Jeannette Mirsky: In the Words of an Archivist

“In drawing on the letters and unpublished personal narratives, I have taken the liberty of letting the story run along without denoting ellipses; the pages filled with dots looked unseemly… I have utilized whatever books and articles would carry the story ahead fully and honestly and so obviated the repetitiousness of an archivist’s bibliography.”

-Jeannette Mirsky, from the Preface of Sir Aurel Stein: Archaeological Explorer

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Last month I referred to Barnard alumna, author, and world traveler, Jeannette Mirsky, as “the coolest person I never heard of until last week.” Considering that her personal papers, recently acquired by the Barnard College Archives, remained unprocessed until this week, it is not surprising I had not encountered Mirsky previously. Last week I completed processing Jeannette Mirsky’s personal papers and reading her book, To the Arctic! Having spent so much time with her collection, and because there is so little information online about her, I found it fitting to pay her a brief tribute by sharing a few words about Mirsky and her work.

Jeannette Mirsky was born in New Jersey in 1903, and raised in New York City where she went on to earn her A.B. from Barnard College in 1924. From 1935-1938 Mirsky did graduate work at Columbia University, where she studied under Franz Boas and Margaret Mead. Mirsky’s academic records from this time and a notebook from a 1935 Anthropology course entitled “Social Organization,” are included among her papers.

As Mirsky embarked on her graduate studies, her inaugural book, To the North! was published. This time period is documented by extensive correspondence with publishers, manuscript drafts, and a collection of maps, illustrations, and photographs to be considered for inclusion in the publication. To the North! recounts the history of Arctic exploration, utilizing primary source materials to detail Arctic journeys in the words of the explorers themselves. To the North! begins: “Not so long ago there was a custom among sailors that accorded to all those who had sailed round Cape Horn the right to put one foot on the table after dinner, while those who had crossed the Arctic Circle could put both feet on the table. Here will be found the stories of those men who have both feet on the table, told whenever possible in their own words.”

Despite Mirksy’s extensive research and utilization of primary source documents, To the North! was controversial for largely discrediting Frederick Cook’s claims of discovering the North Pole. Mirsky wrote, “Cook was an extraordinary figure. It is impossible to dismiss him simply by calling him a liar. Rather it may be said that he was a great teller of stories, a fiction-writer who on a certain amount of fact built a vivid and absorbing yarn. For a man of his ability and experience he harbored too puissant an imagination…The story told in Cook’s My Attainment of the Pole is exciting and well written, but it nevertheless appears to be mainly fiction.”

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Jeannette Mirsky outside a bar

To the North! subsequently went out of print for a number of years due to a lawsuit by Cook, but was re-released in 1946 under the title, To the Arctic: The Story of Northern Exploration from the Earliest Times to the Present. In addition to English, the book has been published in German, Spanish, and French. Although the book is largely remembered for the controversy ignited by Mirsky’s assertion that it was Robert Peary, and not Frederick Cook who first reached the North Pole; the vast majority of To the North! is interested in what happened prior to the so-called attainment of the Pole. Near the end of the book, after devoting a chapter to the North Pole claims, Mirksy concedes: “It has been many years now since the Pole was reached, and viewing Peary’s exploit from such a vantage-point, it would seem fair to say that if any man were to reach the Pole, that man would be Peary…But like all deeds whose import is self-contained, it seems a strange goal on which to have lavished so much energy and planning and money. Like so many grand gestures, when seen in retrospect, it does not seem to matter greatly.”

 Mirsky expressed a lifelong interest in travel and exploration. Her personal papers are full of her research on explorers, letters and correspondence from around the world, and boxes of postcards and photographs documenting these pursuits. Her years of research culminated in a number of publications, which includes The Westward Crossings, The World of Eli Whitney, Elisha Kent Kane and the Seafaring Frontier, The Great Chinese Travelers: An Anthology, Houses of God, and Sir Aurel Stein: Archaeological Explorer.

Prior to Barnard’s acquisition of Mirsky’s personal papers, the extent of our knowledge ended with her non-fiction and anthropological writings. It is my hope that with the availability of the Jeannette Mirsky collection that interest is sparked and a biographer of Jeannette Mirsky will emerge to tell her story, in her own words, just as she spent her life doing for others.

Written by: Heather Lember, Barnard College Archives Graduate Assistant

Juliet Stuart Poyntz, Class of 1907

Juliet Stuart Points' photograph from the 1907 Mortarboard. Image courtesy of the Barnard College Archives.

On an early June day in 1937, Juliet Stuart Poyntz—Barnard class of 1907, known for her intellect, poise, and charisma—walked out of her rented room at the American Woman’s Association clubhouse and was never seen again. Her attorney reported her disappearance seven months later, launching Poyntz to a different kind of recognition than the intellectual was used to: notoriety. Newspaper headlines traded allegations: Poyntz was a Russian spy–she had been recalled to Russia–she was murdered by the OGPU (the Soviet secret police and the predecessor to the KGB)–she had turned against her communist ties and was placed in the Witness Protection Program. Who was Poyntz, and what happened to her?

Born Juliet Stuart Points on November 25th, 1886 in Omaha, Nebraska, Poyntz moved to New York City with her family at some point during her adolescence, and enrolled at Barnard College in 1903 as a 16 year old. Precocious and intelligent, Poyntz was extremely invested in Barnard as an institution and supplemented her coursework with leadership roles in extracurriculars. She was a member of the Pi Beta Phi Fraternity for women and of the Christian Association, President of her sophomore class, and President of the Undergraduate Association in her senior year. The scrapbook of her close friend, Sophie Parsons Woodman (also class of 1907) contains a letter from her about the proposed creation of a “senior society,” in which she worried over the possibility of creating divisions within her class. She also participated in the 1907 senior show and worked on the Board of Editors for the 1907 Mortarboard. Poyntz was voted “most popular” in her class and in the college, spoke as valedictorian for her graduating class, and went on to work as an instructor in the Barnard history department.

Page one of an article on feminism written for "The Barnard Bear" by Juliet Stuart Poyntz during her time as an instructor at Barnard. Image Courtesy of the Barnard College Archives.

During her years at Barnard and after her graduation, Poyntz was involved with the suffragette/feminist movement, which was gaining momentum during the early 20th century. In 1912, she gave an address to the Suffrage Club at Barnard, quoting freely from John Stuart Mill and calling for women to assert their individual freedoms. Ironically, referencing one of the fathers of laissez-faire economic policy was in direct opposition to her other great cause: socialism. Poyntz viewed the principles of equality touted in socialism as a natural extension of the women’s movement. In the 1912 Barnard Classbook, Poyntz reports having worked as a Special Agent for the U.S. Immigration Commission shortly after graduation, where she “found [her] proper level in the slums with the lowest of low delightful immigrants” and claims she is “still a woman’s suffragist or worse still a feminist and also a socialist (also of the worst brand).” In 1913, she married Dr. Frederick Franz Ludwig Glaser, a German immigrant. Though she kept her maiden name after the marriage, she legally changed the American spelling of her last name, “Points,” to an Eastern-European phonetic version, “Poyntz.” Though her reasons for doing this are unknown, it is around this time that Poyntz actively became involved in the Communist Party.

Poyntz rose to visibility as an activist for both the suffragette movement and the communist party in the years that followed her marriage. She published articles in the Nation about the economic future of various forms of government, and was one of the headlining speakers at Woman’s Day on April 31st, 1915–a historic event crucial in the women’s suffrage movement and associated with both the socialist and communist causes–where she was billed as a “Feminist Communist.” By 1920, Poyntz was “high in the circles of communists.” In 1934, disillusioned by the apparent inaction of the Communist Party in America, Poyntz withdrew her communist sympathies and visited Russia, where she became an agent for the OGPU. In 1936, Poyntz, disgusted by the brutality of the organization and the realities of the communist Gulag, withdrew from the OGPU. According to an article written by her close friend Carlo Tresca (labor organizer and opponent of Stalin) in which he accused the Soviet Union of murdering her, she began to unleash violent tirades against the self-serving and tyrannical activities in Soviet government to her personal friends. Less than a year later, she vanished.

Given her unpatriotic activities towards the end of her life, it is understandable that Poyntz is not listed as a notable alumna on any of the brochures that Barnard gives prospective students. However, throughout her life of activism, Poyntz worked to maintain her personal integrity and beliefs in the cause of social de-stratification even while she was being dragged progressively deeper into the activities of a dangerous organization. She is an unlikely but excellent example of the dauntless, committed spirit that Barnard prizes in its students.

Additional Information:

Tresca’s accusations can be read here, in an article entitled “Where is Juliet Stuart Poyntz?” written in 1938, just five years before he was murdered by Mafia gunmen for his anti-facist sentiments.

Dorothy Gallagher’s “Disappeared,” a dramatic essay on the Poyntz abduction (in which Gallagher accuses Poyntz of abducting another OGPU spy to the Soviet Union in 1936, before her break with the organization) that claims to draw information from Poyntz’ FBI file, can be read here.

-Johana Godfrey, BC ’13

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.

Margaret Mead at Barnard

Margaret Mead ’23 sitting on roof of Barnard Hall, circa 1920s. Courtesy of the Barnard College Archives.

In any anthropology class you take at Barnard, the professor will take a few minutes out of the first lecture to tell you that Margaret Mead, the brilliant scholar responsible for introducing anthropology into the public conscience, was once a student at Barnard.  In 1920, a “frumpy” Mead transferred to Barnard from DePauw University as a sophomore.

Mead had trouble fitting in at DePauw.  She was socially ostracized and turned down by many sororities during the rush process because she didn’t dress “in fashion.”  At Barnard, however, she found “and in some measure created–the kind of student life that matched [her] dreams….friendships were founded that endured a lifetime of change.”  By the end of her time here, she knew what she could do in life.

At the time that Mead attended, Barnard only had one dorm and so overflow students lived in Barnard owned apartments near campus, much as upperclassmen do today.  Here, in a Claremont Apartment, Mead began to develop the close circle of friends nicknamed the Ash Can Cats.  The moniker was given them by drama teacher and Barnard legend Minor Latham, whose comprehensive drama survey they all took together.  Noted poet Leonie Adams was, along with Mead, the leader of the group.  Mead described the Ash Can Cats as “unusual” and “half Jewish, half Gentile,” a contradiction which Mead thought sparked debate among the girls.  They thought of themselves as radicals but spent many nights engaged in studies and academic debate rather than partying.  It was clear that they meant “radical” in an intellectual sense.  Mead’s Ash Can Cats belonged to “a generation of young women who felt extraordinarily free.”

Originally an English major, it was at Barnard that Mead took her first anthropology class taught by the pioneering anthropologist Franz Boas.  She met Ruth Benedict, who was then serving as Boas’  TA and who encouraged Mead to major in Anthropology, telling her that philosophy could wait but that the field of anthropology was moving now.  Benedict belonged to the culture and personality school of anthropology and was later recognized as one of the other key female anthropologists of the 20th century.  Mead formed a strong relationship with Benedict and Boas, and her interest in anthropology directly affected the Ash Can Cats outside of discussion–she drew up a kinship chart for the group, similar to ones used by field anthropologists at the time, to organize her friends.  At the top were the parents, Deborah Kaplan, Leonie Adams, and Mead and then the children, who included Viola Corrigan and were noted for their “whimsical humor.”  The chart continued and all the way through to a “great grandchild” that the Ash Can Cats “adopted” during their last years at college.

Three “Ash Can Cats” seated on a bench holding balloons. From left to right: Léonie Adams ’22, Margaret Mead ’23, and Eleanor Pelham Kortheuer ’24, the Jungle, circa, 1921. Courtesy of the Barnard College Archives.

In her years post Barnard, Mead made some significant breaks from the teachings of her anthropology mentors, rejecting Boas’ practice of salvage anthropology and moving into a more public sphere of anthropological study.  She always remained, however, unchanging in her gratefulness to Barnard for her undergraduate years, still the girl who wrote, a few weeks into her residence “I love, love, love it here.”

Barnard Fraternity Ban of 1913

Ever wondered why you have to slog over to Columbia in your micro-mini and pearls to find a suitable sorority to rush? In 1916, Barnard banned sororities (then called fraternities) for good.  The issue of fraternities was first raised in 1910 due to growing dissent among non-fraternity members who thought that the organizations promoted snobbishness and exclusivity.  At the time, Columbia University was in talks over whether or not to abolish their orders as well.  In 1910, the rush process was restricted to non-first years only.  In 1913, the Faculty Committee on Student Organizations invited four alumnae and four undergraduates to join the board to hear testimonials from both sides of the debate and make a decision about the continued existence of fraternities at Barnard.  After a three year suspension of fraternal activities in 1913, students at Barnard voted by 244 to 30 to abolish fraternities on campus.

During the six year period of debate, students, faculty, and alumni wrote in to both the college paper and alumni magazine to voice their opinions on the matter.  Telegraph wires were ablaze with messages to and from Sorority sisters and alumni attempting to save the place of their beloved sisterhoods.  Some fraternities tried to change the bylaws of their organizations to sidestep complaints–in 1912, Chi Omega re-released a mission statement that put new focus on “sincere scholarship,” keeping girls active in at least two other realms of the college, and having rich members do more service work to “connect with the disadvantaged.”

Those in favor of fraternities held that the organizations helped undergraduates make friends, created a close-knit and welcoming social environment, and allowed younger members to be mentored by alumni.  Those against fraternities claimed that they fostered snobbishness, established race lines, created “artificial barriers against natural intercourse,” caused emotional distress to those not invited to rush, and distracted members from academic achievement.  Among the dissenters was then-Dean Gildersleeve, even though she had been a part of a fraternity during her undergraduate years.

Fraternities had existed at Barnard since the school was first founded.  The Alpha Omicron Pi society was started by two Barnard students, Jessie Wallaces Hughan and Stella George Stern Perry.  Defying the popular notion that girls involved in fraternities were less academically able than their peers, the two went on to become relatively well-known public intellectuals–Hughan ran for a seat in the US Senate and founded the War Resisters League in 1898, and Perry became a well known art historian.

What did Barnard lose and gain by disbanding fraternities?  We did, perhaps, do good in supposedly placing “intellectual pursuits over social polarization” and regaining focus on academia.  (Margaret Mead, popularizer of anthropology and Barnard alumnus, was once turned down during a rush event for membership of Kappa Kappa Gamma at DePauw University for being “too frumpy.”)  But in 1915, Dean Gildersleeve admitted in a New York Times article that the social world dearly missed the fraternities, and that she was scrambling to introduce new social organizations/environments for Barnard girls to flourish in.  I do think we can still feel the effects of the ban today, when we realize that Barnard women wishing to pledge sororities go over to Columbia, and that the social life of these students becomes less centered around Barnard as their time spent across Broadway lengthens.

Written by Johana Godfrey, BC ’13

Five members from the Barnard classes of 1889 and 1890. Virginia C. Gildersleeve is second from the left while still in her fraternity days. Courtesy of Barnard College Archives.

A sketch of the gold pins that members of the Delta Delta Delta Society were required to display on their blouses at all times. Courtesy of the Barnard College Archives.

Into the Wild: Barnard Camp

“This Barnard Camp in the hills is one diamond in the rough that is ‘smooth.’ You have the grandest times up there! Your college education won’t be complete unless you’ve been to Camp.” — Barnard Athletic Association

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For students constantly inundated with the pressures of academic life and the stresses of city living, discovering urban respites to relax and unwind has always been pivotal. Until seventeen years ago, Barnard women had a place to escape far from the hustle and bustle of New York City, a special retreat all their own—Barnard Camp (renamed Holly House in 1963 in honor of Physical Education Department Chair and first Camp counselor Margaret Holland), located just 38 miles outside of the city, and yet a world away from campus.

Situated near the water on 20 acres of Westchester County’s Croton-on-Hudson, the camp was officially opened on Oct. 15, 1933. The idea to construct a camp was born more than ten years earlier, when students spent the occasional weekend at geology professor Dr. Ida Ogilvie’s farm near Bedford, New York. As interest grew, the Athletic Association planned winter wilderness retreats to two sites—Brentmere cabin and Bear Mountain Inn, a ski lodge. By 1926, Barnard was offering retreats year-round to a farmhouse in Ossining rented from Phys. Ed. Department member Dorothy Nye.

The search for a site upon which to construct a camp of Barnard’s own began in 1928, when the Alumnae Association set a fundraising goCamp_interior39al of $10,000. Funds were raised by alumnae donation, proceeds from alumnae Greek Games tickets, and benefits hosted in 1928 and 1929. In 1933, Barnard acquired the first ten acres of property for the depression-era price of about $9,000. The deed for the land was presented to Dean Virginia Gildersleeve on Feb. 12, 1933 and ground was broken in March, after a road had been built through the woods. Ten more acres of land were purchased in the 1950s.

Camp offered a welcome return to simple, rustic life. A modest cabin furnished simply with just a meager cookstove, a few comfy sofas, and a large fireplace was the only escape from winter’s chill. The building slept 15-20 students in two bunk rooms, each heated with a small stove; braver souls could also elect to doze on a screened sleeping porch. All amenities were acquired outside and required a little elbow grease—students pumped their own water, cooked food over a fire pit, bathed in the lake or with primitive showers, and used outhouses connected only to refuse pits. Three small campsites constructed by students—“Eagle’s Nest,” “Hemlock” and “Red Oaks”—provided extra space to cook, relax, and dispose of waste.

This was more of a draw than a deterrent for Barnard students, who relished the opportunity to escape the cityCamp_wood43 for a few days and experience a taste of the country life. In addition to their daily chores, campers could also indulge in a number of activities, from hiking and skiing to swimming and storytelling. In addition to four annual events and four class days planned by the Athletic Association, Holly House was open to students of all sorts for club retreats and private stays for groups of 8-20. During the early years of Camp, a campcraft course was also offered every June. Run by Miss Holland, it gave six students the opportunity to learn about the running of the camp, organize independent projects, and help build new campsites. From this group, the Barnard Camp Committee was selected each year. This group was in charge of planning activities, menus, and other necessities for each weekend.

The total cost of the trip amounted to only a few dollars, making it a fun and accessible destination for all; the Athletic Association beckoned every student to make an excursion up to Camp. In the Oct. 6, 1933 issue of the Barnard Bulletin, Agnes Wayman remarked, “Camp now deliberately reaches out for the book-worm, the bridge fiend, the indoor girl, the weak sister…each may find friends and activities and peace and quiet and ‘unlax’ in her own way.” A student member of the Bulletin, Edna Jones, held similar sentiments. “Camp is the place for the student who wants a change from city life, for the student who wants to get away from It All,” she wrote, “for the student who has ‘spring fever,’ (even in the winter) and for the student who is a ‘natural’ for the great out-of-doors at any time of year. To the dorm girl it offers a special kind of freedom; to the day student it offers the possibility of living with her classmates and getting to know them in a way that is out of the question when she commutes every day.”

While in the early days of Camp 60-70 students would sign up every weekend, interest began to dwindle after World War II and dropped significantly in the mid-fifties. In a 1963 issue of the Bulletin, one student remarked, “It seems that people have lost their taste for the shared pleasures of fire-building and massive pancake breakfasts. Nowadays the cabin is less often visited than it was in the past, and large groups seldom get together there for a weekend.” Many campers began to complain of the strict rules still enforced at Holly House—the inability to walk far or alone, the requirement Camp_waterthat students be at all meals, the decision to no longer allow male guests, etc. In 1962, the Camp Committee proposed to modernize facilities, but the $5,000-$10,000 project was not within the College’s budget. While the Camp Committee conducted a number of investigations into the reasons for the decline, it seemed students simply just weren’t interested in getting their hands dirty anymore. In a Barnard College Camp Report from 1961-1962, the committee remarked, “Past reports have attempted to analyze the limited use of the camp. School pressures; absence of cohesive groups who socialize together; travel time, cost, and difficulty; lack of inside plumbing and adequate heating are valid explanations. The changing nature of the student, as several students have pointed out, accounts in part for their not participating in experiences that the camp offers. Apparently few are interested in spending a weekend of group living with girls, especially when there are chores and some discomfort.”

Nevertheless, Barnard did not want to abandon the camp so soon after they had endeavored to build it, and continued to host events there, mostly for alumnae. Why the land was inevitably sold, and to whom, is a mystery, but by 1991 trips to Holly House were no longer listed as an option in the Student Handbook, and the camp was reportedly sold by the college in 1992.

Memories of Barnard Camp may have been lost in the new wave of city slickers arriving at Barnard, their eyes glowing with the prospect of technology and sophistication. Yet the relics of Holly House are rich and plentiful, and former students will forever look back on the site fondly.

Written by Abbey Ozanich ’11

For more photographs of Holly House, please visit our Gallery.

note: This article erroneously reports the date of the acquisition of additional land by the camp. Barnard Camp expanded in size to 20 acres in 1938, following an alumnae purchase.