Though these five alumnae may not hold the star power of a graduate like Martha Stewart or Cynthia Nixon, they have all been extremely influential in their 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 (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 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 founded CosmoGIRL! Soon after, Hearst acquired Seventeen magazine, and 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 assist with the settlement movement in New York City. 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.
-Cleo Levin BC ’14