Barnard College Thrift Shop

If only that Vivienne Westwood corset top you shelled out a hundred bucks for at Beacon’s Closet last weekend had gone to a good cause—say, a scholarship for your fellow Barnard sisters, so that they too could afford to splurge the meager earnings from their library work studies on looking like a Kate Bush music video extra!  Unfortunately, the Barnard College Thrift Store has been out of business since 1998.

Margot Lyons, BC '58, tries on a pair of silk dancing slippers during Barnard's shift at the Everybody's Thrift Shop, c. 1950s. Courtesy of Barnard College Archives.

The Barnard College Thrift Store was not a thrift store in the way that second hand shops and vintage stores are often called “thrift stores”—it was a little grimy, a little disorganized, and filled with lots of junk.  There were no “designer racks” or dresses with price tags still on, sold for 10% off department store prices.  However, there was always someone willing to buy that forlorn sock with the hole in its toe for a cent.

Barnard began its foray into the world of rummage stores as an Alumnae project for Barnard graduates looking for a way to contribute.  The founding members of the Thrift Store Committee didn’t know much about running a business, but they persevered.  In 1938, after trying on a few other co-operatives for size, Barnard joined the Everybody’s Thrift Shop, which was composed of a group of charities that participated for their individual benefit.  Barnard had six to eight workers in once a week to collect, sort, and price their own rummage.  Small overhead percents went to the management of the thrift shop, and the rest was taken in for an unrestricted, need-based scholarship for Barnard students.

Barnard’s part in the Everybody’s Thrift Shop was decidedly marked by turbulence and instability.  During World War II, no building would give air-raid shelter to the workers at the thrift shop because there were so many customers, and the building on 59th street was flimsy and unsafe.  The manager took charge, keeping a first aid kit near the counter and rushing everyone under a desk when the sirens went off.  But difficulties in the thrift store extended beyond those caused by America’s involvement abroad.  While pieces were easy to sell, especially during World War II and the series of 20th century recessions in which people were searching for affordable clothing, “rummage” (donation material) was more difficult to come by.  In 1984, the shop relocated to lower Park Avenue.  The college held teas, luncheons, and produced shows (fashion shows, operas, etc) to raise awareness and donation levels for the thrift store.  Ads were taken out in the Barnard Bulletin begging students to send in their castoffs.  Eventually, Barnard was forced to pull out of the resilient little store when insurance and payroll expenses rose and volunteers were hard to find.

When Barnard finally slipped out of the Everybody’s Thrift Shop in 1998, volunteers had raised over one million dollars in scholarships for students.  Aside from the treasure that benefitted the school, real treasure was found between grubby scarves and cardboard boxes:  a Cartier clock, bejeweled and in perfect condition, and a diamond ring sewn into the seam of a sleeve of a summer dress.

Patrons of the Everybody's Thrift Shop browse the jewelry section as Barnard Alumnae volunteers man the counter, c. 1950s. Courtesy of the Barnard College Archives.

–Johana Godfrey, BC ’13

This posting was inspired by the article “A Farewell to Charms” in the Barnard Magazine, Fall 1998, Vol. LXXXVII, No.4; additional thrift store records can be found in the Centennial Office files, Development Office files, and Public Relation files; additional articles on the thrift store can be found in the Barnard Bulletin.

The papers of former Barnard faculty member Helen H. Bacon have been processed

For a Bryn Mawr alumnae reunion, Helen Hazard Bacon submitted a short biography and she commented that “when forty years are compressed into one page most of the really important things are necessarily omitted or between the lines.” Such is the challenge in trying to describe the Helen H. Bacon Papers now processed at the Barnard College Archives.

Pres. James I. Armstrong awards Helen H. Bacon with honorary degree, Middlebury College, VT, June 1, 1970. Courtesy of the Barnard College Archives, Helen H. Bacon Papers.

The collection primarily consists of the Prof. Bacon’s research and class papers as a member of the Greek and Latin Department at Barnard College and Columbia University. Her papers document her progressive scholarly work and the wide range of classes she taught, and also offer a glimpse into the life and career of a remarkable member of the Barnard faculty.

In 1942, after pursuing some graduate studies, Helen Bacon joined the U.S. Naval Reserve as a Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES). Along with other linguists and classicists, including her own Bryn Mawr professor Richmond Lattimore, she worked  in the Navy’s Communications Annex in Washington, D.C. In her papers, from a lecture presented to the Navy Reserves in 1993, we learn that “Bake”, as she was nicknamed then, was actually a cryptanalysist decoding Japanese radio communications.

The Lion Gate at Mycenae, Greece, March 12, 1951. Photograph by Helen H. Bacon (presumed). Courtesy of the Barnard College Archives, Helen H. Bacon Papers.

After the Navy, she returned to graduate school at Bryn Mawr. In her papers, we find her slides from a trip to Greece while she was teaching at the Woman’s College of Greensboro, N.C. She returned the following year on a Fullbright fellowship and studied at the American Academy of Classical Studies in Athens.  In her richly detailed travel journals, she records her awe at the walls in Mycenae, “really Cyclopean – gigantic blocks of conglomerate, held together by gravity only.” She also captures conversations with her fellow students and locals over ouzo, mostly in French, as they share their desire for peace and their distrust of generals, Eisenhower and Papagos.

Prof. Bacon’s papers show the life of the scholar: the bibliographies, research notes, first drafts and revised editions, all in paper. She was self-admittedly not a great typist so her copious handwritten notes show us how each idea takes shape. In the correspondence, we can read her colleagues’ feedback on a draft, a letter of appreciation from a fellow scholar who found her work, and even a journal editor’s rejection letter.  In her class papers, we can almost follow each lecture as she kept her notes, syllabi, reading lists and even exams.

Helen H. Bacon and unidentified guest at Library of Congress conference honoring the work of Robert Frost, March 26, 1974, Washington, D.C. Photography by Library of Congress, courtesy of the Barnard College Archives, Helen H. Bacon Papers.

As the daughter of a poet, Prof. Bacon brought a literary approach to her readings of the classical texts. She also used her classical background to write on the works of Robert Frost. Over the summers, she taught Classics in translation at the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College, for which she was awarded an honorary doctorate in 1970. With Pulitzer prize poet Anthony Hecht, she co-authored a translation of Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes, which was nominated for a National Book Award in 1973.

Prof. Bacon described two kinds of experiences for classicists visiting Greece for the first time: “Either he says ‘How the world of Sophocles and Plato has degenerated’ … or else, with a conviction beyond rational explanation, he says to himself ‘I have been here before’.” “I belong to the second group,” she states, “a group which to those who need prose explanations for things will always seem sentimental, emotionally uncontrolled in permitting romantic feelings to distort their intellectual objectivity.” The Helen H. Bacon papers show that enthusiasm for her studies and her life.

Marion Cowan and Helen H. Bacon (left to right) sitting in a tavern in Santorini, Greece, 1990. Photograph courtesy Marion Cowan and the Barnard College Archives, Helen Bacon papers.

Written by J. Rios, Archives Intern, QC GSLIS ’11

Mary Harriman Rumsey, Class of 1905

Note: This is part of a series of profiles about Barnard alumnae. These profiles were originally posted on the old Barnard Archives website. 

Trustee, social justice pioneer

Mary (Harriman) Rumsey (Class of 1905) attended Barnard at a time when very few women pursued higher education, and she continued to break barriers throughout her life. Rejecting the convention that the affluent should remain within their elite circles, she founded the Junior League to mobilize young, upper-class women to help the underprivileged. Continue reading

Lucyle Hook: Barnard Emeritus Professor, Globe Trotter

The Barnard College archivists have recently finished inventorying the Lucyle Hook Collection, 13 boxes of personal documents and photographs that tell the story of Mrs. Hook’s life.  The collection is so personal that I had to continually stop myself from referring to her as “Lucyle” in this post.

Lucyle Hook, a Texan belle with a taste for travel, was one of Barnard’s most distinguished and interesting faculty members.  Hook was appointed as Professor Emeritus of English at Barnard on July 1st, 1967 after 21 years of service at the school.  She specialized in seventeenth century literature and drama, and was ever departing for Greece or London on research trips.  Her personal notebooks, left to the Barnard College Archives, filled with edits and additions, are clearly the work of a woman with a tireless and engaged mind.

Hook was born in Quanah, TX, on October 29th, 1901, where she grew up reading the “six-foot-shelf of books” which sparked her lifelong interest in exploring literature, drama, and the English language.  She came to Barnard after a stint of teaching high school in Scarsdale.  She didn’t intend to stay.  Hook was on a one year visiting professorship, filling in for Barnard legend and drama professor Minor Latham.  After spending a year at Barnard, however, she deferred her plans to leave–Barnard felt right.  Much of her past was intertwined with the Barnard/Columbia microcosm.  Hook had received her masters degree at Columbia, and her husband, Fred Rother had taught there.  Furthermore, Barnard was flexible enough to permit her travels and breaks for research.  The English department became her home until retirement.

During a trip to Turkey, she was made the head of the American College for Girls in Istanbul by Dean Gildersleeve, who was a trustee for the school.  She took a three year leave of absence from Barnard.  During her time in Turkey, she traveled throughout the Middle East and Africa, keeping detailed journals in which she drew parallels between Marrakesh markets and her the Bartholomew Fair of her beloved Jonsonian drama.  Hook’s life was especially well visually documented at this time.   Photographs show her standing on the wing of a bi-plane, replete with large sunglasses, red lipstick, and a head scarf; in the desert with a Camel; and on a safari, watching a lion devour a gnu.  After her retirement from Barnard, Hook spent most of her time either in England or continuing her treks across the globe.

Barnard students today remember and thank Lucyle Hook for the endowment made in her name–the Lucyle Hook Travel Fund, for those students whose research calls for as many adventures as hers did–and for her early publication “the Research Paper,” which can considerably shorten the long, desperate hours spent in Butler and Lehman.

Lucyle Hook at her desk in Barnard College. Image courtesy of Barnard College Archives.

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

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.”