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.
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.
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