How Does Early Barnard Differ From the Other ‘Sisters’?

How Has Barnard Historically Differed From Other Women’s Colleges?
Specifically, from the Other “Sisters”?


Last to be founded:

Women’s College Chartered Opened
Vassar 1861 1865
Smith 1870 1876
Wellesley 1870 1875
Harvard “Annex” [Radcliffe] 1879 1879
Mt. Holyoke 1884
Bryn Mawr 1882
Barnard 1889 1889


Founded with the least financial wherewithal:

Women’s College    
Vassar Funded by Matthew Vassar
Smith Estate of Sophia Smith
Wellesley Durants
Harvard “Annex” [Radcliffe] Harvard funding
Mt. Holyoke
Bryn Mawr
Barnard Annual commitment of $500 for five years by 40 “founders”

Founded without a designated, set apart, campus site; the least real estate at outset:

Women’s College    
Harvard “Annex” [Radcliffe]
Mt. Holyoke
Bryn Mawr
Barnard A leased 4-story brownstone within walking distance of Columbia; subsequent campus of 4 ½ acres




Founded without any religious affiliation/identification:

Women’s College    
Wellesley Presbyterian
Harvard “Annex” [Radcliffe] Unitarian
Mt. Holyoke
Bryn Mawr Quaker
Barnard Original 22-member Board included Episcopalians (5), Presbyterians (4), Unitarians (3), Baptists (1) , unspecified Protestants (6), Jews (2) and a Catholic (1)


Barnard’s origins, for its time, strikingly secular/multi-denominational/ecumenical
Movement spearheaded by Annie Nathan Meyer, a non-observant Jew
Board less dominated by clergy than the relatively laicized Columbia board (with half a dozen clergymen of 24); only two ministers on original 22-member board; of the first 53 members, only 4 were clergymen; only one of the 12 married women had a clergyman husband [Mrs. Henry Sanders]

First board chairman was a minister [Rev. Arthur Brooks, 1889-1894] but none thereafter.
Only one conspicuously evangelically active board member (Henrietta Talcott)
Chapel services but no chapel at 343 Madison; ditto on Morningside; attendance optional
None of the first four administrative heads/deans conspicuously devote Xians

Differences in Institutional Leadership
Composition of the Early Trustees

Denominational requirements/expectations
% of clergy
AB origins
Alumnae-elected trustees?

Academic credentials
Prior employment
Perceived performance



Barnard went the longest ( 22 years) without its first distinctive, commanding academic leader:

Women’s College    
Harvard “Annex” [Radcliffe]
Mt. Holyoke
Bryn Mawr M. Carey Thomas there in 2ndyear; president
Barnard Not until 4th academic head, Virginia C. Gildersleeve, in 1911

Barnard had, along with Radcliffe, closer affiliations/reliance upon another academic institution

Women’s College    
Vassar Free-standing
Smith Free-standing
Wellesley Free-standing
Harvard “Annex” [Radcliffe] Reliance upon Harvard for its faculty
Mt. Holyoke Free-standing
Bryn Mawr Friendly relations with Johns Hopkins, Haverford and Swarthmore.
Barnard Reliance upon Columbia as degree granter and its source of faculty (until 1900); some overlap in trustees

How did early [1889-1914] entering Barnard students differ from their turn-of-the-century
Sister counterparts?

Had as its initial (and persisting) target audience/recruitment pool/catchment area the most geographically delimited:

Women’s College    
Vassar Fully residential by entrance requirements; drew its students primarily from the Northeast, with less than half from New York State by 18xx
Smith Percentage from Mass? From NE?
Harvard “Annex” [Radcliffe]
Mt. Holyoke
Bryn Mawr Percentage from Philadelphia? From Pennsylvania?
Barnard No designated dormitory to accommodate students from outside commuting range for its first 18 years of operations.



Much more residentially concentrated – most from the five boroughs of the consolidated NYC or New Jersey towns along the Hudson River. Far fewer from non-urban locales. Distance between home and college measured in blocks, not miles….

Much more likely to have been prepared in an urban public high school than in a private day or boarding school

Much more likely to have commuted than to have lived in residence in a campus dormitory

Barnard students much more economically polarized; some from very wealthy families; most from modest economic circumstances; still others for whom the $150 tuition a familial reach and commuting an economic necessity.

More likely to be first- or second-generation Americans; less likely to be from families with American roots before the 1850s

More likely to be Jewish or Catholic (though a majority Protestant into the 1930s).

More likely to be attending college to enhance occupational prospects than for its ascribed social or intellectual benefits

More likely to be politically active as students? Socialist Club; Equal Suffrage; successful student-initiated movement to ban fraternities in 1914
What of differences as alumnae?

Barnard alums less geographically dispersedupon graduation

More likely to pursue occupationally-directed additional education directly after graduation;
(MA studies at Columbia and/or Teachers College, but also PhD studies — law school and medicine?)

More likely to secure gainful employment upon graduation; even more likely that the employment be public high school teaching; social work and work in publishing also provide employment for many Questions about Barnard graduates/alumnae?

More likely to be politically active?
Participation in suffrage movement
League of Women Voters
Participation in anti-Prohibition movement
Membership in Socialist Party
More Barnard alumnae identified with the Left?

More professional writers?

More likely to become physicians and lawyers?

More likely to earn PhDs and become professors?

Not yet determined whether Barnard alumnae more likely to marry – or marry sooner – than other Sisters alumnae [initial impression that neither all that different]

But even those who married — and with children – Barnard alumnae more likely to continue working

Downside characteristics:

Barnard alumnae less likely to retain active ties with Barnard (except for its employment-referral activities)

Less likely to contribute to Barnard fundraising efforts

Less likely to attend reunions [?]

Less likely to have their daughters attend Barnard (i.e., produce fewer “legacies”)


Difference in Their Respective Faculties

Percentage of women faculty?
Wellesley early on consisted of all-women faculty

Size of faculty

Ratio of Enrollments/FTime faculty

Percentage of PhD-bearing faculty

AB origins of faculty

Career patterns of faculty
% of “lifers”
Frequency of outside senior hires

Principal institutional source of first-hire PhDs:
Barnard – Columbia, overwhelmingly until 1960s
Smith – Yale?

Turnover within tenured ranks

Scholarly productivity:
American Men of Science
Last updated: February 13, 2015
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1 thought on “How Does Early Barnard Differ From the Other ‘Sisters’?

  1. Smith was chartered in 1870, and it was the third women’s institution to open in 1876, after Vassar (1865) and Wellesley (1875). Smith was funded by the estate of Sophia Smith, who died at the age of 65. Smith was always eager when it came to education, constantly writing and reading, but she was given a meager one. Sophia herself had a miserly family and a troubled adult hood, having 3 of her seven children die in infancy. But even so, she was deeply religious. Smith turned to her Pastor, John Morton Greene, to decide whom she would allocate her funds to. She considered Amherst College and Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, which was not a full fledged college at the time but did educate women. She settled on a variety of projects, one of which was a school for the deaf, which was a personal matter to her since she, too, was deaf. But the death of John Clarke, who gave his endowment to the school for the deaf, meant Smith could put her funds elsewhere. According to the Smith website, this was the statement in her will that bequeathed the funds: “‘I hereby make the following provisions for the establishment and maintenance of an Institution for the higher education of young women, with the design to furnish for my own sex means and facilities for education equal to those which are afforded now in our colleges to young men. It is my opinion that by the education of women, what are called their ‘wrongs’ will be redressed, their wages adjusted, their weight of influence in reforming the evils of society will be greatly increased, as teachers, as writers, as mothers, as members of society, their power for good will be incalculably enlarged. It is my wish that the institution be so conducted, that during all coming time it shall do the most good to the greatest number. I would have it a perennial blessing to the country and the world.” The college President, Laurenus Clark Seelye, was hired and was true to Sophia Smith’s vision.
    The college now has a very career oriented lens about it, which is why it is difficult to find the original intent of the college. I was able to find that Article 3 of her will and testament says this, “Article 3: Sensible of what the Christian Religion has done for my sex, and believing that all education should be for the glory of God, and the good of man, I direct that the Holy Scriptures be daily and systematically read and studied in said College, and without giving preference to any sect or denomination, all the education and all the discipline shall be pervaded by the Spirit of Evangelical Christian Religion.” So it can be assumed that the college was created to have a Christian bent, especially since they were to read scripture “daily and systematically”. Although I would say that it is somewhat progressive that she notes that there is no “preference” to a denomination or sect, it still does have a lean towards a Christian doctrine.
    Smith had strong leadership from the start. The first class consisted of fourteen students, with six faculty to instruct them. The small campus located in Northampton, Massachusetts, was far from the urban Barnard experience. The campus was planned to be a version of “the real practical life” of a New England town— a simulation of real life. Students lived in a “cottage,” “where life was more familial than institutional.” I think this “familial” like situation is reminiscent of Wellesley’s initial intent of creating a space for women to learn how to be educated homemakers. Although they have a very liberal, strictly academic leaning now, I think that the establishment of these cottages shows that they were still trying to enforce gender roles and educate them with the purpose of sharing their education within a home. The website states that the cottage system “began the “house” system that, with some modifications, the college still employs today.” I think the fact that they have to articulate that they modified the system may mean that it wasn’t as “liberal” as it it is now.
    Sophia Smith appointed the first board of trustees in her will. She chose Honor Charles E. Forbes and Honor Osmyn Baker, both of Northampton, Reverend John M. Greene, of South Hadley, Professor Wm. S. Tyler, and Professor Julius H. Seelye, both of Amherst, Honor Wm. B. Washburn, of Greenfield, Professor. Edwards A. Park, of Andover, Honor Joseph White of Williamstown, Reverend B. G. Northrop of New Haven, Connecticut, Honor Edward B. Gillett of Westfield. and George W. Hubbard, of Hatfield. Of these 11 men, 5 were judges (Forbes, Baker, Washburn, Gillett, and White), 2 were Reverend’s (Greene and Northrop), 3 were professors (Tyler, Seelye, and Park), and one was Smith’s lawyer (Hubbard). As is apparent, this is a board with only educated men. They all are from wealthy, white areas. As is obvious, there are no women on the board, even though it was a woman’s funding that created this institution. Also, some of these men helped create the vision of Smith. Hubbard convinced Smith to shorten the title of the college from “Sophia Smith College” to plainly “Smith,” and he also convinced her to have it be located in Northampton.
    Before they were established in 1872, Amherst Professor William S. Tyler, who would eventually teach at Smith, organized a meeting with a group of influential men that he hoed would contribute money to the endowment. They met at the Edwards Church in Northampton in 1872, and hoped to raise $75,000 for the building of the first building of the college. Speculations about the possible success was reported about in local newspapers, which helped draw attention to the project, and it could have been a way to advertise for potential students.
    From the start, Smith had strong leadership, which lent to a strong academic standing early on. During the first 35 years of the college and under the sole leadership of President Seelye, Smith’s assets of about $400,000 grew too more than $3,000,000; its faculty grew from 7 to 122; its student body from 14 to 1,635; its buildings to 35 from one, College Hall, the “Victorian Gothic administrative and classroom building,” that stood at the head of Northampton’s Main Street (students used the public library and various churches in the town). That strong start was only maintained and strengthened by Smith’s second president, Marion LeRoy Burton, who took office in 1910. He helped raise the huge sum of $1,000,000, which President Burton used to increase faculty salaries substantially and the faculty-to-student ratio. Burton’s fund drive inspired alumnae to come back to the college more than ever before, increasing their representation on the board of trustees.
    Smith had a much stronger start than Barnard. It had solid direction from the start, and it worked in collaboration with the other women’s college that were established at the time (Vassar, Wellesley, etc.). Smith didn’t have a female president until 1975, when Jill Ker Conway became president, which is an interesting fact for a women’s college (Elizabeth Cutter Morrow was an interim president in 1939, but I don’t think that is sufficient to count her as a last female leader).

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