Edith Louise Allen was a student at Barnard from 1908-1910. Though she never graduated, she clearly possessed the creativity, imagination, and cutting wit of our other alumnae.
—Cleo Levin ’14, Archives Assistant
These excerpts come from the collected letters of Jean Ziegler, Class of 1950. The Barnard Archives possesses over 70 of the letters Ziegler wrote home from 1947-1950. Read here about pledge night, the Soph-Frosh Formal, and skiing at Bear Mountain!
Jan. 6, 1947
[In Lake Placid for the holidays]
“The town looked beautiful that night coming home. There were little Christmas trees along the street all lighted and all the other lights were off. The night was real clear and just to complete the picture, the car radio was playing “Winter Wonderland.” If I ever hear that song again, I know I’ll start crying.
Thursday night we saw Never Say Goodbye at the Palace, then went to the Maj, as usual. Saw Ed Damp coming out of the show and broke down and accepted a date with him Friday night, But came Friday night and no Ed. Seems he went to a champagne party and forgot to pick me up. That was the last time he gets a chance to do that. But I was shedding no tears over him, as I would rather sleep.”
“Since yesterday was a holiday and the library wasn’t open anyway, four of us got a neat idea about going to Bear Mt. to ski. Especially with the lovely 11.6 inch snow, we decided it shouldn’t be wasted. Unfortunately one of the kids got sick Friday night +another decided not to go, but Tay and I got up in time to make an early train, along with millions of other people, and had a swell time falling down and getting up again. Of course, the slopes aren’t nearly as nice as those in Placid, but I got enough practice so I can dodge people and I know what a snowplow and stem turn should be, even if I can’t do them too well. But at least I stood up! (usually). I was all set to take the “Jr.” jump (10 ft., supposedly) but one of my skis was a little loose and when someone in front of me broke a ski, I decided to wait until “next” time. Not that I was scared!!”
“Sat night. ten of us took fellas from Kingspoint to the Soph-frosh formal and had loads of fun… No doubt you’ll be interested to know that Pat Skelton was up to her old tricks, and ran off with someone else’s date. The little rat pulls that trick every time… The orchestra wasn’t as good for this dance as for the previous ones. It nearly blasted us out of the dining room, They didn’t play one slow number all evening. Too many rhumbas and jitterbug numbers.
After the dance, we went out to a sandwich shop, and had hamburgers, hot roast beef sandwichs [sic], cokes, etc. and the starving hungry Barnardites really enjoyed the food.”
“For the last two nights, it’s been practically impossible to get to bed early here. Wed. night I was almost asleep when I kept smelling burning rubber, and then we heard millions of fire engines. What happened wasn’t too exciting but the fire trucks have a way of attracting people—a car burnt at 116th + Riverside. I just sat up in bed for a perfect view.
Last night Maureen was over doing Spanish, when we heard a racket outside on Claremont. This time it was ΣX pledge night, and they were copying what Beta did a few weeks ago but on a larger scale. There must have been 25 pledges, compared to Beta’s 4, who sang (?) while bags of water, furnished by the brothers whipped past.”
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
From 1927-1933, Barnard ran the Summer School for Women Workers in Industry. Barnard modeled its summer school on Bryn Mawr’s pioneering program, started in 1921. Barnard’s school was, however, non-residential, and students travelled to campus every day. They stayed from 9 AM to 9:30 PM, eating in the cafeteria, attending lecture, and participating in extracurricular activities such as tennis or musical instruction. The students felt that they could not be productive studying all day, so athletics played a large part in their daily routine. They commented in their “Write-Ups on Athletics, “If you have never been to the gymnasium during the session of the Barnard Summer School you have missed one half of your life. And if you have never been on the tennis court then you are dead to what is most fun.”
The Barnard program accepted around 50 students for their seven-week term, and the women only needed to have attended school through the 6th grade . The students were 20-35 years old and were mostly immigrants, the majority being of Russian or Polish descent. They came primarily from the garment trade, but also from millinery, upholstery, electrical, and waitress trades. Their tuition was free, raised through contributions from donors.
Students took classes in three categories: Modern Industrial Society, English Literature and Composition, and Science. The program was not meant to help the women obtain promotions or better jobs, but to develop in the women, “an increased understanding of their own industrial problems.” The Calendar of Special Events for 1931 included activities like a dance given for the current students by the Summer School alumnae, a visit to the I. Miller & Co. Shoe Factory in Long Island, and several lectures and tea hours at which labor issues were discussed. The hope was that the students would come away with a better understanding of the world at large and would be encouraged to engage in studying and creative activities in their free time.
At the end of the summer, the students compiled their writings into “The Barnard Record.” The pieces were mainly personal essays and opinion pieces on industry and women’s roles. One student wrote an essay, “The Importance of Reading to Me” in 1931. She relates how a life-long interest in reading morphed from a passion for fairy tales, to religious pieces, to geography and stories about foreign lands. Her family labelled this last interest as for boys, not girls. She responds in her essay, “The resentment against the injustice arose in me. I started to think, and later…. I started my reading on feminism.” This type of energy and determination is typical of the tone of the summer students’ writing.
In 1931, in the wake of the Great Depression, the Barnard Summer School was able to accept only 34 students, despite increasing interest. The program closed in 1933. Yet, for the seven summers the school was in session, the program was an excellent example of education for education’s sake, and the work produced by the students remains impactful and inspiring.
-Cleo Levin ’14, Archives Assistant
To Merge or not to Merge?
In the 1880s, the president of Columbia, Fredrick A.P. Barnard, argued for the admission of women to Columbia University. When his efforts were unsuccessful, Annie Nathan Meyer, a self-educated scholar, took up his cause and petitioned the University for an independent liberal arts college for women connected to Columbia. In 1889, Barnard College was founded.
Eighty years into Barnard’s existence, both Barnard and Columbia agreed that the schools needed to reassess their relationship. The politically radical atmosphere of the 1960s had made students at both colleges question the continuing relevancy of a single-sex education, and Barnard feminists began to think of separate curricula as discriminatory. The Columbia administration also had qualms about the relationship between the schools, but for different reasons. Beginning in the 1960s, Columbia had been struggling financially and began to examine Barnard as a place to cut costs. In reaction to the discontent from both the student bodies and the Columbia administration, the Committees on Instruction established the Barnard College-Columbia College Joint Committee on Cooperation in April 1969. Student senators and members of select academic departments came together to discuss the possibilities for increased collaboration.
The Joint Committee on Cooperation saw the main difference between the two institutions existing in their academic goals. They stated that Columbia’s general education program “makes available to students a wide range of intellectual experience” while Barnard’s emphasis was on “the flexibility of the program, with a minimal distribution requirement, the possibility of early specialization, and a number of interdisciplinary programs.” The Committee suggested that both schools maintain their present corporate identities, with Barnard admitting only women and Columbia admitting only men, but allowing the students to complete the academic program of either college.
One academic enterprise?
The Columbia administrators had different ideas about collaboration. The dean of the graduate faculties, George Fraenkel, had been recruited to work on merging Columbia’s constituent colleges to cut costs. Fraenkel found that Barnard had not been paying enough for the numbers of students enrolled in Columbia courses. Nor were they paying for facilities, namely Barnard’s use of Columbia’s research library. Rather than preserving the school’s separate curricula, Fraenkel’s focus was on eliminating inefficiency in redundant course offerings. He sent letters to various departments in 1976 encouraging them to create “V” courses, joint-listings between Barnard and Columbia. Ultimately, Fraenkel saw the school’s academic programs merging; he wrote to Columbia President William McGill that there should be “one academic enterprise with one set of co-educational courses, one curriculum, one set of departments and one faculty.” The separation between the colleges would remain in finances, admissions, and extra-curricular activities.
“Small Barnard” retains its autonomy and Columbia goes Co-Ed
In 1969, Princeton and Yale began admitting women, and Columbia’s peer institutions steadily followed suit. By the mid-60s, Columbia had already begun experiencing difficulties getting their pick of applicants, and, as other schools began to go co-ed, the quality of the Columbia applicants began to drop even further. Columbia was not only losing the potential for strong female students, but also the male applicants who would now choose to attend a co-ed institution. Admitting qualified females would increase the Columbia applicant pool and eliminate the problem of considering the less qualified males that had been applying. Yet, McGill held off, hoping to make Columbia more co-educational with Barnard. Columbia administrators felt certain that accepting women would eliminate their sister school, and they wanted to prevent the bad blood and bad press that would accompany this decision.
When Ellen Futter assumed the Barnard presidency in the 1980, she encountered faculty and trustees divided over whether to merge with Columbia. Though there was a small contingency who prized the relationship with Columbia over Barnard’s personal agenda, the majority continued to champion “small Barnard” and women’s education. It became clear in the spring of 1981 that it would not be possible to reach a compromise between Barnard and Columbia’s values. The Columbia trustees voted to admit women to Columbia in May 1981, and women were able to enroll at the university starting in 1983.
In the years after Columbia’s decision to admit women, Barnard struggled. There was skepticism from both institutions on what role Barnard would play after Columbia went co-ed. In 1983, of the women admitted to both Barnard and Columbia, 90% chose to go to Columbia. Even worse, as the women’s movement encouraged universities to hire more female faculty, many professors from Barnard were courted by rival schools like Princeton and City University.
Yet, the faculty and administration have been steadily working to cultivate this small women’s liberal arts college, and the school can now uphold the values that Ellen Futter and the Barnard faculty fought for in 1980. Today, Barnard represents a wholly different experience for students from Columbia or other co-ed institutions. Sixty-five percent of faculty at Barnard are women, and students at the college have access to opportunities like the Athena Center for Leadership Studies and the Barnard Center for Research on Women. Barnard now represents a distinct and essential place among American colleges.
-Cleo Levin ’14
(With the consultation of Stand, Columbia by Robert A. McCaughey and Changing the Subject: How the Women of Columbia Shaped the Way We Think About Sex and Politics by Rosalind Rosenberg)
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
Next to Margaret Mead’s yearbook photo in the 1923 Barnard Mortarboard it says:
Economics, social science,
Peggy has advanced idees!
Discourseful quite, with forceful might,
She ponders immortality.
Margaret Mead passed away in 1978, but her anthropological legacy has certainly proved to be immortal. As a graduate student at Columbia University under the teachings of Franz Boas, a man considered to be the “Father of American Anthropology,” Mead attained her Ph.D. in 1929. Despite having such a prominent instructor, Mead was not overshadowed and gained prominence herself. She is best known for her work in Polynesia, her most famous publication probably being Coming of Age in Samoa, an ethnography exploring adolescence in Samoa. Mead also examined the U.S. anthropologically, as in And Keep Your Powder Dry: An Anthropologist Looks at America (1942). Mead also worked at the American Museum of Natural History for most of her career, and taught at Columbia as an adjunct professor of anthropology.
Mead’s professional life is well known, but what about her time at Barnard? What did Mead do before she became a disciple of Franz Boas and travelled to New Guinea to conduct fieldwork?
It seems that Margaret Mead’s yearbook quote holds many truths of Mead’s personality. She was assistant news editor of the Barnard Bulletin during the 1921-1922 school year and became editor-in-chief during her last year at Barnard. Mead used the Barnard Bulletin as a platform to share her “advanced idees” with the student body. In her editorial note, “Voicing the Unpopular,” from the January 12, 1923 Bulletin, Mead responded to a call for a column to be dedicated to the expression of unpopular opinion. Writes Mead: “Must such a group be tricked into coming from under cover for a new column, made to order just for its use? Surely students who have really valuable criticisms and suggestions which they wish to put before the college need no such stimulus.” Despite its short length, Mead’s piece about the necessity for well-informed criticisms and dissenting opinions in our society is very effective. (http://barnardcollege.newspaperarchive.com/barnard-bulletin/1923-01-12/page-2/?tag=voicing+the+unpopular&rtserp=tags/voicing-the-unpopular)
I wish I could share all of Mead’s editorials with you, but I will just highlight a couple more. In an editorial published on April 13, 1923, Mead defended the administration’s ban on smoking in Milbank due to fire hazard regulations. She scolds students who defied the ruling because they thought it was a type of “moral regulation.” Keep in mind that Margaret Mead was not a woman to put much investment in propriety, so I think it makes her words even stronger. She says: “Some of the Faculty offices contain the results of years of research; every cigarette lit in Milbank places them in danger. We are sure that those students who, careless of prohibitions, have permitted their escorts to smoke, will be willing to safeguard the life work of others, and consider it a point of honor to stop this dangerous abuse.” I wonder if, during her professional life, Mead forbade people from smoking in her office to protect her own life’s work and intellectual treasures. (http://barnardcollege.newspaperarchive.com/barnard-bulletin/1923-04-13/page-2/?tag=danger&rtserp=tags/danger?page=7)
If you thought that was spunky, check out this editorial from April 20, 1923 titled “An Empty Gesture,” about the rumor that the Barnard debating team was going to be sent to England. As a result of this rumor, many Barnard women tried out for the team. Mead did not approve: “It would be an empty spectacular gesture to send, at enormous expense, three practically untrained speakers to represent to English colleges and activity which has no vital existence in Barnard…Under present conditions the trip would be a meaningless piece of conceit.” (http://barnardcollege.newspaperarchive.com/barnard-bulletin/1923-04-20/page-2/?tag=an+empty+gesture&rtserp=tags/?pep=an-empty-gesture)
Do I need to add that Mead had been on the debating team in 1922, the year before these editorials were written? Perhaps the Barnard debating team helped her craft her effective persuasive writing or maybe she was so accomplished the Barnard debating team wasn’t enough for her!
Margaret Mead certainly had a lot of opinions about the goings-on at Barnard, but it seems she concluded that it was exactly right for her. In her autobiography Blackberry Winter: Earlier Years (1972), Mead says: “I came to Barnard, where I found—and in some measure created—the kind of student life that matched my earlier dreams. In the course of those three undergraduate years [she transferred from DePauw] friendships were founded that have endured a lifetime of change, and by the end of those years I knew what I could do in life.”
-Alice Griffin, BC ’15