Waterworld: Highlights from the History of the Barnard Pool

Gymnasium Pool, circa 1920s. Credit: Sigurd Fischer. Courtesy of the Barnard College Archives, Lucy O. Lewton '22 Scrapbook Collection.

With the recent news of the impending demise of Barnard’s swimming pool in mind (Columbia Spectator, “Barnard Likely to Close Swimming Pool in 2013”), we’d like to take this opportunity to present choice episodes from the pool’s almost-century of history.The Barnard Pool opened in 1918 with the completion of Students’ Hall, now known as Barnard Hall (the building was renamed in 1926).  After the opening, students and faculty alike were in raptures: the 1919 Mortarboard contains a poem in praise of the new building, where “down in the depths the blue-green pool / next greets our wondering eyes, / so clean it is, so clear and cool, / ‘tis quite the best surprise (1919 Mortarboard, 110).  In her report to the president of Columbia University on the academic year 1917-1918, Virginia Gildersleeve observes that “the beautiful swimming pool has been perhaps the greatest source of delight for the undergraduates” (1918 Dean’s Report, 6).

Barnard Swim Team, 1922. Courtesy of the Barnard College Archives.

The students took advantage of their new natatorium by quickly forming a swim team and competing against the team from Teachers College—whose gymnasium and pool Barnard students had used before the construction of Students’ Hall—in an annual swim meet.The pool continued to delight: a December 1932 issue of the Barnard Bulletin printed the following verses, “Pool Poem No. 2,” exhorting students to make use of the wonderful facility:

Breathes there a girl with soul so dead
She can’t recall that once she said,
“See, I can almost stand on my head!
Look, mother, see!”?

Gone is the skill of yesteryear,
But love of stunting still is here
And you may stunt again, never fear.
It still may be.

On this next Friday there will be
Stunts to be done and stunts to see,
Stunts for the clever and stunts for she
Who is a fool.

Come then at four and join the fun,
Be you beginner or be you done.
Come and be young, everyone—
In Barnard Pool. (Bulletin, 13 December 1932, 3)

In 1934, the Bulletin proclaimed, “Since you came to college to learn the Arts and ‘to broaden your abilities,’ you should feel that your education is not complete until you have accomplished the Art of swimming. The pool and the instructors are always at your disposal” (Bulletin, 20 March 1934, 4).

Synchronized swimming: rehearsal for “Snowball Bounce,” the pool, Barnard Hall, December 1951. Credit: Manny Warman, Columbia University. Courtesy of Barnard College Archives.

That same year, Barnard inaugurated the Water Carnival, an aquatic festival featuring, at least in its first year, “a maritime grab-bag, a tango, a spot-light chorus, a fashion parade of beach finery, and a diving exhibit”; later years featured synchronized swimming routines, water dances, skits, and novelty swim races.  In 1941, the Water Carnival presented the wedding of “Miss Hortense Hydroxyl” and “Mr. Horatio Hydrogen” (Bulletin, 11 March 1941, 1).  According to the Bulletin, “the bride wore a gown of white lastex with a white veil of cellophane,” and after the nuptials, “a toast, Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes, was gurgled to the newlyweds by the guests” (here’s Johnny Cash with that old favorite) (1).  The Water Carnival continued into the 1950s.

In 1956, students created the Barnard Barnacles, a synchronized swimming club.  The Barnacles practiced in the Barnard Pool and performed at Water Carnival, eventually becoming serious enough to gain membership in the Inter-Collegiate Synchronized Swimming Association.  In the fall of 1960, three Barnacles left their home waters and journeyed to perform at that Association’s conference for Northeastern schools (Bulletin, 27 April 1961, 1).

Students practicing lifesaving skills in the Barnard Pool. c. 1990s. Courtesy of Barnard College Archives.

As early as 1958, the Barnard Pool provided an aquatic respite not only to students and faculty, but to members of the surrounding community as well.  A November 1958 Bulletin article on Barnard’s community outreach mentions that “the physical education department gives swimming classes for children in the college’s pool” (Bulletin, 18 November 1958, 1).  These community classes continue today: both faculty and neighborhood children use the warm, friendly Barnard Pool for swimming lessons.  Barnard and Columbia students have long taken advantage of the Barnard Pool’s welcoming atmosphere to learn to swim or lifeguard at a more advanced age, as well.

Headline from an April Fool's edition of the Barnard Bulletin, 1 April, 1952. Bulletin Digital Archives.

The pool has always been slightly out of the way, and from reading old Bulletins, it’s clear that the student body thought most about its depths around the first of April.  In 1939, the student paper joked that the Columbia Crew team would henceforth hold its practices in Barnard’s pool, remarking on the sudden popularity of canoe classes among Barnard undergraduates (Bulletin, 28 March 1939, 3). April 1952 saw an article on the drowning death of “beautiful, but unathletic” fictional socialite “Parkus Karcus,” and nine years later, in April 1963, students got into the spirit of the Sixties by with a “passive resistance movement” against a purported new “five year gym plan” (Bulletin 1 April 1952, 2; 28 March 1963, 1).  Students allegedly planned to “sit in the swimming pool until” the administration “abolishes the new requirement. ‘Sink or not swim’ is their motto,” joked the Bulletin (1).In 1980, the Bulletin outdid itself: not only did the issue reveal that the college intend to offer a new course in “aquatic invertebrate zoology” to study the different forms of life which have been known to inhabit the Barnard Pool,” but it also broke the story of the disappearance of six students into the pool’s “murky” depths (Bulletin, 31 March 1980, 4; 8).  According to the article on the disappearances, “students claimed to have sighted what they described as a ‘long brown tentacle’ or a ‘giant eel or snake’ moving across the pool bottom” (8).

Jokes aside, the Barnard Pool has provided students, faculty, staff, and the surrounding community a pleasant and convenient place to play and exercise for the past 96 years.  If it does indeed close after the 2012-2013 academic year, the pool will be gone but, at least in the Archives, not forgotten. —Julia Mix Barrington, BC ’12

Read the Bulletin articles mentioned in this post.

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

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