Barnard Archives And Special Collections

Sex, “togetherness,” and this bit of nonsense: Letters from the Dorms


Among the collection of materials housed in the Barnard archives are the correspondence and personal writings of the young, lively, and more often than not, cheeky, Barnard students who walked our halls years past. These materials paint a picture of engrossing conversations, keen perspectives, and close friendships that resonate with all of us who are still learning, growing, and forming close friendships today. Much has changed, but so much is still familiar. Here’s an entry by Bobby, a student at Barnard College during the late 1930s, where she offers a picture of her friends, their conversations, and a hint of the cultural backdrop of their time.

Jan 8, 1938

Leonore’s Room 661

Hewitt Hall

8:30 to 9:30 P.M.

Leonore at desk studying the NRA for government. Bobby lying on bed doing History of Education. Adelaide Murphy walks in as I begin to write. After this concentrated study we burst into chatter, starting off with the movie “Life of Emile Zola” and the Dreyfus case, and the play “Soldier Boy”. The conversation turned into well-worn channels, and we covered topics already chewed to rags yet still scintillating and all-absorbing for us. We decided that we would remain unmarried or rather in state of singleness for life and spend our lives in constant and mutual “togetherness”. Since we both are only children and shall eventually be left alone in the world, on as maiden aunts to the children of our other dear friends, Ruth, Edna, Phyllis, Helen et al.

The conversation dragged on about questions of sex and promiscuity and the advisability of pre-marital intercourse. Phyllis R. is leaning on me and consequently my writing is reaching its worst stage. It can’t be any worse says Phyllis biting me turie [?] in succession.

Leanore fights for chastity and I brought out arguments for and against; we both agreed that it is permissible for individuals who know and are sure of marriage at a later date or have reached a stage of mutual love and understanding. Incidentally the whole question of romantic love recurred and in view of Patti’s positions and our greater wisdom (being Seniors) we agreed that this motif was and is overdone in our culture; marriage can be happy minus a foundation in romantic love provided it rests on other foundations as intellectual equality (approve) [?], personality adjustment, friendships + psychological understanding.

We strained every effort to go back to our studies. Adelaide is here, doing NY of [?] work. Phyllis reminded us not to forget to come to her room to hear the Toscanini broadcast at 10 o’clock.

Adieu and let’s hope to see this bit of nonsense in 10 years.