3. Becoming Barnard: A Place in the City

Chapter III
Becoming Barnard:   A Place in the City         

                 “A student body of 600, heterogeneous in the extreme.”
—  Professor of Latin Charles Knapp, “The Growth of Barnard College” (1910), 1 [1]


In May 1893 Barnard College graduated its first class of eight seniors  with appropriate fanfare. Joseph H. Choate wrote of the occasion to his wife the trustee Carline Dutcher Choate, who was away from the City: “Last night’s Post has such an excellent account of the first Commencement of the Barnard girls that I have cut it out and enclose it. Mr. Brownell tells me that they made a  great sensation as they appeared upon the stage and were received with overwhelming applause.”   That fall, 106 students returned to the rented Madison Avenue campus to continue the work begun by the college’s first graduates, not least  the fashioning of an extra-curriculum. [2]

  1. Inventing a College Life

The first students consisted of 14 young women  enrolled as “regulars” on the basis of examination as degree-seekers, plus  22 “specials,” non-degree candidates who registered for one or two courses. Of that class, 8 “regulars” stayed on to graduate  in the spring of 1893. That same fall Barnard began its fifth  academic year with nearly half of its 106 enrollments non-degree specials. Of the regulars,  7 stayed on to graduate in 1894, another 8 in 1895. [3]

The small size of these first graduating classes and the absence of a discernible upward trend were troubling.  Equally concerning was the heavy reliance upon “specials,” who were  expected to be eliminated once four regular classes were in place.  Their persistence in numbers, a matter of financial exigency,  gave the impression that Barnard’s academic standards were lower than other women’s colleges who admitted only degree students.    Yet their continued presence after the move to Morningside when they again briefly became  a majority of all enrollments reflects Barnard’s  continued  problem attracting full-timers in sustainable numbers. Not until 1900 did regular enrollments again exceed “specials” and not until 1905,  by which time Barnard  had graduated thirteen classes, did  “specials” make up less than one third  of all enrollments. One such  “special” in 1910, Iphigene Ochs, described her status as “students who were not very bright or who were inadequately prepared for regular college courses.” In Iphigene’s case, she passed the entrance exams at the start of her third year and became a member of the Class of 1914. “Specials” would not to be eliminated until 1927, not coincidentally the same year Barnard became a founding member of the prestigious Seven Sisters College Conference. [4]

Given that all the 200 or so students enrolled at Barnard during the first eight years on the East Side commuted to school, the creation of even a semblance of college life outside the classroom is impressive. During the second year of operations, an  Undergraduate Association  was introduced  which provided the College with a  rudimentary student government.  A year later, the first chapter of a Greek national fraternity, Kappa Kappa Gamma was established.  In 1894, the  first  yearbook, Barnard Annual , was published,  succeeded three years later by  Barnard Mortarboard . The first issue of the college’s campus newspaper, Barnard Bulletin, appeared in 1901. By 1904 students had formed teams in basketball, tennis and  ping pong;  clubs included La Societe Francaise,  Deutscher Kreis, the Greek Club,  the Botany Club, the Barnard College Young Women’s Christian Association, and  a chapter of the Church Students’ Missionary Association.  For the musically  disposed, there was the Barnard Chorus and the Mandolin Club; for those interested in  social service,  a chapter of the College Settlement Association.  Literary undertakings included The Barnard Bear. The invention of an early  student life at Barnard reached its imaginative highpoint in 1903 when the sophomores (Class of 1905) challenged the incoming freshmen (Class of 1906) to a series of athletic contests in what came to be known as the Greek Games. These were thereafter faithfully repeated every spring for  seven decades. [5]

Despite the many  extra-curricular activities, the absence of a residential dimension made the early Barnard  experience fundamentally different  from  that of the other women’s colleges – and “country” colleges in general –.   This shortcoming was made all the more glaring  by the fact that a year after the move to Morningside, with the opening of Fiske Hall in 1898, some twenty-five Barnard students from outside  New York City took up temporary residence in the as yet unoccupied top floor. The experiment lasted only two years before the space was reassigned as  a planned laboratory. Despite the brevity of the residency, it was  long enough to provoke  two different  reactions. Trustee Henrietta Talcott, on the basis of a single visit,  declared the dormitory “a godless place,” while trustee Augusta Arnold agreed, complaining that there were “no limits to the hours that the girls could dance.” But trustee Annie Nathan Meyer, while declaring herself in a 1904 letter to Treasurer Plimpton no fan of country colleges with their extensive residential quarters conveying “a sense of self-importance, or of mental isolation, or eccentricity,”  lamented the  closing of the temporary dormitory, viewing it as having “succeeded in attracting the finest women from all over the country. To be obliged to shut the doors on them was undoubtedly a very serious blow to Barnard.” She closed her letter with a plea: “Do get us a gift of a dormitory. I am sure you will, you have never failed us as yet in any of our great needs.”  [6]

The ever resourceful Plimpton  already had set his sights on  Elizabeth Milbank  Anderson for  such a gift. Although she had never attended college, Anderson had taken to heart the calls of others on the importance of a dormitory if Barnard was  to compete with the “country” colleges for the daughters of New York’s well-to-do families. Indeed, her own daughter, Eleanor, a Brearley graduate,  had opted for Bryn Mawr.  Anderson’s  purchase in 1902 of the 3 acres of land between 116th and 119th Street, contiguous with the original site,  was intended  for Barnard’s first dormitory, which she likely expected other trustees  to underwrite. When none did and Meyer in 1904 took it upon herself to try to  interest the Guggenheim family in making a naming gift of a dormitory,  Anderson shortly thereafter announced  her third major gift to the college. This was $150,000 for a dormitory to be named after the Reverend Arthur Brooks, first chairman of the  trustees  and  Anderson’s spiritual counselor at the Episcopal  Church of the Incarnation. [7]

The building that became Brooks Hall faced inward on the southern edge of the  ”Milbank Quadrangle,” and its back to 116th St. It was not just another utilitarian college dormitory. Historian Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, in her illuminating Alma Mater: Design and Experience in the Women’s Colleges from Their Nineteenth-Century Beginnings to the 1930s (1984) described it this way:

Designed as an urban residence by Lamb & Rich. The architects of Barnard’s first buildings,
Brooks Hall rose nine stories in brick and limestone to match the Milbank group some distance
away. Built on a steel skeleton, it was a vertical rectangle. A handsome portico fitted with white
limestone columns, an ornamental cornice, and bay windows kept Brooks from looking severe.

Severe it was not. Brooks  consisted of  eight  floors  of outward- facing rooms and suites designed to accommodate  just 97 students, with interior public rooms on each of the upper floors as well as on the first floor off the elegant  entry. Mrs. Anderson selected  the in-demand Elsie de Wolfe, who had decorated the Andersons’  5th Avenue apartment and countless other East Side homes, to decorate the public spaces.  They were to have, DeWolfe assured her client, referring to New York’s most fashionable women’s club, “gilt applique like [the] parlor and tea room at [the] Colony Club.” [8]

Annual room rents in Brooks varied significantly, with the smallest double rooms going for $160 a year, while the suites, which consisted of two rooms, a private bath and fireplace,  a princessly  $1000.  Board was fixed at $500, making the total cost of residence several times the tuition of $150 and substantially higher than the other women’s colleges.  Horowitz convincingly argues that the opening of Brooks Hall “began Barnard’s partial transformation into a women’s college along the lines of Vassar or Bryn Mawr.” [9]


The opening of Brooks Hall in the fall of 1907 was clearly intended to attract  wealthy applicants, both New York City residents with resources  to live away from home  and those from beyond the city. Yet four years after Brooks opened it had still not attracted enough undergraduates to be fully occupied. In their absence, Barnard rented suites to Columbia female graduate students and offered them to unmarried Barnard women instructors as part of their compensation.   When full occupancy by undergraduates was finally achieved in 1913, it was only after the introduction of resident scholarships explicitly designed to attract out-of-state applicants. If early Barnard wanted more out-of-town girls, it seemed it would have to buy them. [10]


                                                                Schlepping  to Barnard

When Barnard was  located on Madison Avenue on the East Side, it found itself one of  many  cultural institutions  within walking distance of the homes of the City’s wealthiest families. Situated mid-way up the island, the College was accessible by trolley car from other parts of Manhattan. Students coming from the boroughs of Brooklyn and  Queens required the additional services of a ferry across the East River, from the Bronx and lower Westchester County a bridge across the Harlem River, and from northern New Jersey a ferry  across the Hudson. The longest trek was from  eastern Queens and  involved a combination of ferry, trolley car and, from western Long Island, the Long Island Railroad. But whether a leisurely five-minute walk or an arduous two-hour slog, the fact that each school day began and ended with a commute is what most  distinguished the Barnard student experience from their country sisters. [11.]
The  move to Morningside in 1897 only reinforced this distinction. Now East Siders confronted a daily trek by trolley car over the top of Central Park to the thinly populated and considerably more down-market  Upper West Side. The commute from northern New Jersey, with its river-crossing terminus at the 135th St. Ferry pier,  was shortened by the College’s relocation, but made longer for students from Queens. A more determinative development in confirming  Barnard as a commuting school was the 1904 opening of the IRT subway between City Hall in lower Manhattan to 145th Street. This was soon  followed by rapid transit links between the Upper West Side and the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn,  extending Barnard’s commuting zone from ground zero,  the Broadway and 116th-St.  IRT station,  outward to a radius of 30 miles, a tri-state region that included  New York’s suburbs, plus the densely populated southwest Connecticut and northern New Jersey. A total area of 3800 square miles, and  by 1900 home to 15,000,000 people,  or roughly a fifth of all Americans. [12.]

While hardly cloistered in its original East Side location, the  Upper West Side where Barnard now found itself permanently located put the College at the geographical center and cultural heart of the American urban condition, with  its fast-paced tempo, rough-edged  diversity and social heterogeneity. Whatever  second thoughts these facts of life prompted among  its founders and early backers, Barnard’s distinct urban essence had  to be acknowledged, accepted, and then, if possible,  embraced. This last condition would be decades in coming, but as early as 1901, a graduating senior, Miss Florence L. Sanville, gave voice to the “thoroughly cosmopolitan nature of the student body which Barnard’s situation in New York makes possible.”

Our situation in a great city with its counter attractions, the home ties and demands which
bind a large proportion of the students, the hurrying comings and goings in crowded trolley cars,
trains, or ferry boats ….. In no other college, probably, do the students represent as many different
classes as they do at Barnard College. Barnard satisfies the demand of every type – from the girl
who cannot afford the expense of an out-of-town college, to the girl who seeks to combine higher
studies with a continuance of social life and pleasures. The result of this intermingling of classes
is a broad democratic spirit which makes itself felt throughout our ranks.

Not  everyone shared Florence’s urban ethic. [13]


                                  “She’s Not a New Yorker”: The Misbegotten Gill Deanship

Dean Emily James Smith Putnam, newly married and in anticipation of motherhood,  resigned as dean in  February  1900.  Her abbreviated tenure, surprise resignation  and the  reason prompting it led  President Low to urge that her successor be a man.  To this end he appointed the 37-year-old historian James Harvey Robinson, a popular instructor of history at Barnard and Columbia, as acting dean. Although Elizabeth Milbank  Anderson had favored Putnam resigning, she opposed the idea of  a male dean for Barnard and urged fellow trustee Silas Brown Brownell to convey her sentiments to Low, his personal friend and fellow Centurion. Brownell did, arguing that “I cannot avoid feeling that the financial support of Barnard is quite as essential as her new administration, and that that support depends upon women, whom Barnard, therefore, can  not afford to alienate.” Although Low ceded the point in this instance, he refused Brownell’s request to alter the intercorporate agreement to require the  Barnard dean be a woman. A new  search was then undertaken, in  which Anderson played a leading role, and in January, 1901, the  41-year old Laura Drake Gill was named Barnard’s second dean. She proved to be a bad choice. During her 7-year deanship,  the progress that Putnam had made in collaboration with Low in securing  Barnard’s stability was undone.  [14]

Effective  service as a hospital administrator in Cuba following the American assault in the summer of 1898 had brought Laura Drake Gill to the attention of the Barnard search committee. Born and raised in rural Maine, a Smith graduate,  she taught mathematics at Smith’s preparatory school in Northampton before joining the Red Cross. That she was single and available counted in her favor, while the fact that she was a stranger to New York and, as it turned out, hostile to urban life, seem not to have been thought disqualifying.  In her very first dean’s report to her trustees, New Yorkers to the person,  she declared “that most unlovely form of provincialism [was] the provincialism of a great city.” [15.]

Within nine months of Gill’s  appointment a newspaper account reached Treasurer Plimpton that Gill had resigned following an early meeting with Columbia’s newly installed president Nicholas Murray Butler. Unlike Low, who treated Dean Smith like a partner in the larger university enterprise  who reported to her own board of trustees, Butler expected all  deans of Columbia schools  to report directly  to him. In Gill’s case, Butler wanted her to limit her dealings with the Barnard board, on which he sat ex officio,  by funneling all communications through him.  It took Gill several years to grasp  Butler’s  notion of their relationship and too late to salvage  any semblance of mutual trust. Butler also blamed Gill for rendering Barnard’s biggest  benefactor and her defender, Elizabeth Milbank  Anderson, unwilling to direct some of her largesse Columbia’s way. [16]

In ways large and small Gill offended would-be allies.  Whereas the 1900 intercorporate agreement gave Barnard full responsibility for the undergraduate instruction of women within the University, it did not take into account that Teachers College (TC), a party to the agreement , had among its women students some  who did not possess ABs.  Rather than propose an amicable resolution to a sister institution with overlapping missions, Gill insisted that Teachers College cede all responsibility for instructing undergraduates to Barnard. For good measure,  she publicly made some disparaging remarks about the “heterogeneous”  students attending Teachers College.  Although she prevailed in this dispute, it earned her and Barnard the enmity of TC Dean James Earl Russell and ended space-sharing arrangements  in which Barnard students had used the TC gymnasium. [17]

Gill was equally maladroit in lesser ways, as in offending trustee Meyer by neglecting  to keep the College’s Steinway piano in tune. The dean also alienated a leading young alumna, Alice Duer Miller, BC ’99, by declining her application  in 1905 for an unpaid  part-time teaching appointment,  because Miller was married.  Three months after that happened, Miller, a future chronicler of Barnard history, organized a group of 14 alumnae from different classes who wrote to President Butler asking him “to consider the removal of Miss Gill.” Among their complaints was her “imposing on Barnard the attitude of isolated colleges.” But their most  damning indictment: “She is not a New Yorker.” [18.]

The following spring, Gill declined to renew the appointment of a popular English instructor, alumna, and Miller classmate,  Virginia Gildersleeve. Here again she demonstrated a flare for offending those who could retaliate. When Gildersleeve  later explained her reasoning for accepting the Barnard deanship in 1911, she said that she wished to avoid having “another stranger come in as Miss Gill had done and mess up my College again.” [19.]

Even in posterity Gill has attracted  critics. In her estimable  Women  Scientists in America: Struggles and Strategies to 1940 (1984), the historian Margaret W. Rossiter cites Dean Gill as responsible for cutting short the promising scientific career of Harriet Brooks. A Canadian by birth and one of Sir Ernest Rutherford ‘s most promising graduate students at McGill University, Brooks was hired as a physics  instructor  by Barnard in 1903. Four years later she informed Dean Gill of  her engagement to marry,  while stating  her intentions to continue teaching and conducting research  in nuclear physics. Gill , over the objections of Margaret Maltby, Barnard’s senior physicist, promptly terminated Brooks, who, as it turned out, did not marry the man to whom she was engaged but did abandon her research. Thus Barnard lost the woman who at her death in 1933 the New York Times  called “one of the leading women in the field of nuclear physics, second only to Marie Curie.” [20]

A final instance of Gill’s innocence of Gotham’s folkways was her  attempt, prior to the Steinway kerfuffle,  to help Annie Nathan Meyer find an appropriate school for her daughter,  Margaret. This happened after several of the City’s fashionable day schools, all  with Columbia officials on their boards,  had declined to consider Margaret because she was Jewish. Dean Gill then suggested Margaret apply to the Sacks Collegiate Institute, only to receive from Meyer this pointed lesson in New York tribal distinctions:

I do not like the atmosphere of the Sacks School simply because the girls there come
almost exclusively from a wealthy class – one which has not had the stability of
generations of wealth – and which is unfortunately an intensely materialistic  class.
Margaret comes from a family in America since the 17th century and I do not care
— another reason – to have her in such an exclusively German atmosphere. [21.]

It may well have been Gill’s utter cluelessness about New York ethnic and social mores that kept her out of the discussions  occupying the boards of both Columbia and Barnard during her deanship  on the subject that went by the anodyne label, “The Hebrew Problem.”

                                                      Columbia’s “Hebrew Problem” – and Barnard’s

Columbia College had from its founding as King’s College in 1754 been open to the sons of New York City’s pre-Revolutionary Sephardic Jewish community. A similar receptivity characterized  the College’s dealings with the sons of the  more newly arrived German-Jewish community when they began applying in the 1860s.  This remained the case into the 1890s. Nicholas Murray Butler’s graduating Class of 1882 of fifty included  a half-dozen Jews. It was only in the early 1900s that the presence of Jews became “the Hebrew Problem,” which  was  in fact three related problems. [22.]

Beginning in the early 1890s, leading members of the German Jewish community, some of whom   were alumni and donors,  called upon Columbia to acknowledge  their relationship  with the University  by naming a Jew to the  Board of Trustees. That no Jew had served on the board since the death of Gershon Seixas in 1816 was a source of consternation among  would-be  and certified Columbia benefactors, including Jacob H. Schiff, who was not an alumnus but had endowed  a Columbia professorship in Hebrew Studies in 1892. Schiff had the support of President Low for such an appointment, who in a 1901 letter to Columbia trustee Bayard Cutting  proposed Isaac N. Seligman (CC 1886) for  membership. An informal polling of trustees by Cutting  revealed resistance to the idea.  “I admit that on this subject  I am strongly prejudiced,” Columbia trustee and future board chairman William Barclay Parsons wrote to George L. Rives, a fellow Columbia trustee and later a member of the Barnard board, “and it is possible that my prejudice leads me to give undue weight to my point of view.” [23]

With Butler’s installation, Schiff  abandoned his lobbying for a Jewish appointee and turned to urging Columbia’s Jewish alumni to withhold their support until an appointment was made. In 1910, Barnard treasurer Plimpton wrote to Columbia alumnus and Barnard trustee Horace W. Carpentier:

I had a long talk with Mr. Schiff about Columbia. He says he will not give a dollar
more to Columbia University until they have a Jew trustee. He thinks that with a
million Jews in this city, and the large number of students they have there, that
they ought to be represented on their board. He says that the Jews are represented
on every institution board in this city.

Schiff’s ongoing generosity to Harvard and subsequent gifts to Cornell and Barnard were intended to remind Columbia of the cost of its prejudice. In 1911, trustee Seth Low withdrew from further participation in Columbia board after the trustees with Butler’s acquiescence  refused to grant to Jewish organizations the same access to the Columbia chapel that it granted Christian groups. [24]

A second part of Columbia’s “Hebrew Problem” was the increasing  presence of sons of the City’s  most recently arrived Eastern European Jewish families  attending Columbia College as a means of securing early admission to one of the university’s  professional schools. Admission to Columbia’s law school and the College of Physicians and Surgeons was limited to college graduates, except students attending  Columbia College could transfer into either school after their second or third year, which attracted  financially pressed but professionally ambitious young men who otherwise would have attended CCNY or NYU for four years. Even more economical planning called for a student to enroll at tuition-free City College for three semesters, then transfer to Columbia, and after three semesters in the College gain admission to the Columbia professional school of choice.  With the College admitting all applicants with passing scores on the Regents exams or  College Boards, exams which could be prepared for at one of the City’s public high schools, Columbia College, once limited to prosperous  New Yorkers, was now within reach of all but the most financially straitened sons of Gotham’s newest arrivals. [25.]

The prospect of Columbia College becoming overwhelmed  with the sons of Eastern European immigrants, mostly Jews and products of the City’s public high schools,  produced for Columbia trustees the most worrisome part of Columbia’s “Hebrew Problem”: WASP flight. The sons of New York’s leading families  with multi-generational ties to Columbia and prepared at one of the City’s private boys schools such as Trinity and Collegiate or away at boarding school, found the prospect of four years at a Columbia with socially  disadvantaged classmates, wholly given over to academic success, increasingly unattractive.  Nor did it help matters when Columbia in 1905 temporarily dropped intercollegiate football from its athletic program.  Better  to follow one’s school chums to Harvard, Yale or Princeton, where “our own kind” remained in a comfortable majority. [26]

This  concern was sufficiently salient among old Columbians and would-be applicants that in 1914 the College’s dean Frederick P. Keppel  addressed the question directly in his otherwise promotional Columbia College, a contribution to a series of institutional biographies published by Oxford University Press. “Isn’t Columbia overrun with European Jews,” he preemptively asked, “who are the most unpleasant persons personally?” His answer, meant to be reassuring, came in four  parts. The first was that “the proportion of Jewish students is decreasing rather than increasing”. The second, that “by far the majority of the Jewish students who do come to Columbia are desirable students in every way.” Keppel then went on to make two further distinctions, which however well- intentioned at the time , a century later make for difficult reading.   The first of these:
What most people regard as a racial problem is really a social problem. The Jews who
have had the advantages of decent social surroundings for a generation or two are
entirely satisfactory companions. Their intellectual ability, and particularly their
intellectual curiosity, are above the average, and the teachers are unanimous in
saying that their presence in the classroom is distinctly desirable.

The second:
There are, indeed,  Jewish students of another type who have not had the social advantage
of their more fortunate fellows. Often they come from an environment which in any stock
less fired with ambition would have put the idea of higher education wholly out of the
question.  Some of these are not particularly pleasant  companions, but the total number
is not large, and every reputable institution aspiring to public service must stand ready
to give those of probity and good moral character the benefits  which they are making
great sacrifices to obtain. [27]

Keppel privately conceded that Columbia’s  battle to retain the loyalty of  Old New Yorkers was already lost. When in 1913 Columbia Trustee  Francis S. Bangs, whose sons Henry (CC 1906) and Francis (CC 1910) had attended Columbia and bemoaned the experience, floated the idea  of  limiting admission to Columbia College to residential students,  Keppel dismissed it as financially suicidal and demographically ineffective: “To put it frankly, I do not think such a plan, or any other, will bring us the sons of men like Mr. Rives, Mr. Cutting and Mr. Parsons.” [28]

                                                                   Fire Bell in the Night

We know less of the internal discussions of “The Hebrew Problem” among Barnard trustees than among their more voluble and more document-retentive Columbia counterparts. To be sure, the institutional circumstances were different, with the Barnard board from its opening being relatively more open to Jewish representation. But might we not assume that these otherwise equally well-placed New Yorkers, with their many social  interactions,  shared some of the same  concerns and prejudices, regarding the prospect of the institutions with which they identified being inundated by the City’s newest and rawest arrivals?  In one instance the specter of Barnard’s inundation  may have been seen as even more Imminent. In the case of Columbia College, the local presence of City College and NYU  meant that its admissions officials could redirect academically qualified but  socially objectionable local male applicants elsewhere. Barnard, still the City’s only four-year liberal arts college for women [The Normal College did not achieve full college status as Hunter College until 1915], remained the principal recourse for New York City girls who for economic reasons were limited to colleges within commuting distance. [29]

The first Barnard official to give voice to these concerns was N. W. Liggett, the College Bursar.  “Personally I am discouraged,” she began her letter on June 20, 1906, to Treasurer George Plimpton, “considerably discouraged.”

During the summer I want  you to look carefully over the names and addresses of the
enclosed candidates. You will observe, I think, that we are drawing a very large
percentage of Hebrews, and others of foreign extraction; that our students are coming
from neighborhoods unknown to most residenters. This contingent might not be open to
criticism if we had plenty of the children of well-to-do New York families also, for the
affiliation would do much to neutralize race limitations. [30]

Liggett then provided Plimpton with the list of names,  addresses and collegiate preparation of the 102 applicants. Those she thought Jewish she marked  with a check.  “Only thirteen private schools in New York, Brooklyn, and Staten Island (the city proper) send us pupils,” she reported. “Of these,  five send us only Hebrew students. Of 62 taking preliminary examinations, twenty-nine are Hebrews; of 102 taking complete examinations, 40 are Hebrews.” “It seems to me,” she warned Plimpton and his fellow trustees, “that this condition cannot be longer ignored. We are certainly losing ground.” [31]

Nor, as Liggett saw it,  was the problem susceptible  to such simple remedies as increased publicity.

We are not able to do any successful missionary work in the schools, for things have
reached the pass where this sort of zeal but brings us more Hebrews, and all history
proves that any cause which attracts the support of large numbers of Hebrews is
a losing cause in the end. [32]

Liggett then pivoted to questioning the utility of a new dormitory that  trustee Meyer had been soliciting with  the Guggenheim family.  Acknowledging that it  was “our only opportunity of winning a new constituency,” she warned,

a dormitory which will receive any number of Hebrews from all parts of the country as
resident students, will do us incalculable harm.  Already Hebrews are coming to us from
other sections of the country. They are not from good Jewish families…. A gift of a
dormitory building from a Hebrew would be the most embarrassing gift that could
come to us.

She then concluded her letter with a bearish  assessment  of Barnard’s current “material”:

Every year we are drawing less and less from the private school element, and from
the well-to-do classes. Much of the material which we graduate we cannot place
advantageously, where we can ever expect any return, for while their minds are
trained, the social limitation and environment is such that only the public  school
is available, and we already have too much of this sort of material coming to us. [33]

What to make of this extraordinary letter, its unvarnished  anti-Semitism aside? It contains several assertions that hold up to subsequent scrutiny. Barnard’s entering classes in the opening  decade of the twentieth century did contain a growing proportion of Jewish students, if likely not  as many as Liggett suggests. Her  identifications square pretty well with other indicators, including census- roll information about  parents’ birthplaces and language spoken at home, as well as subsequent self-identifications. They also comport with  the almost complete absence of the incoming students  Liggett identified as Jews later becoming members of Barnard’s  sororities. [34]

A mapping of the homes of the incoming class of 1910  similarly confirms the veracity of Liggett’s snide comment  about their coming  “from neighborhoods unknown to most residenters”.  Of its 94 graduates four years later, only seven of the 58 Manhattanites (12%) came from the affluent East Side, while  thirteen came from the  upper reaches of Manhattan and fourteen from the newly residential Upper West Side. A majority  of the others came from the outer boroughs, Westchester, and northern New Jersey. Three came from outside the New York region. [35]

Liggett was also correct in saying that the City’s leading private schools, with the exception of the Dr. Sachs’s  School and Ethical Culture School, were not sending their college-bound graduates to Barnard, preferring one or another  of the women’s “country” colleges . This held for Brearley and Spence, but also the co-educational Horace Mann School on Broadway and 120th St, administered by Columbia University and where many children of faculty went. When asked by a Columbia official in 1908 why so few of his graduates went to Columbia, Horace Mann headmaster Virgil Prettyman responded bluntly that the perception of Columbia among his students was that it had become filled with graduates of the city’s public high schools, making  it unappealing. Horace Mann’s female seniors almost certainly felt the same about Barnard. When accounting for Columbia’s failure “to command the support of many of the better New York families,” Prettyman explicitly included Barnard students when he wrote of “the belief that the University’s undergraduate body contains a preponderating element of students who have had few social advantages and that in consequence, there is little opportunity of making friendships of permanent value among them.” His advice to Barnard and Columbia:  “Careful consideration of new channels which bring desirable candidates and the careful turning in other directions such streams as have been proved deleterious.” [36]

Barnard’s leading feeder schools in 1906,  accounting for a third of the entering class,  were  Wadleigh High School for Girls on West 114th Street, with 12 admits; Morris High School in the Bronx, with 9 admits;  Jamaica High School in Queens, with 4 admits; Girls High School in Brooklyn, with 3 admits. Four other City high schools provided at least one member each, while public high schools in northern New Jersey and Westchester provided another  third of the class. In all, 72% of  the entering Class of 1910 were prepared at public schools. (Of the students attending Bryn Mawr between 1885 and 1908, 70% were prepared at private schools or by private tutors.)  What was said of the girls attending Brooklyn’s Girls High School in 1895 by the New York Times applied more generally for the City’s  public schoolers: that it was “the ambition of every Brooklyn girl [is] to enter the Girls’ High School where she may enjoy the advantages of an advanced education and be prepared for college.” [37]

Liggett also proved prescient as to the occupational outcomes of such “material”. Of the 43 members entering in 1906 and identified as gainfully employed in 1925, 24 (56%) were employed as teachers, 15 by a public high school in New York City, Westchester or northern New Jersey.  (Teaching was the occupational outcome of only 16% of all Wellesley students between 1889 and 1918.) Liggett’s disparagement of Barnard graduates aspiring to careers in secondary education notwithstanding, for many  it was precisely their hard-come-by Barnard AB that enabled them to secure the most  gainful and respectable employment their economic circumstances required and open to women.  Whatever happened to the Reverend Brooks’s  “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”?  [38]

We do not have Plimpton’s response to Liggett’s screed,  though his continued insistence in approaching potential Barnard donors, Christian and Jewish alike, with the message that “there isn’t a race or nationality that is not represented there,” suggests he did not share her prejudices, as does his retention of her letter among his carefully archived papers. [39]

Another recipient of  Liggett’s letter was  Dean Gill, who by 1906 was on the outs with both her Registrar and the College’s Jewish constituency. The latter alienation followed on Gill’s  insistence that Barnard classes continue to be scheduled on Saturday mornings, despite Columbia making  them optional for observant Jewish students.  Rather than acknowledge the conflict, Gill charged those complaining with trying to avoid a sixth day of commuting to campus.  She also  dismissed  her Registrar’s warnings  about Barnard’s declining appeal  among “the privates” and its increasing reliance dependence upon the City’s  public schoolers coming to Barnard “looking to self-support.”  “We may have no fear,” Gill informed her trustees in 1906, “that the college is losing its hold upon those who regard higher education as  chiefly ministering to general intellectual ends.” Such a cheery view  confirms Gill’s disconnect with both the College and New York City during her last months as dean. [40]

Some trustees almost certainly shared  Liggett’s concerns – if not her anti-Semitism. Those with teen-age  daughters or familiar with the private school scene must have been aware  of the reputation Barnard had acquired among wealthier private schoolers.  As one Brearley graduate from Richmond Hill, a wealthy neighborhood in  Queens,  who, against her wishes ended up at Barnard in 1913,  later described the contrast:  “I had never seen a Jew. I didn’t know about Jews. Barnard, of course, was full of them.  Such interesting delightful people. Many of their mothers were scrubbing floors so they could go through college.” [41]

Not all  Jews attending Barnard  had mothers scrubbing floors or worked their way through college. But one who did work her way through college was Augusta Salik, Class of 1902,  born of Jewish parents from South Russia,  who paid her way through Barnard doing social work in Harlem.  More typical was Hannah Falk, who entered Barnard in 1905. Born to Jewish parents in 1889 in a railroad flat on 14th Street, she moved with her family at least four times in her early years, the last to an apartment on East 93rd St., between Park and Madison, several blocks north of  the then upper limits of wealthy Upper East Side. “It was on the south side of the street,” she recalled  eight decades later. “On the north side it was farm land and squatters lived there in their little houses. It was the end of the city.” But it was also within trolley-car range of the newly opened Wadleigh High School for Girls on West 114th St. where she and three Jewish classmates went before  applying to Barnard. While Hannah’s parents could afford Barnard’s $150 tuition, they were  of the view that “to go out of town [for college] would have been ridiculous in my day.” Once enrolled at Barnard, the College’s lack of social amenities for its commuting students led Hannah, who regularly went home after lunch, to conclude,   ”It wasn’t much of a college experience.” [42]