Jeannette Mirsky: In the Words of an Archivist

“In drawing on the letters and unpublished personal narratives, I have taken the liberty of letting the story run along without denoting ellipses; the pages filled with dots looked unseemly… I have utilized whatever books and articles would carry the story ahead fully and honestly and so obviated the repetitiousness of an archivist’s bibliography.”

-Jeannette Mirsky, from the Preface of Sir Aurel Stein: Archaeological Explorer

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Last month I referred to Barnard alumna, author, and world traveler, Jeannette Mirsky, as “the coolest person I never heard of until last week.” Considering that her personal papers, recently acquired by the Barnard College Archives, remained unprocessed until this week, it is not surprising I had not encountered Mirsky previously. Last week I completed processing Jeannette Mirsky’s personal papers and reading her book, To the Arctic! Having spent so much time with her collection, and because there is so little information online about her, I found it fitting to pay her a brief tribute by sharing a few words about Mirsky and her work.

Jeannette Mirsky was born in New Jersey in 1903, and raised in New York City where she went on to earn her A.B. from Barnard College in 1924. From 1935-1938 Mirsky did graduate work at Columbia University, where she studied under Franz Boas and Margaret Mead. Mirsky’s academic records from this time and a notebook from a 1935 Anthropology course entitled “Social Organization,” are included among her papers.

As Mirsky embarked on her graduate studies, her inaugural book, To the North! was published. This time period is documented by extensive correspondence with publishers, manuscript drafts, and a collection of maps, illustrations, and photographs to be considered for inclusion in the publication. To the North! recounts the history of Arctic exploration, utilizing primary source materials to detail Arctic journeys in the words of the explorers themselves. To the North! begins: “Not so long ago there was a custom among sailors that accorded to all those who had sailed round Cape Horn the right to put one foot on the table after dinner, while those who had crossed the Arctic Circle could put both feet on the table. Here will be found the stories of those men who have both feet on the table, told whenever possible in their own words.”

Despite Mirksy’s extensive research and utilization of primary source documents, To the North! was controversial for largely discrediting Frederick Cook’s claims of discovering the North Pole. Mirsky wrote, “Cook was an extraordinary figure. It is impossible to dismiss him simply by calling him a liar. Rather it may be said that he was a great teller of stories, a fiction-writer who on a certain amount of fact built a vivid and absorbing yarn. For a man of his ability and experience he harbored too puissant an imagination…The story told in Cook’s My Attainment of the Pole is exciting and well written, but it nevertheless appears to be mainly fiction.”

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Jeannette Mirsky outside a bar

To the North! subsequently went out of print for a number of years due to a lawsuit by Cook, but was re-released in 1946 under the title, To the Arctic: The Story of Northern Exploration from the Earliest Times to the Present. In addition to English, the book has been published in German, Spanish, and French. Although the book is largely remembered for the controversy ignited by Mirsky’s assertion that it was Robert Peary, and not Frederick Cook who first reached the North Pole; the vast majority of To the North! is interested in what happened prior to the so-called attainment of the Pole. Near the end of the book, after devoting a chapter to the North Pole claims, Mirksy concedes: “It has been many years now since the Pole was reached, and viewing Peary’s exploit from such a vantage-point, it would seem fair to say that if any man were to reach the Pole, that man would be Peary…But like all deeds whose import is self-contained, it seems a strange goal on which to have lavished so much energy and planning and money. Like so many grand gestures, when seen in retrospect, it does not seem to matter greatly.”

 Mirsky expressed a lifelong interest in travel and exploration. Her personal papers are full of her research on explorers, letters and correspondence from around the world, and boxes of postcards and photographs documenting these pursuits. Her years of research culminated in a number of publications, which includes The Westward Crossings, The World of Eli Whitney, Elisha Kent Kane and the Seafaring Frontier, The Great Chinese Travelers: An Anthology, Houses of God, and Sir Aurel Stein: Archaeological Explorer.

Prior to Barnard’s acquisition of Mirsky’s personal papers, the extent of our knowledge ended with her non-fiction and anthropological writings. It is my hope that with the availability of the Jeannette Mirsky collection that interest is sparked and a biographer of Jeannette Mirsky will emerge to tell her story, in her own words, just as she spent her life doing for others.

Written by: Heather Lember, Barnard College Archives Graduate Assistant

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

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

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.