12/09/17 9500 words
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Gildersleeve?
1. “Far From Adequate Financial Provision”
2. Barnard’s First Merger Crisis
3. A Flower from Barnard’s Own Garden
4. Making Her Bones: Fraternities & Other Challenges
5. Deserving and Aspiring Masses
6. The Plimpton Touch
7. Barnard in the Great War
- “Far From Adequate Financial Provision”
In 1894, while seeking a successor to Miss Weed, Barnard’s new treasure George A. Plimpton wrote to his friend the Johns Hopkins president Daniel Coit Gilman that “I have no doubt in my mind but that within a few years Barnard College will be the richest women’s college in the country.” Two years later Plimpton doubled down. “There is no question in my mind,” he wrote to the attorney of Mrs. Josiah Fiske, ”that ultimately Barnard College will have a great deal of money; it cannot be otherwise.” This second effusion came in the immediate wake of his successful $140,000 “site fund” campaign that secured the conditioned $100,000 Brinckerhoff gift of a college building and the announcement of a $170,000 gift of a second building from Mrs. Anderson, which in turn produced a gift of $130,000 from Mrs. Josiah Fiske for a third building. Yet eleven years later, the same Treasurer Plimpton in an appeal to the Rockefeller-funded General Education Board, described Barnard as “far from having adequate financial provision for its necessary work.” These conflicting assessments were not simply rhetorical, the first two a bit of boasting and the third calculated poor-mouthing, but reflected the ongoing volatility and changing fortunes of the College’s finances.
On the plus side of the ledger, Barnard in 1907 owned four buildings, the original Brinckerhoff, Milbank and Fiske buildings, plus the just opened Brooks dormitory, with a combined book value of $750,000. These were located on a 4 ½ acre site assessed at $1,250,000. Barnard also owned securities and mortgages with a market value of $700,000. This last amount, the College’s endowment, was largely the result of Plimpton’s tireless solicitations that generated gifts from many of New York’s biggest benefactors, among them J. P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, the Harriman family and Joseph Pulitzer. In at least one instance, that of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. and later the Rockefeller-funded General Educational Board chaired by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Plimpton proved to be a more successful fundraiser on Barnard’s behalf than his counterparts at Columbia, where the Rockefellers’ recent arrival in New York (and their being Baptists?) rendered them in the minds of some Columbia trustees socially suspect. Plimpton, by contrast, was an equal opportunity mendicant. “I doubt there ever have been a Barnard College,” he told John D. Rockefeller, Jr., in 1910, “such as we have today had it not been for your generosity.” Barnard was also the occasional beneficiary of its status as a New York college, which made it eligible for $100,000 of the Daniel Fayerweather estate when it was probated in 1898, and its status as a women’s college, which garnered it a gift of $475,000 from the estate of Miss. Emily O. Gibbes of Newport, who heard of the college through Annie Nathan Meyer’s writings. Mrs. Meyer later memorialized Gibbes as “an intense feminist, the man-hater type.”
One of the problems Plimpton faced fundraising among his fellow Barnard trustees was that several of the wealthiest had other and more compelling institutional calls on their largesse. This was certainly the case with Abram Hewitt, one of the City’s wealthiest men and the Barnard board’s second chairman, whose estate went to Cooper Union. So, too, with the original trustee Mrs. Henrietta Talcott and her merchant husband, James Talcott, the bulk of whose $4 million estate went to the YWCA, the Northfield Seminary and the New York Bible Society, with $100,00 going to Barnard for a professorship in Biblical studies. Even in the case of Mrs. Elizabeth Milbank Anderson, early Barnard’s greatest benefactors, the bulk of her $32 million estate, and that of her cousin, Albert G. Milbank, who became a Barnard trustee in 1903, was, after 1905, committed to the Milbank Memorial Fund Association (later the Milbank Memorial Fund). Yet another original trustee of substantial wealth, Caroline Spurgeon Choate, left much of her estate to the Brearley School and to a fund that endowed her 40-acre estate, Naumkeag, in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. None of the early board’s many lawyers or ministers proved to be major donors, several of them directing their discretionary wealth to their respective alma maters. This was even true of Plimpton, whose benefactions were distributed among Amherst, Wellesley, Columbia University, the Presbyterian-sponsored Robert College and the American College for Girls in Istanbul.
On the negative side of the ledger, Barnard well into its second decade regularly operated with annual deficits which could not be made up without end-of-the-year borrowing from what was a comparatively small endowment or accumulating debt by commercial borrowing. Each of the other leading women’s colleges had endowments several times larger than Barnard’s. With nearly all the College’s operating income coming from student tuition and fees, the only long-term solution to the college’s financial situation was to either increase the size of the entering classes or increase annual tuition from its original $150. Increasing tuition was deemed inadvisable until Columbia took the lead in doing so, and in any event would almost certainly result in fewer enrollments.
Increasing enrollments posed its own problems, especially after the Gill-advised decision in 1904 to drastically reduce the number of “Specials” allowed to enroll as non-degree students, this to align Barnard with the other women’s colleges who only admitted full-time degree students. In 1905, the first year that decision was implemented, Barnard’s total enrollments dropped from 500 to 366, with a comparable negative impact on tuition income. Total enrollments would not return to pre-1904 levels for five more years. Meanwhile, the College’s shaky finances did not escape scrutiny or comment. “The fact ought to be faced,” President Butler in the summer of 1905 informed Annie Nathan Meyer who had written on another matter, “that Barnard is the only branch of the University which is not springing vigorous forward with full and increased prestige. It is not getting the financial or the personal support which it ought to have.” Over the next five years this complaint was to become a standard part of every communication passing westward across Broadway.
2. Barnard’s First Merger Crisis
Doubts about Barnard’s long-term financial viability originated at Columbia and were given voice by its new and aggrandizing president, Nicholas Murray Butler. Having as a student opposed President Barnard’s efforts to have Columbia College admit women, Butler as an administrator had become more open to the idea that women had a place in the larger university. As Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy, he had opened graduate instruction to women. One of his first moves as president was to insist that the Faculty of Political Science do likewise. No less than his predecessor, Seth Low, Butler was very much disposed to putting every educational entity within reach under the direction of the Columbia trustees, which is to say under his direction.
Part of Dean Gill’s problems with Butler was her opposition to his consolidating ways. In 1904 he called for the merger of the Registrars offices of Columbia College, the School of Mines and Barnard College, to be under the direction of a Columbia administrator. When Gill objected, she was overruled by her own trustees, with Plimpton supporting the move on grounds of efficiency and economy. This came after a note from Butler to Plimpton in which he called for a talk between them about “enrollment at Barnard …which is one part of the University that lags behind in the present advance.”
There is little doubt that Butler urged the resignation of Dean Gill in 1907. And it was Butler who appointed William Tenney Brewster, recently promoted to a professorship in English at Barnard and a seat in the Columbia Faculty of Philosophy, Barnard’s acting dean. What followed then was a four-year standoff between Butler and a set of Barnard trustees, led by Mrs. Anderson with Plimpton a behind-the-scenes ally, to keep the permanent position of dean from going to Brewster. In 1909 Butler added to Brewster’s formal duties by naming him to the new post of “Provost of Barnard.” In so doing, he signaled to the Barnard trustees that they might choose a woman their titular dean, who would be the public face of the College, so long as the academic and financial side of the College was entrusted to his man Brewster.
Yet another indication of Butler’s determination to make Barnard, along with the engineering school, into a unified undergraduate component of the University under the administrative leadership of the Dean of Columbia College was his proposal in 1909 that the admissions process of all three schools be consolidated under a “University Committee of Undergraduate Admissions,” to be headed by Columbia appointee Adam Leroy Jones. Again, Barnard officials, including its acting dean, went along.
Brewster ought not be demonized for his ascribed role as Butler’s stalking horse. He wanted the job of dean and seemed comfortable with the prospect of Barnard being merged into Columbia and its governance transferred to the University’s trustees. “I find myself in complete agreement with what you say in your recent letter,“ Butler wrote his Barnard provost his 1908, “regarding the feebleness of the Barnard Faculty as a Faculty, that I move to propose that we begin a reform without delay.” But at the same time he was the antithesis of the “country college” wannabes, seeing Barnard instead as an urban institution in the service of the City’s academically ambitious women of limited means. “It is evident,” he wrote in his first report as acting dean in the summer of 1907,
that in all probability a city college like Barnard will draw a large part of its
membership from nearby, and that it will be made up largely of students
who are unable to enjoy the opener life afforded at country colleges. Students
other than the class described will be attracted to Barnard College by the
soundness of its scholarship.
However enlightened his views on Barnard as an urban institution, Dean “Billy” Brewster was not to be. Mrs. Anderson in particular, who thought Dean Gill had been unfairly treated by Butler and undercut by Brewster, opposed both Brewster’s candidacy and Butler’s strong-arming. Plimpton agreed that the latter could be overbearing and that his objections to all of the several women Barnard had proposed as Gill’s successor were unreasonable. “I believe if I should find the Angel Gabriel, Butler would probably turn him down,” he wrote to Mrs. Anderson in June 1910. “Possibly he may think he has Brewster, and he may be indifferent as to what woman there is.” Knowing that Mrs. Anderson was set against Brewster and determined to have a woman as dean, Plimpton further endeared himself to Barnard’s principal benefactor with a closing call: “I say let us select a Dean after our own hearts.”
Two months later, on November 10, 1910, Butler wrote to Plimpton that he wished to see Alice Duer Miller designated as Barnard’s next dean. “She is a graduate of Barnard, a New Yorker, born and bred, and a lady of distinction of both mind and person.” That she was married, Butler assured Plimpton, was not a problem. He did not add that she was also the daughter of a Columbia graduate, the granddaughter of Columbia’s 10th president, William A. Duer (1829-42), and the great grand-daughter of Rufus King, a longtime chair of the Columbia Board of Trustees. She was also the Barnard alumna who led the call for Gill’s dismissal five years earlier. With this nomination, it became clear that what Butler wanted was to divide Barnard’s administrative responsibilities between a socially presentable woman as dean, in Miller’s case a journalist and writer without academic credentials, who would oversee the social and external affairs of the College, leaving the academic and financial affairs of the College to, in this case, a male provost.
When the Miller proposal was rejected by the Barnard board, Butler made an offer on November 18, 1910, that he likely thought too good for the Barnard trustees to reject. It was nothing if not clear-cut. “I want to put myself on record, “ he wrote to Plimpton on November 18, 1910, “ now as saying if Barnard College can be turned over bodily to the Trustees of the University, I will make myself responsible for raising the money to pay the outstanding debt of Barnard College.”
Butler’s proposed buyout would have transformed Barnard from a free-standing, financially independent institution with its own trustees into one of the several schools of the University (but separate from the all-male Columbia College) under the control of the Columbia Board of Trustees. As for Barnard’s 30-person faculty, it would be disbanded, with some of the male members finding places in the lower ranks of the Columbia faculty. All that was needed to effect Barnard’s dismemberment was the acquiescence of its treasurer. As an added inducement , Butler told Plimpton, with pointed reference to their mutual friend, fellow Centurion and Barnard’s board chairman, “It is also Mr. Brownell’s wish.”
Indeed it was. Two years earlier Brownell, by then the third chairman of the Barnard board, wrote privately to Butler:
For many years it has been my aim to turn Barnard College over to the Trustees of the
University for their management, and I have set my mark at an endowment of $500,000
as the suitable time for proposing to the University to take Barnard’s property and good
will, very much as it took over the College of Physicians and Surgeons.”
What had made Barnard, in its 21st year of operations, so seemingly vulnerable to a takeover? Butler in his offer letter cited three related economic factors: “Barnard’s finances shaky; salaries too low; faculty restless.” All true, especially the “faculty restless” assertion, at a time when several of Barnard’s senior male professors had recently transferred to transfer to Columbia where salaries were 10-20% higher than at Barnard.
But there was more. The decision of Columbia to call for Barnard’s absorption likely had as its precipitating consideration the evolving social composition of the University’s undergraduates, which Columbia’s trustees and its anxious-to-please president had recently determined to put right. The consolidation of the admissions process of the three undergraduate schools was a step in that direction. But the most expeditious way to proceed to do so would be simply to have Columbia take Barnard over. But when the Barnard trustees, at Mrs. Anderson’s urging and with Plimpton’s support, rejected Columbia’s buy-out offer, Butler quickly reverted to plan B. On December 10, 1910, he offered the Barnard deanship to the 33-year-old Virginia C. Gildersleeve.
A Flower From Barnard’s Own Garden
Among Virginia Gildersleeve’s academic prizes at her graduation from Barnard in 1899 was a Fiske Graduate Fellowship, which provided for a year’s graduate study at Columbia. She used it to pursue an MA degree in medieval history under guidance of James Harvey Robinson, with whom she had studied at Barnard. Degree in hand in the summer of 1900, she was offered an assistantship in English at Barnard with responsibility for a section of freshman English . The following year and for the three thereafter she held the rank of tutor and taught two sections. But when in the spring of 1905, William Tenney Brewster, in charge of staffing Barnard’s English courses, informed Gildersleeve she was expected to teach all sections of required Sophomore English – which would involve reading and grading 100 essays a week – she resigned.
Travel in Europe that summer was followed by the offer, through Annie Nathan Meyer’s intervention with President Butler, of a graduate fellowship for PhD studies. During her first two years of graduate study Gildersleeve renewed her teaching ties to Barnard, only to have them severed in the spring of 1907 when her services were discontinued for budgetary reasons as one of the last acts of Laura Gill as dean. Three more years of study, research and writing resulted in her completing requirements for a PhD in English and the ensuing publication of her dissertation, Government Regulation of the Elizabethan Theatre. Throughout these years she continued to live with her parents.
In the fall of 1908, PhD studies over and Gill gone, Gildersleeve returned to Barnard in an $800 lectureship to teach a section of William P. Trent’s lecture course. She was then offered $500 more to teach Shakespeare on a Columbia salary as part of Columbia-Barnard faculty exchange. In 1909 she was promoted to an assistant professorship in the Columbia English Department, the first woman to achieve professorial rank. When a senior male colleague accepted a full professorship at the University of Wisconsin and offered Virginia an associate professorship there, she declined it. Her explanation – ‘”I could not leave New York”. To which her would-be patron rejoined: “’Good heavens, you will never make a career for yourself that way.”’ Her decision does, however, lend credence to her retrospective and self-deprecatory chapter title describing her pre-deaning days: “I drift into a profession.”
The noontime meeting Butler called on December 10, 1910, to offer the Barnard deanship to the 33-year-old Columbia assistant professor of English, was to be followed by an afternoon meeting of the Barnard trustees to proceed with her election. But when Gildersleeve did not immediately accept the offer and instead sought assurances that as dean she – and not the provost — would have authority over Barnard’s academics and budget, the election meeting was postponed. On the following Tuesday, December 14, Butler gave his personal assurances that “the provost is just a lieutenant of the dean,” and Gildersleeve agreed to become Barnard’s third dean. “What finally decided me was my reluctance to have another stranger come in as Miss Gill had done and mess up my College again,” she later tartly recalled. “There seemed to be no other Barnard candidate. So I told the president I would accept.”
Even if not his first of second choice, Butler appreciated her appropriateness. The Gildersleeves were only slightly less an established part of New York society than the Duers and currently in better standing. Virginia’s father, Henry Alger Gildersleeve, like Butler a convert to Episcopalianism after being raised a Presbyterian, was a graduate of the Columbia law school, a judge and a force in the City’s veterans organizations. “Alger” and “Murray” were fellow members of the Century Club and friends. It was Butler, encountering Gildersleeve on the 5th Avenue trolley, who told Gildersleeve that his daughter had been chosen just minutes earlier at the Barnard board meeting.
Despite assurances that her duties would not be limited to the ceremonial and that she would be in charge of the academic and budgetary affairs of the college, the first public announcement of her appointment by Columbia implied a more limited mandate. This prompted Mrs. Anderson’s cousin and attorney, Albert G. Milbank, himself now a Barnard trustee, to relay to Plimpton his aunt’s complaint about “the inaccurate statement which appeared in connection with Miss Gildersleeve’s appointment, to the effect that the Provost had charge of the educational administration of the College.” As with much else in Barnard’s early history, it fell to Plimpton to secure reassurances from Columbia that Gildersleeve was to be Barnard’s dean in full and that Columbia would cease all talk of a merger. Although the office of provost was not eliminated until 1922, Brewster’s return to fulltime teaching in 1914 confirmed Plimpton’s success on both counts.
Still, Butler may well have harbored at the outset of Gildersleeve’s deanship the thought that should Barnard falter, the new dean’s youth, her Columbia ties and deferential ways with him might make her amenable to a later merger offer. Barnard’s condition under her long deanship never became so dire as to prompt another such offer, but neither at any point during it did she ever publicly challenge her beloved father’s dear friend. He in turn was said by other deans to treat Gildersleeve as a daughter. At her installation on February 11, 1911, Butler described her as “a flower from Barnard’s own garden” And at least on one point, that the time had come to address the issue of the demographic makeup of Columbia’s undergraduates, Columbia’s president and Barnard’s new dean were of one mind.
4. Making Her Bones
An early indication of where the new dean stood on the issue of Barnard’s proper constituency appears in her initial correspondence with Treasurer Plimpton about the wording of a fundraising letter intended to launch a $2 million campaign in celebration of the College’s 25th anniversary in 1914. “An Appeal for Barnard College,” drafted by Plimpton in November 1912, was circulated among the trustees and drew several responses. Two were relayed to Plimpton by Dean Gildersleeve, the first from President Butler, who thought its focus was “too New Yorky.” To this the Dean appended, “I am inclined to agree with him.”
The second came from Mrs. George McAneny, the dean’s college classmate (then as Marjorie Jacobi) and Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority sister, since married to a politically active clubman and recently elected alumnae representative to the board. Her objections were with a sentence in the letter’s second paragraph. “[The] enumeration of the various races makes Barnard sound too much like an indiscriminate melting pot,” Gildersleeve reported. “She feels it might offend the sensibilities of some persons and discourage them from sending their daughters here. The dean suggested leaving the offending sentence out.
Plimpton responded the next day. “I thoroughly approve of President Butler’s revision of your appeal.” But as for Mrs. McAnemy’s objection and the dean’s suggested solution: “Under no conditions would I leave out the enumeration of the different nationalities. I think it a strong appeal and I am sure we will get our $2 millions.” Three years earlier he had approached Mrs. Russell Sage for support with the proud boast that at Barnard “there isn’t a race or nationality that is not represented here.” That Plimpton located himself on the opposite side of the inclusive/exclusive divide from the new dean likely contributed to their early frosty relationship. It was to be years before they put each other on a first-name basis.
An early controversy not of her making – the move to dissolve Barnard’s fraternities – provides another indication where Gildersleeve wished to take Barnard. At the outset of her deanship Barnard had eight fraternities, whose members constituted less than a third of the student body. Among Barnard’s Jewish students, the percentage approached zero. An interviewer in 1989 asked a member of the class of 1909, Hannah Falk Hofheimer, “Did you join a fraternity?” To which came the answer: : “No. There was only one I think open to Jewish girls…. We knew that Kappa Kappa Gamma was ‘the’ sorority. And we knew we weren’t going to be asked.”
That all but one of Barnard’s fraternities discriminated against Jewish students, Bursar Liggett took in stride. Not so Treasurer Plimpton, who was alert to the issue’s fundraising implications. “I deplore the social prejudice which causes the discrimination at Barnard College,” he wrote in 1912 to a concerned Mrs. Adolph S. Ochs, whose daughter Iphigene (BC 1914) had just enrolled as a regular student. “We all know that the Hebrews of this city, by their financial and commercial integrity, by their intellectual culture, by their broad-minded philanthropy, have brought us much nearer to the day when there will be no prejudice against their race.” Plimpton then closed with an atypical instance of interrogative shilly-shallying: “Is it not in this gradual but absolute way that we may expect the barriers to come down at Barnard?”
Only part of the problem with Barnard’s fraternities for those critical of them was their discriminatory covenants; membership also entailed a substantial annual expenditure which many of Barnard’s commuting students simply could not afford. Several fraternities rented rooms near the college where the members could congregate at safe remove from their less clubbable classmates, which added a spatial exclusivity to their doings. Still other critics thought fraternities undercut class spirit and drew students away from all-College events.
In the fall of 1912 an on-campus campaign to abolish fraternities got underway. The precipitating event was the publication of an editorial in the student literary magazine , Barnard Bear, entitled “Fraternities vs. Democracy.” The author was sophomore Freda Kirchwey (BC 1915), the daughter of Columbia law professor George Kirchwey and the younger sister of Dorothy Kirchwey (BC 1910), who had been a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma. The younger Kirchwey was joined in her opposition by her classmate Sarah Butler (BC 1915), the Columbia president’s daughter. The Student Council responded to their call for an end to fraternities by petitioning newly installed Dean Gildersleeve to convene a committee to investigate their place at Barnard.
Gildersleeve appointed a 14-member committee, consisting of four faculty, four alumnae, four students, the provost and the dean. The alumnae and students were drawn equally from the ranks of fraternity supporters and those critical of them. Until the committee completed its investigation, fraternities continued their activities but could not recruit new members.
In April 1913 the Committee filed two reports. One, “the majority report,” declared that fraternities were on balance beneficial to the College but should be more transparent in their operations. The other, “the minority report,” concluded that fraternities were harmful to the College and should be abolished.
Dean Gildersleeve authored the majority report, Provost Brewster the minority report.
Whatever the vote within the committee, community sentiment aligned with the minority report. The faculty, already on record as critical of the outsized role fraternities had on campus, joined the opposition, as did the parents of some Jewish students. What followed were two separate pollings, one of the students and one of the faculty, both of which endorsed the committee’s minority report in urging the elimination of fraternities. A story in the New York Times took the same position, prematurely congratulating Barnard officials for its “ban on secret societies,” with photos of its dean, but also of fraternity critics William Tenney Brewster and Freda Kirchwey. The Barnard faculty in the fall of 1913 voted overwhelmingly to do away with fraternities, citing them as deflecting students from their studies. With the ban on rushing indefinitely extended through 1914, most of the fraternities lacked the members to carry on. The editors of the 1914 Barnard Mortarboard, which in prior years had given fraternities extensive coverage, dropped all mention of them. By the time a 1915 student referendum on the question favored the elimination of fraternities by a vote of 255 to 159, fraternities had ceased to exist at Barnard. A second referendum in 1916, where the vote was 244 in favor of continuing the ban 30 favoring lifting it, the issue was settled.
Throughout the controversy Gildersleeve, while not prepared to champion the cause of fraternities, is consistently to be found among those either defending them when under attack or lamenting their demise. The standard accounts of Barnard’s history, including that of her fraternity sister and lifelong friend, Alice Duer Miller, number her alongside Kirchwey as favoring the elimination of fraternities, but her role is less clear-cut. In a 1915 follow-up story in the New York Times, she pointed out that one of the negative consequences of the fraternity ban was that “Barnard women wishing to pledge sororities [now] go over to Columbia, and that the social life of these students becomes less centered around Barnard as their time spent across Broadway lengthens.” Later that same year, responding to the Dean of Swarthmore College inquiring about life-after-fraternities, she waxed nostalgic:
In many ways we miss the fraternities very much in our scattered college life where
normally only a third of the student body is in residence…. They were very useful in
getting hold of certain students and helping to interest them and adjust them to
college life. On the other hand these secret societies caused a great deal of bad feeling
and suspicion. Life has certainly been more peaceful since they have been given up.
Nor did she over the next four decades ever change sides. In her autobiography, without ever mentioning Barnard’s elimination of fraternities early in her deanship, she said of her student days as a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma: “It did me lots of good.”
- Deserving and Aspiring Masses
The point Gildersleeve made to the Swarthmore dean, that at Barnard “normally only a third of the student body is in residence,” was not for her a point of pride. It identified a target for corrective action and provided her with another opportunity to put her personal impress on the College. The opening of Brooks Hall in the fall of 1907 had not, as its donor and Dean Gill had hoped, given Barnard the feel of one of the “country colleges”. Part of the problem was the dorm’s limited capacity; it could only accommodate 100 residents when at its opening the College enrolled 400 full-time students. When Gildersleeve became dean in 1911 enrollments stood at 600.
A more revealing problem with Brooks was that for its first five years of operations it failed to attract enough residential students to fully occupy it. In this instance, the newly installed dean quickly devised a solution to the problem of Barnard’s under-occupied-and-over-priced dormitory that also advanced her personal agenda for the College. Only months into her deanship, Gildersleeve was informed on the death of the newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer that Barnard was to receive $100,000 from his estate. Earlier gifts from Pulitzer to Columbia had been for scholarships for deserving graduates of Brooklyn schools (both private and public) to attend both Columbia College and Barnard. These “Brooklyn Scholarships” had been in keeping with Pulitzer’s efforts, paralleling those of his fellow Jew, Jacob Schiff, to encourage the trustees of both schools to be more welcoming to the bright children of the City’s immigrant communities. It is doubtful that on ideological grounds Pulitizer would have approved of the use to which his last benefaction to Barnard was put: The creation of twelve annual “Residential Scholarships,” by which applicants from outside New York City received scholarships to cover the cost of room and board in Brooks Hall. But the sheer cleverness of her solution to Brooks’s vacancy problem which also served to reduce the preponderance of New York City residents at Barnard he could have only marveled. In the fall of 1913, Dean Gildersleeve announced that for the first time since its opening six years earlier, Brooks Hall was fully occupied with undergraduates.
Meanwhile, more and more of commuting Barnard’s students sought out lodgings closer to campus. Ongoing improvements in public transportation resulted in students coming to Barnard from ever more distant homes. By 1910, a quarter of the Barnard student body travelled to campus for the outer boroughs of New York City, and another quarter from northern New Jersey and the New York counties of Westchester, Nassau and Rockland. Two-hour, three-connection commutes were not uncommon. Neither Dean Gill, acting dean Brewster nor Dean Gildersleeve displayed much interest in confronting this “schlepping” problem; ditto the trustees. It was Barnard’s alumnae, the vast majority of them having themselves experienced the travails of commuting, who took it up.
The Barnard Alumnae Association, founded in 1891, by 1915 could count among its members some 1500 living graduates. Its first action of consequence had been to convince the trustees of the appropriateness of (and provide the selection mechanism for ) having a member of the trustees a Barnard alumna elected by the College’s alumnae. Such a provision in the College’s statutes was put into effect in 1899, with the election of Ellen Fitzgerald Bryson (BC 1894) to a three-year term as alumnae trustee. By 1910 the board had reserved two places for alumnae-elected trustees, with two of the first four subsequently elected to life terms. Though not always the case, several of these early alumnae trustees took a special interest in the financial circumstances affecting student life. In 1915 that meant seeking the College’s help on behalf of “those students whose circumstances do not permit them to live in Brooks Hall.”
What the alumnae had in mind was the College renting rooms in the neighborhood – much as the fraternities had done for social purposes – where students could live more conveniently than at home and more cheaply than in Brooks. The needed economies were to be achieved by cooperative arrangements with residents contributing time to their own maintenance and feeding. In 1916, with a personal contribution from the ever-generous Mrs. Anderson, the alumnae association rented rooms for 15 students in an apartment at 99 Claremont Avenue. The following year they changed quarters to 606 West 116th Street, across the street from Brooks, where the 44 students in residence paid less than half Brooks’s going rates. The lease on “606” was extended for two more years, where the cooperative housed 43 and 44 students, half of them on scholarships.
The plight of the dozens of want-to-be residents from the outer boroughs, Westchester and northern New Jersey was only partially met with such arrangements. In 1920 a sophomore transfer from Indiana, Margaret Mead, attracted by the social diversity they allowed, availed herself of these apartments. That she and her mates enjoyed little institutional favor was indicated by the resident director’s description of them as “a mental and moral muss.” They in turn dubbed themselves the “Ash Can Cats.” No evidence has been found to suggest that Dean Gildersleeve ever took the least interest in promoting these cooperative arrangements. In 1922 Barnard’s six-year experiment in cooperative living was terminated by administrative fiat, prompting the Barnard Alumnae Magazine to provide it an obituary.
A final indicator of the direction the newly installed Dean Gildersleeve wished to take Barnard involved a disagreement she had with board chairman Silas Brown Brownell. Here, too, she showed herself intent on placing a limit on the numbers of New Yorkers, in particular public schoolers from the City’s ethnic communities, while preserving a privileged place for the daughters of the American heartland, even if doing so put her at cross purposes with the educational egalitarianism and benevolence of her native state.
The New York Board of Regents, a state agency dating back to the 1780s and charged with oversight of the state’s educational system, began administering tests in New York’s secondary schools in the 1860s. In the 1880s, as municipalities opened high schools, Regents tests were developed in four fields to give school administrators a means of certifying degree eligibility. While not required, Regents Exam tests results had become one of the two bases for determining admission to New York colleges, the other being the newly developed College Board Entrance Examination. Entrance exams devised and administered by individual colleges and taken by college applicants privately prepared had become a thing of the past.
For young New Yorkers completing public high school at the turn of the century, scores on the Regents exam provided a ready means by which they, their parents and their teachers had for gauging readiness for college. They were also administered on site and without charge, whereas the College Boards were administered offsite and carried a fee. In some cases, it was a daughter’s high scores on the “Regents” that convinced parents that the heretofore unthinkable prospect of her going on to college, especially if the costs could be managed, thinkable.
By 1910 more than half of those applying to Barnard did so by presenting results from the state-administered Regents exams. In and of itself, the widespread adoption of these exams had significantly increased access to college for the City’s public high school graduates, who made up more than half of the state’s graduates, a fact not lost upon Bursar Liggett or any other members of the Barnard community who saw the college’s proper clientele the privately prepared daughters of the City’s socially arrived families. Even more troubling was the action of the New York legislature in 1912 to create New York State Regents scholarships to be awarded to seniors with the highest scores on the Regents Exams in each of the state’s 150 assembly districts. This meant that in the City of New York 750 scholarships would be awarded annually to graduating seniors, more than half of them girls and a majority of them Jews.
The Regents scholarship provided winning students an annual grant of $100 for four years if used to offset costs of tuition at a New York college, public or private. The immediate effect for a prospective Barnard student was to cut the effective annual cost of attending by two-thirds, from $150.00, the tuition that had been in place since the College’s opening, to $50. College-going had suddenly become much more affordable for New York families with daughters doing well in high school, about to graduate and prepared to commute.
In the fall of 1913, nearly a third (60 of 184) of Barnard’s entering class held Regents Scholarships, most of them (54 of 60) graduates of New York City public schools. Dean Gildersleeve chose the occasion to recommend to the board that the College for the first time in its history raise its tuition from $150 to $200, citing the need to increase the salaries of the teaching staff and build up the College’s modest endowment. Left unmentioned but almost certainly understood was that such an increase would effectively nullify the effect of a Regents scholarship on lowering the costs of attending Barnard. At its January 27, 1914 meeting, a majority of the board voted to increase tuition from $150 to $200, effective the coming fall.
Missing from the January meeting was the board’s chairman, Silas Brownell, who subsequently submitted a memorandum to the board dissenting from its decision. In so doing he provides posterity with a full-throated and otherwise unrecorded statement of the “inclusive Barnard” persuasion and a rejoinder to the Liggett view , which in a less virulent form, was also the Gildersleeve view. Barnard, he wrote, should be trying “to make college education accessible as far as possible to those who would otherwise be precluded from its advantages.” Warming to the subject, and exploiting his being among the board’s remaining half-dozen original members, he offered his colleagues an bracing (if factually dubious) origins story:
Barnard was not founded to make money or to get income for the College, nor
to make a more comfortable place for its instructors and teachers, but to provide
and popularize college education, especially for those who except for it might not have
the golden opportunity.
This call for inclusivity from a pillar of the City’s then dominant WASP legal establishment, communicant of the Church of the Incarnation, resident of Fifth Avenue and active Centurion! He closed by restating his position: “Barnard should not be limited to people of means and position. It should open its doors and leave them open to the deserving and aspiring crowds.”
At its next meeting, on February 10th, the board reapproved the tuition hike, with no recording of the vote or reference to the dissenting memorandum. Brownell continued as chair until his death in 1918. For some Board members their decision had likely been the simple one of approving a means by which the College could increase needed future income. But for some others, including the dean, the tuition hike negating half of the state’s generosity provided at least a partial check against the College being inundated by the City’s “deserving and aspiring crowds.”
6. The Plimpton Touch
The early Gildersleeve deanship was attended by modestly improving finances, a welcome relief from the chronic budgetary problems of her predecessor and the acting dean. During Gill’s administration the College had experienced a succession of budgets where expenses outpaced income and produced deficits as high as $15,000 (on operating budgets of $100,000), which were covered each spring by private subscriptions or by borrowing. Available income from the College’s endowment in 1912, which had a book value of $1,000,000 but was tied up in real estate, was unable to fill the gap. Thus the trustees, with a new and young dean in place and looking ahead to the College’s upcoming silver anniversary in 1914, announced a $2,000,000 fundraising campaign, with half to go for capital expenditures and half into endowment, effectively doubling it.
It quickly became clear that fundraising was not one of the new dean’s strengths. Gildersleeve disliked asking for money from past donors or cultivating new ones. She acknowledged as much in her autobiography, joking that the two major campaigns launched during her deanship were both immediately interrupted by world wars. As had been the case prior to her deanship, the College’s fundraising responsibilities fell to the board’s treasurer.
Plimpton enjoyed many triumphs over the course of 44 years of fundraising for Barnard, securing repeat benefactions in excess of $100,000 from the Rockefellers, John Sr. and John Jr., from Elizabeth Milbank Anderson, along with smaller ones from Andrew Carnegie, the Harrimans and Mrs. . He derived personal pleasure from each success. Said one contributor of $5000 to Plimpton: “When your drag-net is thrown out the fish give up: no use trying to escape.” To a subscriber who tried to renege on a $1000 subscription by faulting his methods he was forgiving:
I note what you say about not liking my way of raising money. I can assure you that this
whole money-making business is most disagreeable to me. The position of treasurer I did
not seek . It was thrust upon me. Now my good woman, do not give yourself any anxiety
or uneasiness about the matter.
It was Plimpton’s success in two multi-year cultivations culminating in the first years of the Gildersleeve deanship that gave Barnard a measure of financial well-being during the subsequent decade and a half. The first was Plimpton’s the culmination of the protracted cultivation of Jacob H. Schiff. As mentioned earlier, Schiff was recruited by his co-religious Annie Nathan Meyer, to serve as Barnard’s first board treasurer in 1889. The experience was wholly unsatisfactory and prompted his resignation in 1893. In 1896 he resigned his seat on the Board, presumably washing his hands of the College. Perhaps the only good to come of his Barnard board years was making the acquaintanceship of fellow member Plimpton, who quietly covered for him during frequent absences and then succeeded him as treasurer. From this chance meeting – there is no reason for their having met before – they developed an ecumenical relationship carried on in correspondence across the next twenty years. Much of what they wrote about involved Schiff’s many efforts to convince Columbia’s trustees to elect a Jewish member, which Plimpton agreed was in Columbia’s best interest even if its trustees and president thought otherwise.
Sympathetic listening was only one form Plimpton’s cultivation took. In 1912 he made a gift of a rare early book on mathematics from his personal collection to the Library of the City of Frankfurt, Schiff’s birthplace, in his honor. On other occasions he made himself available for visits to Schiff’s summer compound in Long Branch, New Jersey. In 1910, he accompanied Schiff, twenty years his senior, on a 4-week trip from Seattle to Alaska aboard a private train. One subject of conversation that came up was how Schiff might mark the upcoming 50th anniversary of his coming to America.
The result was a gift of $500,000 to Barnard for the construction of a Students’ Hall (now Barnard Hall), which was to contain a gymnasium and pool, along with space for a library and faculty offices. It was at its announcement in 1915 the largest single building gift Barnard had received and one which Schiff later increased $550,000 when building costs exceed those contemplated. It was – and remains – one of the more impressive older buildings on Morningside Heights and at its opening in 1917 one of the largest.
The building’s placement, on the eastern edge of the Barnard campus on Broadway (at what would have been 117th St.) so as to be facing Columbia, was very much at the donor’s direction. And to his purposes, as . [Brownell’s letter to GAP] tion
If Schiff, the leader of the City’s German-Jewish community and never faulted for excessive companionability, and Plimpton, the bookman, communicant of Brick Presbyterian Church and eminently clubbable, made for an odd couple, so did the latter’s long friendship with Horace W. Carpentier, some four decades his senior. Carpentier was one of those young New Yorkers who upon his graduation from Columbia College in 1848, anticipated Horace Greeley’s advice by fifteen years, by setting out for California. Once there, he passed on the possibilities of mining to focus on real estate. In 1852 he secured the incorporation of the city of Oakland and proceeded to become the largest landowner in the East Bay. He was elected mayor of Oakland and then appointed a major general in the California State Militia. (He occasionally went by “General”.) Some questionable real estate transactions involving the Oakland waterfront and dealings with Spanish land grant owners caused him to diversify his investments, becoming in the process a principal in the Overland Telegraph Company which proceeded in 1861 to complete the intercontinental connection and make him one of California’s richest men.
In 1888, at age 64 and a bachelor, Carpentier returned to New York. After taking an interest in alumni affairs, Carpentier in 1901 made a gift to Columbia of $1,000,000 to endow the Dean Lung Chair in Chinese Studies, in recognition of his longtime man servant. When asked by President Low to join the Columbia board, he declined, citing his age (76). Yet two years later, when approached by Plimpton, who had befriended him back in 1896 when Carpentier had given $10,000 to the Barnard site fund, to join the Barnard board, he accepted. At the time he admitted to Plimpton that he was finding his return to New York hard in the absence of friends.
Three years later, when asked this time by President Butler to join the Columbia board, Carpentier accepted and resigned from the Barnard board. In 1908, however, he gave $200,000 to Barnard , establishing in honor of his mother the Henrietta Carpentier Scholarship Fund. During the next four years he alternated between making substantial gifts to Columbia and urging Butler to convince his board to elect a Jew to its membership. When his urgings produced no action, he resigned from the Columbia board and returned, in 1910 at age 86, to the Barnard board. In 1915, preparing to resign from board, he proposed an additional gift of $100,000 to provide scholarships for “deserving Chinese students” to attend Barnard. When apprised of Carpentier’s intentions, Plimpton urged the donor to word the gift to indicate that any scholarship funds left over after accommodating qualified Chinese girls could be used to provide assistance to other applicants. In 1916 he again honored his mother with a third gift for scholarships, this time one of $500,000.
At his death in 1918, the Carpentier estate provided another $1,000,000 to Barnard. His total gifts of $1,760,000 made him, along with Mrs. Anderson and Jacob Schiff, one the College’s three largest benefactors, a designation they held for another four decades. (Most of the financial aid Barnard made available during the ensuing interwar period came from Carpentier’s benefactions.) Of the approximately $4 million from these three individuals, only Anderson’s gift to Barnard of the Milbank Quadrangle site, which came as a total surprise, came without Plimpton’s patient hand in securing them.
Elsewhere on the fundraising front, the results were more mixed. “The Quarter Century Fund” was intended to raise $2,000,000 by its scheduled completion in the fall of 1914 on the occasion of Barnard’s 25th anniversary. The pledge of a $250,000 endowment gift from the Rockefeller-funded General Education Board, if matched by Barnard raising the other $750,000, got the campaign off to a promising start. But when in August 1914, Barnard still well short of meeting the match requirements, war broke out in Europe, the birthday celebration was deferred to the following spring and Barnard’s dean suspended the campaign for the duration. The goal would not finally reached until 1920.
7. Barnard in The Great War
When war broke out in Europe in August 1914, the Barnard community received the news with surprise and dismay. In announcing the deferral of the 25th birthday celebration and the suspension of the “Quarter Century Fund Drive” Dean Gildersleeve cited “the appalling calamity abroad.” In keeping with that assessment of the war in Europe, few at Barnard showed any early interest in becoming part of it. One exception was the French instructor, Henri Muller, who returned to his native France upon the mobilization of his army unit. A few other faculty, including the German-born and Columbia-based but Barnard-teaching Franz Boas, and possibly some students of Irish extraction (and thus anti-British by inheritance) declined to blame Germany for starting the war. Among Barnard faculty, Professor of English William Peterfield Trent, a native Virginian, publicly aligned himself with the “white Teutonic race” when the French army used black Senegalese troops against the invading Germans.
For most Barnard faculty, trustees and students, the policy advocated by both the president of the United States and the president of Columbia University during the first two years of the fighting in Europe – not our fight; neutral in word and deed – reflected their sentiments as well. As the war and the killing dragged on into 1916 with no end in sight, some Columbians, including the philosopher John Dewey and some trustees, shifted away from a principled neutrality toward intervention on the side of Britain and France, President Butler remained firmly in the anti-interventionist camp.
Similarly disposed was Barnard’s dean. Years later she acknowledged that it was in 1916 that she became a Democrat out of her admiration of President Wilson, who that fall won re-election on the campaign appeal, “He Kept Us Out of War.” But with Germany’s renewal of submarine warfare in February of 1917 and Wilson’s shift to a more combative stance with respect to the preventing Germany from winning the war, Butler belatedly aligned himself and his University with the interventionists. Six weeks after the United States entered the war in April 1917 he conveyed to the alumni — but with his real audience anti-war faculty and students – the University’s wartime policy: “What had been tolerated before, became intolerable now. What had been wrong-headedness was now sedition. What had been folly was now treason.” Dean Gildersleeve’s charge to the Barnard convocation in the fall of 1917, if less militant and more resignedly phrased, was of a kind: “The cause for which we are called upon as College women to do our share.”
Meanwhile, several Columbia trustees seized the moment to settle scores with faculty members whose past public statements they believed had done the University one disservice or another. Their principal target was the psychologist James McKeen Cattell , whose oft-stated opposition to trustee governance had been met with stony silence from his “bosses,” but whose opposition to the military draft and support of the anti-war demonstrations of his son now made him fair game. At the Trustees’ direction and with the acquiescence of a committee of senior Columbia faculty, Cattell was fired in September 1917 for “actions detrimental to the University.” But also caught up in the Trustee witch hunt was the economist, Henry R. Mussey, who had for a decade divided his teaching time between Columbia and Barnard, where he was a member of the faculty. Mussey barely escaped being fired, along with Cattell and Columbia assistant professor of English Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana, for protesting the draft.
Such instances of trustee highhandedness gave Butler pause, but not before two of his most prominent and popular faculty members, the American political scientist/historian Charles A. Beard and the European intellectual historian James Harvey Robinson, resigned in protest. Both men had close ties to Barnard. Robinson had taught at Barnard for twenty-years, served as acting dean in 1900 and was a member of its original faculty. Beard, a member of Columbia’s Department of Government and Public Law, had been recruited by Dean Gildersleeve in 1912 to introduce a two-semester sequence in American history required for acceptance into the newly opened Columbia School of Journalism. During his four years of teaching at Barnard he developed a following among students and faculty alike.
Beard’s was the more dramatic resignation. It came at the start of the 1917 fall term in a public letter addressed to President Butler in which he excoriated Columbia’s trustees as having “no standing in the world of education, who are reactionary and visionless in politics, narrow and medieval in religion.” The New York Times condemned Beard’s actions in an editorial entitled, “Columbia’s Deliverance.”
Three weeks after Beard submitted his resignation, Mussey submitted his, citing the failure of the Columbia faculty to protest the firing of Cattell. To their collective credit, and in contrast with official Columbia, Dean Gildersleeve, the Barnard faculty and the student editors of the Barnard Bulletin all publicly acknowledged Beard’s services to the College and lamented the circumstances that brought about his resignation. One of the few public expressions of support for Beard appeared in the New York Herald-Tribune the day after the Times denounced him from the Barnard-based philosopher, William P. Montague. Mussey’s departure was similarly regretted in a resolution made by history instructor Maude Hutman to the Barnard faculty in December, although, likely out of deference to official Columbia, it was tabled.
Robinson waited to submit his resignation until the spring semester of 1918, when he joined the economist Alvin Johnson (who had taught briefly at Barnard in 1905-06) with other New York-based academics and public intellectuals to establish the New School for Social Research. Here, too, Barnard proved to be more generous to this departing faculty member than was his principal employer. When Columbia declined Robinson’s request that he be paid for an unused sabbatical, Barnard treasurer Plimpton promptly authorized payment of Barnard’s share.
However ambivalent the Barnard community about the decision to enter the war, once made most took some part in its prosecution. In addition to Muller’s service in the French army, faculty members Franklin Giddings and James T. Shotwell took up civilian positions in one of the several war agencies that sprung up. On campus, other faculty joined with some 60 Barnard students under the lead of the geologist Ida Ogilvie to supplement wartime agricultural production by planting and growing some of their food on a borrowed family farm in Bedford, New York. Still other students and staff volunteered their services at the Boathouse Canteen, a recreational center for soldiers and sailors passing through New York City located in Columbia’s boathouse jutting out into the Hudson River at 122nd St.
Barnard’s biggest contribution to the war effort came from the alumnae, who now numbered some 1500. Three members of the class of 1917 joined the Navy upon graduation and spent the war decoding and translating enemy documents. Sarah Butler (Class of 1915) organized the Barnard War Service Corps, which in turn recruited five alumnae volunteers for a Barnard Red Cross Unit, which set up a field unit in Bordeaux, France. Another ten Barnard alumnae saw service at a YWCA canteen within hearing of the frontlines in France. In all, some 35 Barnard alumnae saw wartime and immediate post-war service in Europe.
On the home front, Dean Gildersleeve used the occasion of the war to press for the opening of Columbia’s medical school, the College of Physicians and Surgeons, to qualified women. Her earlier success in gaining access for women to Columbia’s School of Journalism back in 1912 had occurred without resistance and was in keeping with Joseph Pulitzer’s wishes, but cracking either the medical or law school’s opposition to the admission of women was another matter. But with a shortage of male applicants and heavy calls on the medical profession to staff field hospitals in Europe, P & S officials agreed to a temporary lifting of its ban on women students. Gildersleeve then recommended a graduating senior, Gulli Lindh, who was duly admitted. She subsequently graduated at the top of her medical school class, while two other wartime female admittees finished third and fifth. These results prompted the medical school to permanently rescind its ban. Columbia’s law school would be next.
By war’s end, the now 41-year-old Dean Gildersleeve had consolidated her position as Barnard’s chief administrative officer and as an effective operative within the University. Time for new crusades.