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.

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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.