Poet, Independent Scholar, and Activist: Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs

Meet the face of our newest alum pin, Alexis Pauline Gumbs ’04. To pick up a pin, stop by the Barnard Library!

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Alexis Pauline Gumbs is a “queer Black troublemaker, Black feminist evangelist, prayer poet priestess,” and “widely published author.” She is also the founder of the Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind educational program, co-creator of the Mobile Homecoming experiential archive, and a “21st century cyber-enabled schoolteacher running the Indigo Afterschool program” for “creative black girl geniuses in 6th grade” at the Indigo Night School.

Brief Scope of the Past

Gumbs grew up in “tokenizing spaces” where she found herself to be the only Black or queer person. As a result of her unique identity and peculiar set of oppressions compared to others, Gumbs has always been on edge, prepared to be “misunderstood” and “disrespected.” She expected people to “tolerate her at best” and “to have to fight for dignity that isn’t so freely granted to people of color and/or members of the LGBTQ community. However, Gumbs’ father always managed to channel his daughter’s expectations into “transformative love,” embracing how difference challenges people to “question and re-write who we are and how we love each other.” He was her greatest support system.

At the age of 19, in 2002, Gumbs founded BrokenBeautiful Press, a grassroots publishing initiative that was inspired by Kitchen Table Press and Redbone Press. The press has published “several poetry collections, educational zines, transformative workbooks and online projects.”

Working alongside her mother, Pauline McKenzie-Day, the two created the Dynamic Duo Doula Team to provide people giving birth with holistic support as an integral healing project. They also collaboratively launched transformative mother/daughter workshops such as Thicker Than Whatever: Unstoppable Mother Daughter Relationships and Love Overflow: A Workshop for Newly Menstruating Young People and the Supportive Adults in Their Lives.

Gumbs graduated from Barnard in 2004.

Beyond Barnard

After Barnard, Alexis Pauline Gumbs obtained a PhD from Duke University in English, African and African American Studies and Women and Gender Studies in 2010. Her research was heavily devoted to Black Feminism, which entailed studying about Black women, motherhood, Caribbean women’s literature, diaspora, activism and queer theory. “She was also the first scholar to research the Audre Lorde Papers at Spelman College, the June Jordan Papers at Harvard University, and the Lucille Clifton Papers at Emory University during her dissertation research.” She then went on to found her two current organizations. She also edited Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines (2016), “a comparative analysis of her archival research on black feminist ideas of mothering from the 1970s and 80s together with the ways marginalized mothers are recreating the world today.” She later published Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity (shortlisted for a LAMBDA Literary Award) in the fall of that same year, and M Archive: After the End of the World in March of 2018.

Gumbs has been selected for Best Experimental Writing 2015, Lucille Clifton Poetry Prize Honoree Award, named one of UTNE Reader’s 50 Visionaries Transforming the World in 2009, was a Reproductive Health Heroine and a Black Women Rising Finalist in 2010, and was awarded a Too Sexy for 501-C3 trophy in 2011. In addition, she was also one of the Advocate’s top 40 under 40 features and one of Colorlines 10 LGBTQ Leaders building a new politics in 2012, one of Go Magazine’s 100 Women We Love and Afropunk’s Afro of the Day in 2013, and was honored to appear on PBS’s American Masters series in 2014 alongside Angela Davis, Sonia Sanchez, Gloria Steinem and Danny Glover in Pratibha Parmar’s film Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth. Her poetic work has also been published in many of the most cutting-edge poetry journals including Kweli, Vinyl, Backbone, Everyday Genius, Turning Wheel, UNFold, Makeshift, Proud Flesh, Sinister Wisdom and ElevenEleven.

Gumbs has traveled all over the U.S., as an itinerant speaker, sharing her social media skills, intimate rituals and educational expertise, and her work alongside legends including Ntozake Shange, Angela Davis, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Mandy Carter, Sonia Sanchez, Gloria Steinem and Julian Bond. Moreover, her Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind curricula, podcasts and videos have reached organizations in over 143 countries, from Chennai, India to Nairobi, Kenya.

Resources

Read her interview with Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore featured in BOMB Magazine and Joy KMT featured in Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB)to learn more about Alexis Pauline Gumbs ’04 and her work.

Aziza Rahman ’20

Sources

Brilliance Remastered. “Bio.” AlexisPauline.com, accessed June 1, 2018, http://www.alexispauline.com/brillianceremastered/bio/.

Duke University. “Alexis Pauline Gumbs.” Duke University, accessed June 1, 2018, https://english.duke.edu/alumni/alexis-pauline-gumbs

Gumbs, Alexis Pauline. “#ThisIsLuv: How My Dad Became a Queer Black Feminist.” Ebony, Ebony Media Operations, LLC, February 17, 2015, accessed June 1, 2018, http://www.ebony.com/news-views/thisisluv-how-my-dad-became-a-queer-black-feminist-403.

KMT, Joy. “We Stay in Love with Our Freedom: A Conversation with Alexis Pauline Gumbs.” Interview by Joy KMT. Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB), February 4, 2018. Summary article, https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/we-stay-in-love-with-our-freedom-a-conversation-with-alexis-pauline-gumbs/#!.

Sycamore, Mattilda Bernstein. “We Are Always Crossing: Alexis Pauline Gumbs by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore.” Interview by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore. BOMB Magazine, March 22, 2018. Summary article, https://bombmagazine.org/articles/alexis-pauline-gumbs/.

 

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Ninth-grade English Language Arts Teacher Fired for Central Park Five: Jeena Lee-Walker

Meet the face of our newest alum pin, Jeena Lee-Walker ‘00. To pick up a pin, stop by the Barnard Library!

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Former English Teacher, Jeena Lee-Walker is notorious for being fired from teaching at the High School for Arts for composing a curriculum with lessons about the Central Park jogger case, which administrators feared would “rile up” black students, in November 2013.

Brief scope of the Past

Jeena Lee-Walker graduated from Barnard in 2000 and earned post-grad degrees from Harvard and Fordham. She began working for New York City Department of
Education (“DOE”), beginning in 2011, as a 9th-grade English at the “High School for
Arts, Imagination and Inquiry” in Manhattan.

“Central Park Five Case, Explained” 

The Central Park jogger case was a major news story that circulated throughout numerous news industries in the late 90’s. The story revolved around five boys of color, Antron McCray (15), Kevin Richardson (14), Yusef Salaam (15), Raymond Santana (14), and Korey Wise (16), and a 28-year-old white woman named Trisha Meili.

According to the recollections Ken Burns received for his documentary The Central Park Five, on the night of April 19, 1989, a group of about 30 young teenagers (mostly black and Latinx boys) met up in Central Park around 9-10 p.m. and engaged in various acts of mischief, like throwing rocks at cars. They even went as far as assaulting random joggers, leading to the arrest of two of the young boys by the police, Kevin and Raymond. They were held for hours in the Central Park precinct before officers contacted their parents to notify them of their arrest for “unlawful assembly.” They also reported that the boys would eventually be sent home with a ticket to family court. However, at 1:30 a. m., a 28-year-old white woman named Trisha Meili was discovered in Central park, beaten badly, raped, and barely alive. Hence, the boys were held longer than promised due to suspicions that they may be possible perpetrators involved the incident regarding Meili.

The boys were still detained the next morning and ushered into separate rooms where cops questioned them individually about Meili. Several more teenagers, including Antron, Yusef, and Korey, were brought in for questioning later that day. The boys were detained and endured non-stop interrogation for over  14-30 hours. Moreover, detectives threatened and coached them into providing the answers they wanted to hear. Teen Vogue author, Lincoln Anthony Blades also reported that:

Days later, the five boys were indicted for attempted murder, rape in the first degree, sodomy in the first degree, sexual abuse in the first degree, two counts of assault in the first degree, and riot in the first degree. Once the boys left the interrogation room, each and every one of them reversed course on the lies they were goaded into telling when speaking with legal counsel.

A trial in August, 1990 acquitted Yusef, Antron, and Raymond of attempted murder, but convicted them of rape, assault, robbery, and riot. A second trial ending in December 1990, convicted Kevin of attempted murder, rape, assault, and robbery, and Korey of sexual abuse, assault, and riot. All of the boys faced charges of five to 15 years in prison, four of whom resulted in serving seven years, while Korey, charged as an adult, was sent to Rikers Island.

It wasn’t until 12 years later that Meili’s true attacker steps into the spotlight.  Matias Reyes, a convicted murderer and serial rapist already serving a 33-years-to-life sentence confessed to attack. Tied with new DNA evidence, New York County district attorney Robert M. Morgenthau vacated the convictions of the five boys and cleared all charges, after having already served their time in prison. Kevin, Raymond, and Antron took this opportunity to sue New York City for $250 million, citing malicious prosecution, racial discrimination, and emotional distress, and eventually reached a settlement for $40 million.

Film makers Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon released a documentary examining the case on November 23, 2012, called The Central Park Five.

Why Fired?

Lee-Walker argued, in response to administrators, “that students in general, and black students in particular, should be riled up,” despite agreeing to dial down her approach. She believed her lessons to be captivating and the topic to be important. She also found it to be a perfect application of the Miranda v. Arizona court case

Administrators still accused Lee-Walker of insubordination and given poor evaluations, more so because she pushed back.

Feeling abandoned and mistreated, Lee-Walker filed a suit in Manhattan Federal Court, and named the Department of Education and several school administrators as defendants. She claimed that:

retaliation against her violated her First Amendment right to discuss the Central Park Five case, and that the firing violated the city’s contract with the teacher’s union because she was not given a required 60 days notice.

In her favor, her lawyer, Ambrose Wotorson, told The News, “We’re not looking to turn our students into automatons. We’re looking to turn out independent thinkers — and she got fired for that, and that’s just wrong.”

On November 23, 2016, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed Lee-Walker’ case, reasoning that “her termination was not a violation of her rights” because school districts can regulate the content of school-sponsored speech as long as they are “reasonably related to pedagogical concerns.” Furthermore, Lee-Walker’s lesson plans, were not entitled to First Amendment protections.

As of February 27, 2018, Husch Blackwell LLP and Theresa Mullineaux report in an article for JD Supra:

If the Supreme Court decides to hear Lee-Walker v. N.Y.C. Dep’t of Educ., the Court will address two issues: (1) do state-employed pedagogues enjoy the protections of free speech in academia, especially given the Garcetti case and (2) if not, does the First Amendment protect a teacher or professor in a public school or university?

Resources

Learn more about Lee-Walker v. N.Y.C. Dep’t of Educ. by reading the legal brief for the case.

Aziza Rahman ’20

Sources

Bekiempis, Victoria and Greene, Leonard. “EXCLUSIVE: NYC high school teacher claims she was fired for Central Park Five lessons that administrators feared would create ‘riots’.” New York Daily News, New York Daily News, January 8, 2016, accessed May 30, 2018, http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-teacher-fired-lessons-central-park-article-1.2489687.

Blackwell, Husch, LLP and Mullineaux, Theresa. “Jeena Lee-Walker V. N.Y.C. Dep’t Of Educ. Et Al.: Book Banning And The First Amendment.” JD Supra, JD Supra, LLC, February 27, 2018, accessed May 30, 2018, https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/jeena-lee-walker-v-n-y-c-dep-t-of-educ-27242/.

Blades, Lincoln A. “Central Park Five Case, Explained.” Teen Vogue, Condé Nast, July 18, 2017, accessed May 30, 2018, https://www.teenvogue.com/story/central-park-five-case-explained

Jeena Lee-Walker v. City of New York Department of Education of the City of New York, et al., 42 U.S.C. 1983 (2018).

Pulitzer Prize-winning Novelist: Jhumpa Lahiri

Meet the face of our newest alum pin, Jhumpa Lahiri ‘89. To pick up a pin, stop by the Barnard Library!

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Jhumpa Lahiri is widely renown for her collections of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies (1999) and Unaccustomed Earth (2008), and novel, The Namesake (2003). Interpreter of Maladies earned the Pulitzer Prize, PEN/Hemingway Award and The New York Debut of the Year. The Namesake was a New York Times Notable Book, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist and was selected as one of the best books of the year by USA Today and Entertainment Weekly, among other publications.

Lahiri’s most recent publications include her newest novel, The Lowland (2013),  a finalist for both the Man Booker prize and the National Book Award in fiction, and new memoir, In Other Words (2015), originally written in Italian while in Rome and titled, In Altre Parole. 

Early Life

Nilanjana Sudeshna “Jhumpa” Lahiri was born in London, England to Bengali Indian immigrants, Amar and Tapati. Around the age of three, Lahiri moved to Kingston, Rhode Island where she spends most of her life growing up. Amar was a librarian at the University of Rhode Island but frequently took Tapati and Lahiri to visit relatives in Calcutta (Kolkata).

As a young girl, Lahiri was surrounded by shelves towering with Bengali poetry and literature books which her mother read religiously, and books about China and Russia her father read for his graduate studies in political science, and Time magazines which he read to relax. However, Lahiri still somehow felt void of books in her life. She always pictured “the perfect” house to be overflowing with books on shelves and scattered across tables; they would be everywhere and lining the entire house. She was permitted to own a book when she was between the ages of five and six, and she describes the first book her mother bought for her as “diminutive, about four inches square, and was called “You’ll Never Have to Look for Friends.”” Her first encounter with oral stories was listening to her maternal grandfather as he crafted stories for her long after everyone had gone to sleep.

For Jhumpa Lahiri, reading and writing fed her soul. She made discoveries that nourished her mind and soothed her desires, but often defied her parents for the culture and knowledge her books entailed.

Lost in Transition

Lahiri’s journey into and through adolescence was immersed in self-doubt and denial. She convinced herself that “creative writers were other people, not me,” allowing what she loved at seven to become what intimidated her most at seventeen. She, instead, dove into “practicing music and performing in plays, learning the notes of a composition or memorizing the lines of a script.” She wrote essays and articles with the drive to become a journalist and entered Barnard majoring in English literature with the hopes of becoming an English professor. She was, in a sense, afraid of herself in writing. In an article she wrote for The New Yorker, she describes:

For much of my life, I wanted to be other people; here was the central dilemma, the reason, I believe, for my creative stasis. I was always falling short of people’s expectations: my immigrant parents’, my Indian relatives’, my American peers’, above all my own. The writer in me wanted to edit myself. If only there was a little more this, a little less that, depending on the circumstances: then the asterisk that accompanied me would be removed. My upbringing, an amalgam of two hemispheres, was heterodox and complicated; I wanted it to be conventional and contained. I wanted to be anonymous and ordinary, to look like other people, to behave as others did. To anticipate an alternate future, having sprung from a different past. This had been the lure of acting—the comfort of erasing my identity and adopting another. How could I want to be a writer, to articulate what was within me, when I did not wish to be myself?

Lahiri later graduated from Barnard in 1989.

Post-Barnard

After graduating from Barnard, Lahiri moves on to obtain three masters degrees in English, creative writing, and comparative studies in literature and the arts, and a Ph D. in Renaissance studies. She also became a professor of the creative writing program at Princeton’s Lewis Center for the Arts.

Among winning the Pulitszer Prize, PEN/Hemingway Award and The New York Debut of the Year, the Man Booker prize and the National Book Award in fiction, Lahiri also won numerous other awards including the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short Story, the Addison Metcalf Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Vallombrosa Von Rezzori Prize, the Asian American Literary Award, the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. In 2014, she was also awarded a National Humanities Medal.

In 2001, Lahiri married Alberto Vourvoulias, a Guatemalan-American and embraced writing and publishing in Italian. She published a number of other stories, along with In Other Words, and “The Boundary” (2018), including The Clothing of Books (2016), Ties (2017), which was named a New York Times Notable Book and Best Foreign Novel by the Times of London, Trick (2018) and Dove mi trovo (2018). She continues to write in Italian and translate her stories to English.   

The Penguin Classics Book of Italian Short Stories, edited and introduced by Lahiri, with selected translations, is forthcoming in Spring 2019.

Resources

Learn more about Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jhumpa Lahiri in the Barnard alum magazines at the Barnard Library Academic and Information Services (BLAIS), listen to her interviews with NPR, or read her own published article in The New Yorker, “Trading Stories: Notes from an apprenticeship,” a self reflection of her life from childhood into adulthood.

Or, do all three!

Aziza Rahman ’20

Sources

Chotiner, Isaac. “Jhumpa Lahiri.” The Atlantic, The Atlantic Monthly Group, April 2008, accessed May 30, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/04/jhumpa-lahiri/306725/.

Deutsch, Robert. “Pulitzer Prize winning author Jhumpa Lahiri.” USA TODAY, USA TODAY, August 19, 2003, accessed May 30, 2018, https://usatoday30.usatoday.com/life/books/news/2003-08-19-lahiri-books_x.htm.

Lahiri, Jhumpa. “Trading Stories: Notes from an Apprenticeship.” The New Yorker, Condé Nast, June 13, 20, 2011, accessed May 30, 2018, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2011/06/13/trading-stories.

Leyshon, Cressida. “Jhumpa Lahiri on Writing in Italian.” The New Yorker, Condé Nast, January 22, 2018, accessed May 30, 2018, https://www.newyorker.com/books/this-week-in-fiction/fiction-this-week-jhumpa-lahiri-2018-01-29.

Minzesheimer, Bob. “For Pulitzer winner Lahiri, a novel approach.” USA TODAY, USA TODAY, August 19, 2003, accessed May 30, 2018, https://usatoday30.usatoday.com/life/books/news/2003-08-19-lahiri-books_x.htm.

NPR. “Strained Connections in ‘Unaccustomed Earth’.” Interview by Neda Ulaby. Book Tour, May 6, 2008. Audio and summary article, https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=97418330.

NPR. “Jhumpa Lahiri’s Struggle To Feel American.” Interview by Steve Inskeep. Morning Edition, November 25, 2008. Audio and summary article, https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=97418330.

 

Librarian and Archivist of Black Culture: Jean Blackwell Hutson

Meet the face of our newest alum pin, Jean Blackwell Hutson ‘35. To pick up a pin, stop by the Barnard Library!

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Jean Blackwell Hutson is best known for her work at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, where she served as chief for 32 years (1948-1980). Hutson expanded the Schomburg immensely during her tenure there, increasing the collection from 15,000 works to 75,000 works. As a librarian, archivist, and educator, Hutson was an advocate for the importance of cultural and scholarly centers dedicated to the preservation of Black history and life around the world.

Early Life

Born in Sommerfield, Florida in 1914, Hutson moved to Baltimore with her mother (a teacher) after her parents divorced. Her biographer Sharon Fitzgerald said in an interview with Schomburg archivist Alexsandra Mitchell that Hutson was a “precocious… [and] gifted child.” From a young age, Hutson formed connections with important Black intellectuals of her time. She met Langston Hughes when she was young and they became lifelong friends. He often referred to her as his “little sister,” and would later help her transition into the social and intellectual world of Harlem. While attending Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore, Hutson encountered teachers such as Norma Marshall (Thurgood Marshall’s mother), Yolanda Du Bois (W.E.B. Du Bois’ daughter and a figure of the Harlem Renaissance), and May Miller (the daughter of Kelly Miller and a well-known Harlem Renaissance-era writer).

Path to Barnard

After graduating at fifteen as Valedictorian of her high school class, Hutson spent three years studying psychiatry at the University of Michigan. While she was there, she organized against their segregated dorms. Hutson’s mother was worried about how much time Hutson was spending on student activism, so she encouraged her to transfer to Barnard. At Barnard, Hutson switched her major from psychiatry to English. Barnard also had segregated dorms at that time, but Hutson lived in the International House at Columbia where graduate students lived. During her time at Barnard, Hutson was also a member of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. She would later return to Barnard in 1974 to speak about her career at a Thursday Noon meeting, and again in 1983 to participate in a “Dialogue Between Distinguished Educators.”

Becoming a Librarian

After college, Hutson spent a year getting her masters at the Columbia School of Library Service. Library science was not Hutson’s intended career path — she initially took it up as a temporary occupation while saving money for medical school. However, she never left the field of libraries and education after graduate school.

Hutson’s advocacy for accessibility and attention to marginalized peoples started early on in her career as a librarian, when she worked at a New York Public Library branch in the Bronx. There, she expanded the collection to include books in Spanish that would appeal to the Spanish speaking patrons of the library. Sharon Fitzgerald notes that Hutson brought, “uncompromised intellect… to every idea… so the library became a natural place for her,” and that she shared, “extraordinary generosity… with patrons.”

Hutson married musician Andy Razaf in 1939, but they got a divorce after eight years of marriage. Starting in 1947 she worked in New York Public Library’s Division of Negro Literature, and she became chief of the Schomburg Collection (originally based on Arthur Schomburg’s private collection of books) in 1948. In 1950, she married John Hutson. They later had a daughter, Jean Frances Hutson. Unfortunately, that marriage was also brief as John Hutson passed away in 1957.

Hutson’s Time as Chief

Hutson spurred a tremendous amount of growth at the Schomburg. She curated important art and historical collections and got her friends Langston Hughes and Richard Wright to donate their personal papers to the collection. Hutson said in a 1964 radio interview with Director of Urban Planning of the American Jewish Committee Irving M. Levine that she was committed to, “filling the gaps of omissions that have occurred” in the telling of Black history. Her work as a librarian and archivist reflects her success in this pursuit. In 1962, Hutson helped publish the Dictionary Catalogue of the Schomburg Collection. This catalogue made the reach of the Schomburg global, as microfilms of the catalogue allowed libraries around the world to explore the contents of the collection. Hutson’s personal prowess as a librarian and educator also attracted international attention. In 1964, she was invited to the University of Ghana to help assemble their Africana collection. She spent the year there as a librarian in the University’s Balme Library.

On her return to the Schomburg, Hutson focused her efforts on fundraising for a new building to house the Schomburg. In addition to helping create the Schomburg Corporation in 1971, Hutson lobbied for federal funding in Albany. Her efforts came to fruition in 1981 when the impressive $3.7 million building opened its doors.

Life beyond the Schomburg

Even though she retired from the position of chief in 1981, Hutson’s name will forever be attached to the Schomburg Collection, especially because of the Jean Hutson General Research and Reference Division (which was dedicated to Hutson on her 80th birthday). After her retirement, Hutson went on to hold a position in the office of library administration at the NYPL.

Hutson was also involved in many organizations beyond the Schomburg, including the American Library Association, the African Studies Association, the NAACP, and the Urban League. In addition, she helped found the Black Academy of Arts and Letters and was the first president of the Harlem Cultural Council. She was an associate adjunct professor of history at City College, where she encouraged students who were engaged in the Black Power movement to use the Schomburg as a resource for their activism. She wrote for journals and library publications, and also contributed to books such as Notable American Women: The Modern Period: a Biographical Dictionary. She has been honored with many awards, including The Annual Heritage Award of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, 1966; The Black Heroes Memorial Award for Outstanding Community Service Commemorating the Lives of Malcolm X, Adam Clayton Powell, Whitney M. Young Jr. and Martin Luther King, Jr., 1974; and The Professional Service Award, Black Librarians Caucus of the American Library Association, 1980.

Hutson passed away in 1998 at age 83, leaving behind a rich legacy of scholarship, culture, and history for the world to cherish and explore.

Resources

To learn more about Hutson in her own words, read an interview with her in the Barnard Alumnae Magazine or listen to her 1968 conversation with Irving M. Levine on Black history.

To learn more about the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, visit the NYPL’s about page.

-Sarah Barlow-Ochshorn ’20

Sources

“A Celebration of Scholarship.” Barnard Alumnae, Summer 1983. http://digitalcollections.barnard.edu/islandora/object/BC11-08:10450#page/16/mode/2up.

Chambers, Kate. “Navasky Speaks at Thursday Noon.” Barnard Bulletin (New York), January 31, 1974. http://digitalcollections.barnard.edu/islandora/object/bc:bulletin-19740131-5.

“Class Notes.” Barnard Alumnae, Fall 1984. http://digitalcollections.barnard.edu/islandora/object/BC11-08:10695#page/40/mode/2up.

Fitzgerald, Sharon. “The Early Life of Jean Blackwell Hutson.” Interview by Alexsandra Mitchell. Live From the Reading Room, September 7, 2017. Audio, https://www.nypl.org/blog/2017/09/07/birthday-jean-blackwell-hutson.

Howard, Sharon. “Hutson, Jean Blackwell.” Oxford African American Studies Center, Oxford University Press, accessed May 24, 2018, http://www.oxfordaasc.com/article/opr/t0001/e0285?hi=0&highlight=1&from=quick&pos=1.

“Hutson, Jean Blackwell 1914–.” Contemporary Black Biography, Encyclopedia.com, accessed May 24, 2018, https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/historians-and-chronicles/historians-miscellaneous-biographies/jean-blackwell-hutson.

Hutson, Jean Blackwell. “Mrs. Jean Hutson: Are We Rewriting History?” Interview by Irving M. Levine. New York Tomorrow, December 24, 1968. Audio, http://www.wnyc.org/story/mrs-jean-hutson-are-we-rewriting-black-history/.

Smith, Dinitia. “Jean Hutson, Schomburg Chief, Dies at 83.” The New York Times February 7, 1998. https://www.nytimes.com/1998/02/07/arts/jean-hutson-schomburg-chief-dies-at-83.html.

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

New Collection from Eleanore Myers Jewett on Display in Lehman Hall

Eleanore Myers '12, circa 1911. From The Mortarboard 1912, p.191. Courtesy of the Barnard College Archive

The Barnard Archives has recently received from Jane Stickler an astounding collection of materials belonging to her mother Eleanore Myers Jewett (Class of 1912).  Four scrapbooks from Mrs. Jewett’s years at Barnard were donated in addition to an annotated 1912 Mortarboard, for which Mrs. Jewett served as the Editor-in-Chief, and first edition of her children’s novel Felicity Finds a Way. An exhibit featuring photographs from these scrapbooks and her personal copy of the Mortarboard is currently on display on the first floor of Lehman Hall.

As one can usually expect of a Barnard alumnae, Mrs. Jewett lived a rewarding and richly textured life. She used her gift of language not only to satisfy her own intellect but also to encourage young children to read.Her works are engaging and range from periods and places such as 12th century England to ancient Korea.

Born April 4, 1890 in New York City, Eleanore Myers Jewett was an ambitious, witty and prolific woman who had a strong sense of self and a healthy dose of mischievous humor. She was a superb storyteller and pushed herself to excel in higher education at a time when few women had the chance. She put her undergraduate degree in Medieval English to good use, having it serve as the basis of her creative and detailed historical fiction for children. A native New Yorker who wished to be as specific and accurate a writer as possible, Mrs. Jewett wrote about faraway lands such as Tibet, Korea, and Egypt only after research and discussions.

In 1908 she enrolled in Barnard College as a commuter student. There she grew into herself, taking advantage of the many opportunities and activities the school offered. She was well-liked by her classmates, evident due to her being named “best all-around,” “famous in the future,” and “cleverest” in the 1912 Mortarboard. During these formative years she always made the time to hone her craft: writing. She worked on the Barnard Bulletin and the Mortarboard as an editor.

In addition to spending long hours working on student publications, Jewett was a member of the Young Women’s Christian Association, the fraternity Kappa Kappa Gamma, and not only the Vice President of her sophomore class but President her senior year. She played a fairy in Comus and Borachio in Much Ado about Nothing. In the class of 1912 versus the class of 1913 Greek Games, she proved her versatility by placing first in both serious lyric and hurdles. Her verse must have had merit because in the Greek Games competition between the classes of 1911 and 1912 she won 2nd place.

After graduating from Barnard in 1912, Jewett matriculated at Columbia University’s School of Philosophy to earn a Masters in Medieval Comparative Literature in 1915. She remained in the city teaching English and History to 5th through 7th graders at Miss Jacob’s School until her marriage to Dr. Harvey Jewett whom she met while he was studying for his MD at Columbia University. Together they relocated to Canandaigua, New York where Dr. Jewett’s family had practiced medicine for three generations. Mrs. Jewett bore two daughters and raised them with her husband in upstate New York. In her completed questionnaire from the Alumnae Association, Eleanore Myers Jewett selected reading as her top favored leisure activity and emphasized her preference for books over magazines by crossing out the latter. An active member of her community, Jewett served on both the Library Board and the Board of Education.

She wrote both children’s novels and poetry. Her work was published by Viking Press and appeared in magazines such The Woman’s World (“Before You Came,” March 1920) and St. Nicholas Magazine (“Binkie and Bing,” 1921). Her writings were well-researched and engaging for readers of all ages because of her delightful prose that wove together exciting tales and likeable characters. In a review of her novel Told on the King’s Highway entitled “Some History, and Lighter Fare, for Young Readers,” The New York Times declared, “These tales of the Middle Ages are retold with sympathy and affection. […] The author has emphasized the romantic quality and touched her retellings with gracious fancy.” Her highest award was a 1947 Newberry Honor for The Hidden Treasure of Glaston. By the time she died at the age of 76 on March 30th, 1967, she had written over 10 children’s books in addition to an assortment of published short stories and poems.

Her voice and vitality are present in her collection.  Her sketches, poems and daily entries in her scrapbooks give us a glimpse into her collegiate life and the history of the college. Please visit the Barnard Archives located in 23 Lehman Hall or check out the display on the first floor to learn more about this amazing woman and the legacy she has left Barnard nearly a century after graduating.

Written by Caitlin Hamrin ’12

First Published Asian-American Novelist, and Poet: Diana Chang

Meet the face of our newest alumnae pin, Diana Chang ’49. To pick up a pin, stop by the Barnard Library!

Rediscovering the Self

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Diana Chang beside a Marc Chagall lithograph she purchased in Paris.
From the Barnard Alumnae Monthly, October/November 1951, courtesy of the Barnard College Archives.

Diana Chang was born in New York City to a Chinese father and a mother of Chinese and Irish descent. Soon after, her family moved to China, where Chang spent the majority of her childhood and adolescence. She lived in Japanese-occupied Shanghai during World War II and attended the Shanghai American School before matriculating at St. John’s University, Shanghai in 1941. After one year, she left St. John’s to take a position as an editorial and feature writer at the English-language Shanghai Evening Post in 1943, on the recommendation of a friend who knew she was interested in writing. Chang later described her weekly piece in the paper as “chatty, personal, and feminine.” She resigned from the paper after eight months for “political reasons,” which she explained as follows in a letter to the author: “I resigned my ‘position’ … because of the Japanese supervision. No Japanese were in the office, so at first—in my naïveté (I was 17 or 18 at the time)—I thought the paper was run by the three or four men I took to be white Protestants engaged in putting out the newspaper.” Her family later returned to New York City, where she entered Barnard College in the fall of 1946 as a transfer to the class of 1949.

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