2. Shaky Start: A Tale of Two Cities

12/6/2017 – 10,800 words

 

Chapter  2.
Shaky Start: A Tale of Two Cities

  1. Who’s in Charge Here?
    2. Dean Emily James Smith
    3. Fools and Angels
    4. Small World
    5. Barnard’s Natural Constituency
    6. “Not in society exactly; professional people”
    7
    . “All more or less on the same social level.”
    8. Guess Who’s Coming to Barnard?

    1. Who’s In Charge Here?

            Barnard opened its doors in the fall of 1889 without a administrative leader.  Instead of a president or dean,  Ella Weed, was designated   “chairman of the Academic Committee”  and took up the day-to-day operations of the college.  None of the original  male trustees showed interest in the job, while among the women trustees, Weed, 34, single, and headmistress of  the fashionable Miss Annie Brown’s School, was a plausible  but by no means the obvious choice.  A Vassar graduate and professional  educator, she made  a respectable local spokesperson for the cause of women’s higher education. The plan was for her to split her workday shuttling the ten blocks between the two schools, mornings at Miss Brown’s  at Fifth Avenue and 55th Street, afternoons tending to Barnard affairs at 343 Madison Ave.  She received a salary of $1200  and after 1890 had the assistance of a  full-time staffer, N. W. Liggett, as College Registrar. Miss Liggett, a Vassar graduate,  became the face of the College when Weed was tending to her morning job  or,  as increasingly became the case, when unavailable due to illness.

However devoted to Barnard, Weed was  neither as charismatic or as directive an academic leader as Wellesley’s Alice Freeman  Palmer or Bryn Mawr’s  M. Carey Thomas. Before illness sidelined her in the fall of 1893, she quietly oversaw the admission of four classes and the College’s first graduation. She had  one success as a fundraiser, an early gift of $5000 from J. P. Morgan, but otherwise her tenure left the viability of Barnard in doubt. She died on January 10, 1894, at 41.

        Weed’s job  included hiring staff to teach the curriculum  prescribed by Columbia College. Here, too, the procedures were  ad hoc. Her first year’s hires consisted of 7 officers of instruction, all young men (average age 28) affiliated with Columbia College, a couple already impressively credentialed.  Of the seven, the classicists Mortimer Earle and Nelson McCrae continued through the 1890s moonlighting at Barnard, while Thomas S.  Fiske in mathematics and William H. Carpenter in Germanic languages soon secured  permanent places at Columbia. The English Assistant  Henry Wasson later entered the ministry  and the French Assistant  Scribner dropped from sight. But it was the botanist Nathaniel Britton, the most senior of the group who taught for only one year before returning to Columbia and later to the directorship of the New York Botanical Garden,  who had the most important impact on the College  by securing as his replacement in 1890  Barnard’s first female instructor, Emily L. Gregory.

An 1878  graduate of Cornell University, the 49-year-old Gregory earned her PhD in botany at the University of Zurich (1886) , the first woman to do so. Prior to  Barnard, she taught at Smith (1881-83), the Harvard Annex (1984-86)  and jointly at the University of Pennsylvania and Bryn Mawr College (1886-88), where she was a colleague of Professor E. B. Wilson, who subsequently moved to Columbia where he achieved  international notoriety for his pioneering work in genetics. Gregory was known to New York City’s botany community through her publications in the Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society.  Her initial  appointment at Barnard was that of Lecturer and Director of the Barnard Botany Laboratory, then located on the third floor of 343 Madison. Independently wealthy, she taught without a salary, alternating her summers in Europe purchasing equipment and conducting research at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Although an elective, botany under Gregory became one of the College’s most heavily subscribed courses among degree candidates and “specials” alike. She died in 1897, at the age of 56, the author of 55 papers and Barnard’s first “scholar-teacher”.

Weed’s subsequent hiring forays yielded no other women and only one other officer  of instruction who stuck.  Charles Knapp came in 1891 as an instructor of Latin and stayed on until retirement in 1937.  Several  of Weed’s  subsequent hires later made careers at Columbia, among them   Benjamin Woodward in German literature, George Rice Carpenter in American literature and William T. Hallock in  physics. Woodward was  23 and Hallock 24 when they first taught at Barnard.

Miss Weed seems not to have consulted with Columbia authorities in making her instructional  appointments.  The  turnstile nature of the process and its resultant instability sufficiently disturbed Columbia president Seth Low that, following Weed’s death,  he interjected himself into Barnard’s  faculty-hiring process. In doing so, he gave the Barnard faculty its first semblance of continuity.

  1. Dean Emily James Smith
    Four months passed between Ella Weed’s death in January 1894  and the installation of Emily James Smith, her successor.  Smith graduated from Bryn Mawr in its first class in 1889 and went on to Girton College, Cambridge,  where she was one of the first women to do graduate work in Greek. From there she proceeded to the Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn, where she taught Greek for two years. In 1892 she was awarded a graduate fellowship at the newly opened University of Chicago. A Barnard trustee  familiar with her success at Packer, likely  longtime Brooklynite, Ann Wroe Scollay Low, suggested her as Weed’s successor. On May 11, 1894, Miss Smith became Barnard’s second administrative leader and first to be designated “Dean of Barnard College.” She was all of 29.

    Eight months later, in January 1895, President Low presented the Barnard trustees a proposal for three outside appointments of senior scholars who would divide their teaching between Barnard and one of Columbia’s three newly created graduate faculties. Their salaries for the first three years were to   be paid from a $36,000 personal gift from Low on the condition that the Barnard trustees assume responsibility for their salaries thereafter. While we “fully appreciate the necessity of permanence,” board chair Arthur Brooks could only assure  the president that Barnard “will make every effort” to do so. Later that spring, President Low and Dean Smith announced the appointments, each selected in consultation with the respective graduate school dean and department: in history, from Amherst, the American colonial historian Herbert Levi Osgood; in economics, from Johns Hopkins and the current president of the American Economic Association, John Bates Clark; in mathematics, from Michigan, Frank N. Cole. On the occasion of these professorial appointments, Low wrote to Dean Smith that “in regard to Dr. Gregory’s position, it seems to me only just to make her under the circumstances that she should enjoy the title of ‘Professor of Botany at Barnard College’”.  What a good man.

The way these professorships worked in practice was as inventive as the idea. For every course   Osgood, Clark and Cole  taught at Columbia, Barnard would be provided a substitute of comparable rank to provide instruction at Barnard. This meant that Barnard students were regularly taught by, in addition to Osgood, Clark and Cole, several of their equally distinguished departmental colleagues, among them the historian James Harvey Robinson, a future president of the American Historical Association, the economist E.R.A. Seligman, a future president of the American Economics Association, and the mathematician Edward Kasner, a future member of the National Academy of Science. No turn-of-the-century college offered a more celebrated  lineup of professors.

While Dean Smith’s role in the creation of the three Barnard professorships at the outset of her deanship is unclear, her subsequent cooperative dealings with Columbia president Seth Low set a standard for all future Barnard administrators. In 1898 she took a lead in persuading Low of the wisdom of setting aside a place on the Barnard board for an alumnae-elected member, a practice the Columbia board took another decade to adopt.  In January 1900 she and President Low presented the Barnard board with an intercorporate agreement formalizing the relationship between Columbia and Barnard that remains in force today. Its key provision was the establishment of a separate and free-standing Barnard faculty, about more in Chapter 3.

The 1900 intercorporate agreement marked the climactic  act of the Smith deanship. Having married the New York publisher George Haven Putnam in early 1899 and some months later becoming   pregnant, she chose the signing of the agreement in January 1900 to announce her departure.  “The adoption of the agreement with Columbia puts my conscience at rest as regards any inconvenience to the college from my resignation.” Her departure was especially felt by Barnard students, who related well to a dean only a decade older than they, but who also brought Greek alive teaching Homer to first-years and Plato to sophomores.  Mrs. Putnam, who remained a New Yorker, returned to Barnard in 1914 as a part-time and unremunerated instructor of Greek until she retired in 1930 upon the death of her husband. She died in 1944. Too briefly in place to be viewed as one of the great Barnard administrations, hers had been a deanship  of active leadership and effective collaboration with Columbia, neither of which was to characterize that of her successor.

 3. Fools and Angels

Low’s investment in 1895 in the future viability of Barnard would  have been unimaginable just two years earlier when the College very nearly closed. That it did not can in part be credited to the arrival in 1894 of a new, energetic and full-time dean. But more was likely attributable to the remarkable turnaround in the College’s finances, for which credit goes elsewhere.
When Jacob Schiff accepted the invitation of his co-religious Annie Nathan Meyer to join the Barnard board of trustees in the spring of 1889, he also reluctantly agreed to become College treasurer. He likely did the first  out of a sense of duty as leader the City’s German-Jewish community, and the second because of his reputation for financial probity as head of Kuhn, Loeb, one of the nation’s two largest merchant banking  firms. But one look at what served as the College’s business plan at the first meeting of the Board’s finance committee that summer must have given him second thoughts.  It assumed that once four classes were enrolled the College could thereafter subsist on income from tuition and fees. With tuition for degree candidates set at $150, and “specials” charged $50 per course,  tuition income was expected to  grow from $3000 the first year to $12,000 in 1893 and thereafter. During the four-year ramp-up phase,  annual pledges  of $100 annually from 35 or 40 or 54  “Associates” (their number varies with the teller) were figured to yield an additional  $4,000 – plus shorter start-up subscriptions and one-time gifts of another $6000, amounted  to a total capitalization just under $10,000.

Upon seeing these numbers, Schiff urged the committee to hold off opening the college for a year until more capital could  be raised. To no avail, a majority of the committee voted to proceed with the fall 1889 opening. “Those who were less versed in finance were braver,” Meyer recalled 46 years later. “It was a good deal the case of the old adage concerning fools and angels.”

Schiff stayed on as treasurer for four years, but regularly absented himself from board meetings and increasingly left the College’s day-to-day financial affairs of the College to a younger member of the finance committee, the bookman George A. Plimpton.   When in attendance he regularly objected to annual deficits being made up by dunning individual trustees and having them go hat-in-hand to  Barnard’s other early  subscribers. At the board meeting of May xx, 1893,  which Schiff made a point of attending, his dissatisfaction became all too apparent.

Four converging considerations made the moment critical. With Barnard’s first class about to graduate, the annual subscription fund that had provided a quarter of the College’s budgeted revenue was at an end. Recent efforts to make up operating deficits with individual solicitations met increasing instances of what latter day fund raisers would identify as “donor fatigue”. Furthermore, Columbia’s  announced plans to move its campus to the City’s upper west side, on Morningside Heights, meant  physically severing ties with Barnard unless it accompanied the University across town. Finally and perhaps most ominously,  in response  to Columbia’s announced move, an anonymous donor (later acknowledged to be Mary E. Brinkerhoff,  the widow of Van Wyck Brinkerhoff) in 1892 had offered Barnard $100,000 for the construction of a Barnard building but only if Barnard could raise  an estimated $140,000 for a suitable site adjacent to the planned Columbia campus. When, a year after the gift had been proposed and the Barnard board had yet to respond  to the offer, Mrs. Brinkerhoff’s lawyer  inquired of Plimpton: “I trust the College is not in deep water”.

Schiff’s response to this cascading bad news was to resign as board treasurer. In doing so, he offered  to loan the board $10,000 to pay off the College’s outstanding debts, thus allowing the College to close. Other trustees were less fatalistic, but even the most upbeat could not dismiss  the financial judgment of one of the City’s leading bankers. Only a gift of $5000 from J. P. Morgan  the following month solicited by Ella Weed allowed the College to close its projected annual deficit and end the 1892-1893 year free from debt.   The College remained, as the man who saved it wrote 20 years later, “an institution on the verge of bankruptcy.”

 

Upon Schiff’s resignation, trustee and assistant treasurer George A. Plimpton became the Barnard board’s acting treasurer. At 39 he had a young family and was heavily involved in the affairs of his alma mater Amherst and  regularly on the road as  Ginn & Company’s principal textbook salesman, he at first declined to become treasurer. The most effective persuasion came from President Low, who told him bluntly that his becoming Barnard’s treasurer was crucial to the College’s continued existence. Once committed, Plimpton became not only treasurer but for more than four decades Barnard’s  principal fundraiser. Of all the men who have contributed to Barnard’s wellbeing,  George A. Plimpton   stands second to none.

Plimpton’s first act as treasurer was to compile and publish a four-year financial statement that,  while demonstrating Barnard’s continuing needs, acknowledged by name and amount the support of the  dozens of New York families that had  contributed to Barnard since 1889. It specifically mentioned four benefactors who had followed J.P. Morgan’s lead gift of $5000 by designating Morgan and all future givers at that level the honorific title of “Founder”. He also announced the establishment of a “site fund” to raise the $140,000 needed to acquire property on Morningside   to secure the Brinckerhoff  gift of a building.  When Plimpton began making calls on potential donors, he found he enjoyed asking for money,  particularly  in amounts greater than his prospects were prepared to give, and soon acquired a reputation as one the City’s great fundraisers.

It was trustee Caroline Spurgeon Choate who introduced Barnard’s new treasurer to the first of his major donors.  Mrs. Elizabeth Milbank Anderson was co-heir with her brother Joseph to the estate of their father Jeremiah Milbank, a successful merchant and founder of the Borden Evaporated Milk Company. At her father’s death, Elizabeth, who was married to the artist and rancher Abraham Archibald Anderson, received half of his estate estimated at $32,000,000. Mrs. Choate knew Mrs. Anderson socially and through their respective involvements in the foundings of two East Side private day schools, the Brearley School, which Spurgeon help found in 1880, and the Spence School , which Mrs. Anderson helped finance in 1892.  The occasion in early 1894 for bringing Anderson and Plimpton together followed on the decision of the trustees of Roosevelt Hospital to decline a proposed gift from Mrs. Anderson of $100,000 for a maternity ward.  The meeting produced a gift of $10,000 to the Barnard site fund.  An announcement followed shortly thereafter that Mrs. Anderson would be joining the Barnard board.

In the spring of 1896 the site fund was fully subscribed  and the Barnard trustees acquired the vacant city block between 119th and 120th Streets directly across Broadway from the planned Columbia campus. Mrs. Anderson then announced a second gift, initially for $100,000 and later raised to $170,000, to pay for the construction of a second building on the site. This was followed a year later by a gift  of $140,000 for a third building from Mrs. Josiah M. Fiske, a friend and parishioner of the recently deceased first board chairman Arthur Brooks.  Plans were drawn at Mrs. Anderson’s direction by her architect Charles Rich of the firm Lamb & Rich, wherein Milbank Hall faced south, with Brinckerhoff attached  at the 120th St. end on the east and Fiske on the west. A courtyard enclosed on three sides opened to the south.

Even as the Milbank and Brinckerhoff parts of impressive brick and limestone complex opened in the fall of 1897 (Fiske opened in 1898), Plimpton had secured the offer of a gift of $10,000 for the College from John D. Rockefeller Sr. to establish an endowment conditioned on  Barnard matching it by raising $90,000 from other sources.   Although it  took Plimpton  longer to make the match than the two years Rockefeller stipulated, he was sufficiently impressed by the numbers of contributors Plimpton had secured that when the match was made in 1901 he increased his gift to $25,000.   Still not financially secure, Barnard entered the 20th century with a treasurer still of the bullish view  that he shared with the estates lawyer for Mrs. Fiske back at the time of her gift in 1896: “There is no question in my mind that ultimately Barnard College will have a great deal of money; it cannot be otherwise.”

 

[ Paragraph here on Board chairmanship and first chairmen: Arthur Brooks – dies at sea in 1894;
Abram Hewitt – placeholder (1897-1904); Silas Brown Brownell (11/11/1904)

                                                                         

  1.   Small World

Three of the members of the original board of trustees, Laura Spelman Rockefeller and Francis Lynde Stetson, J.P. Morgan’s personal attorney, and the Rev. Henry Van Dyke, resigned after one year of service. But they were the exception. The average tenure of the 22 original board and the 31 elected to the board between 1890 and 1914 was 18 years, 21 for the women and 16 for the men.  Three  of the original trustees —  Annie Nathan Meyer (1889-1951), George A. Plimpton (1889-1936), and Caroline Spurgeon Choate  (1889-1929) —  serving respectively 61, 48 and 43 years. Among those  subsequently elected to the board, Helen Rogers Reid (1914-1956) would serve for 43 years.

Throughout  the turnover which produced a total of 53 trustees having  served between 1889 and 1914, the original gender balance was scrupulously maintained, even after the change in membership rules that reserved for an alumna a four-year term on the board. Similarly, the original religious ecumenism continued, except in the instance of Schiff’s resignation in 1896 leaving the board without a member of the City’s German-Jewish community until Sarah Straus Hess (BC 1900) was elected an alumna trustee in 1919. Meanwhile, the board’s original contingent of Knickerbockers and  transplanted New Englanders increased, assuring a continued predominance of Episcopalians and Presbyterians. Coudert’s resignation in  1902 to accept a position on the Columbia board was followed in 1906 by the election of another Catholic, the retailer Charles Stuart Smith. Collegiate origins remained predominantly Ivy League and Seven Sisters, with Columbia and Barnard graduates, beginning with the election of Florence Colgate Speranza (Barnard 1893) in 1898 as the first designated alumna member of the board, becoming more numerous. Among the male trustees, lawyers increased their already substantial representation.

What then of the early board members’  financial situations?  Most of the individuals Annie Nathan Meyer approached in her 1888 canvassing, and most of those who served on Barnard’s early board, were persons of wealth. Yet being so was not a necessary condition for original membership. Three of the named women to the board — Ella Weed, Helen Dawes Brown and Alice Williams   — were all single educators with college credentials but no known  independent incomes.  Nor did Meyer herself, her husband’s medical practice notwithstanding,  have access to substantial wealth. This said, the rest of the early trustees, including three of the first four alumnae-elected trustees, either had inherited  wealth or had  accumulated fortunes by the time they joined the board. Some had both.  Included were several of the City’s richest families,  some of whom  — the Rockefellers, the Choates, the Harrimans , the Milbanks, the Schiffs —  were so identified in the contemporary press,  while  others – Mary Stuart Pullman (1907-1912) and  Florence Colgate Speranza (1898-1903; 1906-1920) —  quietly enjoyed the benefits of  “own income.” Trustee Charles Stuart Smith and the husband of  trustee Henrietta  Talcott, James Talcott,  were two of the city’s richest merchants.

If not all persons of wealth on this heroic scale, several other board members of the board enjoyed  privileged access to other people’s money. These included  estate attorneys  Frederick Wait (1895-1910) and  George W. Smith (1897-1901),  plus  the early board’s four ministers, Phillips Brooks (1889-1894), Henry Van Dyke (1889-1891), Roderick Terry (1891-1897) and  William Grosvenor (1898-1918), along with the husband of Mrs. Henry Sanders (196-1905), each the spiritual adviser to one of the five richest congregations in America. Even before he became himself wealthy, Plimpton was known for knowing people of disposable wealth and comfortable  asking them to send some of it  Barnard’s way.

One rough quantitative measure of the wealth of Barnard’s early trustees was the number of live-in household servants they employed. Of the 53 early trustees, 39 have been located in state and federal census records. Of these, 15 employed the services of five or more live-in servants, with all 39 employing on average 4 live-in servants.

Of the City’s  several  turn-of-the-century  monied tribes, five had places on the early Barnard board. In the order of their Gotham appearance:

  1. Knickerbockers – a mix of 17th-century Dutch families and pre-revolutionary English families; originally Dutch Reformed and Anglican and following the Revolution for the most part Episcopalian;
    took a proprietary interest in Columbia College and Trinity Church and, of course, the Holland Society and the Knickerbocker Club.  Of  this tribe, the early Barnard board could boast  Henry Van Dyke, Abram Hewitt, William M. Grosvenor and George Rives.

    2. “Grandees”  – a small number of Jewish families who first arrived in New Amsterdam in the 1650s from Spain and Portugal by way of the West Indies; included the Cardozos, the Nathans, the Lazuruses; Sephardic Jews proud of their American pre-Revolutionary origins who kept a social distance from both the more recently arrived and often wealthier and German-speaking German Jews (see # 4) who followed mid-19th century and even more from the unwashed Eastern European and Russian Jews arriving in the 1880s. Of board “Grandees,” Annie Nathan Meyer.

    3. Transplanted Yankees – New Englanders  who came to New York in the nineteenth century  but who laid claim to American lineages dating back to the 17th century.  Multi-generational ties to New England colleges such as Harvard, Yale, Williams and Amherst. “Transplanted Yankees” enjoyed a clear plurality on the early Barnard board. They included the board’s three Unitarians – Augusta Foote Arnold, Caroline Choate and George Hoadley – at least five of its Episcopalians – Arthur Brooks,  Anne Scollay Low, Mary Harriman Rumsey, Lucretia Osborn (1893-1930)  and Silas Brownell – and at least three of its Presbyterians —  Silas Brown Brownell, George A. Plimpton and Roderick Terry.  Both Brownell and Terry, as well as Lucretia Perry Osborn (1893-1930),  claimed Mayflower descendants, while George Plimpton and Mary Harriman Rumsey traced their family lineage to the Puritan migrations of the 1630s.  Of Mrs. Osborn it was said at her Episcopal memorial service at St. Bartholomew’s on Park and 50th St. in 1930: “She sprang from American stock, as good as our country can provide.”

    4. “Our Crowd” – German Jews who came to New York after the Civil War, having left Germany and Austria for America from the 1840s onwards; acquired prominence in finance, retailing and publishing; worshipped at the reform synagogue Temple Emanue-El on Fifth Avenue. They included the Altschuls, Goldmans,  Goodharts, Guggenheims, Lehmans,  Seligmans,  Speyers,  Warburgs,  ….  Of “Our Crowd” trustees,  Jacob H. Schiff.

    5. Outsiders-with-New-Wealth – Recently arrived families headed by fabulously rich self-made men whose early business successes were achieved elsewhere but who were drawn to New York as the nation’s corporate capital and for its cultural attractions; often non-Mainline evangelical Protestants. Of Barnard trustees,  the Baptists Laura Spelman Rockefeller and Elizabeth Milbank Anderson.

    Another indicator of the Barnard board’s class homogeneity was residence. At the time of the consolidation of New York City in 1897 it was even more segregated by class and ethnicity, national origins, race and religion than it is today. The outer boroughs of Queens and the Bronx were fast becoming  home to new arrivals from Eastern Europe. Brooklyn in 1900 was  a mix of old families and newcomers.  Parts of Manhattan had become ethnic and religious enclaves  – the Lower East Side was Italian and Jewish; the West Side around Five Points, Irish; the far East Side, Germantown.  Harlem was  Jewish-on-the-way-to-becoming-Black.  Staten Island and the upper reaches of Manhattan awaited future development, which in the case of the latter,  came with a rush with the opening of the IRT subway in 1904.

All  53 early Barnard trustees lived in the New York City, all but one in Manhattan. The lone exception,  Clara C. Stranahan (1889-1905) lived in Brooklyn, a condition likely dictated by the fact that her husband James S. T. Stranahan had  earlier represented that city for two terms in Congress and in the years leading up to its 1897 incorporation into New York City was called  “Brooklyn’s First Citizen.” Of the 52 Manhattanites, all but five lived on the East Side, simultaneously home to the City’s old  money  and to the socially ambitious possessors of newly arrived wealth, including the families of German Jews. This so-called “silk stocking district” encompassed  a two-mile long and  one-mile wide quadrant  of the 33-square-mile island,  between  34th and 75th Streets,  which defined the  south-north boundaries of  the residences of Gotham’s “arrived.” Below 59th Street, the southern boundary of Central  Park, the favored east-west boundary  dog-legged  two blocks west of 5th Avenue as far as what became 6th Avenue, while above 59th it extended eastward from 5th Avenue all along the lower Central Park over to what is today Lexington Avenue. Thus, in a city of five boroughs covering 300 square miles, and in the single borough of Manhattan, encompassing 30 square miles, the overwhelming preponderance of early Barnard trustees chose to live in an area of not more than 6 square miles, with all but those on its margins within easy walking distance of each other.

They had their reasons. Here on the East Side were concentrated the City’s wealthiest religious institutions, from the Madison Avenue Baptist Church at 35th Street, where the Rockefellers worshipped, to the Presbyterian Brick Church on Park Avenue, favored by the Plimptons, ,  to the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, where Barnard chair Arthur Brooks served as rector and Elizabeth Anderson Milbank worshipped. It was also where Temple Emanu-el  was located, at  5th Avenue and 43rd St., where St., Jacob Schiff and his family attended Reform services.   Here, too, was St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where the Couderts and the Charles Stewart Smiths worshiped. Here as well were the City’s most socially exclusive private day schools, including its two newest girls schools,  Brearley  and Spence .

The minutes of the Board of Trustees in 1897, following the College’s move from the East Side to Morningside,  inadvertently  confirm the members’ residential propinquity. The first board meetings had been held at  343 Madison and 44th St., within easy walking  distance from most of the  trustees‘ residences, but the move to Morningside Heights now entailed a considerable trek north and west  across town.  When attendance fell off and trustees  complained about the inconvenience, it was agreed that future board meetings would be held at the  residence of board chairman Abram Hewitt, on Madison and  34th Street.. Following Hewitt’s death the board met for many years at the homes or offices of various East Side residents. Board meetings on the Morningside campus did not resume until the 1920s.
Two other markers of social standing reinforce/confirm the early Barnard board’s high social standing.    Of the 47 early Barnard trustees residing in New York City in 1901, 40 (85%) were listed in that year’s New York Social Register.  The seven residents who went unlisted included two young  trustees  elected by the alumnae (Florence Colgate Speranza and Ella Fitzgerald Bryson) and Jacob H. Schiff, who, because the Register included clubs that excluded Jews, refused to be listed and insisted his extended family and partners do likewise.  A  publication that competed with the Social Register, but  focused on men,  King’s Notable New Yorkers,  included well over half (25 of 46) of the board’s early trustees or their male spouses ( including Schiff).

Finally, early male Barnard trustees and the husbands of female trustees  belonged to all manner of socially exclusive clubs and societies, some related to their occupational pursuits, such as the Downtown Club, favored by Morgan-affiliated  bankers,  some to genealogical conceits, such as the Holland Society , the Knickerbocker Club, Cincinnati or Sons of the Colonial Wars, some to recreational interests, such as the New York Yacht Club and the Automobile Association. Still others attended to collecting enthusiasms, such as the Grolier Club, home of the City’s devoted bibliophiles.  Among the women trustees, the Colony Club upon its opening in 1903 and four years later the Junior League, founded by Barnard Trustee Mary Harriman Rumsey, each had its active members. All these clubs membership were by invitation-only.

Of all the City’s clubs the Century Association, founded in 1847 for “Artists, Literary Men, Scientists, Physicians, Officers of the Army and Navy, members of the Bench and Bar, Engineers, Clergymen, Representatives of the Press, Merchants and Men of Leisure, ” and located since 1891 at 7 West 43rd Street, had  the widest  appeal for Gotham’s cultural elite. Of Barnard’s 26 early male trustees, 22 were Centurions (85%), as were 10 of the 22 spouses (45%)  of early female trustees, for a total representation of  board members or their spouses of  67%.  The Club’s informal proscription of Jews precluded Schiff and Dr. Meyer  from membership, while its liberal beverage policy  kept Henrietta Talcott’s husband, Francis Talcott, the founder of the New York Christian Home for Intemperate Men, from seeking membership. But for other Barnard men, especially relative newcomers to the City such as board treasurer George Plimpton, election in 1894 to membership in the Century Association, fully as much as taking up residence on Park Avenue,  confirmed his transition from socially “aspiring” outlander to socially “arrived” New Yorker.

Thus, whatever gender, educational, occupational, religious and tribal differences distinguished one early Barnard trustee  from another, they collectively epitomized  the City’s economically and socially privileged class of their day. In 1900, when a majority of New Yorkers were either foreign-born or the children of immigrants, all but two trustees were native born. When most  New Yorkers lived in one of the “outer” boroughs or at one end or the other of Manhattan, most Barnard trustees lived on the East Side of Manhattan.  When most New Yorkers were no longer mostly Protestant but Catholic or Jewish, the Barnard board was predominantly Mainline Protestant in its religious affiliation. Where most households were headed by men and women who labored  with their hands, the Barnard board’s male members were mostly professionally engaged , its female members  mostly engaged in volunteer activities and literary pursuits. They were  through Barnard’s  early years almost to the person unconnected with this “Other” New York. They formed the City’s cultivated class, those Edith Wharton referred to as “the rich, the well born, the best educated,” those whose male members the English writer James Bryce called  “the best men …. eminent by rank, wealth, and ability, “ and who another English traveler to turn-of-the-century New York, Charles Philip Trevelyan, slyly called the City’s “very earnest, philanthropic, public-spirited class.”

  1. Barnard’s Natural Constituency

    The question then becomes, given their social homogeneity, whether the early trustees envisioned Barnard serving New Yorkers other than their privileged selves. Put differently, was Barnard  intended primarily as an instrument of class affirmation and consolidation, through which the socially “arrived” are perpetuated,  or as an engine of interclass assimilation, in the service of the City’s “aspiring” classes? This is not to insist that early Barnard had to be one or the other, either in the service of Edith Wharton’s “Old New York”  or Jacob Riis’s “The Other Half,” either socially exclusive or socially inclusive, or that it could not be both. Nor is it to imply that Barnard’s early trustees did not engage in efforts of social outreach; the involvement of several  trustees  in the Charity Organization Society and the settlement house movement  indicate otherwise.    It is to argue, however, that Barnard was not founded as one of New York’s  one of many eleemosynary efforts of the City’s  “very earnest, philanthropic, public-spirited class,” but rather as a an instrument of class consolidation.

Documentary support for this argument begins with Annie Nathan Meyer’s 1888 letter to The Nation in which she identified five groups of New York women  from which a day college for women in New York City would draw its students. Four — those attending college elsewhere,  those currently attending the Columbia Collegiate Course, those  “bemoaning their fate because  their parents will not allow them to leave their homes,” and at least  some of those enrolled in correspondence courses —  Meyer  assumed to be from families of economic means. As for the fifth group, the 1600 New York women attending the Normal College, Meyer specifically excluded from further consideration those “whose parents  could not afford to pay tuition fees,” while targeting those with “parents who could easily afford it, and would gladly send their daughters to a private college where a degree could be procured.”

Neither in Barnard Beginnings nor in her autobiography,  It’s Been Fun, did Meyer retrospectively suggest  an institutional purpose for Barnard beyond that of providing New York young women of the comfortable class local access to higher education equal to young men of their class.  During her 62 years as a trustee,  she occasionally described Barnard  as a meeting place where New York girls from Christian and Jewish families interacted to their mutual benefit, but  she never went beyond commending such intra-class ecumenical mingling to suggest the College functioned as a classless melting pot.

The first board chairman, the Rev. Arthur Brooks, did pose the question “for whom was (Barnard)  intended and from what class of women is it to draw its students?”   In  a statement published in 1894 in the Barnard Annual entitled “The Constituency of Barnard College,”  he identified two intended classes. The first was “the large number of New York women who are not likely to be compelled to earn their own living and whose sphere of life, in all probability, is to lie in the family or in New York society.”  The second were “women dependent upon their own efforts for their support.”  Further on he argued that  “the education which the college offers” was intended for  “no one class of lives, but for every possible position in life.” Still, one can easily imagine this well-born, Harvard-educated Episcopal priest thinking the College’s mission was in the first instance providing a collegiate education for the daughters of  the wealthy and socially connected families who made up his East Side  congregation at the Church of the Incarnation.

The only other located consideration of Barnard’s anticipated clientele by an early trustee was that of Helen Dawes Brown, in a 1891 report to the board from the Students Committee. She identified  “two classes of girls in New York for whom my sympathies are enlisted: the girls  who are too rich to go to college, and the girls who are too poor.” To serve those “hungering for just what this college gives, but without the means  to come here,” Brown, then a teacher at the fashionable Brearley School, proposed  the establishment of a scholarship fund.  Seven years passed before Barnard’s first scholarship was established, the funding for which came not from the board but  a gift from the Daughters of the American Revolution, hardly a champion of social diversity.    That no Barnard trustee was known to have stated the board’s  institutional aspirations for Barnard as plainly as  Joseph W. Taylor for Bryn Mawr —  “the advanced education and care of Young Women or girls of the higher and more refined classes of Society” – did not imply they had a different desired outcome.

In the absence of contrary evidence,  it is at least arguable that Barnard’s founders and early backers expected the College to primarily serve the families of New Yorkers of  what Columbia trustees referred to as “our own kind.”  Not New York girls in general but their own daughters and nieces, those of their professional colleagues, those with whom they played golf on Saturdays and worshipped with on Sundays, and those they hoped to see their sons, grandsons and nephews marry.

But if so, how then is one to account for the fact that in the event so few of the families of New York’s turn-of-the-century social elite, including those represented on the Barnard board of trustees, sent their daughters to Barnard?   Barnard trustee Silas Brown Brownell (1889-1910) had five daughters. His two older ones (Louise and Matilda) were attending Bryn Mawr when Barnard opened in 1889 and continued on there;  his three younger daughters (Sylvia, Eleanor and Grace) all subsequently went to Bryn Mawr. Henry Van Dyke (1889-1891) had three daughters,  Frederick Coudert (1889-1902) and Hamilton Wright Mabie (1889-1905) each  had two college-age daughters upon becoming Barnard trustees, and Roderick Terry had one, but none attended Barnard. Jacob Schiff had a daughter, Frieda, who attended the Brearley School but did not go further with her education. Henrietta Talcott had two college-age daughters, one of whom, Edith, attended Barnard for one year before transferring to Oberlin, with her younger sister Grace following her there. Elizabeth Milbank Anderson’s only  daughter, Eleanor, a graduate of the Spence School in 1896, proceeded on to Bryn Mawr.  Of the 45 families represented among Barnard’s early trustees, only one, that of Annie Nathan Meyer, has been identified as having a daughter, Margaret (BC 1915) to  graduate from Barnard.

Additional evidence attesting to the infrequency with which not only Barnard trustees but the City’s moneyed elite more generally sent their daughters to Barnard in its early years can be inferred from the college placement patterns of Manhattan’s most socially exclusive private girls schools. The Brearley School opened in 1884 on East 45th Street with an explicit purpose to prepare its girls for admission to the newly opened Harvard Annex. Barnard trustee Caroline Choate (1889-1930) was one of its founders and Barnard trustee Alice Williams (1889-1897) taught there. The Spence School opened in 1892 on West 45th Street to serve much the same socially privileged clientele.  Its founder, Clara Spence, and  major financial backer, Elizabeth Milbank Anderson, were both early Barnard trustees, as was Charlotte Baker, the Spence School principal. Despite these links, neither Brearley nor Spence became a significant feeder to Barnard. Both sent most of their college-going graduates to Bryn Mawr or Vassar, while at least one early Brearley graduate who transferred to Barnard from Bryn Mawr  for family reasons later recalled Brearley’s college-selection process as one in which “Barnard was never mentioned.”                                  

  1. “Not in society exactly; we were professional people”

The evolving social makeup  of the Barnard student body was not what Barnard’s founders had expected; nor was it for some of them what they wanted. The problem was  more qualitative than quantitative, less statistically discernible than anecdotally inferable. It involved  the perennial  New York problem of social class and can be illustrated  by two differing  social profiles  of a single early Barnard graduating class, that of 1899. The first was offered  by a member of that class, writing six decades later; the second as reconstructed here .  This strategy serves  two  narrative purposes: it provides an early introduction to the single most important person in Barnard’s history; it discloses early on the author’s abiding ambivalence about  Virginia Crocheron Gildersleeve and her legacy.                     

In 1954, seven years into her retirement, Virginia Gildersleeve published her autobiography,  Many a Good Crusade,  to favorable reviews.  Undertaken in part – as with  most instances of the genre – to preempt posthumous scrutiny by telling her story first as she wanted it told, her account of her early life offers a representative portrait of a privileged  family in the New York society of her day. It also includes an extended account of her four years as a Barnard student, including a description of her classmates. Both, as with any apologia pro vita sua, should be read with a skeptical eye.

Virginia  Crocheron Gildersleeve was born on October 3, 1877, in New York City. Her childhood  was passed as  part of a family on both sides socially and economically secure, safely  “arrived.” “We were not in ‘society’ exactly,” her mother once explained to her, “we were professional people.” The family  resided at 28 West Forty-eighth Street, just off Fifth Avenue, “a very quiet and respectable street in those days.”

Our house was brick with brownstone trim, but practically all the other houses
on both sides of the street were the orthodox brownstone complete, four stories
and basement, high stoop in front. They were inhabited  by solid American families.
I recall the names of the Griswolds, the Whitfields, the Rhinelanders, the Frelinghuysens.
A few of them were more wealthy and more socially prominent than we were.

She then went on to note that Andrew Carnegie’s future wife lived across the street.
The autobiography  describes the domestic service the Gildersleeves employed,  along with a passing assessment of the New Yorkers then in  service:

They [the Gildersleeves ] had  two maids, — a cook and a chambermaid-waitress – and they
had someone come in to do the washing . The servants were almost invariably Irish.
From my third- story rear bedroom I could often hear fiddles playing Irish jigs as
maids in neighboring kitchens  danced at night. I grew up with the vague and
utterly preposterous  idea that domestic servants were the only variety of
persons produced by that brilliant race.

Both sides of Virginia’s  family laid claim to ancient American lineages. The Gildersleeves went  eight generations back to a New England landfall in 1635; the Crocherons were part of the French Huguenot diaspora that came to Staten Island in the 1690s. Such geneaological  credentials  obviously mattered to its author, devoting  the opening 14 pages of her autobiography to them, including a non-judgmental account of the Crocherons’ stake in an Alabama  cotton plantation, with 200 slaves held as property.

While Virginia’s mother (and namesake)  was depicted as a powerful  force domestically and “loved very dearly,”  it was the family’s men who garnered most of her retrospective  attention. Her father, Henry Alger Gildersleeve, a Civil War veteran, organizer of the American Rifle Association  and later a prominent lawyer and an elected municipal  judge, who later served as a justice  on the Supreme Court of the State of New York, she described as  “spectacularly handsome” (with a picture of him at 70 to prove it). Of her two older brothers, Alger and Harry (there had  also been two older sisters who died before Virginia was born), it is the younger Harry, seven years her senior,  who she depicted as “this radiant figure of my childhood” and “the brilliant member of the family.” Several pages on, after acknowledging that her childhood to that point had been one where  “no sorrow had ever touched me,” returned to her beloved Harry, who, just after completing Columbia law school in the fall of 1891, contracted typhoid fever and  died. “At that moment,” she wrote, “a black curtain cut my life in two.”

To help with their daughter’s grieving, the Gildersleeves sent  14-year-old  Virginia to the City’s most socially exclusive day private school,  Brearley,  then located four blocks away  on  West  44th Street.  They did so on the recommendation of  Frederick Coudert, a legal colleague of Judge Gildersleeve and a fellow member of the Century Club.  The school was one of the many  feminist projects undertaken by Caroline Spurgeon Choate, the wife of NYC’s leading attorney, Joseph Hodges Choate,  another professional  acquaintance of her father and another Centurion.    Brearley had opened in 1881 with the intention of  preparing  New York City girls  for the Harvard entrance exams to its then two-year-old “Annex”; by Virginia’s arrival in 1891 it had become the principal New York City feeder school for the then 6-year-old Bryn Mawr College.

In the fall of  her senior year at Brearley, Virginia decided that if she were to go on to college it would be to Bryn Mawr, where most of her college-bound classmates were headed.  Her mother ruled otherwise. “There is a perfectly good college here in New York,” by which she meant Barnard,  she informed her distraught daughter. Barnard  came recommended by Mrs. Choate, Counsellor  Coudert and any number of other Gildersleeve social acquaintances who served on the College’s board.

The decision  did not sit well with Virginia.   Barnard’s  admission requirements, identical with those of Columbia College, required some knowledge  of Greek, which Brearley did not teach. This made necessary  a cram course in the subject on top of her regular program and produced much anxiety about the entrance exam when it was administered in the spring. She passed  the exam and was accepted to Barnard, being the only Brearley girl in her class to have applied. On October 3, 1895, her eighteenth birthday, she appeared along with the other  21 entering members of the Class of 1899 on the steps of the scruffy brownstone at 343 Madison Avenue, by her own account,  “shy, snobbish, solemn.”

7.  “All more or less on the same social level.”

A year later Virginia  had become a leader of her class, a fact confirmed  by her election as sophomore class vice president.   How and why this turnabout? Her academic success  understandably made her an early  favorite of her teachers but her social success among her peers is less easily accounted for. Her home’s proximity to Barnard, a 10-minute walk,  during its last two years at the Madison Avenue site and her mother’s hospitality as a hostess to student gatherings – she was made an honorary member of the class of 1899 in Virginia’s first year – likely helped.  Virginia was the only member of her class inducted into the Kappa Kappa Gamma fraternity at the end of her first year.

Of the 27 young women who at some point were members of the Class of 1899,  five are specifically mentioned   in Gildersleeve’s account of her college years. One, Grace Goodale, is cited briefly for the novelty of her not coming from New York City but from upstate.   Two other classmates were residentially cited.  Of Edith Striker:  “gay and laughing and loyal, whose home was in East Orange, New Jersey.”  Alte Stilwell:, “nimble-witted and warmhearted, who lived in a pleasant, dignified Harlem street.”

Considerably more attention is given to Alice Duer, who entered the Barnard Class of 1899  as a junior. The granddaughter of  William A. Duer, president of Columbia College (1829-42) and great granddaughter of Rufus King, a signer of the Constitution and longtime chairman of the Columbia board of trustees, her father, James Gore King Duer, was a well-known speculator who declared bankruptcy  the year his daughter was to be presented to society, leaving his family financially adrift. Alice delayed applying to Barnard until  she was able to  pay her own way through journalism and fiction-writing for magazines. Three years older than her classmates and financially on her own, Alice Duer was the class exotic.  Five months after graduating she  married a weathy New York  broker, William Miller. Her husband’s success on Wall Street  allowed her to devote herself to writing fiction and poetry, and later  screen writing for Hollywood. She remained a lifelong friend of Virginia Gildersleeve, who,  more than a half-century after making her acquaintance, recalled her as a school girl: “She was beautiful and she was brilliant and she was charming. She brought into our classrooms a glamour from the outer world and her friendship gave me the romance of my youth.”

Marjorie Jacobi also joined the Class of 1899 as a junior and merited mention. She was the daughter of Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi, one of the first women physicians in the United States,  and Dr. Abraham Jacobi, professor of pediatrics at the College of Physicians and Surgeons (which was integrated into Columbia University in 1892) and the often described as  “the father of American pediatrics.” Shortly after graduation, Marjorie married George McAneny, a wealthy, socially connected New Yorker, who later served as chairman of NYC Board of  Aldermen . Left unmentioned were Rosalie Bloomingdale, Ella Seligsberg and Sarah Straus,  all from prominent German-Jewish families residing on the East Side, and Eliza Kupfer, whose parents were Jews from Russia and lived on the West Side, or  Martha Ornstein, whose mother was from Hungary and lived in Brooklyn.

For Gildersleeve and her Barnard crowd,  those  the New York Times called the “socially, intellectually and athletically prominent,” (Virginia played golf and was familiar with guns)  Greek life  provided a measure of exclusivity and privilege in Barnard’s otherwise more  egalitarian and meritocratic environment. The College’s first fraternity (i.e.,  “sorority”), Kappa Kappa Gamma,  was established in 1891 and included all regularly enrolled students.  By 1895 its membership included less than a quarter of the student body, with Gildersleeve the only first-year student inducted. During her sophomore and junior year she saw to the induction of  her four friends, Duer, Jacobi, Striker and Stilwell. Never included was a majority of her class, among them  its five Jewish members, one of whom, Sarah Straus, the daughter of Isodor and Ida Straus, the owners of Macy’s Department Store, who would 20 years after graduation  become a long-serving member of the Barnard board of trustees.  Virginia’s  sorority sisters must have been the skewed  sample from which derived two conclusions in her autobiography about her class: that it  was  “far less varied in make-up than a college class of today;”  and that all were  “all more or less on the same social level.”  The first was probably true enough, but  the second is at least questionable and ignores the social tensions at the already anything but socially homogeneous  and inclusive Barnard of her college days .

Unmentioned in her autobiography was an incident that occurred in 1897,  Virginia’s sophomore year. That spring  a popular member of the Class of 1898 from New Orleans, Stella Stern,  was denied admission to Kappa Kappa Gamma because she was Jewish.  Stern and three of her Christian classmates,   Jessie Hughan, ’98, Helen St. Clair (Mullan) ’98, and Elizabeth Wyman ’98,   protested the decision and ended  the KKG monopoly by forming their own sorority, Alpha Omnicron Pi [AOP], with a charter that explicitly prohibited religious discrimination. Over the next decade six more chapters of national sororities  were established at Barnard, all but AOP  closed to the College’s  growing number of Jewish students.

It was not that the college-going  Virginia was indifferent to changes occurring around her. In the spring of her senior year she published an undergraduate essay on  “The Changing College Population”. There she lamented the declining focus on academics  among the classes behind hers and their increasing attention to the social side of college-going. Whatever the validity of this characterization, it ignored more sweeping changes occurring in the economic  circumstances of Barnard students, and certainly gives no indication that these  reportedly more fun-loving newcomers were any less well off or less socially credentialed  than “the studious middle-class daughters” of her imagining.

  1. Guess Who’s Coming to Barnard?

Virginia  Gildersleeve and her privileged KKG sorority sisters were by their graduation already a declining presence at Barnard. For every incoming student whose socially prominent New York parents sent her to Barnard,  several equally credentialed New York parents entrusted their  daughters  to Bryn Mawr, Smith, Wellesley  and Vassar.   This was particularly true for the well-born daughters  of City’s leading Protestant families who prepared at private day schools such as Brearley and Spence, where both institutional influence and social pressure directed them to one or another of the country colleges.  Less so the daughters of  the City’s East-Side  dwelling German-Jewish elite prepared at Dr. Sacks’ School or Ethical Culture, who, either because  of suspected  anti-Semitism on some country college campuses or because of tighter familial bonds, were more likely to have their daughters either forego college altogether (the fate of the Schiffs’ daughter Freida), or send them to Barnard.
Thus, by the early 1900s Barnard was serving  a portion of the City’s Jewish community  as one of its colleges of choice. If this distressed some Barnard trustees, no evidence of it doing so has been found. Moreover, whatever her reservations about her more recently arrived co-religious, Mrs. Meyer had encouraged this development in her dealings with the Guggenheims,  whom she assured Barnard was welcoming of Jews. But what even  Mrs. Meyer had not anticipated, and almost certainly disapproved of, was the appearance of increasing numbers of applicants from the daughters of Yiddish-speaking Jewish families residing in the City’s outer boroughs and one generation removed from the shetls of eastern Europe and Russia. “No school need accept more than a certain  proportion,” Mrs. Meyer wrote to President Butler in 1905 upon her daughter’s rejection by Miss Keller’s School, one of many schools in New York City with Columbia faculty on their boards and with blanket ban against Hebrews.
No Hebrew objects to that. The loud or coarse or those that are too German or
Russian to affiliate with the students may with justice be rejected. A common,
unrefined brewer may send his boy or girls to these schools but a cultured
Hebrew with American traditions, and even if belonging to the oldest families
of the country is not permitted the same liberty.

For added effect, Meyer copied the Guggenheims. To all of which Butler coolly responded on behalf of Columbia: “We are much more often charged with favoring Jews than with discriminating against them.” Clearly the “Hebrew Problem”  was not Virginia Gildersleeve’s classmates Rosalie Bloomingdale, Ella Seligsberg or Sarah Straus, but the likes of Virginia’s other unremarked upon classmates, Elise Kupner  and Martha Ornstein.

And if not Ornstein or Kupner, the latter going  on from Barnard to a distinguished career in the New York City school system, then it was the “most unsavory girl”  who appeared unannounced on campus in the summer of 1901, as Bursar N.W. Liggett reported to Barnard’s newly arrived Dean Laura Drake Gill:

Not a creature has been here… save a most unsavory girl, named Fox, who took the
examinations for Barnard at Fall River, and who has never received any word as to
the results. We have been taken in by this girl. Her home and locality where she lives
persuaded me that she was of saintly Puritan stock, but not quite orthodox, since she
turned her back upon the colleges of New England for those of New York. She turns
out to be an unwashed (I crave pardon for the word, but it required a strong one) Jew!
She has friends living on the lower east side of Third Avenue, with whom she proposes
to live! I gave her almost an hour of my time, and wish heartily she would partake
herself to Radcliffe.

What Bursar Liggett had yet to understand and Gill never to grasp was that the nature of  college-going  for New York girls had fundamentally changed in the dozen years since Barnard’s founding. Once limited to the daughters  of the wealthy and well-born  and privately prepared, college  had now become a possibility  for a wider segment of New Yorkers, not least for the academically ambitious daughters of immigrant families “living on the lower east side of Third Avenue.”

             To be sure, a few of the City’s wealthiest WASP families did send their daughters to Barnard  in its early years. Subsequent trustees Florence Colgate (BC 1895) and  Mary Harriman (BC 1905), the daughter of the railroad magnate Edward Harriman, granddaughter of an Episcopal bishop and the founder of the Junior League, are cases in point. More common, but still a minority, were the daughters  of wealthy German-Jewish families, as per future trustees Sarah Straus (BC 1900) and Helen Lehman Goodhart (BC 1907). Florence Samet Rothschild, the daughter of an Alsatian-Jewish real estate developer, who attended religious services at Temple Emmanu El on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, entered Barnard in 1904, and later described her background: “I came from a very wealthy family….We were fancy people.”

My argument here is that far fewer of the City’s “fancy people” availed themselves of Barnard than Meyer and others active in the College’s founding anticipated. Having described itself in King’s Handbook of New York in 1893 as mainly for “New York girls, whose parents prefer that their daughters should live at home during their collegiate educations,” the College soon found that whatever earlier parental preferences might have been  in the Meyer and Gildesleeve household, turn-of-the-century college-bound young women from families of means more often opted to go off to one of the country colleges than stay in town and commute to Barnard. By Barnard’s second decade of operations, following its move from the Madison Avenue  to Morningside, it attracted fewer socially credentialed East Side residents than in its opening decade.

More than the unanticipated loosening of parental ties among the City’s elite families and a greater willingness on their part to grant daughters the same away-to-college experience long allowed sons, confounded the expectations of Barnard’s founders. Equally  disruptive of expectations was the demographic transformation of turn-of-the-century New York City. Even as the earlier influx  of German immigrants slowed, and that of Irish immigrants continued apace, the 1890s witnessed  a new wave of immigrants from Italy and Eastern Europe, the latter mostly consisting of impoverished and often illiterate Jews, who spoke Yiddish, a mongrel language that bespoke  centuries of dislocations.  For some  settled New Yorkers, including some the quickly acculturating German Jews who arrived in the City a generation earlier, these newcomers posed a threat to the standing social order greater than did the Irish, who, after all, spoke English and were Christians of a sort.  By 1910 eastern European Jews made up 25 percent of the population of the Consolidated City of New York. A year earlier a survey indicated that three out of every four New York residents  had a foreign-born parent.

Another unanticipated development was the remarkable upgrading  of New York City’s public schools begun in the 1870s but accelerated with the passage of the New York School Law of 1896, which provided for the opening of public schools throughout the five boroughs, several of which offered instruction in most of the subjects then required for admission to college. These included co-educational high schools like Jamaica High School in Queens and Morris High School in the Bronx, both opened in 1897,  Curtis High School opened on Staten Island in 1904, but also high schools specifically for girls, including  the Girls’ High School in Brooklyn (1886) and Wadleigh High School for Girls, which opened in 1902 on  Manhattan’s West II4th Street in the then largely Jewish neighborhood of Harlem, only four blocks from Barnard.  A similar boom in high school building was underway in the towns of Westchester County and northern New Jersey.

In 1906, some 9000 eighth-graders entered one of the City’s eighteen public high schools. A majority of them left at 16 to enter the work force. Of those from Irish families, who constituted 19 percent of the City’s population,  only 6 percent stayed on to graduation, while those from Italian  families, who made up 6 percent of the City’ population, only 3 percent stayed on. Meanwhile, those students whose parents immigrated from Russia, and who made up 7 percent of the City’s population, comprised  12 percent of those going on to graduate. A 1911 report on Causes of Elimination od Students in Public Secondary Schools in New York City, using 1906 and 1908 data, concluded that “The Hebrews far exceed all others, including native-born Americans, in their appreciation and use of New York City high schools.”

The report also concluded that girls enrolled in high school were more likely to stay on through graduation than boys, describing the operative family dynamic thusly: “When resources are meagre the older boys are sent to work; the older girls on the other hand are frequently sent to high school.”  This applied with even more force within Irish families, where 10 girls went to high school for every 6 boys, whereas  Jewish families  sent 5 boys to high school for every 4 girls. For both immigrant groups, the report speculated  “older boys are sent to work and only the youngest boys are sent to high school. The older girls, on the other hand are frequently sent to high school, it appears, possibly in the hope of making teachers of them.”

In 1908, a majority  of the 24,000 students enrolled in New York City public schools were girls. Of these an estimated  7000 were  from native-born families,  many of them living in “two, rarely three rooms in a crowded tenement house section in the least attractive neighborhood“. Most of the 3600 Jewish and 1000 Irish girls came from even more modest residential circumstances. But if only  a quarter of these girls stayed on to graduate from high school, and then sought further education to enable them to teach in the public schools from which they graduated, they constituted a vast local clientele, one that  Barnard’s founders had not anticipated twenty years earlier. For them the question became  whether Barnard  would embrace this new demographic reality –  young women in numbers  “from the least attractive neighborhoods” in search of higher education – or continue to focus on those “New York women who are not likely to be compelled to earn their living.”

Three other turn-of-the-century developments unanticipated by Barnard’s founders were more technical in nature, but together went far to democratize New Yorkers’ access to higher education. The first  was the gradual elimination of Greek as a perquisite for college admission. Harvard led the way among northeastern colleges in doing so in 1886. Yale and still later, Columbia, in 1896, followed.  By 1900, public high schools  offering  only Latin to their most academically ambitious students now found themselves legitimate pathways to college.

Another technical development can be credited to  Columbia’s Nicholas Murray Butler. Before ascending to the Columbia presidency, he worked for a decade  to persuade twelve colleges, including Columbia and Barnard,  to forego their own entrance exams in favor of a uniform admissions examination to  be administered by a consortium of college administrators called the College Entrance Examination Board. Once Harvard signed on in 1904,  other colleges followed and the “College Boards” became the principal national mechanism by which colleges determined the academic eligibility of an applicant. College-administered admissions exams became a thing of the past.

A third development  facilitating college-going was specific to New York State. Beginning in 1904 the New York Board of Regents  introduced state-administered subject-specific “Regents Exams” to graduating high school seniors..  Passing scores on these exams  quickly  became an acceptable basis for admission to colleges throughout New York State. This was the case at Columbia and Barnard  with both schools accepting anyone who scored above 60 percent on four of the Regents exams.     Together, these developments  expanded  the size and broadened  the demographics of  the  recruitment pool for all New York colleges, especially those located in New York City where more  than half the state’s school-going population resided.

{Paragraph on the Rosenman interview of a Brooklyn girl of limited means  coming to Barnard only after receiving a Regents scholarship.]

The combined effect of these unanticipated developments would almost certainly result in a Barnard more diverse and inclusive than the one the College’s  founders envisioned.  That is, unless Barnard set about systematically to exclude otherwise academically qualified applicants on non-academic  grounds. Accepting the idea of an inclusive Barnard  would take time, and, as we shall see, even more time would be necessary before those favoring a more exclusive Barnard had tried and failed to deny the social imperative that went with the College’s New York location.