Report of the Lunch-Room Investigation Committee, 1908

"The accommodation is adequate if the students would not all insist on eating at once." Students eat lunch in the hallway of Fiske Hall, 1911. Photograph by the Brown brothers, courtesy of the Barnard College Archives.

While processing the Alumnae Affairs materials, we came across this report from 1908 concerning an issue that’s still pertinent today: the food at Barnard.  According to the findings of the Lunch-Room Investigation Committee, dining in the College’s early years was an iffy prospect at best. For the amusement of our readers, the Barnard Archives presents excerpts from the:

Report of the Lunch-Room Investigation Committee – May 1, 1908

Your Committee organized on December 16…At the first meeting, the plan of campaign was mapped out as follows: – firstly, to find out precisely what the conditions are at Barnard; secondly, to ascertain in what manner the present management satisfies those conditions; thirdly, to compare the lunch-room with others in the neighborhood, and with those in similar institutions…

Very briefly, the conditions are as follows: – The authorities have assigned the kitchen and two large and two small rooms for lunch-room purposes. These Dean Goetze, the Superintendent of Barnard Buildings and Grounds, allows a caterer, J. Cowen, to use on condition that he take entire care of the said rooms and pay a small percent of the profits…

The accommodation is adequate if the students would not all insist on eating at once.  The rooms could be made more attractive, but even as they are they surpass any of the lunch-rooms in other institutions which have been visited.  They accommodate two hundred easily, but when four hundred try to get lunch between twelve and half past there is much crowding and discomfort.  For this the caterer is not to blame, as his rooms are open from eleven until two.

The next question is what sort of food is demanded, – a “snack” or a regular meal? And as corollary to that, how much money do the girls expect to spend?  Fifty to a hundred buy nothing. The majority spend five cents for soup, cocoa, or dessert to eke out a luncheon brought from home.  Fifty, perhaps more, spend from ten to fifteen cents for a “pick-up” lunch; and only twenty or thirty are willing to spend a quarter for a substantial meal. In short, the great majority want a Dairy Lunch which would supply them with good cocoa, soup, sandwiches, rolls, and simple sweets, for very moderate rates; and a small minority want a more substantial meal for twenty-five cents…

The present caterer attempts to satisfy both demands by the “help-yourself” system.  Each person takes a tray and paper napkin and helps herself to the cold dishes of which an assorted collection of five cent portions is on the counter, and is helped to the hot dishes by a maid.  Of cold things there is a variety of sandwiches, jellies, salads, fruit in season, etc., and of hot, soup, cocoa, tea, and a choice of meats and vegetables.  The most is fifteen or twenty cents.  In theory, this is excellent; yet there is much complaint; so the undergraduates were questioned and the following statistics compiled by Miss Poole.

73 complained of the sandwiches as being hard and dry, with the meat scrappy and fat or all gristle and bone.

10 said the soup was watery and greasy.

26 said the pastry was stale.

20 said the muffins were doughy.

25 said the roast beef was tough.

4 said there were not enough vegetables.

3 said the butter was bad.

1 said the milk was sour.

2 said the salad dressing was rancid.

2 said the eggs were not fresh.

15 said there was an insufficient variety of wholesome food and too much of jellies.

All these statements are true, but never all at once.  The trouble is that there is very little profit in the lunch-room and the caterer cares only for his profit; so that he uses cheap and stale material, and in the kitchen unskilful [sic] labor.  The food seldom is absolutely uneatable, but it is always on the verge of falling from the not-good to the bad.  Your Committee took the complaints to the local manageress, who denied them in toto, but promised to improve and has sincerely tried.  She is, however, not particularly efficient and is of course under Mr. Cowen, who, though bland with promises, is not eager to lose one cent of possible profit, and in other cases both at Columbia and Barnard has not shown other than a mercenary spirit.  Your Committee regards him as a difficult, if not impossible, person to deal with…

The next thing was to find out if other lunch-rooms gave better food for the money.  It was not fair to compare those on business streets, where the total receipts are so much larger and where the service can be used all day.  Nor is the case of a men’s room just the same, because they are less fussy and usually spend more.  Around the college there is no place where a lunch can be had for the money except at Horace Mann or the Commons, which are served by the same caterer.  The charges are the same and the restaurants not materially better, although there is more variety and the food is hotter and fresher, because of the greater consumption.  At Barnard food is “carried over.”

At other institutions – Packer, Erasmus Hall, Pratt – the conditions are about the same.  The Pratt lunch-room is run by the Domestic Science Department, but is not a success.  Polytechnic, Manual Training, and Adelphi are run by a caterer…The [Adelphi] luncheon for $.25 was nicely served and consisted of soup, a choice of meats, a vegetable, tea or cocoa, and dessert.  The food was distinctly better than at Barnard.  The other room, where the students bring their lunches, is inferior, – perhaps because of the number of children.  On the whole the situation at Adelphi is similar to that at Barnard and somewhat better solved.  This is because the caterer is more liberal…

We would urge the Alumnae to petition the removal of the present caterer.  We think we could not do worse, and that a new man would for a time at least do better.

Respectfully submitted,
Charlotte E. Morgan,

This report can be found in full in the Alumnae Affairs Records, Barnard Archives


Barnard “Mysteries”

Ever wish your NSOP experience had come with a little more blatant, school-sanctioned hazing?  Probably not, but had you matriculated as a Barnard Freshman between the years 1890 and 1927, that’s just what you would have gotten in the form of “Mysteries,” an initiation event perpetrated by the sophomore class on the freshmen early in the term.  According to a news clipping found in one of the scrapbooks of Eleanore Myers Jewett, Class of 1912, Mysteries were “instituted by the class of ’93 as a means of damping the ardor of their overspirited inferiors,” and by 1910, when Myers Jewett sat on the Mysteries planning committee, their intent was to dampen spirits indeed.

In Myers Jewett’s scrapbook, she outlines the “Order of Events” for Mysteries ’10, an impressive catalog of kiddie-Halloween-party-style gags: blindfolded Freshmen were led through a “Reception Line” featuring the horrible “wet shammy glove,” the gruesome “two sausages,” and the devilish “hard boiled egg,” to name only a few.  The tortures continued with a “Registration in gore,” where freshmen inscribed their names on a list, writing “with the nose” in “tepid cream.”  At one point the presumably quivering freshmen were compelled to “pick out mummies’ eyes from a pail of slime,” a fantastic proposition that the Mysteries Committee managed with, Myers Jewett helpfully notes, “marbles in a pail of wet dough.”

These travails were all fun and games compared to the “torture chamber for those [freshmen] who had been disrespectful to any Soph at any time.”  Here, Myers Jewett makes good on her scrapbook’s earlier descriptions of a “’black list’ of freshmen” for whom “special tortures” were set aside; inside the “torture chamber,” freshmen met a “white spook with wet shammy glove and menthol pencil.”  What, you ask, is a “menthol pencil”?  Wyeth Laboratories’ hefty 1906 An Epitome of Therapeutics gives us a hint: “for immediate relief from the pain and swelling caused by the bites of insects, particularly mosquitoes, gnats, and black flies, also the sting of bees, etc…rub thoroughly the spot affected several times with the Menthol Pencil” (252). A menthol pencil, then, is a topical pain-reliever, but anyone who’s slathered on some Burt’s Bees knows how shockingly cold such a minty balm can be—especially when unexpected.

After the freshmen had been suitably cowed by many more of these sorts of torments, the sophomores read out a list of “Laws for Freshmen” to be obeyed for a two-week period following Mysteries; these “Laws” included dicta such as “Always bow to a Sophomore respectfully,” “No walking in the Soph corridor,” and, most notably “No rats, puffs, or false hair.”

Anna Herrmann, Barnard Class of 1911, demonstrates how best to use rats, puffs, and artificial hair in her Mortarboard portrait, 1910. Courtesy of Barnard College Archives

This is 1910, remember, and in 1910, a girl wasn’t a girl without a giant mass of hair piled on her head.   However, the Barnard ladies of the ‘Aughts and ‘Teens weren’t necessarily blessed with more hair or better back-combing techniques than we are today; instead, they cheated a little to achieve the perfect ‘do.  A “rat” is essentially a stocking filled with stuffing in a flattish roll that, lying on the head with the hair combed over it, adds volume and shape to the hairstyle.  Is this totally wacky? Absolutely.  But to our Barnard sisters of yore, their rats and puffs and bits of fake hair were as essential as straightening irons are for some of our number today (for those interested in trying out some hair rattery for themselves, here’s a handy tutorial from the blog American Duchess).  Deprived of their rats—which, according to a newspaper clipping included in Myers Jewett’s scrapbook, were “kept in a safe deposit vault hired by the sophomore class”—the freshmen grudgingly went about with their hair unpuffed, accusing the sophomores of attempting to undermine competition for those fine Columbia gentlemen and generally making it known that they felt “it was one of the most cruel kinds of hazing ever attempted” (same newspaper clipping).  Myers Jewett’s scrapbook contains months of letters to the Bulletin demanding the retiring of Mysteries as a result of 1912’s outrageous behavior.

To apply a little bit of pop psychology to this practice, in a brief digression, what we see in Mysteries ‘10 is a classic cycle of hazing.  Tortured similarly but one year ago, the sophomores try to get even not on the people who subjugated them, but on the next round of victims; by lording it over newly-arrived girls, they state firmly and forever that they can no longer be taken advantage of in a similar fashion.

How did the sophomores get away with it?  As a clipping from an unnamed newspaper in Myers Jewett’s scrapbook tells us (if only Eleanore had cited her sources!), “as Barnard is a department of Columbia University, the girls in the institution are supposed to obey President Butler’s [that’s Nicholas Murray Butler, president of CU from 1902-1945] rule that there is to be no hazing.  But they evade that rule by holding their initiation ceremony under the supervision of the Barnard Student Council, and the Council sees that no overstrenuous punishment is meted out to the first-year students” (emphasis added).

Does all this seem crazy and totally “overstrenuous” to you?  Yeah, me too.  Fortunately, we can breathe a collective sigh of relief that Mysteries neither started out nor ended up this petty or cruel; in fact, its original intent was not to humiliate or shame the freshmen classes, but to include them in a tradition of student camaraderie—despite what Jewett’s 1910 news clipping said about “damping the ardor of their overspirited inferiors.”

This book played a central role the Mysteries ritual from 1893 until it was lost in 1905. The Mysteries book reappeared in 1912 and was in use until 1929. Courtesy of Barnard College Archives

There is one artifact in the archives that proves this quite conclusively—the “Mysteries Book.”  Donated by the Barnard Undergraduate Association to the Alumnae Association in 1931, the Mysteries Book was the focus of Mysteries in its original state; from a letter to the Bulletin in 1910, we learn that “when the Mysteries were organized some years ago, it was for the purpose of transmitting to the freshman class a mysterious book” as a sign of solidarity.

A poem billed as a "fragment from an old primer" extolling the virtues and vices of a Mr. Woodward. Courtesy of Barnard College Archives.

What’s in the book?  Satirical poems—parodies of then-famous songs and still-famous poets—containing “sacred and inviolate jokes or puns perpetrated at the expense of the Faculty.”  An ancient-looking tome with a lock on the side (seriously) and a little matching key, the Book is full of some of the prettiest handwriting you can imagine—both a condemnation of our current chicken scratch and a hint at how long college girls of yesteryear must have spent practicing penmanship.  Think how many books they could have read with those hours!  At any rate, the Book also gives us a more favorable history of Mysteries, courtesy of the entry by the Class of 1914, which comes after “a lapse of seven years” in which no entries or satirical poems appear.  According to the Class of 1914 (or, more accurately, Jean Earl Mökle, the member of it who wrote the 1914 pages), “during the period between the sophomore years of the Classes of 1907 and 1914,” the Mysteries Book was “lost, and ‘Mysteries’ gradually degenerated into an ‘absolute rough house,’ culminated by the somewhat notorious ‘reception’ given to 1913 by 1912.”

That “reception,” of course, is the “wet shammy,” “torture chamber,” “no rats, puffs, or false hair” extravaganza Myers Jewett describes, an event characterized in the Book as “a pointless imitation of the customs of hazing in Men’s Colleges.”  The Class of 1914 set Mysteries back on its original course, passing the Book on to the class of 1915 in all friendliness; 1915 passed it on, with no torture, to 1916, and the tradition kept on in a kindly fashion for another fifteen years.

The Class of 1914 reinstated the Mysteries Book and its accompanying friendly rituals. Courtesy of the Barnard College Archives

The last entry in the Mysteries Book is by the class of 1931, and though the entry does not reveal any waning of the ceremony’s popularity, 1931 nevertheless  passed to Book on not to 1932, but to the Alumnae Association.  With the retiring of the Book, Mysteries eventually faded into Barnard’s mysterious (ha ha ha) past, leaving behind only a few artifacts and a vague scent of juvenile transgression.

-Julia Mix Barrington ’12

Barnard College Thrift Shop

If only that Vivienne Westwood corset top you shelled out a hundred bucks for at Beacon’s Closet last weekend had gone to a good cause—say, a scholarship for your fellow Barnard sisters, so that they too could afford to splurge the meager earnings from their library work studies on looking like a Kate Bush music video extra!  Unfortunately, the Barnard College Thrift Store has been out of business since 1998.

Margot Lyons, BC '58, tries on a pair of silk dancing slippers during Barnard's shift at the Everybody's Thrift Shop, c. 1950s. Courtesy of Barnard College Archives.

The Barnard College Thrift Store was not a thrift store in the way that second hand shops and vintage stores are often called “thrift stores”—it was a little grimy, a little disorganized, and filled with lots of junk.  There were no “designer racks” or dresses with price tags still on, sold for 10% off department store prices.  However, there was always someone willing to buy that forlorn sock with the hole in its toe for a cent.

Barnard began its foray into the world of rummage stores as an Alumnae project for Barnard graduates looking for a way to contribute.  The founding members of the Thrift Store Committee didn’t know much about running a business, but they persevered.  In 1938, after trying on a few other co-operatives for size, Barnard joined the Everybody’s Thrift Shop, which was composed of a group of charities that participated for their individual benefit.  Barnard had six to eight workers in once a week to collect, sort, and price their own rummage.  Small overhead percents went to the management of the thrift shop, and the rest was taken in for an unrestricted, need-based scholarship for Barnard students.

Barnard’s part in the Everybody’s Thrift Shop was decidedly marked by turbulence and instability.  During World War II, no building would give air-raid shelter to the workers at the thrift shop because there were so many customers, and the building on 59th street was flimsy and unsafe.  The manager took charge, keeping a first aid kit near the counter and rushing everyone under a desk when the sirens went off.  But difficulties in the thrift store extended beyond those caused by America’s involvement abroad.  While pieces were easy to sell, especially during World War II and the series of 20th century recessions in which people were searching for affordable clothing, “rummage” (donation material) was more difficult to come by.  In 1984, the shop relocated to lower Park Avenue.  The college held teas, luncheons, and produced shows (fashion shows, operas, etc) to raise awareness and donation levels for the thrift store.  Ads were taken out in the Barnard Bulletin begging students to send in their castoffs.  Eventually, Barnard was forced to pull out of the resilient little store when insurance and payroll expenses rose and volunteers were hard to find.

When Barnard finally slipped out of the Everybody’s Thrift Shop in 1998, volunteers had raised over one million dollars in scholarships for students.  Aside from the treasure that benefitted the school, real treasure was found between grubby scarves and cardboard boxes:  a Cartier clock, bejeweled and in perfect condition, and a diamond ring sewn into the seam of a sleeve of a summer dress.

Patrons of the Everybody's Thrift Shop browse the jewelry section as Barnard Alumnae volunteers man the counter, c. 1950s. Courtesy of the Barnard College Archives.

–Johana Godfrey, BC ’13

This posting was inspired by the article “A Farewell to Charms” in the Barnard Magazine, Fall 1998, Vol. LXXXVII, No.4; additional thrift store records can be found in the Centennial Office files, Development Office files, and Public Relation files; additional articles on the thrift store can be found in the Barnard Bulletin.

The papers of former Barnard faculty member Helen H. Bacon have been processed

For a Bryn Mawr alumnae reunion, Helen Hazard Bacon submitted a short biography and she commented that “when forty years are compressed into one page most of the really important things are necessarily omitted or between the lines.” Such is the challenge in trying to describe the Helen H. Bacon Papers now processed at the Barnard College Archives.

Pres. James I. Armstrong awards Helen H. Bacon with honorary degree, Middlebury College, VT, June 1, 1970. Courtesy of the Barnard College Archives, Helen H. Bacon Papers.

The collection primarily consists of the Prof. Bacon’s research and class papers as a member of the Greek and Latin Department at Barnard College and Columbia University. Her papers document her progressive scholarly work and the wide range of classes she taught, and also offer a glimpse into the life and career of a remarkable member of the Barnard faculty.

In 1942, after pursuing some graduate studies, Helen Bacon joined the U.S. Naval Reserve as a Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES). Along with other linguists and classicists, including her own Bryn Mawr professor Richmond Lattimore, she worked  in the Navy’s Communications Annex in Washington, D.C. In her papers, from a lecture presented to the Navy Reserves in 1993, we learn that “Bake”, as she was nicknamed then, was actually a cryptanalysist decoding Japanese radio communications.

The Lion Gate at Mycenae, Greece, March 12, 1951. Photograph by Helen H. Bacon (presumed). Courtesy of the Barnard College Archives, Helen H. Bacon Papers.

After the Navy, she returned to graduate school at Bryn Mawr. In her papers, we find her slides from a trip to Greece while she was teaching at the Woman’s College of Greensboro, N.C. She returned the following year on a Fullbright fellowship and studied at the American Academy of Classical Studies in Athens.  In her richly detailed travel journals, she records her awe at the walls in Mycenae, “really Cyclopean – gigantic blocks of conglomerate, held together by gravity only.” She also captures conversations with her fellow students and locals over ouzo, mostly in French, as they share their desire for peace and their distrust of generals, Eisenhower and Papagos.

Prof. Bacon’s papers show the life of the scholar: the bibliographies, research notes, first drafts and revised editions, all in paper. She was self-admittedly not a great typist so her copious handwritten notes show us how each idea takes shape. In the correspondence, we can read her colleagues’ feedback on a draft, a letter of appreciation from a fellow scholar who found her work, and even a journal editor’s rejection letter.  In her class papers, we can almost follow each lecture as she kept her notes, syllabi, reading lists and even exams.

Helen H. Bacon and unidentified guest at Library of Congress conference honoring the work of Robert Frost, March 26, 1974, Washington, D.C. Photography by Library of Congress, courtesy of the Barnard College Archives, Helen H. Bacon Papers.

As the daughter of a poet, Prof. Bacon brought a literary approach to her readings of the classical texts. She also used her classical background to write on the works of Robert Frost. Over the summers, she taught Classics in translation at the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College, for which she was awarded an honorary doctorate in 1970. With Pulitzer prize poet Anthony Hecht, she co-authored a translation of Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes, which was nominated for a National Book Award in 1973.

Prof. Bacon described two kinds of experiences for classicists visiting Greece for the first time: “Either he says ‘How the world of Sophocles and Plato has degenerated’ … or else, with a conviction beyond rational explanation, he says to himself ‘I have been here before’.” “I belong to the second group,” she states, “a group which to those who need prose explanations for things will always seem sentimental, emotionally uncontrolled in permitting romantic feelings to distort their intellectual objectivity.” The Helen H. Bacon papers show that enthusiasm for her studies and her life.

Marion Cowan and Helen H. Bacon (left to right) sitting in a tavern in Santorini, Greece, 1990. Photograph courtesy Marion Cowan and the Barnard College Archives, Helen Bacon papers.

Written by J. Rios, Archives Intern, QC GSLIS ’11

Mary Harriman Rumsey, Class of 1905

Note: This is part of a series of profiles about Barnard alumnae. These profiles were originally posted on the old Barnard Archives website. 

Trustee, social justice pioneer

Mary (Harriman) Rumsey (Class of 1905) attended Barnard at a time when very few women pursued higher education, and she continued to break barriers throughout her life. Rejecting the convention that the affluent should remain within their elite circles, she founded the Junior League to mobilize young, upper-class women to help the underprivileged. Continue reading

Lucyle Hook: Barnard Emeritus Professor, Globe Trotter

The Barnard College archivists have recently finished inventorying the Lucyle Hook Collection, 13 boxes of personal documents and photographs that tell the story of Mrs. Hook’s life.  The collection is so personal that I had to continually stop myself from referring to her as “Lucyle” in this post.

Lucyle Hook, a Texan belle with a taste for travel, was one of Barnard’s most distinguished and interesting faculty members.  Hook was appointed as Professor Emeritus of English at Barnard on July 1st, 1967 after 21 years of service at the school.  She specialized in seventeenth century literature and drama, and was ever departing for Greece or London on research trips.  Her personal notebooks, left to the Barnard College Archives, filled with edits and additions, are clearly the work of a woman with a tireless and engaged mind.

Hook was born in Quanah, TX, on October 29th, 1901, where she grew up reading the “six-foot-shelf of books” which sparked her lifelong interest in exploring literature, drama, and the English language.  She came to Barnard after a stint of teaching high school in Scarsdale.  She didn’t intend to stay.  Hook was on a one year visiting professorship, filling in for Barnard legend and drama professor Minor Latham.  After spending a year at Barnard, however, she deferred her plans to leave–Barnard felt right.  Much of her past was intertwined with the Barnard/Columbia microcosm.  Hook had received her masters degree at Columbia, and her husband, Fred Rother had taught there.  Furthermore, Barnard was flexible enough to permit her travels and breaks for research.  The English department became her home until retirement.

During a trip to Turkey, she was made the head of the American College for Girls in Istanbul by Dean Gildersleeve, who was a trustee for the school.  She took a three year leave of absence from Barnard.  During her time in Turkey, she traveled throughout the Middle East and Africa, keeping detailed journals in which she drew parallels between Marrakesh markets and her the Bartholomew Fair of her beloved Jonsonian drama.  Hook’s life was especially well visually documented at this time.   Photographs show her standing on the wing of a bi-plane, replete with large sunglasses, red lipstick, and a head scarf; in the desert with a Camel; and on a safari, watching a lion devour a gnu.  After her retirement from Barnard, Hook spent most of her time either in England or continuing her treks across the globe.

Barnard students today remember and thank Lucyle Hook for the endowment made in her name–the Lucyle Hook Travel Fund, for those students whose research calls for as many adventures as hers did–and for her early publication “the Research Paper,” which can considerably shorten the long, desperate hours spent in Butler and Lehman.

Lucyle Hook at her desk in Barnard College. Image courtesy of Barnard College Archives.