Waterworld: Highlights from the History of the Barnard Pool

Gymnasium Pool, circa 1920s. Credit: Sigurd Fischer. Courtesy of the Barnard College Archives, Lucy O. Lewton '22 Scrapbook Collection.

With the recent news of the impending demise of Barnard’s swimming pool in mind (Columbia Spectator, “Barnard Likely to Close Swimming Pool in 2013”), we’d like to take this opportunity to present choice episodes from the pool’s almost-century of history.The Barnard Pool opened in 1918 with the completion of Students’ Hall, now known as Barnard Hall (the building was renamed in 1926).  After the opening, students and faculty alike were in raptures: the 1919 Mortarboard contains a poem in praise of the new building, where “down in the depths the blue-green pool / next greets our wondering eyes, / so clean it is, so clear and cool, / ‘tis quite the best surprise (1919 Mortarboard, 110).  In her report to the president of Columbia University on the academic year 1917-1918, Virginia Gildersleeve observes that “the beautiful swimming pool has been perhaps the greatest source of delight for the undergraduates” (1918 Dean’s Report, 6).

Barnard Swim Team, 1922. Courtesy of the Barnard College Archives.

The students took advantage of their new natatorium by quickly forming a swim team and competing against the team from Teachers College—whose gymnasium and pool Barnard students had used before the construction of Students’ Hall—in an annual swim meet.The pool continued to delight: a December 1932 issue of the Barnard Bulletin printed the following verses, “Pool Poem No. 2,” exhorting students to make use of the wonderful facility:

Breathes there a girl with soul so dead
She can’t recall that once she said,
“See, I can almost stand on my head!
Look, mother, see!”?

Gone is the skill of yesteryear,
But love of stunting still is here
And you may stunt again, never fear.
It still may be.

On this next Friday there will be
Stunts to be done and stunts to see,
Stunts for the clever and stunts for she
Who is a fool.

Come then at four and join the fun,
Be you beginner or be you done.
Come and be young, everyone—
In Barnard Pool. (Bulletin, 13 December 1932, 3)

In 1934, the Bulletin proclaimed, “Since you came to college to learn the Arts and ‘to broaden your abilities,’ you should feel that your education is not complete until you have accomplished the Art of swimming. The pool and the instructors are always at your disposal” (Bulletin, 20 March 1934, 4).

Synchronized swimming: rehearsal for “Snowball Bounce,” the pool, Barnard Hall, December 1951. Credit: Manny Warman, Columbia University. Courtesy of Barnard College Archives.

That same year, Barnard inaugurated the Water Carnival, an aquatic festival featuring, at least in its first year, “a maritime grab-bag, a tango, a spot-light chorus, a fashion parade of beach finery, and a diving exhibit”; later years featured synchronized swimming routines, water dances, skits, and novelty swim races.  In 1941, the Water Carnival presented the wedding of “Miss Hortense Hydroxyl” and “Mr. Horatio Hydrogen” (Bulletin, 11 March 1941, 1).  According to the Bulletin, “the bride wore a gown of white lastex with a white veil of cellophane,” and after the nuptials, “a toast, Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes, was gurgled to the newlyweds by the guests” (here’s Johnny Cash with that old favorite) (1).  The Water Carnival continued into the 1950s.

In 1956, students created the Barnard Barnacles, a synchronized swimming club.  The Barnacles practiced in the Barnard Pool and performed at Water Carnival, eventually becoming serious enough to gain membership in the Inter-Collegiate Synchronized Swimming Association.  In the fall of 1960, three Barnacles left their home waters and journeyed to perform at that Association’s conference for Northeastern schools (Bulletin, 27 April 1961, 1).

Students practicing lifesaving skills in the Barnard Pool. c. 1990s. Courtesy of Barnard College Archives.

As early as 1958, the Barnard Pool provided an aquatic respite not only to students and faculty, but to members of the surrounding community as well.  A November 1958 Bulletin article on Barnard’s community outreach mentions that “the physical education department gives swimming classes for children in the college’s pool” (Bulletin, 18 November 1958, 1).  These community classes continue today: both faculty and neighborhood children use the warm, friendly Barnard Pool for swimming lessons.  Barnard and Columbia students have long taken advantage of the Barnard Pool’s welcoming atmosphere to learn to swim or lifeguard at a more advanced age, as well.

Headline from an April Fool's edition of the Barnard Bulletin, 1 April, 1952. Bulletin Digital Archives.

The pool has always been slightly out of the way, and from reading old Bulletins, it’s clear that the student body thought most about its depths around the first of April.  In 1939, the student paper joked that the Columbia Crew team would henceforth hold its practices in Barnard’s pool, remarking on the sudden popularity of canoe classes among Barnard undergraduates (Bulletin, 28 March 1939, 3). April 1952 saw an article on the drowning death of “beautiful, but unathletic” fictional socialite “Parkus Karcus,” and nine years later, in April 1963, students got into the spirit of the Sixties by with a “passive resistance movement” against a purported new “five year gym plan” (Bulletin 1 April 1952, 2; 28 March 1963, 1).  Students allegedly planned to “sit in the swimming pool until” the administration “abolishes the new requirement. ‘Sink or not swim’ is their motto,” joked the Bulletin (1).In 1980, the Bulletin outdid itself: not only did the issue reveal that the college intend to offer a new course in “aquatic invertebrate zoology” to study the different forms of life which have been known to inhabit the Barnard Pool,” but it also broke the story of the disappearance of six students into the pool’s “murky” depths (Bulletin, 31 March 1980, 4; 8).  According to the article on the disappearances, “students claimed to have sighted what they described as a ‘long brown tentacle’ or a ‘giant eel or snake’ moving across the pool bottom” (8).

Jokes aside, the Barnard Pool has provided students, faculty, staff, and the surrounding community a pleasant and convenient place to play and exercise for the past 96 years.  If it does indeed close after the 2012-2013 academic year, the pool will be gone but, at least in the Archives, not forgotten. —Julia Mix Barrington, BC ’12

Read the Bulletin articles mentioned in this post.

Report of the Lunch-Room Investigation Committee, 1908

"The accommodation is adequate if the students would not all insist on eating at once." Students eat lunch in the hallway of Fiske Hall, 1911. Photograph by the Brown brothers, courtesy of the Barnard College Archives.

While processing the Alumnae Affairs materials, we came across this report from 1908 concerning an issue that’s still pertinent today: the food at Barnard.  According to the findings of the Lunch-Room Investigation Committee, dining in the College’s early years was an iffy prospect at best. For the amusement of our readers, the Barnard Archives presents excerpts from the:

Report of the Lunch-Room Investigation Committee – May 1, 1908

Your Committee organized on December 16…At the first meeting, the plan of campaign was mapped out as follows: – firstly, to find out precisely what the conditions are at Barnard; secondly, to ascertain in what manner the present management satisfies those conditions; thirdly, to compare the lunch-room with others in the neighborhood, and with those in similar institutions…

Very briefly, the conditions are as follows: – The authorities have assigned the kitchen and two large and two small rooms for lunch-room purposes. These Dean Goetze, the Superintendent of Barnard Buildings and Grounds, allows a caterer, J. Cowen, to use on condition that he take entire care of the said rooms and pay a small percent of the profits…

The accommodation is adequate if the students would not all insist on eating at once.  The rooms could be made more attractive, but even as they are they surpass any of the lunch-rooms in other institutions which have been visited.  They accommodate two hundred easily, but when four hundred try to get lunch between twelve and half past there is much crowding and discomfort.  For this the caterer is not to blame, as his rooms are open from eleven until two.

The next question is what sort of food is demanded, – a “snack” or a regular meal? And as corollary to that, how much money do the girls expect to spend?  Fifty to a hundred buy nothing. The majority spend five cents for soup, cocoa, or dessert to eke out a luncheon brought from home.  Fifty, perhaps more, spend from ten to fifteen cents for a “pick-up” lunch; and only twenty or thirty are willing to spend a quarter for a substantial meal. In short, the great majority want a Dairy Lunch which would supply them with good cocoa, soup, sandwiches, rolls, and simple sweets, for very moderate rates; and a small minority want a more substantial meal for twenty-five cents…

The present caterer attempts to satisfy both demands by the “help-yourself” system.  Each person takes a tray and paper napkin and helps herself to the cold dishes of which an assorted collection of five cent portions is on the counter, and is helped to the hot dishes by a maid.  Of cold things there is a variety of sandwiches, jellies, salads, fruit in season, etc., and of hot, soup, cocoa, tea, and a choice of meats and vegetables.  The most is fifteen or twenty cents.  In theory, this is excellent; yet there is much complaint; so the undergraduates were questioned and the following statistics compiled by Miss Poole.

73 complained of the sandwiches as being hard and dry, with the meat scrappy and fat or all gristle and bone.

10 said the soup was watery and greasy.

26 said the pastry was stale.

20 said the muffins were doughy.

25 said the roast beef was tough.

4 said there were not enough vegetables.

3 said the butter was bad.

1 said the milk was sour.

2 said the salad dressing was rancid.

2 said the eggs were not fresh.

15 said there was an insufficient variety of wholesome food and too much of jellies.

All these statements are true, but never all at once.  The trouble is that there is very little profit in the lunch-room and the caterer cares only for his profit; so that he uses cheap and stale material, and in the kitchen unskilful [sic] labor.  The food seldom is absolutely uneatable, but it is always on the verge of falling from the not-good to the bad.  Your Committee took the complaints to the local manageress, who denied them in toto, but promised to improve and has sincerely tried.  She is, however, not particularly efficient and is of course under Mr. Cowen, who, though bland with promises, is not eager to lose one cent of possible profit, and in other cases both at Columbia and Barnard has not shown other than a mercenary spirit.  Your Committee regards him as a difficult, if not impossible, person to deal with…

The next thing was to find out if other lunch-rooms gave better food for the money.  It was not fair to compare those on business streets, where the total receipts are so much larger and where the service can be used all day.  Nor is the case of a men’s room just the same, because they are less fussy and usually spend more.  Around the college there is no place where a lunch can be had for the money except at Horace Mann or the Commons, which are served by the same caterer.  The charges are the same and the restaurants not materially better, although there is more variety and the food is hotter and fresher, because of the greater consumption.  At Barnard food is “carried over.”

At other institutions – Packer, Erasmus Hall, Pratt – the conditions are about the same.  The Pratt lunch-room is run by the Domestic Science Department, but is not a success.  Polytechnic, Manual Training, and Adelphi are run by a caterer…The [Adelphi] luncheon for $.25 was nicely served and consisted of soup, a choice of meats, a vegetable, tea or cocoa, and dessert.  The food was distinctly better than at Barnard.  The other room, where the students bring their lunches, is inferior, – perhaps because of the number of children.  On the whole the situation at Adelphi is similar to that at Barnard and somewhat better solved.  This is because the caterer is more liberal…

We would urge the Alumnae to petition the removal of the present caterer.  We think we could not do worse, and that a new man would for a time at least do better.

Respectfully submitted,
Charlotte E. Morgan,
Chairman.

This report can be found in full in the Alumnae Affairs Records, Barnard Archives

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

New Students, Meet Barnard

For several decades, Barnard has distributed an orientation brochure to new students when they arrive on campus. The content has changed greatly over the years, but the purpose of the publication was always to give first-years and transfer students a broad overview of academic and campus life at Barnard.

Each year’s book has a theme—such as “Happiness is a Honey Bear,” “The Barnard Alice,” “CU on the Road: Do You Have the Drive?” and “The Game of Life”—through which the information is presented. For instance, in “The Barnard Alice” (1966), freshmen were told about program planning, extracurricular activities, campus geography, and local restaurants through a modified Alice in Wonderland story.

1966 orientation booklet

From 1949 to 1967, the books included class rosters, a glossary of campus terms, and information about academics, extracurriculars, and student life. In 1970 and 1971, the “Barnard Action Coalition” published a comprehensive guide to Barnard for first-years and upperclassmen alike. These “Reorientation” books covered academic and student life, the Barnard bureaucracy, the political scene in the wake of 1960s campus activism, and the neighborhood and city.

Beginning in 1971, the books became more minimal; this coincided with the transition from a Barnard-exclusive publication to a University-wide “NSOP” (New Student Orientation Program) book. They were just a few pages long and contained only a schedule of orientation week activities and a map of campus. In 1987, they

1970 "Reorientation" booklet

1970 "Reorientation" booklet

began to include several pages of advertisements at the end, primarily from restaurants and retailers near campus. Some years they also included a list of religious services in the neighborhood and a list of important phone numbers. In 1992, the

University began to publish separate books for first-years and for transfer students, though both had largely the same content.

Copies of most orientation books from 1949 to 2007 are available to view in the Barnard Archives.

Written by Maggie Astor ’11

For more images of Barnard orientation booklets, please visit our Gallery.