnard College. 

-Alice Griffin, BC ’15