Jacquelyn Mattfeld

  1.                         Jacquelyn  Mattfeld: Rebel and MaverickI’ve done all the dirty work. I’ve been the butt of all the things that used
    to happen to women. That doesn’t mean I’m a martyr. I’m not. I’m here
    because I’m good.
    — Jacquelyn Mattfeld, associate provost, Brown University, 1973
  2.                                                             1. Finding Jackie

For the job of finding Barnard’s fourth president, Mrs. Elliott turned to newly elected trustee  and  attorney Helene F. Kaplan, BC 1953. She was named chair of the search committee that included another newly elected trustee,  William Golden. Barnard faculty members included professor of sociology Bernard Barber and professor of Spanish Mirella Servodidio, while the Columbia representative was professor of history Henry Graff, whose two daughters were Barnard graduates.

Committed to selecting a woman, a scholar and an experienced academic administrator, despite the perceived thinness of the pool of those possessing all three qualifications, the committee anticipated a long search. That Peterson’s departure was widely perceived as a board firing or that the testy Barnard-Columbia discussions had been regularly reported by The New York Times did not make their task seem any the easier.  It would take a particular kind of academic to be attracted to the prospect of entering this particular lion’s den.

To the committee’s surprise and relief, a candidate with all the stated qualifications turned up early in its preliminary canvassing.  Jacquelyn A. Mattfeld , besides meeting the gender test and being a musicologist with scholarly standing, was at the time of the search the newly appointed provost of Brown University, and as such, the highest placed women academic administrators among Ivy universities. Just three months into the search, the committee unanimously recommended her appointment to the Barnard trustees and the president of the University.    At its November 12th meeting, the trustees unanimously elected Mattfeld Barnard’s fourth president, to take up the office July 1, 1975.

When Brown terminated her provostship on the announcement of her new post, Barnard board chairman Eleanor Elliott asked her to spend the six months before assuming the office of presidency familiarizing herself with the issues and introducing herself to the players. Elliott took the interim to  assure Barnard alumnae that there would be no merger and that the board and the president-elect were embarked on a program of “innovative retrenchment.’
Jacquelyn Anderson Mattfeld was born in 1925 in Baltimore, into one of that city’s older families but one on a decidedly downward trajectory. Her father’s financial circumstances limited her college-going to local schools.  An accomplished pianist as a teenager, she first attended  Peabody Conservatory and then Goucher College, from which she graduated in 1948. From there she went to Yale to take up PhD studies in musicology and music history. While living in New Haven, she met and married a fellow musicologist, Victor Mattfeld. Despite her academic credentials, a PhD in music history, she could not secure a TA position at Yale, they reserved for men, and instead earned an unsteady income for the next decade by giving private piano lessons. With two daughters and a husband intermittently employed and often away, she became a single mom before the term was coined.

Mattfeld’s career prospects brightened  but were also redirected in 1958 when she came within the supportive orbit of Mary Bunting, then president of Radcliffe College. Bunting brought her to Cambridge as Radcliffe’s associate director of financial aid. She moved to MIT in 1963  as its first female dean of student affairs and then to Sarah Lawrence College as provost and dean of the faculty. There her marriage ended. In 1971 she became associate provost and dean of academic affairs of Brown University.  Three years later, In 1974,  she became Brown’s provost. At about that same time she was offered the presidency of Swarthmore College, only to turn it down because she indicated at the time it would be “too comfortable.”  Reflecting on her career in 1973, that of a woman in a man’s academic world, she characterized herself to a reporter as less “militant” than younger women colleagues:
Don’t forget, I’m 47. I’ve been tempered in a far different fire than women who
have come in in the last few years riding the crest of the wave of hew rulings…
I’ve done all the dirty work. I’ve been the butt of all the things that used
to happen to women. That doesn’t mean I’m a martyr. I’m not.’

The autobiographical talk to women faculty, delivered five months in to her Barnard presidency to 75 women at the Barnard Women’s Center she entitled  ”The Life Story of a Maverick and a Rebel.” Maverick.”  In it both her father,  an irregularly employed chemist, her husband, whom she at one point numbered him among the three children she provided for, and all her male Yale colleagues guess at Yale all come up short., whereas the “Sisterhood” saw her through to better times.  The Spectator reporter covering the speech wrote that her remarks left many in the audience in tears.


The president-elect became a Morningside presence during the five months between her selection in November and the start of her presidency in May. She was introduced to trustees not on the search committee at its December 1975 meeting. Shortly thereafter she began meeting with Columbia officials, first President William McGill and then Vice President James Young, he heading up the Columbia team charged with putting Barnard-Columbia relations on a permanent basis. These early talks, both sides later agreed, did not go well.  Mattfeld felt that McGill was trying to get her to go beyond the charge she had from her trustees and commit them to a merger of the Barnard faculty; McGill thought Mattfeld was trying to provoke him into a public fight. When Mattfeld proposed bringing in consultants under a Ford Foundation planning grant secured by her, McGill rejected her list of consultants, which included Mary Bunting.

Some of the animosity that Mattfeld generated at Columbia can be explained as coming from male academics still new to dealing with women as professional equals and not about to be out-negotiated by one of them from Barnard. Certainly Mattfeld and her defenders felt that was the source of her difficulties with McGill. But then there is the case of University provost William T. deBary, whose wife and three daughters were Barnard graduates and who openly disagreed with the Columbia view that Barnard should  either merge with Columbia or Columbia College. His take on Mattfeld:

She didn’t trust Columbia. Period. That’s it. She had been brought in by trustees
that didn’t trust Columbia, once McGill had begun to talk about taking over Barnard.
They got her in the search for somebody that would fight McGill, and they sure got
somebody who fought him.”

  1. On the Job


A week before  formally taking up the presidency from acting president Breunig in May, Mattfeld secured from her trustees the following charge: “To maintain Barnard’s autonomy and integrity while furthering the Barnard-Columbia relationship through institutional planning and cooperation.”  On August 30, in a 9-page open letter to the Barnard community, she acknowledged her strained relations with both McGill and Young, charging them with setting conditions not contemplated in the 1973  Agreement.  Members of her administration later noted that “she could not cross Broadway without feeling faint.”
Mattfeld was inaugurated as Barnard’s  fourth president on November 7, 1976 in a ceremony attended by 4000  in Riverside Church. Accompanying events were widely reported as “lavish,” with Chairman Elliott personally picking up the $35,000 tab.
But already something seemed amiss. Later reports have some trustees (and their spouses) and members of the presidential search team having second thoughts about their new president.  One so visited with “buyer’s remorse” was Mattfeld’s most enthusiastic sponsor on the board, Eleanor Elliott, who had personally checked with all Mattfeld’s former employers,  only to later conclude that their positive assessments were an instance of “white collar welfare” whereby each employer “just passed her along.” In December, Elliott resigned the chairmanship after only three years, ostensibly because of her health. A friend later described the nervous breakdown as brought on by the possibility that she would have to fire a second Barnard president.  The incoming chairman Arthur Altschul was another early doubter who soon found himself unwilling to talk with Mattfeld without other trustees in attendance. Part of Mattefld’s  problem with Altschul likely derived from the board chairman  concluding that she had tricked him into publicly aligning the board behind her call for  Barnard faculty salary parity with Columbia. He had agreed with the need to reduce the longstanding gap and, “in principle,” with the goal of parity, but she had him committing to doing so in three years.


However quickly at odds with her Columbia counterparts and with some trustees, Mattfeld had in talking up the cause of salary parity secured herself the enthusiastic support of many faculty. Others appreciated her standing as a scholar and her administrative responsibilities at MIT and Brown, while still others saw her as an embattled feminist  going toe-to-toe with Columbia’s male chauvinists. And then there were some, at least one, who admired her calling faculty meetings to order by letting loose a whistle that could break crystal.  Of the major constituencies making up the Barnard community, the faculty remained throughout her star-crossed presidency her most consistent allies.

Nor were the reasons for such faculty support all narrowly self-interested. Mattfeld was more sophisticated and better attuned to the ways of eastern  private institutions than had been her predecessor. Whereas Peterson’s forte was seen to be dealing with students, Mattfeld seemed more sure-footed in taking on the financial problems she inherited. Indeed, she soon presented what she and her staffers believed might be the answer to them.

  1. The Mattfeld Surge and Its Discontents

Barnard’s expenditures in the late 1950s and early 1960s consistently matched its income, despite the heavy reliance upon tuition (upwards of 70%) in doing so. Foundation support had helped, as did the sale of the property on Claremont Avenue back to the Rockefeller family to make way for the Interchurch Center (locally, if irreverently, referred to as “The God Box”). Rosemary Park’s four budgets all produced a modest surpluses. Between 1962 and 1971, the endowment doubled from $12 million to $25 million, which, though modest by comparison with peers where alumnae giving was a more ingrained part of the culture, provided some relief to the operating budget. Thus, the explanation later offered by trustee Elliott as to why in 1970 Columbia – then operating with annual deficits larger than Barnard’s annual budgets  — began to look to Barnard to help relieve some of its financially difficulties: “Because they were broke and we were in the black.”

But not for long. Of President Peterson’s  seven budgets, only the first was balanced; it was followed by six with ever-increasing deficits. They were covered by annual drawdowns on the quasi-endowment, which in turn reduced the amount of the endowment available for investment. Between 1971 and 1975 the endowment shrank from $25 million to $21 million. Meanwhile, faculty salaries fell further behind those of Columbia and many of its collegiate peers located in places where the cost of living was substantially less than that  of New York City.

Part of the financial difficulty the Peterson administration faced after 1970 was covering the cost of the newly negotiated annual payments to Columbia for its heretofore cost-free exchange of registrations and access of Barnard students and faculty to Columbia’s  libraries and athletic facilities.  The X-registration agreement, assuming the net flow would be from Barnard to Columbia, required Barnard to pay Columbia 10% of a Barnard’s student tuition whenever she crossed Broadway to take a course. First guesses made in 1971 as to the expected range of  Barnard annual payment: $300,000 to $400,000.

The library payment to cover continued Barnard access it was decided would be determined  by a comparison of Barnard’s annual expenditures for its own 100,000 volume library the average library expenditures of the other Sister colleges, all with much larger libraries, with most of the difference payable to Columbia. The negotiated first payment, due July 1, 1973,  was for $200,000, a number that could only be expected to rise every year thereafter.

The third  agreed-upon annual payment by Barnard to Columbia covered the general services overhead costs of operating Columbia, much like the “indirect costs”  Columbia charged federal agencies to cover “overhead.” Annual price tag:  $100,000. Thus, added to Barnard’s operating costs as a direct outcome of the college’s 1970-72 negotiations with the cash-strapped Columbia was some $600,000 to $700,000 per annum, which when added to the projected 1974-75 budget deficit of $500,000, the chair of the finance and budget committee Robert Houget had called  “unacceptable.”
These payments were expected to have only a modest impact on Columbia’s decade-long struggle to bring its finances into balance. It would  require the larger and sometimes coerced payments from  the University’s revenue-generating professional schools – P & S; the business school; the law school; SEAS – to the central administration to do so. Nor does it seem that it was Columbia’s priority in negotiating the Barnard payments to exact the last possible dollar from its neighbor. As one Columbia staff negotiator instructed the incoming provost Peter Kenen in 1970; “ the object of the negotiation is not optimum pricing of X-registration, but maximum pressure for academic merger.”

However small a role these payments figured in Columbia’s recovery plans, both their magnitude (as a share of the overall budget) and the every likelihood of their growing open-endedness , unquestionably contributed to the feeling among some Barnard’s trustees that the College’s days were numbered and that some endgame was in order. To their new president, they represented a challenge  for which she had a forceful and  –for a time —  effective response.

Once installed,  Mattfeld moved quickly to increase tuition income by enlarging  the size of entering classes. A new director – Christine Royer – installed in early 1977 introduced new promotional literature and more active recruiting that increased applications from under 1450 in 1977  to 2278 in 1980. With increased applicants, came increased admits, reaching with the entering class of 1978 an astronomical admit rate of 78%, before dropping back to just over 50% in 1980. Total enrollments grew from the steady-state levels of between 1900 and 2000 levels of the early 1970s to 2441 in 1980, a surge of 22% in just three years.

As early as the fall of 1977, the newly installed chief financial officer Harry Albers was ready to credit increased enrollments by 180 students had eliminated the projected  budget deficit for 1977-78 and that Barnard “is in a much healthier position than it has been for years.” Two months later it was made public than Albers had  omitted from his October calculation a $240,000 expense item for added costs due to increased enrollments that once included put balancing that year’s budget indoubt. By then Albers had left Barnard, one of the first of several casualties experienced among Mattfeld’s senior administrators.


Barnard Admission Statistics and Enrollments

Years Applicants Admits Enrolls Admit Rate Enrollments Annual
1975 1446 892 430 54% 2051
1976 1565 945 438 60% 2005 -46
1977 1546 1100 496 71% 2006 +1
1978 1816 1210 487 67% 2190 +184
1979 2132 1200 620 56% 2272 +82
1980 2278 1157 559 51% 2441 +169


The surge in enrollments without a parallel increase in on-campus housing meant that more and more Barnard applicants from the New York region who wanted to live on campus could not be assured as incoming first-year students a place in one of the College’s four campus dormitories. A large portion of those admitted  who went  elsewhere did so for this reason. Among enrolled students, it meant that some first-year commuters who expected campus housing in their sophomore year were told to wait until their junior or even senior year before getting a room on campus.

Turning some singles into doubles in Plimpton as well as 600 and 620 116th Street  in 1978  marginally increased the capacity of Barnard’s four dorms, but also at the cost of making  them less livable. Nor did efforts to lease  off-campus housing for upper class students alleviate the problem of too few beds for too many students wanting them. The lease of xx apartments in the Embassy Hotel on Broadway and 70th Street, for example,  had to be broken when the building’s owners were arrested for loan sharking. The lease of a floor in an apartment building on 110th St. was plagued by inadequate security that allowed several break-ins to occur and an attempted rape of a Barnard resident. What turned out to be the final blow to any chance of a n administration-student rapprochement occurred in April 1980, when it was announced that because the admissions office had booked too many incoming students with dormitory rooms, those that had been saved for commuting seniors  who had waited three years for a room on campus were out of luck.  This prompted a noontime sit-in  in McIntosh, led by the student government leadership, that ended only with administrators promising to seek out more off-campus housing for the incoming class and restore on-campus housing for those seniors promised it.

Little wonder that when two student leaders form the late 1970s were asked about their views on the much discussed prospect of merger, each recalled the political priorities of their day not merger but housing. This meant that should push come to shove between Mattfeld and the powers that be, even students who admired her stance with respect to Columbia and honored her hard-won feminism, could not be counted to come to her defense.

Mattfeld’s problems with securing housing for the increased number of students her financial strategy mandated were only exacerbated by the fiscally-focused trustees’ insistence that the costs of the College’s auxiliary services – the provision of room and board – be fully covered by the income  derived from auxiliary services. Annual increases in room and board charges prompted by the inflationary times were subject to additional charges to make them more income neutral. An attempt in November 1979 to increase the fees with an “energy surcharge” on both students living on campus ($150) and those commuting ($60) for the spring term, which, because Columbia did not do so, meant Barnard residents in  co-ed Plimpton dorms were expected to pay several hundred dollars more for their than were their Columbia hall-mates was later rescinded but not before bill-paying parents expressed outrage at what some saw as a classic instance of “bait and switch.” The Barnard board later rescinded these charges, but not before the Barnard Rep Council charged the administration with “fiscal mismanagement.”

Still others, presumably trustees and certainly some faculty, expressed concerns about two other matters related to the enrollment surge. One was whether more students  really did increase College revenues by their additional tuition income generated or whether increased reliance upon funds on the expenditures side of the budget rendered the surge income neutral.  Put bluntly, these skeptics were asking whether the additional students were being bought?
And then there was the concern that increased enrollments without a parallel increase in faculty and courses being offered by Barnard faculty necessarily meant larger classes. To both the financial aid question and that of enlarged class size Mattfeld assigned the responsibility for rebutting to her new Vice President for Finance,  Jack McBride. He assured both trustees and faculty at its April 2, 1980 meeting that the increased tuition derived from the additional students, after the added financial aid was subtracted, netted the College xxx thousands in additional income. Again VP McBride: the enrollment increase was of “clear financial benefit.” Whatever their non-financial costs, the balanced budgets of the Mattfeld presidency were for real.

Mattfeld and McBride were equally categorical on the matter of class size. Both cited internal studies that showed the student/faculty classroom ratio had held steady at around 14.4 students per Barnard  classroom instructor throughout the surge and may have even declined a fraction. How could this be, they rhetorically asked? The answer: more and more Barnard students were taking classes at Columbia, thereby preventing Barnard classes from growing. This explanation, of course, while it temporarily put to rest the charge of overcrowded Barnard classrooms did little to assuage doubts about Barnard’s long-term viability by opening the administration to charges that the enrollment surge was both  enriching Columbia under the X-registration agreement and putting into play the question of the need for a Barnard faculty. Why not just send all the students enrolled at Barnard over to Columbia for their classes? Damned if she did; damned if she didn’t.

  1.   Exit Jackie

    Meanwhile, Mattfeld kept the pressure on to make good on her goal – if not the trustees’ – to bring Barnard faculty salaries into parity with those at Columbia within three years. Funds were included in each of her budgets to accomplish precisely this and despite the runaway inflation of the late 1970s she made real progress.  The 1978-79 salary program brought Barnard’s assistant professors into parity with Columbia’s; the 1979-80 salary program was expected to do the same for Barnard’s associate professors. A sizable gap remained at the full-professor level, but even the most financially senior faculty acknowledged her efforts to close it.

Other policy actions relating to senior faculty were less appreciated. At one point in 1978, when the trustees had effectively removed her from the ongoing discussions with Columbia, she informed faculty that they too should cease all communications with their Columbia counterparts. For the 30 or so Barnard faculty who taught graduate courses and were  voting members of their cognate department that directive posed an impossible challenge. So it was ignored.

Two staffers working closely with President Mattfeld in the spring of  1980 agreed in separate interviews with the author that her firing in mid-May 1980 came as a shock to her. One recalled her being “stunned” at being told by members of the executive committee of the trustees “to get out today.”. Another recalled her confusion when “no reasons were provided” for her dismissal.  Both the faculty representatives to the trustees, Peter Juvilier and Marcia Welles, were equally caught unawares Nor were reasons subsequently forthcoming, either in the minutes of  Trustees’ meeting that followed the firing or in the several interviews of trustees “in the room” conducted by me and my colleague Rosalind Rosenberg.  What follows is necessarily conjecture.

Not that at the time or in interviews since was there any shortage of possible explanations . I have heard four different explanations from five different  interview sources for which there is at least some allowance from other interviewees as to their plausibility. The first relates to Mattfeld’s efforts to secure faculty salary parity. This has it that in her efforts to increase the amount of money available for annual salary increases she increased it by adding Columbia’s annual payment for graduate instruction by Barnard faculty to be paid in the next fiscal year to the amount the Trustees allotted in the budget of the current fiscal year. Both the dean of the faculty, Charles S. Olton, and the budget officer, Helen Vanides were directed to do so but apparently the trustees were not informed of this arrangement.

They  inadvertently learned of it in early May 1980 when one member of the Finance Committee did a back-of-the-envelope calculation of what continuing faculty were informed  they would  receive in  pay raises as against the amounted allotted by the budget and determined that the salary increases were larger than the budget provided for. When questioned by members of the board, Olton confirmed the board member’s calculation and stated that this had been the practice in prior budgets as well, as directed by the president. Olton and a senior member of the faculty familiar with the practice jokingly called it “the loaves and fishes” strategy. Once informed of this practice, and concluding that it was intended to mislead the trustees by understating the magnitude of the salary increases, Mattfeld was fired.  Olton escaped a similar fate only by producing a memo from him to his boss where he questioned her instructions as at variance with standard accounting practices. To the extent this was the smoking gun, it comports well with a view expressed later by some trustees of their president as both “unstable” and “manipulative.”
A second explanation, this coming exclusively from the Mattfeld camp, has her being fired because she had succeeded all too well in sustaining Barnard’s autonomy. To the consternation of board members who were ready and already planning to have Barnard merge with Columbia, she had made merger far from necessary by increasing enrollments, balancing the budget, rallying alumnae and securing the support of her faculty. One Mattfeld staffer has it that in the immediate aftermath of the firing these board members still favoring merger tried to undercut recent successes in recruiting by cutting the financial aid budget by 45%,  a move blocked only by the staffer’s impassioned objections and the prospect of a story to this effect appearing in the New York Times .   The cut was restored, the Times story never appeared,   and the staffer was fired.

A third proffered ion has it that some trustees objected to Mattfeld’s increasingly open lesbian relationship with an ex-colleague from Providence who was co-habiting the president’s apartment on Claremont Avenue. That some students and faculty were aware of this relationship attests to its visibility,  if not to it prompting Mattfeld’s firing  by the trustees.


The last substantive explanation implicates Columbia in the firing.  In the spring of 1979, President McGill, his protracted financial rescue of the University accomplished and he exhausted, informed his trustees of his intention to retire the following year. With their approval he then offered the job of University provost to the dean of the law school, Michael I. Sovern, personally assuring him that as provost he had had the inside track to become Columbia’s next president a year hence. The new provost and president-in-waiting made it an early order of business to reach out to Barnard’s president by inviting her to Columbia for an introductory meeting. They had at this point never met, in itself unusual because of the weekly meeting of all the Columbia deans convened by the University provost,  which Barnard presidents and deans had faithfully attended going back to the Gildersleeve deanship, and which Sovern was a regular attendee.  These Mattfeld chose not to attend, sending a succession of staffers in her stead, one of whom noted that Sovern, unlike some of the other deans, was unfailingly kind to her.

The meeting between the Barnard president and the Columbia president-to-be went badly. Rather than accept what was intended as a chance to meet alone and without an agenda, Mattfeld surprised Sovern by showing up  with her dean of the faculty in tow. Early into the meeting she objected to something Sovern  said and then declaring that the remark reflected “an opinion a man would have.” The meeting went downhill from there, although Mattfeld later described it as amicable.  As for Sovern, he might well have asked, “What’s her story” and relayed his misgivings about working with her to some of Barnard’s trustees, several of whom were personal friends and professional acquaintances. It would not have to have been said that the prospects for resolving the Barnard-Columbia impasses would be facilitated by Barnard seeking a new president for the message to make it across Broadway.

Whatever the explanation, and it may have been a combination of the above and still other considerations, Mattfeld was out after four years as Barnard’s fourth president. Hers was the shortest tenure of any administrative head of  the College and remains the only one of its six past presidents not to have her portrait in Sulzberger Parlor. From New York she proceeded to a number of administrative posts in the West, while teaching about the theories and experiences of late life development. She retired in 2014 as Executive Director and Director of Public Programs of The C. G. Jung Center in Evanston, Illinois,  at age 89.

Bob McCaughey
July 24, 2017
[email protected]


[From Barnard website]

Jacquelyn Mattfeld, 1976-1980
Jacquelyn Mattfeld, 1976.
Photograph by Warren Jagger, courtesy of the Barnard College Archives.

Jacquelyn Mattfeld became president of the College on July 1, 1976, at a time when Columbia University was eyeing Barnard acquisitively.

Born on October 5, 1925, in Baltimore, Mattfeld received a diploma from the Peabody Conservatory of Music in 1947 and her bachelor’s degree from Goucher College in 1948. She went on to earn her Ph.D. from Yale in 1959. Later, as associate dean of student affairs at MIT, she was responsible for overseeing both graduate and undergraduate women. She also served as provost and dean of faculty at Sarah Lawrence College in 1965, on the Brown University faculty in 1971, and as dean of Brown in 1974.

Mattfeld’s extensive leadership experience at other top institutions made her a good fit for Barnard, which needed a strong leader who could stand up to the demands being made by Columbia President William J. McGill. McGill envisioned a full merger of Columbia and Barnard by 1985, and tensions built between the two schools as Mattfeld stressed the College’s autonomy, bringing negotiations to a halt for a while. Eventually, she was able to gain support for a partnership rather than a merger. After reviewing Barnard’s intercorporate agreement with Columbia, she had the Barnard Board of Trustees write a mandate affirming the College’s independence.

Mattfeld resigned in 1981, saying that her goals had been accomplished and that, most importantly, Barnard would maintain its position as a prestigious institution of women’s higher education.

1 thought on “Jacquelyn Mattfeld

  1. I am needing to contact Jackie Mattfeld to obtain a release for the text in which she appears in my memoir, Living When Everything Changed, which will be published by Rutgers University Press. I was at Lewis and Clark College in the 1980s while she was provost.

    Mary Kay Tetreault
    Provost Emerita
    Portland State University
    [email protected]

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