Barnard Fraternity Ban of 1913

Ever wondered why you have to slog over to Columbia in your micro-mini and pearls to find a suitable sorority to rush? In 1916, Barnard banned sororities (then called fraternities) for good.  The issue of fraternities was first raised in 1910 due to growing dissent among non-fraternity members who thought that the organizations promoted snobbishness and exclusivity.  At the time, Columbia University was in talks over whether or not to abolish their orders as well.  In 1910, the rush process was restricted to non-first years only.  In 1913, the Faculty Committee on Student Organizations invited four alumnae and four undergraduates to join the board to hear testimonials from both sides of the debate and make a decision about the continued existence of fraternities at Barnard.  After a three year suspension of fraternal activities in 1913, students at Barnard voted by 244 to 30 to abolish fraternities on campus.

During the six year period of debate, students, faculty, and alumni wrote in to both the college paper and alumni magazine to voice their opinions on the matter.  Telegraph wires were ablaze with messages to and from Sorority sisters and alumni attempting to save the place of their beloved sisterhoods.  Some fraternities tried to change the bylaws of their organizations to sidestep complaints–in 1912, Chi Omega re-released a mission statement that put new focus on “sincere scholarship,” keeping girls active in at least two other realms of the college, and having rich members do more service work to “connect with the disadvantaged.”

Those in favor of fraternities held that the organizations helped undergraduates make friends, created a close-knit and welcoming social environment, and allowed younger members to be mentored by alumni.  Those against fraternities claimed that they fostered snobbishness, established race lines, created “artificial barriers against natural intercourse,” caused emotional distress to those not invited to rush, and distracted members from academic achievement.  Among the dissenters was then-Dean Gildersleeve, even though she had been a part of a fraternity during her undergraduate years.

Fraternities had existed at Barnard since the school was first founded.  The Alpha Omicron Pi society was started by two Barnard students, Jessie Wallaces Hughan and Stella George Stern Perry.  Defying the popular notion that girls involved in fraternities were less academically able than their peers, the two went on to become relatively well-known public intellectuals–Hughan ran for a seat in the US Senate and founded the War Resisters League in 1898, and Perry became a well known art historian.

What did Barnard lose and gain by disbanding fraternities?  We did, perhaps, do good in supposedly placing “intellectual pursuits over social polarization” and regaining focus on academia.  (Margaret Mead, popularizer of anthropology and Barnard alumnus, was once turned down during a rush event for membership of Kappa Kappa Gamma at DePauw University for being “too frumpy.”)  But in 1915, Dean Gildersleeve admitted in a New York Times article that the social world dearly missed the fraternities, and that she was scrambling to introduce new social organizations/environments for Barnard girls to flourish in.  I do think we can still feel the effects of the ban today, when we realize that Barnard women wishing to pledge sororities go over to Columbia, and that the social life of these students becomes less centered around Barnard as their time spent across Broadway lengthens.

Written by Johana Godfrey, BC ’13

Five members from the Barnard classes of 1889 and 1890. Virginia C. Gildersleeve is second from the left while still in her fraternity days. Courtesy of Barnard College Archives.

A sketch of the gold pins that members of the Delta Delta Delta Society were required to display on their blouses at all times. Courtesy of the Barnard College Archives.

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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.

Virginia Hall

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

World War II Spy, Code Name ‘Diane’

On her application to Barnard College in 1925, Virginia Hall wrote that she was interested in a career with the diplomatic service and in foreign trade. “Both vocations would bring me into contact with many interesting persons and give me the opportunity to make use of foreign languages,” she wrote. What she could not have known then was that her interest would lead her to become one of the Allies’ most valuable and courageous spies in occupied France during World War II, and the only American civilian woman to receive the Distinguished Service Cross during the war.

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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

History in Motion

The Archives now has a searchable moving image database, which holds records of all the film and video materials housed in the lower level of Lehman Hall, Room 23.  The moving image collection contains a wide variety of items related to Barnard College, including documentaries chronicling the history and development of the institution, footage of events held on campus, films shot and produced by alumnae, groundbreaking instructional sports shorts, and commercial features profiling famous figures associated with the College.

The film portion of the Barnard College moving image collection includes more than 6,000 feet of unique and compelling material dating from the mid-1920s through the 1980s, affording the viewer a rare glimpse of an era when students played Quoits on the roof of Barnard Hall, dashed outside to attend classes held in the Jungle, spent weekends at Camp, and everyone had tried archery at least once (or so it seems).

The Greek Games are well-represented, with astonishing images of hoop rolling, chariot races, hurdles, and dances from ’27, ’32, ’38, ’44, ’49, ’53, and ’66.  Particularly striking is the footage from the 1927 Greek Games, which includes a magnificent (and surprising) early amateur use of slow motion photography:

It’s important to note that many of these films were shot in the primitive days of amateur cinema: Kodak introduced 16mm stock—used most often for what we now call “home movies”–in 1923; the Archives contains footage from around 1925.  Additionally, the bulk of the documentary pictures are from the mid-1930s, when the technology itself was much less new, but both cameras and rolls of film were still considered unattainable luxury items for most Depression-era Americans.  We are lucky these films even exist in the first place, let alone today.

The collection is also significant because of the extraordinary number of Barnard women involved in the production of these films, not just on camera, but behind the camera as well, in a time when the number of professional women filmmakers (both in Hollywood and worldwide) could literally be counted on one hand.  The provenance of many of these films is unknown, but documentation leads us to believe that at least five Barnard alumnae and staff helmed some of these fascinating movies, including two trustees.

Edith Mulhall Achilles ’14 (yes, that’d be 1914, for all you members of the incoming class of 2014) was deeply involved in Barnard affairs for her entire life, and shot a great deal of footage on campus, perhaps as early as the 1920s, but most definitely during her tenure as trustee between 1933 and 1937.  In 1935 she combined several movies she had taken over the past year with a few shot by Agnes Wayman, Head of Physical Education, which the Class of 1925 chose to show at their 10-year reunion.  ’25 actually broke with precedent by choosing to run the pictures in lieu of the standard “formal program,” which the decennial class traditionally hosts during Reunion.  This caused little uproar from the other alumnae, however, as “[g]eneral observation indicated that these innovations were all extremely satisfactory” and “the class of 1925 had been most wise in the selection of their entertainment for the evening.”[1] The completed documentary film was also copied and sent to many alumnae clubs around the country, thus bringing a little piece of Barnard to former students no matter where they lived.

The White family made two documentaries in 1961 and 1962, which center on Barnard’s academic advantages and the merits that derive from its location in New York City.  Marian Churchill White ’29, best known for penning the frequently-cited A History of Barnard College in 1954 and who served as Alumnae Club President as well as holding two terms as a trustee beginning in 1953, directed the films.  She had help from her two daughters, Heritage (Cherry) White Carnell ’59, who co-wrote and –edited the films, and Penny White ’62, who starred in the first one when she was a senior here at Barnard.  The second film, like Achilles’ documentary, was sent to alumnae clubs nationwide and was also slated to “presage a professional ‘short’ under the direction of noted movie-maker Spyros Skourous [then-president of 20th Century Fox],”[2] intended to publicize Barnard’s 75th anniversary.  However, there is no evidence that this professional film was ever made or released commercially.

Moving images create a visual link to the past that can be directly compared to what we see—or often don’t see—today, providing a unique vantage point that supplements and helps contextualize the more conventional paper records and manuscript collections that are usually the focus of most college archives.  These movies allow us to put faces and expressions to the names on our libraries and residence halls, or to follow the peregrinations of the Greek Games statue, whose determined face never changes, though her location often does.  In some instances they are the only extant evidence of these faces and buildings at all.

Written by Ashley Swinnerton, Archives Intern, NYU MIAP ’11


[1] “On and Off the Campus.”  Barnard College Alumnae Monthly, June 1935, p 3.

[2] “Film About Barnard Highlights Dorm, NY.”  Barnard Bulletin, 30 April 1962, p 2.

Mirra Komarovsky papers available

Born into a privileged family in Tsarist Russia, Mirra Komarovsky’s (2/5/1905 – 1/30/1999) life took a sharp turn when the 1917 Russian Revolution forced her family to immigrate to the United States. Shortly after arriving in the country, she enrolled at Barnard and immersed herself in studying the social sciences. She later became a nationally recognized sociologist, specializing in the sociology of gender, and was a Barnard professor from 1937 to 1992.

Mirra Komarovsky at Barnard. Photo from Barnard College Archives.

Komarovsky’s parents were Zionists and landowning Jews in Akkerman, Russia, until tsarist police drove them from their home. They moved initially to Baku (in what is now Azerbaijan) and then to Wichita, Kansas after the Bolshevik Revolution, when Mirra was 16. In Baku, Komarovsky lived a solidly middle-class lifestyle; she was homeschooled by private tutors and learned Russian, English, Hebrew, and French, as well as playing the piano. Once in the United States, she graduated from Wichita High School within a year and was admitted to Barnard’s Class of 1926.

At Barnard, Komarovsky double-majored in sociology and economics and also took advanced courses in anthropology and psychology. One of her mentors was sociologist William Ogburn, who—despite taking a liking to Komarovsky and recommending her for the graduate fellowship that would allow her to earn her master’s degree at Columbia—once told her to reconsider her goal of becoming a sociology professor, saying, “You are a woman, foreign-born, and Jewish. I would recommend some other occupation.”

Fortunately, Komarovsky did not take Ogburn’s words to heart. She completed her master’s at Columbia in 1927, taught for two years at Skidmore College, and then returned to Columbia for her Ph.D. on another fellowship. Her dissertation topic, which she stumbled upon in 1935 through a research position with mathematician Paul Lazarsfeld at the New York Institute for Social Research, was “The Unemployed Man and His Family,” and it earned her her Ph.D. in 1940.

Later published as a book, The Unemployed Man was “an intensive study of fifty-nine families, modeled on work Lazarsfeld had just completed in Europe” (Rosenberg). The project introduced Komarovsky to the sociological methods she would use throughout her career—namely close case studies and survey research—and she would have ample opportunity to pursue this research at Barnard, where she had begun teaching as a part-time lecturer in 1937. In 1948, then-Dean Millicent McIntosh promoted her from assistant professor to associate professor, and to full professor in 1954, and her career took off.

Komarovsky built her legacy on researching the social and cultural attitudes of families. Much of her work focused on the idea of “cultural lag,” in which “cultural attitudes lag behind technological change” (Rosenberg). In addition to her research on adult families, most notably in her books Women in the Modern World and Blue-Collar Marriage, she conducted several studies of Barnard and Columbia students’ attitudes toward family life and women’s work. In her obituary, the New York Times wrote that her work “initiated the contemporary analysis of gender roles.”

In 1973, Komarovsky became only the second woman to be elected president of the American Sociological Association; years earlier, from 1955 to 1956, she had been president of the Eastern Sociological Society. She retired from her full-time position at Barnard in 1970, but continued to teach part-time as professor emeritus until 1992, and served briefly as chair of the women’s studies department when it was launched in 1978. She died in 1999 at age 93.

Komarovsky teaching a seminar at Barnard. Photo from Barnard College Archives.

In the very early years of her career, from 1933 to 1935, Komarovsky was married to a dentist named Leo Horney, but they divorced when it became clear that Horney wanted a traditional housewife, not a groundbreaking career woman. She remarried in 1940 to businessman Marcus Heyman, who died in 1970. She had no children.

While Komarovsky was extremely private and destroyed most of her personal papers (Rosenberg), the Barnard Archives has many of her professional papers, which were recently inventoried. This includes copies of published articles, works she used as sources, professional correspondence, newspaper clippings, and notes. Some examples of the available documents:

  1. In a folder titled “Publications and Awards, 1988” (Box 2/5), the Archives found an article titled “The New Feminist Scholarship: Some Precursors and Polemics,” published in the Journal of Marriage and the Family in 1988; a nomination letter from Barnard sociology department chair Madeline Engel for a “Career of Distinguished Scholarship Award”; and correspondence with colleagues.
  2. In a folder titled “Professional Compliments and Honors, 1970-1983” (Box 2/5), we found a Barnard Alumnae Magazine feature on Komarovsky; a clipping from City News, headlined “Sex Attitudes Subject of Talk,” on a speech she gave; and a summary of students’ evaluations of her courses.
  3. In a folder titled “News Clippings: Wichita High School,” (Box 2/5), we found two newspaper articles about Komarovsky’s impressive work as a high-schooler: one was headlined “Russian Girl Tells of Her Experiences,” and the other “High School Teachers Laud Work of Russian Refugee.”
  4. In a folder titled “Conference Programs and Brochures” (Box 3/5), we found programs from the Eastern Sociological Society’s annual conferences from 1950-1952, 1956, and 1965, as well as programs from a variety of other sociological conferences.
  5. In a folder titled “Lorber” (Box 4/5), we found copies of published articles by sociologist Judith Lorber that Komarovsky used as sources for her research, along with several pages of handwritten notes she took while reading those sources.
  6. In a folder titled “Course materials, 1992” (Box 5/5), we found a copy of Barnard’s official calendar for the 1992-1993 academic year; a syllabus for her “Female and Male: A Sociological Perspective” course; a clipping from the New York Times that she presumably used in that class, titled “Bias Against Girls Is Found Rife in Schools, With Lasting Damage”; and handwritten notes.

The Archives has copies of much of the research she published from 1933-1991. The articles available range from excerpts from her book Blue-Collar Marriage reprinted in various peer-reviewed journals; to a 1949 article, cowritten with Stansfeld Sargent and printed in Culture and Personality, titled “Research into Subcultural Influences Upon Personality”; to a 1982 study of Barnard undergraduates titled “Female Freshmen View Their Future: Career Salience and Its Correlates.” The Archives also has a number of published reviews of her articles.

Written by Maggie Astor ’11

Sources

  1. Pace, Eric. “Mirra Komarovsky, Authority on Women’s Studies, Dies at 93.” New York Times, 2/1/1999. http://www.nytimes.com/1999/02/01/us/mirra-komarovsky-authority-on-women-s-studies-dies-at-93.html?pagewanted=2.
  2. Rosenberg, Rosalind. “Mirra Komarovsky.” http://www.columbia.edu/~rr91/3567/sample_biographies/mirra_komarovsky%20black%20board.htm.