Margaret Mead: Editor-in-Chief

Margaret Mead, Class of 1925, Mortarboard

Margaret Mead, Class of 1925, Mortarboard. Courtesy of the Barnard College Archives

Next to Margaret Mead’s yearbook photo in the 1923 Barnard Mortarboard it says:

 Economics, social science,

Peggy has advanced idees!

Discourseful quite, with forceful might,

She ponders immortality.

Margaret Mead passed away in 1978, but her anthropological legacy has certainly proved to be immortal. As a graduate student at Columbia University under the teachings of Franz Boas, a man considered to be the “Father of American Anthropology,” Mead attained her Ph.D. in 1929. Despite having such a prominent instructor, Mead was not overshadowed and gained prominence herself. She is best known for her work in Polynesia, her most famous publication probably being Coming of Age in Samoa, an ethnography exploring adolescence in Samoa. Mead also examined the U.S. anthropologically, as in And Keep Your Powder Dry: An Anthropologist Looks at America (1942). Mead also worked at the American Museum of Natural History for most of her career, and taught at Columbia as an adjunct professor of anthropology.

Mead’s professional life is well known, but what about her time at Barnard? What did Mead do before she became a disciple of Franz Boas and travelled to New Guinea to conduct fieldwork?

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.

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

It seems that Margaret Mead’s yearbook quote holds many truths of Mead’s personality. She was assistant news editor of the Barnard Bulletin during the 1921-1922 school year and became editor-in-chief during her last year at Barnard. Mead used the Barnard Bulletin as a platform to share her “advanced idees” with the student body. In her editorial note, “Voicing the Unpopular,” from the January 12, 1923 Bulletin, Mead responded to a call for a column to be dedicated to the expression of unpopular opinion. Writes Mead: “Must such a group be tricked into coming from under cover for a new column, made to order just for its use? Surely students who have really valuable criticisms and suggestions which they wish to put before the college need no such stimulus.” Despite its short length, Mead’s piece about the necessity for well-informed criticisms and dissenting opinions in our society is very effective. (http://barnardcollege.newspaperarchive.com/barnard-bulletin/1923-01-12/page-2/?tag=voicing+the+unpopular&rtserp=tags/voicing-the-unpopular)

I wish I could share all of Mead’s editorials with you, but I will just highlight a couple more. In an editorial published on April 13, 1923, Mead defended the administration’s ban on smoking in Milbank due to fire hazard regulations. She scolds students who defied the ruling because they thought it was a type of “moral regulation.” Keep in mind that Margaret Mead was not a woman to put much investment in propriety, so I think it makes her words even stronger. She says: “Some of the Faculty offices contain the results of years of research; every cigarette lit in Milbank places them in danger. We are sure that those students who, careless of prohibitions, have permitted their escorts to smoke, will be willing to safeguard the life work of others, and consider it a point of honor to stop this dangerous abuse.” I wonder if, during her professional life, Mead forbade people from smoking in her office to protect her own life’s work and intellectual treasures. (http://barnardcollege.newspaperarchive.com/barnard-bulletin/1923-04-13/page-2/?tag=danger&rtserp=tags/danger?page=7)

If you thought that was spunky, check out this editorial from April 20, 1923 titled “An Empty Gesture,” about the rumor that the Barnard debating team was going to be sent to England. As a result of this rumor, many Barnard women tried out for the team. Mead did not approve: “It would be an empty spectacular gesture to send, at enormous expense, three practically untrained speakers to represent to English colleges and activity which has no vital existence in Barnard…Under present conditions the trip would be a meaningless piece of conceit.” (http://barnardcollege.newspaperarchive.com/barnard-bulletin/1923-04-20/page-2/?tag=an+empty+gesture&rtserp=tags/?pep=an-empty-gesture)

Do I need to add that Mead had been on the debating team in 1922, the year before these editorials were written? Perhaps the Barnard debating team helped her craft her effective persuasive writing or maybe she was so accomplished the Barnard debating team wasn’t enough for her!

Margaret Mead certainly had a lot of opinions about the goings-on at Barnard, but it seems she concluded that it was exactly right for her. In her autobiography Blackberry Winter: Earlier Years (1972), Mead says: “I came to Barnard, where I found—and in some measure created—the kind of student life that matched my earlier dreams. In the course of those three undergraduate years [she transferred from DePauw] friendships were founded that have endured a lifetime of change, and by the end of those years I knew what I could do in life.”

-Alice Griffin, BC ’15

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Barnard College: “a Most Promising and Attractive Child”

People often question the relevance and role of women’s colleges today. Now that most colleges and universities in the U.S. are co-ed, why do women’s colleges still exist? When Columbia College started admitting women in fall of 1982 a merger was proposed, but ultimately decided against because of bureaucratic complexities and the belief that Barnard College served the community well as a separate institution. And so it has.

Flashback to spring 1915, when Barnard administrators were preparing for the 25th anniversary celebration of Barnard College. Originally planned for November 1914, the event was postponed because, according to a write-up of the event from the Dean’s Office, “there was a common feeling that the grave issues before the civilized world did not permit the occasion to be commemorated with sufficient joy and enthusiasm.” Unfortunately, the events in Europe meant Jane Addams, founder of Hull House in Chicago, had to send her regrets that she could not attend. As national chairman of the Women’s Peace Party, she was wanted at a conference in the Netherlands. This letter, typed up on Hull House stationery and signed by Jane Addams, is one of the many treasures held in the Barnard Archives.

Despite its characterization as “war-belated,” the celebration was a wonderful commemoration of Barnard College, what it stood for, and where it was going in the future. While looking through a box of the Dean’s Office Departmental Correspondence from 1914-15, I came across an article titled “Barnard College, 1889-1914” from the June, 1915 issue of the Columbia University Quarterly. In the left-hand margin of the first page someone wrote “President Butler,” indicating Nicholas Murray Butler, president of Columbia University from 1901-1945, as the author, however, it is unclear whether this article is also the address he gave during the 25th anniversary commemorative exercises on April 29th. I expected the article to be a routine address: probably a brief history of the college and an acknowledgement of the trustees and administrators that made it all possible. Instead, it is a beautiful testament to the necessity of higher education for women and therefore the necessity of Barnard College. Butler includes a quote from November 21, 1890 by Rev. Arthur Brooks, Chairman of the Trustees of Barnard College. On that day, the trustees met to go over the events of the first year of the College and Rev. Brooks spoke on behalf of Barnard:

[…]to allow Barnard College to suffer or to languish would now mean the maiming of Columbia College, which, to the pride and glory of New York, is at the present time taking so many forward steps[…].We gladly believe that the bond between the two Colleges is so strong that the parent, old and yet young with new energy, would sadly feel the loss of this, its youngest and most promising and attractive child.

 Characterizing Barnard College as a “most promising and attractive child” might seem a bit silly today, but as a Barnard student who has felt not quite welcome by the Columbia University community, these words are what I have needed to hear for a long time. Butler goes on to write a defense of Barnard College that celebrates its place as a unique institution, but also commends the awe-inspiring backdrop of Columbia University. I must admit the last paragraph of Butler’s piece gave me chills:

Barnard College is nothing so temporary […]. It is a serious and solemn human undertaking which conceives itself as bearing a grave responsibility toward womanhood, toward society, and toward the University whose traditions and unconquerable vitality it shares. […]if it [the College] continue catholic, large-minded, sincere and scholarly, it will increase with each year in power as a builder of character and a shaper of intelligence in that womanhood which is at once the glory and the hope of our civilization.

What a relief to know that these words will be preserved in the Barnard Archives, a humidity-controlled tribute to the rich history of Barnard College. 

-Alice Griffin, BC ’15

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

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

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

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