Margaret Mead at Barnard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Student Life at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

Women and soldiers dancing in the Boathouse Canteen, circa 1918. Photograph by Paul Thompson, courtesy of the Barnard College Archives.

The Barnard College Archives would like to announce the launch of its new exhibit entitled “Student Life at the Turn of the Twentieth Century.” It is on display in the Barnard College Library front lobby just in time for New Student Orientation Program (NSOP). The Archives is showcasing college life for Barnard students who matriculated before 1920. These photos capture a time when young women were preparing themselves for changes in both academia and the world at large.

Barnard women of the past shared many similarities with the current student body. They were repeatedly told not poster the campus and that fliers would be torn down. They were reminded to visit the Registrar and Bursar and meet with their advisors. They were warned it was their responsibility to check the bulletin board for notices and changes in policy and that ignorance would be an insufficient excuse. While webmail and Ebear have replaced these bulletin boards, the reminders remain a constant. Students also performed in plays, voiced their opinions in newspapers and literary magazines, and excelled academically. They held internships, volunteered and navigated the streets of the city to find their callings.

However, some things have changed. Students no longer have a curfew that correlates to class year. The earlier classes of Barnard were required to take entrance examinations and pass courses with a C or better in which they were deemed deficient. Students were previously admitted to incoming first-year class either with or without conditions depending on their scores. Now the requirements are specified as the Nine Ways of Knowing but also require a C or better. The 1900 application to Barnard College required verification by a reference of an applicant’s good moral character. Students with conditions had to show proficiency in specific subjects in order to maintain their student status and obtain a diploma. Lists of students with excessive absences were posted on the bulletin board, and some lost credit or were banned from taking final examinations due to the amount of work they missed. Wigs and Cues had women-only performances. While the high expectations haven’t been altered by time, Barnard women now have greater freedom in areas ranging from course selection to access to resources to general autonomy.

Past traditions that no longer exist can be found in the pages of these scrapbooks. The Greek Games were highlighted as a main event each year, and the Dean officially would cancel classes on the Saturday morning of the Games so all students could attend. At certain events such as chapel services at which important members of the Columbia community such as President Butler addressed the university, students were asked to don their academic gowns. Wednesday afternoons were for a gathering of faculty and students over tea. The sophomores took it upon themselves to initiate the first years with a series of events known as “The Mysteries.” Veiled in secrecy, this ritual is revealed through a scrapbook passed down through the years and by alumnae whose scrapbooks document the night. Though the Mysteries discontinued after being deemed hazing, it brought new students closer to the community and became cyclical. These experiences bonded the community and promoted a sense of school spirit and warm ties to the school.

As the number of matriculates rose, so did the demand for more space. In need of more room for the overcrowded faculty, staff, and students, the Board of Trustees and the Dean asked both alumnae and the city of New York to help fund the expansion. Their plea was answered, and in 1906 there were invitations to celebrate the laying of the cornerstone of Brooks Hall. Later additions include Hewitt Hall and Barnard Hall (referred to as Student Hall in 1917 and renamed in l926).

Please stop by the Barnard College Library to view “Students at the Turn of the Twentieth Century.” Dozens of scrapbooks and photographs can be found right downstairs in the Archives, located at Lehman 23.

Into the Wild: Barnard Camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Abbey Ozanich ’11

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

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