5. Barnard in the Twenties

12/09/17 –11,000 words

                                                                       Chapter  5
Barnard in the Twenties

1. The Dean Gets a Life
2. A Faculty of Its Own
3. A Curriculum To Match
4. New Yorkers Need Not Apply
5. Flappers & Schleppers & Dead End Kids
6. Inventing the Seven Sisters
7. Prosperity Decade?

  1. The Dean Gets a Life

American entry into the Great War marked Dean Gildersleeve’s  entry into the larger world of public affairs. Her appointment by President Butler in the spring of 1917 as chair of the Columbia University Committee on Women’s War Work brought her into contact with city officials, including renewing one with the City’s reform Mayor John Purroy Mitchell, an 1899  Columbia classmate, who appointed her to the Mayor’s Committee of Women on National Defense. Soon thereafter came calls from Washington, where she became a member of the Committee on War Service Training for Women College Students. In her autobiography,  Gildersleeve  recalled some frustration  with these committee assignments as  “fighting an armchair war,” but she also acknowledged their more lasting effect: “It committed me to international affairs as the principal work of my life next to my immediate task as Dean of Barnard College.” The Great War also became the occasion for her finding love.


    Gildersleeve had toured Europe as a school girl with her parents and then again with a Brearley friend after graduation. Both paternal ancestry – the Gildersleeves were from Suffolk — and her dissertation subject – governmental regulation of the Elizabethan theatre – made England a special point of interest. An invitation to visit followed on her receiving in New York in the fall of 1918 a delegation  of English women academics that included Caroline Spurgeon, Professor of English Literature, Chaucer scholar and academic administrator at Bedford College, the University of London.  Gildersleeve, still living with her parents (an arrangement upon hearing of Bryn Mawr’s  M. Carey Thomas took exception to on feminist grounds), put up her guests in Brooks Hall.   Eight years Gildersleeve’s senior, Spurgeon and the dean almost immediately established an intimate relationship that would define their personal lives for the next quarter-century.

Before  her guest returned to England, Gildersleeve arranged for a visit  the following summer as part of a plan to establish an International Federation of University Women. The trip included a stay with Spurgeon and several of her women friends who shared a summer cottage in the Cotswolds.  Such reciprocal visits thereafter  became the norm, with Spurgeon spending three months every fall in New York, sometimes as a visiting lecturer at Barnard,  and after Gildersleeve in 1925 took up residence in the Deanery, private quarters at the north end of Hewitt Hall, joining her there. Similarly, Gildersleeve spent her summers in a thatched cottage in Alciston, Sussex – The Old Postman’s Cottage – which she  shared  with Lillian Clapham and her beloved “Cara.” From there they frequently ventured across the English Channel to France or elsewhere on the Continent, sometimes on business relating to the International Federation of University Women or Reid Hall, a residence for American students and artists, which beginning in 1922 was administered by the IFUW, but often simply for the sheer pleasure of traveling together. Upon Clapham’s death in 1936, Spurgeon moved to Arizona, where Gildersleeve became a constant visitor until Spurgeon’s death in 1942.

Summers abroad became only part of a more comprehensive pattern of off-campus excursions by Barnard’s dean. With the adoption of the 19th Amendment,  politics lost its males-only character and became an arena for women as well.  Several Barnard alumnae were among the first women to become active in state and national party politics. Jessie Wallace Hughan ’98 became a leader of the Socialist Party;  Sarah Butler ’15  became Vice-chairman of the New York Republican State Committee; Juliet Poyntz  ’07  was active in the Socialist Party and later joined the Communist Party. But it was Gildersleeve’s involvement with New York governors Al Smith and Franklin Roosevelt, and still later with New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia, that received the most public notice for breaking with the studied apolitical stance of most college leaders of her day.
Politics came naturally to Gildersleeve. Her father’s early judgeships  were won and retained by election, while his veterans activities and involvement in the founding of the National Rifle Association  were at least partially political in nature.

Part of this enlargement of Gildersleeve’s life followed on the loss of her parents. In 1912, her mother’s increasing problems with vertigo prompted the sale of  the family brownstone on 48th St. and a move  into an apartment on 113th St. and  Riverside Drive. Henry Gildersleeve, who had retired from the bench at 72 but continued to practice law, died in February 1923. His wife followed six months later.

Gildersleeve need have looked no farther than across Broadway to Columbia’s president Butler as the very model of the interwar academic leader as public celebrity, as Michael Rosenthal’s spirited biography makes clear. Butler  was a New York delegate to every republican National Convention from 1888 to 1936 and twice came close to being the party’s vice presidential nominee. He was also a force in the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace for four decades and headed it from 1925 to 1945.  While never as internationally recognizable as “Nicholas Miraculous,” the name Theodore Roosevelt gave to his one-time political ally, Gildersleeve became during her middle years as Barnard’s dean the most frequently cited  woman academic in America. She was regularly called upon by the New York press in the 1920s for her opinion on subjects of passing domestic moment, and beginning in the 1930s,  on the state of international affairs, specifically as regarded the Middle East.

The dean’s interest in and claims to expertise on global issues was yet another product of mid-career invention. In her autobiography she credits the Chicago-based businessman Charles Crane with first interesting her in the region of the world where Crane’s philanthropic, religious and commercial interests overlapped. Others of Gildersleeve’s New York acquaintances, including Barnard trustees George A. Plimpton and later Harry Emerson Fosdick, minister of the Rockefeller-founded Riverside Church, were actively engaged in matters relating to the Middle East, with Plimpton serving on the boards of the Presbyterian-sponsored Robert  College  and the American College for Girls in Istanbul.  In 1924 Plimpton and Gildersleeve had attempted to arrange a joint appointment with The Museum of Natural History to bring the Chicago-based Egyptologist James H. Breasted, author of Ancient Times: A History of the Ancient World (1916),  to Barnard. In 19xx she became a member of the Near East College Association. Trips with Cara to North Africa in 1921 were followed by an extended visit to Cairo in 1930 and solidified a visceral connection with all things Arabic. This connection would later further complicate her already strained relationship with some of Barnard’s Jewish alumnae and potential benefactors.

Of Virginia Gildersleeve’s  four decades  as dean of Barnard, the 1920s was easily her  most enjoyable. By then she had established a good working relationship with the trustees, as more and more of the original trustees were succeeded by replacements that she had a role in selecting. While Mrs. Meyer continued to find occasions to criticize her, Gildersleeve seems to have won over the succession of WASP lawyers who dominated the board, even as her dealings with Treasurer Plimpton became, if not loving, companionable.

President Butler remained  paternally disposed toward  Gildersleeve and she ever loyal to him.  while her dealings with various University school deans produced  outcomes favorable to Barnard’s students seeking professional  careers. The decision of the College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1920 to permanently lift its pre-war ban on women allowed thereafter for a handful of Barnard graduates to be admitted. Negotiations with Columbia Law School deans Harlan Fiske Stone  and Huger Jervey  led the school to first  admit women in 1927, although an earlier negotiated arrangement that the law school would only accept Barnard women was vetoed at the last moment.    Good times.

  1. A  Faculty  of Its Own

        Getting an instructional staff in place back in the fall of 1889 had been one of the easier challenges the founders of Barnard faced. So, too, in 1900, Barnard’s physical proximity and the inter corporate agreement with Columbia University greatly facilitated the process of  constituting a free-standing faculty of scholarly distinction. Here, as well, the early disposition of Barnard to copy the undergraduate curriculum of the all-male Columbia College simplified matters. What subsequently complicated curricular matters was two developments. The first was the gradual recognition that Barnard’s  curricular needs as a women’s college differed from the of a men’s college, especially one designed in large part as a feeder to the University’s professional schools.  But second and more immediate was the question left unresolved by the early ad hoc staffing decisions: What place, if any, were women to have in the Barnard College faculty.

During Barnard’s first eleven years of operations, when some 50 or so individuals offered instruction,  the botanist Emily L. Gregory was the only woman. Upon her death in 1897, she was succeeded by a man, Herbert Maule Richards. When President Seth Low underwrote the outside appointments of three senior scholars at Barnard, all three were men.  When the College’s first faculty was organized in 1900, it consisted of 16 members of professorial rank, all men, and 13  “officers of instruction,” only two women,  the 40-year-old physicist Margaret E. Maltby and the just graduated Eleanor Keller (BC 1900) as an Assistant in chemistry. The fact that the 1900 intercorporate agreement contains the statement that “Members of the Faculty of Barnard College may be either men or women” suggests that this had been determined by negotiation rather than simply assumed.
     By Barnard’s twenty-fifth anniversary in 1914,  the  now 45-person instructional staff included  15  women, with five holding faculty rank:

Marie  Reimer (1903-1945), Associate Professor of Chemistry
Margaret E. Maltby (1900-1931), Assistant Professor of Physics
Gertrude M. Hirst (1901-1943),  Assistant Professor of Classics
Ida H. Ogilvie (1903-1941), Assistant professor of Geology
Mabel Foote Weeks (1907-1939), Assistant Professor of English

Meanwhile,  two women of faculty rank had come and gone. Virginia Gildersleeve, who had taught English at Barnard as a tutor and instructor from 1901 to 1905 and returned as a Lecturer in 1908, assumed the deanship in 1911 and thereafter did no teaching. The other was the settlement house leader Mary K. Simkhovitch, who was appointed adjunct professor of sociology in 1907 but resigned in 1910. [This may have been understood at the outset of her appointment.] Men still constituted a majority of the Barnard faculty in 1914 and dominated  the professorial ranks. They also chaired all but three of the College’s fifteen departments, the exceptions being Margaret Maltby, chair of physics, Marie Reimer, chair of chemistry, and Ida H. Ogilvie, chair of geology. All three women were accomplished scientists  as acknowledged by  their inclusion in the misnamed periodic editions of  James McKeen Catell’s  American Men of Science.   And all fit an already discernible pattern of gender differentiation:  women who joined the Barnard faculty mostly  stayed, while at least half the hired men eventually moved on, some by transferring to Columbia and others by securing professorial appointments elsewhere.  With no possibility of transferring to the all-male Columbia faculty  (its first female appointment occurred in 1938 and the first transfer of a Barnard woman faculty member to Columbia not until 1949) and few  academic institutions elsewhere in the market for women faculty,  when even  many women’s colleges preferred to hire men, Barnard’s  women faculty, however satisfied with their situations,  were occupationally  stuck.

The consequences  of these gender-differentiated  career trajectories became even more  evident in the following decade. By 1925 Barnard’s instructional staff had grown to 85 members, with just over half (43)  of them women. While men continued to hold nearly three-quarters of the faculty-rank positions and all but one of the  22 full professorships, the increased presence of women in the lower professorial ranks and their three-to-one majority among  the sub-faculty ranks suggested that left to its own devices the Barnard faculty was well on its way to becoming, as was said of Wellesley all-female faculty, an “‘Adamless Eden.” The College, it seemed, had the same perceived problem of inundation that it had with its student body, though here instead of city ethnics driving away country WASPs it was female academics outlasting their male counterparts. If so,  who better to address this second “problem” of excess women faculty than a dean already addressing the first of excess New Yorkers?

One difference between the two problems was that Dean Gildersleeve was far more willing retrospectively to discuss the second than the first. “How many women teachers should we have at Barnard? That was a puzzling problem,” she recalled in her autobiography. She then described why this was a “problem.”

When I was an undergraduate , there were none except one able lecturer in botany
with whom I never came in contact. But women gradually drifted into the departments,
generally to the position of assistant or instructor, and then as they showed  themselves
able and useful got promoted. We could, as  a rule, secure for an assistantship a better
quality of woman than of man. Thus if we filled our higher posts only by promotions
from below, we tended to acquire a faculty predominantly feminine.

And then, still very much the interventionist Progressive with more than a touch of the social engineer, she proceeded:

Was this a good thing? I was inclined to think it was not, and for this some feminists
blamed me, saying that there were so few collegiate posts in the country open to
women that a woman should be appointed at Barnard in every possible case.
It seemed to me , on the other hand, that it was our first obligation to provide the
best professors we could secure for our students irrespective of sex, but that we
should also try to preserve a balance between the sexes. We seemed sure to have
plenty of women in any event, as the unusually competent ones in the lower grades
were promoted to professorial rank.

So how to keep “plenty of women” from becoming “all women”? The dean’s solution: “When we were bringing in a new professor or associate professor, we were likely to try to bring in a man. Perhaps this was discrimination against women, but it was, I am sure, for the good of the college as a whole.”

Good or not, the preferential hiring of men at the professorial level was an interwar fact of Barnard faculty life. Of the 21 initial appointments made between 1915 and 1939 at a faculty rank,  all but one went to men. The only  woman hired at professional rank in the interwar years was the French scholar Marguerite Mespoulet, in 1936. Another woman, the distinguished classical archeologist, Margaret Bieber, who came to Barnard as an externally funded visiting lecturer in 1934 after losing her professorship in Germany because she was Jewish, became an associate professorship three years later.

Another gendered fact of interwar academic life was that men initially appointed to sub-faculty ranks either left shortly thereafter or secured faculty rank almost twice as quickly as did women. The average time for the eight male “other officers of instruction” to  achieve  professorial rank was just under seven years; for the 34 women, thirteen years.

Despite the fact that women were hired at lower ranks than men and were longer kept  in them than their male counterparts, they were far more likely to stay on at Barnard. To show this statistically, I have divided the interwar members of the Barnard instructional staff who secured faculty appointments into two career categories, “Lifers” and “Transients”.  “Lifers” include appointees who stayed on at Barnard into retirement, transferred to Barnard administrative positions, or died in service. “Transients” include those appointees who either transferred to the Columbia faculty or resigned to go elsewhere.









Career Outcome All % Men % Women %
Retired 29 10 19
Died 6 2 4
Trnsf. to Admin. 2 0 2
“Lifers” 37 59% 12 32% 25 68%
Trnsf. To CU 8 7 1
Resign 18 10 8
“Transients” 26 41% 17 65% 9 35%
All 63 29 34


Of the 63 interwar faculty appointees, 37 (59%) qualify as “Lifers. ” Of the 34 women appointees , 25 (74%) so qualified; of the 29 men, only 12 (41%).

Another way to show the gender-based difference in institutional mobility/“stickiness” is to compare the average tenure of interwar women faculty with those of their male counterparts. For all 63 appointees the average duration of service was 23 years; for the 34 women, 28 years; for the 29 men, 20 years.

Might there be explanations other than gender discrimination accounting for – or at least contributing to —  these differences?  Could the women hired be less academically credentialed than the men? It would appear not, either in terms of the degrees held or the source of graduate training. That a majority  Barnard interwar faculty appointees of both genders received their professional training and advanced degrees from Columbia would seem to assure parity in terms of academic qualifications.

What about differences in scholarly productivity once installed at Barnard?  Here there might have been be a different pattern among men than women, with proportionally more men achieving scholarly prominence than women faculty.  But here, too, gender plays a role. One way male Barnard faculty got themselves transferred to Columbia or came to the attention of other universities is through regular publication of their research. They wrote their way out or across Broadway. But if no such opportunities for movement were available for women, their incentive to publication would  much less compelling.

This is not to argue that Barnard women faculty did in fact publish less than their male counterparts.
By more recent norms, neither gender published all that much, with a majority having as their most important publication their doctoral dissertation or some part thereof. Interwar science faculty of both sexes, in the absence of laboratories and graduate students available to university-based scientists,  operated under circumstances particularly uncongenial to maintaining an ongoing research program. Among  faculty in the social sciences, however, the anthropologist Gladys Reichard (1921-1955), the political scientist Jane Perry-Clark Carey (1929-1953) and the sociologist Mirra Komarovsky (1934-1968) achieved national standing through their publications and professional activities. That none of them was ever offered a faculty appointment at Columbia, although all three were Columbia PhDs and  while two of Komarovsky’s male departmental colleagues, Robert M. MacIver (1937-1945) and Willard Waller (1937-1945), were, speaks to their occupational condition.

Interwar outside faculty hires intended to initiate instruction in a new field went exclusively to men These included Raymond Moley in government (1923-1946)  and Douglas Moore (1928-1946) in Music. Only after two male hires to start a program in fine arts — Ernest De Wald (1923-1925)  and then Norman W. Haring (1925-1929) – soon went elsewhere  did Barnard seek and secure the long-term services of Marion Lawrence (1929-1967). Meanwhile,  Eleanor  Keller (1900 – 1943) in Chemistry, Ethel Sturtevant (1911-1948) in English, Grace Langford (1906-1937) in Physics and  Grace Goodale (1910-1929) in Classics spent between 17 and 19 years in sub-faculty ranks before being promoted to assistant professor.

Another possible – and institutionally exculpatory — explanation for the different treatment of men and women faculty might be that the latter were rendered less mobile by marital circumstances, such as a spouse whose career required New York residence. While this did become a factor limiting the mobility of married women faculty after World War II, its earlier impact is limited by the fact that most interwar Barnard women faulty were single. Indeed, their being so  subjected to yet another form of differential treatment that a later time would deem discriminatory: women faculty were paid less than men.

Income disparities that resulted from the systemic lag in women promotions  was exacerbated by salary determinations influenced by  marital status. Married faculty, a category that included most of the male faculty,  were assumed to be principal breadwinners with  family responsibilities (and a non-employed wife) that necessitated higher salaries, while single faculty, a category which included  a majority of the women faculty, were thought to be able to survive on lower ones. There were  instances of single women faculty of independent means, the geologist Ida Ogilvie a case in point, or married  ones with high–income husbands who made clear their financial independence and forewent raises.  But so there were instances of single women faculty with financial responsibilities for relatives or unemployed domestic partners comparable to their married male colleagues.

Comparable discriminatory compensation policies undoubtedly  existed at other interwar institutions employing a mix of male and female faculty. Some were still in place at Columbia and other major research universities into the 1970s. What is unusual – and for an historian refreshing — about their  functioning at interwar Barnard was that nobody there at the time  made any bones about them.

  1. A Curriculum To Match

Unlike Cornell, where its founders in 1865 promised “instruction in all subjects,” or Harvard at the outset of the  presidency of Charles W. Eliot in 1869, who set about to institute an elective system,  Barnard began without any novel plans for disrupting the curricular standing order.  Its founders simply sought to have the  classics-based curriculum of  the all-male Columbia College made available to  women. That meant a curriculum largely fixed and required for the first two years, with a few choices in subject matter in the last two years, but still heavily weighted in favor of classical languages and light on science.

      An unintended consequence of Barnard acquiring its own faculty in 1900  was that it also acquired ownership of its curriculum.  Unlike President Barnard, who unsuccessfully sought  trustee support to junk its traditional and fixed classical curriculum in favor of an elective system, Seth Low succeeded in implementing  his favored organizational and curricular reforms.  Rather than opt for Harvard’s  elective system, Low took Columbia College in the opposite direction with a undergraduate curriculum that could be completed in two or three years consisting mostly  of required and broadly conceived courses akin to those that later came to be designated as “general education” and in the 1920s became Columbia’s hallmark core curriculum.  This decidedly non-specialized curriculum was taught by faculty either permanently assigned to Columbia College or by junior faculty on loan from one of the three graduate faculties, thereby freeing most senior faculty for graduate instruction in their respective disciplines. Low’s successor, Nicholas Murray Butler, essentially endorsed this arrangement upon his installation in 1902, even as he  proceeded to remove required courses in  Greek and then Latin from the required  College curriculum and  further isolate those teaching in the College from the privileged disciplinary specialists in the graduate faculties. Successive Deans of Columbia College, Frederick Keppel and Herbert Hawkes, maintained the College’s commitment to non-specialized learning.

However well a pre-professional, unspecialized  curriculum served Columbia College’s many profession-bound and  few learning-for-learning’s-sake men, it presented several problems for Barnard’s women students.  Not least was that most of Columbia’s professional schools did not accept women, college graduates or no. The exceptions  were the graduate  programs in the arts and sciences, where early Barnard graduates beginning in the 1890s could and did pursue advanced degrees in the humanities, social science and sciences, and in the Journalism School,  which admitted women from its  opening in 1912. The College of Physicians & Surgeons admitted its first woman (a Barnard graduate) in 1917; the law school in 1926; the school of engineering in 1943. There were other medical, law and engineering schools that did accept women before Columbia’s professional schools  did, NYU being a local instance,  and a few early Barnard graduates availed themselves of them. But for most early Barnard students  — the “aspiring crowds” again — an undergraduate curriculum that fed into Columbia’s professional schools or was occupationally irrelevant made little sense.

Most Barnard students  who went on after graduation to take a master’s  degree in one of Columbia’s three graduate faculties  did so to enhance their job prospects as high school teachers. For most of the rest, securing a level of competence in an academically recognizable field – mathematics, zoology, history, Spanish  – as undergraduates made them more likely to find the employment that for most early Barnard students  followed on graduation, whether they subsequently married or not.

Barnard’s faculty had its own problems with the Columbia College curriculum. The  privileging of  “general education”  and pre-professional  subjects meant that teaching these courses would put them  at some remove from the intellectual issues engaging their disciplinary specialties.  This may have been an acceptable trade-off for those few Morningside faculty who saw themselves primarily as teachers,  but  self-identified scholars who wished to stay abreast of their fields – and occasionally make contributions to them – needed  to  “teach their subject.” And not just at the introductory level. This was especially so for Barnard faculty with few  opportunities to work with graduate students.

The cumulative effect of these  preferences led Barnard to develop a curriculum that encouraged immediate  exposure of its students to a range of disciplines followed by early specialization in a given one. The difference between having students “majoring” in a subject  they pursued in considerable depth through disciplinary electives  – the Barnard way – and having them “concentrate” in a set of pre-professional required courses – The Columbia way – became even more pronounced in the 1920s when Columbia College proceeded to give over the first two years of its curriculum to an ever increasing number of required courses of no specific disciplinary character that constituted its fabled “core.”  So long as the occupational prospects of male and female college graduates  favored the former, men’s colleges such as Columbia could afford to be  disdainful of first-job-readiness considerations and focus instead what the godfather of Columbia’s core curriculum John  Erskine called “the obligation to be intelligent.” Not so women’s colleges, or at least not those  intending  to do right by their “aspiring crowds.”

Some subjects added to the Barnard curriculum in the interwar period  were  new to the University. These included coursework in theater and dance  and, in 1939, inter-disciplinary programs in Medieval Studies and American Studies, the latter arguably the first such undergraduate program in the country. Some other subjects taught on both sides of Broadway, such as anthropology, botany, mathematics, music and fine arts, generated more faculty and undergraduate interest at Barnard than at Columbia. Overall, however,  it was the unique combination of the student emphasis  on acquiring competence in a given disciplinary specialty, access to advanced courses taught by members of Columbia’s three graduate faculties, and the preference Barnard faculty had for teaching within their disciplinary specialty that produced the  extraordinary number of interwar Barnard graduates who went on to earn PhDs and to take up academic careers.    When Barnard’s discipline-centered curriculum was put in place in 1927, Columbia College’s Dean Hawkes rather patronizingly described it as “certainly not one which I should wish to have in any college of which I was Dean,” before going on. “But if the Barnard Faculty wants it, then, on behalf of Columbia College, I have no objection.”



  1.   Interwar Admissions: New Yorkers Need Not Apply

Dean Gildersleeve was strikingly latitudinarian when it came to curricular matters, giving her faculty a free hand to determine what should be taught. In her autobiography she allowed that “personally I came to believe that it did not matter greatly which subjects a student studied.” Not so when it came to which kinds of students should be admitted to Barnard, an issue which she cared deeply about and where her views aligned closely with those prevailing at interwar Columbia.

In the fall of 1917 enrollments in Columbia College dropped sharply.  Atrributing it to previously enrolled undergraduates going off to  military service and to would-be new admits doing the same, College officials initially took the news in stride. But when applications from City College students seeking to transfer to Columbia in the spring of 1918 jumped, these same officials grew concerned. The increase was attributed to CCNY students, three-quarters of whom were Jewish, seeking admission to Columbia after three semesters of tuition-free education,  were now prepared to pay for another three semesters in Columbia College to enhance prospects of  admission to one of the university’s professional schools as a Columbia College junior. That the admission of transfers to the College was still determined wholly by Regents test results or College Boards and grades meant that most of these applicants were admitted. And when it was determined that Jews made up more than a quarter of the Class of 1919 (some estimates had it at 40%), alarms went off.

Whatever the number, the newly installed Dean of the College Herbert Hawkes was moved to complain  to President Butler that his inherited class of career-focused sons of immigrants “have no use for college affairs and regard Columbia less as an Alma Mater than as an Efficens Pater.“    This was an instance of preaching to the choir.  Butler had already  pronounced on the quality of the class entering in the fall of 1917 as “depressing in the extreme,”  where “boys of old American stock” were in shorter supply than the “foreign born and children of those who have recently arrived in this country.”

Hawkes and Admissions Director Adam Leroy Jones, with the active support of Butler and concerned trustees,  now instituted sweeping changes in the admissions process (changes which applied to Barnard applicants as well).  Among them was an application form that for the first time required the following information: the birthplace of the applicant’s parents; the family’s religion; the language spoken at home; the father’s education; the mother’s education; the father’s occupation; the family’s previous last name if it had been changed.   A photograph of the applicant was also required, as was a psychological test, the results of which would inform the decision to admit or reject. Finally, and most bizarre of all, a physical examination was required, along with a swimming test, these for the ostensible purpose of weeding out those afflicted with diseases thought to be particularly present among newly arrived ghetto-dwelling immigrants. No longer, for example, would administrators like Barnard’s bursar N.W. Liggett be left to guess the religion of applicants by their last names or New York City addresses. Henceforth, as President Butler had earlier urged Dean Keppel, admission would turn on  “treating  the candidate for graduation as one treats a candidate for admission to a club, that is, having his personal qualifications examined.” If the club Butler had in mind was the Century, to which he and Keppel belonged, both knew its admission procedure systematically  excluded Jews.

The effect of these changes was immediate enough for Dean Hawkes to boast to his prededessor Keppel about the incoming class admitted for the fall of 1919:  “The like of [it] you have never seen in this place. I would like to have you read a list of the Freshmen. You could pronounce every name without tying a double knot in your tongue.”

Equally crucial in giving interwar Columbia a free hand in rejecting applicants whose academic credentials otherwise qualified them for admission was the installation of a cap on enrollments. That established for Columbia College in 1920 and adhered to throughout the interwar years was no entering class to number in excess of 550 students. This allowed  the admissions staff to refuse admission to some academically eligible applicants because the class was already filled, presumably but not necessarily (as in the case of athletes or legacies)  with equally  qualified applicants but whose social profile suggested they would make a “better fit” with those already enrolled.

In 1922, when press criticism of these new policies put Columbia on the defensive, Dean Hawkes defended them in a letter to  MIT Professor E. B. Wilson. After a prefatory disclaimer that “I have no desire whatever to eliminate the Jew from Columbia College,” he got down to numbers.

Situated as were are in New York we ought to furnish the best education we can
to a good many of them and as a matter of fact the cream of the Jews constitutes a
very fine body of people in my opinion. I believe we ought to carry at least 15%
of Jews and I do not think that 20% is excessive for Columbia College.

To the allegation Wilson passed along that “our Intelligence Examination are intended to discriminate against the Jew and are judged  with that idea in mind,” Hawkes declared it to be “an absolute perversion of the truth.”  To the anticipated follow-up question, “What, then, is the rationale for the mental examination,” Hawkes demonstrated the usefulness of  an enrollment cap: “What we have been trying to do is to eliminate the low grade boy. We had 1200 applications for admission last fall and could accommodate only 550. This meant that somebody had to lose out. We have not eliminated boys because they were Jewish.”

One indication of how the cap worked in practice occurred in 1934, shortly after the longtime director of admissions, Adam Leroy Jones, retired and was succeeded by Frank Bowles. In his first communications to President Butler as director, Bowles reported that while over half the non-Jewish applicants to the College had been admitted, the admissions ratio among Jewish applicants was one in six.  Butler urged his admissions director to ”continue to build up the Freshman Class along the lines that have recently been followed.”

Throughout the interwar period, as when the “Hebrew problem’ first appeared in the early 1900s,  the concerns of Barnard officials are less a matter of record than are those of Columbia officials. But what we do know is that the same admissions procedures  operative at Columbia were operative at Barnard and administered by the same staffers. We also know that the social composition of the Barnard interwar classes, in terms of their religious character, were strikingly similar, that is with Jews constituting a narrow band of between 18% and 22%  of entering classes.

Perhaps more telling, there is no evidence found to suggest that Dean Gildersleeve had any problems with the procedures  put in place at Columbia and considerable evidence that she approved of them. In November 1920, she wrote to Butler of Barnard’s intention  to adopt the psychological test already in place at Columbia, seeing it as giving Barnard more “elasticity” in putting together a class. Anticipating some resistance from her faculty, the Dean was careful  to describe the desired effect of these new procedures to them as aimed at attracting  more students of the “conventional middle class” from beyond the New York region  and not a conscious effort to limit the number of Jewish New Yorkers at Barnard. The use of the psychological test was approved as an experiment and helped shape Barnard entering classes into the 1930s.   Barnard also joined Columbia in announcing  a cap on the size of entering classes, setting it at between 250 and 275  for any given class once overall enrollments reached 1000.

Finally, the new policies allowed Barnard to  admit the socially attractive applicant who came up short on her entrance exams. In such cases the College could  “admit with conditions” or “admit/irregulars”.   Depending on the year, these loopholes  covered  upwards of half  an entering class, as was the case in 1922:

5.a. Barnard Admissions Statistics for Class Entering Fall 1922

# % % of Admitted
Total Applicants 226
Admits 175 77%
Admits/No Conditions 62 27% 35%
Admits/With Conditions 62 27% 35%
Admits/Irregulars 25 11% 14%
Rejected 44 19% 0%
Admit/Advanced Standing 26 12% 15%
Rejected 7 3%

Note the overall admit rate (175 of 226) of 77%. Those were the days!


Shifts away from earlier and heavier reliance upon NYC public schools as the source of preparation were also periodically provided by Columbia officials, as in 1924, when they engaged in some competitive one-upmanship by reporting that while 66% of the Barnard girls still came from public high schools, as against only 57% of the entering Columbia boys.

Other practices  privileged  applicants from private schools , such as by waiving personal interviews for those  whose applications included a recommendation from the head of a recognizable private school. Meanwhile, New York City public schoolers were never admitted without a personal interview.  Together these policies and practices placed a double burden on  graduates of New York City public schools,  where well into the 1930s Jewish boys and girls  were six times as likely to stay on and graduate as the children of the City’s two other  major immigrant populations, the Irish and the Italians.  With New York City in 1930 home to 75 percent of America’s Jews and Jews making up  30 percent of the City’s population,  one does not have to accept the notion that “New Yorker” was  code for “Jews” to conclude that the cumulative negative impact of such policies on Jewish applicants was not collateral but intended. They had their effect.  Although Eli Ginzberg, later a professor in the Columia business school and distinguished economist,  managed in 1926 to secure admission to Columbia as a bright Jewish New Yorker from DeWitt Clinton High School,  despite what he estimated to be an informal cap on such admissions to 25 per class,  he later recalled his equally bright sister did not risk rejection by even applying to Barnard.

Columbia’s admissions policies in general and its  use of a psychological test in particular attracted considerable negative press, including in the pages of the Nation, where Barnard alumna Freda Kirchwey (BC 1915) – she of anti-fraternity fame as an undergraduate  —  was managing editor. In successive issues in June 1922, Kirchwey laid into Columbia for procedures that privileged  extra-curricular activities  that she  believed unfairly discriminated against “the boy from an immigrant family who is excluded from some of the social life of his fellows by prejudice and the need of earning his own way.”

Kirchwey did not mention Barnard in her June articles. On October 4, 1922, however, the Nation  published  a  letter from Ms. Rebecca  Grecht under  the banner,  “Anti-Semitism at Barnard”. The letter writer, identified only by name, but whom the  New York State Census data identified as 23 years old and the only daughter of Russian-born parents (her father Adolph made ladies’ hats) then residing in a tenement building along with other Russian immigrant families at 304 East 5th Street. In 1918 she  applied to Barnard but was rejected. She was one of three Jewish girls from her unidentified New York City high school to apply, all rejected. But in her case, having finished 14th on her Assembly District’s Regents Scholarship Exam and then gone on to Hunter and graduating from  NYU cum laude, she subsequently wrote to Barnard asking for the reasons it had rejected her. Her persistency eventually extracted from Barnard three different explanations:

— her high school was considered “not high enough”;
— Barnard preferred applicants who submitted College Board scores over those who
submitted Regents Exam scores;
— the class was filled by the time her application was reviewed.

Rebecca Grecht  was clearly not satisfied with any of these explanations, proposing  instead that she had been rejected because she was Jewish, a discriminatory practice that she said had become so widespread that “several prominent Jewish women who had in previous years assisted Barnard financially now refused a contribution.”

Six issues later, on December 6, 1922, the Nation published a response from Dean Gildersleeve, under the banner “Class and Creed at Barnard”.

— To the question why was the applicant in question rejected?
VCG: “She did not seem as promising a student as the others whom we accepted.”

— To the insinuation that the applicant’s academic achievements were ignored:
VCG: “The mere ability to pass a certain set of examinations with high marks is not
necessarily the most important evidence.”

— To Barnard’s inferred discrimination against New York City applicants, a partial admission:
VCG: “We are particularly anxious to have Barnard a college where New York girls, of every
class and creed, can meet girls from other parts of the country and from other nations.”

— To the  accusation that Barnard was anti-Semitic, a categorical denial:
VCG: “Personally I am deeply interested in the problem of getting Jew and gentile to live
together helpfully as useful fellow-citizens in our country.”


Meanwhile,  Gildersleeve made certain that the modest success she had in  nationalizing the Barnard student body received public notice.   In 1921 Dean Gildersleve announced to faculty and alumnae that  the proportion of residents of New York City in the entering class had dropped from 90% a decade earlier to 50%.  “Clearly the College has been relatively losing in the City,” she noted  of her decade as dean,  “and gaining in the country.” This shift, she indicated,  was intended and would be ongoing and that the Barnard student of the future “will become cosmopolitan in type.” By 1925 she could have pointed to the presence of students from 14 states in attendance.


I have found only two later statements by Gildersleeve on the subject of Barnard’s interwar admissions policies, both framed to emphasize  the presumably unassailable positive end of advancing Barnard as a national institution, while sidestepping the negative consequences doing so had on academically qualified applicants  from  New York City public schools, a majority of whom through the interwar period were Jewish. One such statement appeared in 1939 in the Barnard College Alumnae:
“Of course we always want a generous proportion of New Yorkers;
but we want to be a national and not merely a local college…. So we
are fairly generous in admitting girls from Alaska or Hawaii. {We want]
a variety of economic, social, racial and national backgrounds.”
The other statement appears in her 1954 autobiography, Many a Good Crusade: “From what I have been saying it must sound  as if a Barnard class was excessively cosmopolitan and a polyglot mixture, but as a matter  of fact the vast majority were just plain Americans, whatever their descent, and though  half were from New York City or its neighborhood  they generally represented almost every state in the union.”  Neither statement  is likely to counter the anecdotal evidence that suggest this “Old New Yorker” shared the social anti-Semitism that was endemic to her class and time, nor to gainsay the damage it has done to her historical standing.

  1. Flappers & Dead End Kids

Whatever temporary success Gildersleeve had in her social engineering efforts to nationalize the Barnard student body in the 1920s, it  retained much of its local and decidedly urban character. As enrollments overall increased, and the share of Jewish students limited to around 20 percent, the percentage of Catholics  grew to comparable levels. Most of these students came from the City’s Irish and Italian communities, with others  from New Jersey and upstate towns. Unlike Jews, Catholics do not seem to have been the object of discriminatory practices in the application process. Their problem, particularly if prepared in a parochial school,  was securing permission to apply to a “heathen college”.   Many of those Catholics  attending  Barnard maintained their religious ties through membership in the Craigie and later the Newman Club, and through services provided by Corpus Christi Church on 121st St., where Father George Barry Ford acted as Catholic chaplain to Columbia University. By the mid-1920s Barnard, founded mostly by mainline Protestants and employing a faculty and administration dominated by Protestants, had, along with Columbia, become one of the first American colleges to have a student body in which Protestants were in the minority.

Catholics matriculating at Barnard in the 1920s included three who later returned as members of the faculty. Theresa Carbonara,  BC 1919, was the daughter of Italian immigrants and raised on Utica Avenue, Brooklyn. She later (1929-1947) taught Italian to two generations of Barnard students. Anna Anastasi (1908-2001) entered Barnard in 1924 at 15, the daughter of Italian immigrants living on Fordham Road, the Bronx. While completing her doctorate at Columbia, she taught psychology at Barnard from 1930 to 1939, before accepting a professorship at Queens and later at Fordham, where her work on pyschological testing led to her election as president of the American Psychological Association in 1972.  Helen Phelps entered Barnard in the fall of 1929, the daughter of ….
Jewish students represented a mix of rich and poor, the former including  those whose ancestors were German-speaking and came to the United States in the post-Civil War era. Among them were the occasional legacy, Ruth Strauss, Class of 1923, the daughter of Hilda Newborg Strauss, ’00 and  Josephine Sperry, Class of 1925, the daughter of  Rosalie Bloomngdale Sperry and resident of 345 Park Avenue. Others numbered among thee more recently arrived from Eastern Europe and Russia. Esther Biederman entered Barnard in 1927, the daughter of parents born in the Ukraine whose arrival in the United States anticipated Esther’s arrival by weeks. She grew up in Brooklyn and the Bronx and attended Girls High School. A Girls High School scholarship and a Regents scholarship made it possible for her family to send her to Barnard. For 2 ½ years she commuted  three hours a day from Brooklyn, before winning a residence scholarship that allowed her to live on campus.  Six decades later she recalled that three in her class had fathers who were either firemen or cops, while “there were also some very wealthy girls.”

Among the latter were Mirra Komarovsky, BC 1926, whose wealthy parents fled Russia in 1917, alighting first in Wichita, Kansas, before establishing themselves in Brooklyn. There Mirra attended public high school before coming to Barnard.  Following graduation and despite the advice of her Barnard professor, Robert MacIver, that an academic career was not possible for a women and a Jew, she took up graduate studies in sociology at Columbia. She commenced her teaching career at Barnard in 1935 and remained twenty years beyond her retirement in 1968. In 1972 she was elected president of the American Sociological Association.

Somewhere in the middle of the family-income spectrum was Eleanor Rosenberg, BC 1929, who attended Hunter College High School. Her parents could not afford to send her to an out-of-town college Eleanor spent all four years as a commuter. She later recalled a rivalry between the “dorm girls” and the “city girls,” declaring the latter “more intellectually ambitious.”

Two other Barnard students in the 1920s, neither Jewish nor New Yorkers, speak to the variety of circumstances from which they came. The Pennsylvania-born Margaret Mead entered Barnard in 1920 as a transfer after one year at DePauw College in rural Indiana. Her parents were both college graduates, her father an academic who taught at Wharton, and Episcopalians. Margaret attended a mix of private and public schools and spent some years being home-educated by a grandmother. Why she went to DePauw rather than Wellesley or Bryn Mawr, her autobiography leaves unclear. But it is clear why she left.

It was a college to which students had come for fraternity life,
for football games, and for establishing the kind of rapport with
other people that would make them good Rotarians in later life
and their wives good members of the garden club.”

Although finding the DePauw faculty committed and engaged, her literary aspirations and a Gotham-based boyfriend, sent here back east to New York and to Barnard. There, she wrote in Blackberry Winter, “I found – and in some measure created – the kind of student life that matched my dreams.”

That life involved three years of cooperative living in apartments on West 116th St. and Claremont Avenue  among a group of  young women from varied economic circumstances,  “half Jewish and half Gentile.”  Successively designated by disapproving overseers of the residence halls as a “mental and moral muss,” “Communist morons,” or the label they took up as their own, the “Ash Can Cats,” the group included  Leonie Adams ’22, poet editor of Barnard Bulletin, a Catholic, Viola Corrigan, and Mary Anne “Bunny” McCall, ”the perfect flapper.” Their apartment became a refuge for likeminded commuter students. “We belonged to a generation of young women who felt extraordinarily free – free from the demand to marry unless we chose to do so.” A psychology major until her senior year, courses now open to Barnard students taught by Franz Boas (with Ruth Benedict his TA) redirected Mead to a career in anthropology.
Yet another exotic appeared among Barnard’s aspiring students in the fall of 1925 in the person of Zora Neale Hurston.  In her early thirties by then, having earlier attended Howard University, the already published Hurston was the first black to attend Barnard. Her admission  had been engineered by Annie Nathan Meyer, whose involvement with Harlem theater people had brought them  together, and who took responsibility for her tuition and fees. Dean Gildersleeve went along with the arrangement, once it was confirmed that Hurston would not be living on campus and that no precedent be set by her admission. In the event, Hurston stayed three semesters before graduating with the Class of 1927, having accumulated a strong academic record in anthropology and by her own description become “the darling of Barnard’s Park Avenuers.”

The Hurston “experiment,”  passed without incident but did not cause the College to take a more welcoming stance toward black applicants.  In the decade after 1927, only three black women graduated from Barnard – Belle Tobias in 1931, Vera Joseph in 1932, and Jean Hutson in 1935 – and all lived off campus. Anecdotal evidence suggests that in the case of black applicants, unlike Jewish applicants, there was a hard quota limit placed on them, such that no class would have more than two black members. In one instance, in 1935, when a black transfer from the University of Michigan appeared on campus to register, she was stopped from doing so on the grounds that her race had not been disclosed in the admissions process and that her admission would exceed the two-per-class quota.
Resident students remained a privileged minority throughout the 1920s, although the opening of Hewitt Hall in 1925  — built with funds from accumulated budgetary surpluses and accommodating 200 students  — made it possible for the college in the later half of the decade to provide campus housing for upwards of a third of its 1000 enrollments. Esther Biederman, BC 1931, who moved on campus upon receipt of a residence scholarship, which allowed her to do so at no extra cost to her parents,  recalled that students dining in Hewitt were required to dress for dinner served on linen tablecloths by waitresses, nearly all drawn from the Irish working class neighborhood east of Morningside Park.  One wonders if any of their daughters or sisters or nieces  attended Barnard.



In  one instance, interwar Barnard came up with a policy with adverse admissions implications for local Jewish applicants and New Yorkers more generally not known to exist at Columbia College: imposing a  limit on the percentage of commuters in any given class. To do so, the College had to come up with more beds on campus.

In 1916, after several earlier attempts to address the problem of distant commutes by  students living in the other boroughs,  and when the new dean  showed little interest in the problem, the Associate Alumnae made it their special project.  The organization secured rooms in an apartment at 99 Claremont Avenue for 15 students “whose circumstances do not permit them to live in Brooks Hall.” Room and board was half that of Brooks, in part because the rooms lacked some amenities and the residents  were expected to help with the upkeep and  meal preparations.  Demand was such that the following year, 1917-18, the alumnae association rented xx rooms in  the newly constructed apartment building at 616 West 116th St., where 43 girls took up cooperative residence . In 1919-20, another 44 did so, half of them scholarship students.  And then , in the summer of 1920, despite the continued backing of the alumnae association and the sustainable interest of  appreciative students, Barnard’s four-year experience with cooperative living ended. A few students continued to live in the neighborhood rather than commute from home or live in Brooks, but as one of them,  the newly arrived  transfer from DePauw College, Margaret Mead, later recalled, their doing so was frowned upon by College officials. “Scum and scrim,” was what Miss Abbot, in charge of Brooks Hall, called the girls who did so.

For Dean Gildersleeve, the problem was not how Barnard might provide low-cost cooperative living arrangements for students of limited means and long commutes; rather it was  but how it might properly provide for the kinds of students attracted to Vassar and Smith, Wellesley and Byrn Mawr. Her answer was a second dormitory, to be built along the same generous lines as Brooks. It was on the occasion of first proposing such a project  to her trustees in 1920, that the dean she indicated her long-term goal was to reduce  the proportion of Barnard’s commuting students from then  prevailing 75% to 50%.

The trustees, in the absence of funds, deferred action on the dean’s 1920 proposal. Four years later, with steadily increasing enrollments producing budgetary surpluses, they  approved  the construction of a  250-bed extension to Brooks Hall dormitory.  Named for Abram S. Hewitt, Barnard’s second board chairman, the project was unusual  it that it went ahead without a capital campaign or a naming gift to help pay the $1,000,000 that it cost.  Surely part of the impetus behind the second dormitory was to  accommodate ever increasing  numbers of  out-of-town enrollments.

That the cost of living in Hewitt was comparable to that in Brooks – and made the total cost of attending Barnard for those who did so substantially higher than any of the “country colleges” – seems not to have been a perceived problem. More likely it was seen in some quarters as part of a solution.   With Hewitt’s opening in  1925, its 250 beds added to the 100 in Brooks and the 50 or so available in John Jay apartment building on Claremont,  Gildersleeve’s  goal of ending Barnard’s days as a commuter’s school for the daughters of  New York’s “aspiring crowds”  seemed within grasp.   All that was needed to confirm the transformation was securing the public assurances  of the more nationally recognized elite women’s colleges that Barnard belonged in their company.

For all the Dean’s efforts, the social demographics of the Barnard student body in the 1920s changed only modestly from what they had been in the pre-WWI period. New Yorkers from modest family circumstances continued to be numerically dominant, with over half of successive entering  classes consisting of commuters from the City’s five boroughs and another  quarter from Northern New Jersey, Westchester and Long Island, many of them commuting as well. Barnard remained a college primarily of first-and second generation immigrant families,  many of them Catholic and Jewish, whose preparation for college was acquired at urban public high schools. Pretty much gone was the early expectation that Barnard would attract the daughters of New York’s leading families, although a few did enroll, some of them after transferring from another college to return to the City.

  1.    Inventing the “Seven Sisters”

    The prosperous Twenties was the occasion  when Barnard finally stopped admitting “specials,” thereby bringing into conformity with the prevailing admission practices among the other northeastern women’s colleges. Indeed, it may have been precisely that concern that prompted the decision. Doing so fit the ambitions  of Virginia Gildersleeve to have Barnard secure in the public mind a place  among the half-dozen northeastern women’s colleges that had preceded it and whose endowments, locations and social makeup of their student bodies  all might otherwise seem to have little in common with Barnard.

Barnard’s relations with any of these colleges into the 1920s were infrequent and occurred  principally  through correspondence between one college head with another over specific issues,  such as the treatment of married women faculty or the admission of black students.  Barnard athletic teams occasionally scheduled games with nearby Vassar and Bryn Mawr, as did its debating tem. But when the leading women’s colleges were mentioned collectively in the national press into the 1920s, Barnard seldom numbered among them.

In the early 1920s four Massachusetts-based  women’s colleges — Smith, Wellesley, Mount Holyoke and Radcliffe – formed the “Four College Conference.”     Vassar, across the border in New York, was thereafter informally  included, and on occasion, Bryn Mawr .  The absence of Barnard  is readily understandable. Differences in the mix of residential and commuting students, the Protestant-denominational  circumstances of their founding and ongoing character, the presence or absence (for all but Radcliffe) of a university affiliation,  their larger endowments, their locational circumstances – small town or suburban as opposed to inner city – all set Barnard  apart.

In 1925 Dean Gildersleeve set about to alter this situation. She brought three advantages to the task. First, thanks to Barnard’s presence in New York, and in the case of the New York Herald Tribune, access to its publisher by way of trustee Helen Rogers Reid, BC 1903, and in the cases of the Washington Post and The New York Times, access through alumnae to their owners, Agnes Ernst Meyer (BC 1907) and Iphigene Ochs Sulzberger, BC 1914, the College commanded more attention of what then passed as the  national press than could be had from any of the other women’s colleges.  A related advantage was that in her second decade as dean, Virginia Gildersleeve, with the retirement of  President  M. Carey Thomas of Bryn Mawr in 1922, and the presidents of Smith, Mount Holyoke, and Vassar all men,  was better known than any of the women presidents,   with the possible exception of Wellesley’s Ellen Fitz Pendleton, whom Gildersleeve cleverly included in her early strategizing. The third advantage was again locational, with Barnard’s situation in New York City giving it direct access to the nation’s leading foundations, including the Rockefeller-funded General Education Board and the Carnegie Corporation, which by the 1920s had become more important underwriters of private higher education that the individual benefactors of an earlier day.

So if it was publicity that women’s colleges needed  to secure its share of foundation giving that the men’s colleges long enjoyed, Barnard needed to be among them. In 1927 the heads of the seven colleges jointly published an article in the Atlantic Monthly  laying out the case for supporting women’s colleges. This was followed by the setting up in New York of a committee of alumnae from the seven colleges to publicize their collective cause. The actual amount of money subsequently raised collaboratively was never great and after a few years the fund-raising aspect of the relationship  gave way to annual meetings (that continue to this day) focused  on common challenges. But by the close of the 1920s Dean Gildersleeve had secured for Barnard full membership in one of higher education’s most elite  clubs, second only to the “ivy League,” the decade’s other academic invention.

  1. Prosperity Decade?

    If the key to institutional financial wellbeing is to minimize the negative impact of bad times and take full advantage of the good times to increase solvency, Barnard in the prosperous 1920s failed to do the latter and thus left itself unprepared for the tough times that followed. To be sure, the decade did represent  a relatively easy patch in Barnard’s financial history. Enrollments increased from 700 in 1920 to 1100 in 1930, while two tuition hikes, from $250 to $300 in 1922 and then to $400 in 1927 produced  substantial increases in annual revenues. Financial aid outlays increased moderately during the period, with Dean Gildersleeve assuring alumnae that the tuition increases were being easily accommodated by continuing students and not had affected applications. Accumulated surpluses were used to at least partially cover the $1,000,000  cost of Hewitt Hall, with borrowing covering the balance. Hewitt went to full occupancy much faster than had Brooks, allowing the dormitories to operate on a break-even basis.


The two tuition increases were accompanied by assurances from Dean Gildersleeve that, in the case of the 1929 increase from $300 to $400, they “will apparently be no burden to at least three-qurters of our student body. She then went on to offer as specific a description of the kind of students she thought Barnard should be attracting, and if necessary, underwriting: “The group about we are most concerned about is the daughters of professional men and women with modest incomes – teachers, professors, clergymen, country doctors and similar professional workers.” Not stopping there, she went on to align this goal with that already realized elsewhere. “The women’s colleges have found that in the long run their best students come  from this class. In such families there are likely to be brains, some tradition of
culture and intellectual interests, and not enough money to make life too  easy for the children.
To do so, Gildersleeve announced  the introduction of new “open scholarships, especially intended for the daughters of professional families.”

As if identifying the daughters of country doctors and those from families with “some tradition of culture and intellectual interests” as Barnard’s favored constituency was not an explicit enough dismissal of backgrounds – non-professional, first-and second-generation, urban — from which most of the Barnard student body currently came, the Dean included a coda in which she lamented  the practice of “working your way through college,” a situation that brought to Barnard “students who are entirely or almost entirely penniless.” Better she advised, “to borrow.” From whom she did not say.

Two financial facts of the so-called “prosperous” 1920s might have given the trustees concern. One was the absence of any major gifts, with the $1,000,000  coming from the Carpentier estate in 1918 remaining the largest  through the next quarter-century. A second was Dean Gildersleeve’s disinclination to involve herself personally in fundraising, leaving the task to the College treasurer. “Mr. Plimpton was so wonderful at money-raising, that everybody else tended to sit back and let him do it.” Everybody included herself.

A larger problem relating to fundraising involved the College’s unwillingness to follow the lead of  other colleges in securing the services of one of the professional fund-raising firms that had sprung up during the war.  Here the reluctance is traceable to Columbia and President Butler’s hesitancy in doing so. Unlike Gildersleeve, Butler was personally comfortable asking for money, especially among his trustees, friends and social acquaintances.  But deep into the 1920s he remained resistant to approaching  members of the German-Jewish community, including those who were Columbia alumni,  lest their support confer upon them a measure of  control over university affairs unacceptable to him or likeminded trustees.  In 1928 he reluctantly agreed to  secure the services of the fundraising firm of John Price-Jones, which by then had managed fourteen college and university campaigns and raised nearly $68 million for endowments and buildings.” He also arranged the  requisite election of a Jew to the Columbia board, in the person of the jurist Benjamin Cardozo, a cousin of Barnard’s Annie Nathan Meyer.    Too little, too late.  Ten months after Cardozo’s election to the Columbia board the stock market collapsed and all plans for a massive fundraising campaign were shelved.

Meanwhile, , taking her cue from Butler, Dean Gildersleeve and her board eschewed the services of the fundraising firms that had substantially increased the endowments of Wellesley, Smith, Bryn Mawr and Mount Holyoke. If the 1920s marked the decade that Columbia, once the richest of American universities,  fell behind three of its Ivy  competitors,  for Barnard, always the poorest of the Sisters and now relatively even more so, the decade was a missed opportunity to make provisions against the lean times ahead.