Opening Thoughts on Post-WW II Barnard
“Those Were the Days”?
Marked by 15 years of attentive, effective leadership in a time of relative prosperity and public approbation of American institutions of higher education.
Last years of the 36-year Gildersleeve marred nationally by the Great Depression and a second world war, locally by her frequent bouts of ill-health, calls on her for national service and resultant absences from campus. Had tried to retire in 1942, but stayed on (at NMB’s insistence) through his own retirement to 1947. Left a Barnard to her successor financially strapped and with a campus in disrepair. Millicent McIntosh, acknowledged to be an effective administrator and successful fundraiser, but as a school mistress without scholarly credentials and the mother of five children, had to overcome some sniffiness among some of her inherited faculty. McIntosh worked well with her board, especially trustee chair Helen Rogers Reid; her retirement in 1962 prompted by family considerations and entirely her call.
Wave of retirements in early 1940s of faculty at Barnard since before World War I left faculty understaffed. Many of their replacements away during the war and their return uncertain. Barnard’s ability to provide competitive salaries to recruit and retain good faculty very much in question, especially as several new SUNY campuses began opening. Recruitment of both male and female faculty marked by a gradual alienation from Columbia as new hires less often Columbia PhDs and more often products of Midwestern and California universities. Proportion of women faculty increased modestly as did the proportion of tenured women faculty. Most department chairs still men.
Fundraising efforts modernized and sufficient to permit major upgrading and expansion of campus facilities, including the construction of:
Lehman Hall/Wollman Library (1959)
Reid Hall (1961)
Plimpton Hall (1968)
McIntosh Center (1969)
Altschul Science Tower (1969)
Successful also in attracting support from foundations (Carnegie/Ford/Rockefeller/Mellon)
But Barnard remained significantly underendowed compared with the other Sisters or Ivy men’s colleges and highly dependent on tuition income (rather than investment income) to balance its books.
Barnard continued to draw a majority of its students from public high schools in the New York metropolitan region, though proportionally fewer from New York City, where in the boroughs it competed with Queens and Brooklyn College, as well as in Manhattan with New York University. Continued to be viewed as New York’s most academically prestigious women’s college, with close ties to the City’s premier research university.
Over half Barnard students commuted to campus.
Annually attracted some of its best students as transfers – either returning to the City or coming because of marriage — from the other Sisters.
A period of easy rapport between faculty, students and administrators, thanks in part to President McIntosh’s attentiveness and to the national mood.
An extended period of “benign neglect” on the part of Columbia with respect to Barnard. McIntosh getting on well withPresidents Dwight Eisenhower (1948-53)and Grayson Kirk (1953- 1968); Barnard’s use of Columbia facilities and cross-registration in Barnard and Columbia courses managed without payment. Some use of Barnard faculty by Columbia departments for graduate instruction, especially by smaller Columbia departments (Classics/Religion). Continued distinctions between Columbia’s undergraduate curriculum (with its emphasis on “Core” courses and subsequent concentrations) and Barnard’s (more major-directed) curriculum. Substantial social interaction between Columbia and Barnard students, but with each maintaining their own publications and separate athletic programs.
Disruptive clouds on the horizon in early 1960s:
Unanticipated brevity of the Rosemary Park presidency (1962-67) that followed on McIntosh’s
retirement; unplanned need to seek replacement
Deteriorating standing of Columbia as a nationally ranked research university; morale
impact on administrators, junior faculty and graduate students
Deteriorating condition of the Morningside neighborhood; Columbia as neighborhood landlord
Rising incidence on campus disruptions by leftist students beginning in 1965
Winding down of the long and relatively placid and relatively consensual 1950s around 1964, to be replaced by more critically disposed mood and a greater willingness of those so disposed to take to the streets:
Civil rights movement throwing critical light on governmental practices
Bay of Pigs disaster and escalation of US involvement in Southeast Asia brings into question Cold war strategies
Assassination of President Kennedy
Revival of the women’s movement
President Johnson’s doubling down in Vietnam….
Last updated: March 1, 2015