Haunted Library

Archiving is a spooky job.  The Barnard Archives are located in a windowless basement room of the college library, where the air is still and the temperature dial is twisted past cold and into the “tomb” register.  The collection is housed on sliding shelves that could easily crush a careless researcher; visitors to the stacks are followed by the eyes of a couple of 17th century Dutch portraits; an imposing iron bust of Virginia Gildersleeve blankly gapes into the main work-room, as if vowing to one day fall and brain an irreverent student worker; and recently my bosses spent an hour in a dirty underground vault that looked more likely to house un-dead students from years past than the works of art they were tasked with cataloging.

Three costumed students in a 1904 production of “La Farce de Maître Pathelin.” Image Courtesy of the Barnard College Archives.

Archivists preserve personal objects and papers, bolstering physical ephemera–and the personalities they belonged to–against the long fade from collective memory to dust.  The subjects’ spirits rest, not in the ground, but in their relics, and the dialogue created between researcher and relic in the archives grants the subject a second kind of life.  In Henry James’ “Aspern Papers,” the unnamed narrator embarks on a morally dubious quest to procure the personal papers of the deceased poet Jeffrey Aspern from his ex-lover; he believes that by reading Aspern’s private documents and letters, he will have a more developed understand of and become closer to the poet.  Archivists are favored with the opportunity to come as close as possible to understanding the long-dead without actually knowing them.  We familiarize ourselves with their writing styles, values, and personalities while reading their letters, temporarily become their contemporaries while reading newspaper clippings, and unravel their thought processes and analytical styles while pouring over their annotated manuscripts.  Each archival subject–though confined to a shadowy stasis by the selected materials housed in document boxes–becomes almost alive for the archivist during the familiarization that occurs during the conservation process.  I imagine the sliding shelves of our archival room as overcrowded tenement buildings.  Down here, Zora Neale Hurston and Alice Duer Miller live kitty-corner, and ladies from the American Woman’s Association lift up their skirts and step delicately around circles of student activists, still staging their sit-ins long past the academic protests of 1968.

We recently began processing the explorer/writer Jeannette Mirsky’s collection of maps, personal correspondence, manuscripts, and photographs.  Archivists want to neaten, logically arrange, and condense material, and this impulse also leads us to (unintentionally) invade the privacy of,  judge, and reprimand a dead woman: we deem her storage practices dubious, trash certain fragments that were important to her, and eagerly read tender, private letters from her ex-lovers.  It’s good that we don’t actually summon spirits in the course of our work–how dreadful to be confronted by a screaming suffragette skeleton every-time you throw out a crumbling envelope!

Happy Halloween from the paranormally inclined Barnard archivists!

Barnard/library related Links of Terror for thrill-seekers:

–Johana Godfrey, BC ’13

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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

Report of the Lunch-Room Investigation Committee, 1908

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 said the soup was watery and greasy.

26 said the pastry was stale.

20 said the muffins were doughy.

25 said the roast beef was tough.

4 said there were not enough vegetables.

3 said the butter was bad.

1 said the milk was sour.

2 said the salad dressing was rancid.

2 said the eggs were not fresh.

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully submitted,
Charlotte E. Morgan,
Chairman.

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

Barnard “Mysteries”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Julia Mix Barrington ’12

The Spirit of the Greek Games

How many times have you walked down the brick path past Barnard Hall over the years and wondered, “Why is there a statue of a girl in a toga on campus?”

 

Greek Games statue, circa 1999. Courtesy of the Barnard College.

 

The statue itself answers; on its base is inscribed, “Barnard Greek Games / This Statue is Presented to the College / By the Class of 1905, Founder of the Games / To Commemorate the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary / Of Their establishment in 1903.” (A line of Greek text is also inscribed, but we’ll come back to that in a bit.)

For more than half a century, from 1903 to 1968, the Greek Games were a central part of campus life at Barnard College. An annual competition between the Freshman and Sophomore classes, the Greek Games were “an attempt to reproduce as nearly as modern conditions permit a classic festival… a contest in athletics, lyrics, costumes, music and dance” (O’Donnell, 1932, p. 3). For Barnard’s students, they were a place for creativity and competition, for athleticism and aestheticism, but most of all, for fun. Although attempts have been made in the years since their cancellation to re-instate the Greek Games at Barnard, the main reminder to current students of this once grand tradition is a weather-stained bronze statue, tucked away in a corner, going mostly unnoticed, except as a curiosity, by people who hurry by on their way to somewhere else. However, this statue embodies the spirit of the Greek Games, an integral part of Barnard’s history, and as such, deserves more than a passing glance.

As the statue’s inscription notes, it was given to Barnard College by the Class of 1905, the founders of the Greek Games, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of their creation. According to reports in the Alumnae Bulletin, the Class of 1905 commissioned artist Chester Beach in 1924 to start work on a sculpture that would be presented to the college in 1928, on the 25th anniversary of the first Greek Games. Mr. Beach worked faster than anticipated, and the statue was presented to Barnard College on Commencement Day, 1927. Although referred to by a variety of names, notably Torch Bearer, the Runner and Barnard Greek Games Statue, the name that finally stuck was Spirit of the Greek Games. Perhaps because, as Agnes Wayman, the Head of the Department of Physical education, said:

 

Greek Games statue, spring, circa 1980s. Courtesy of the Barnard College Archives.

 

“The spirit of the Greek Games as typified by the statue of the Torch Bearer, which stands in the entrance to Barnard Hall, is symbolic of the real meaning of the Games. The maiden in Greek tunic – a composite of the modern participants – has received from her teammate the lighted torch and is striving to pass it on – lighted. Thus the spirit of beauty, a light eternal, is passed from class to class, year to year, and it is this spirit that makes the games enduring” (O’Donnell, 1932, p. ix).

The statue was well received, even by those who were not Barnard Alumnae. In 1928, the organizer of the International Art Exhibit requested that Dean Gildersleeve allow the statue to travel to Europe to be part of a display of art on athletic subjects, in support of the Olympic Games in Amsterdam. Dean Gildersleeve agreed, on the condition that the statue be displayed as “Spirit of Greek Games,” instead “of the Greek games,” because she felt that the Greek Games had “assumed a place such as only an abstraction of a proper noun can express” (Barnard Bulletin, 1928, March 9, p. 1).

The Spirit was returned to Barnard at the end of the year, no worse for wear, and re-ensconced on her pedestal… her inscribed pedestal, which, as it turns out, has an unfortunate typo that no one seemed to notice at the time. In addition to the information about the Class of 1905, the pedestal has a line from Aeschylus’s play, Agamemnon, engraved in its base.

ΝΙΚΑΙΔΕΟΓΡΩΤΟΣΚΑΙΤΕΛΕΥΤΑΙΟΣΔΡΑΜΩΝ

 

Torch bearer and Greek Games Chairman Ruth Neimzoff '62 poses with the Greek Games statue in Barnard Hall, circa 1960. Photograph by Jack Mitchell, courtesy of the Barnard College Archives.

 

Translated into English, it reads “Victor is he that runs first and last,” meaning that in a torch or relay race, victory is won by all the runners on a team, not just the swiftest participant. However, astute readers of ancient Greek will notice that the chiseler of the inscription replaced the letter Π (Pi), the first letter of the word “protos” or first, with a Γ (Gamma), turning the word into “grotos,” which has no meaning.

This apparently went unnoticed until 1961, when an astute reader sent a Letter to the Editor in the Barnard Bulletin, to call attention to the gaffe. This astute reader, according to their signatory line, was none other than Aeschylus himself.

So the next time you are walking by on your way to somewhere else, take a moment to look at the Spirit, to remember the Greek Games, and to marvel at the fact that even sculptors of monumental works sometimes need spell check.

Written by Elizabeth Parker, Archives Intern, QC GSLIS ’11