N.W. Liggett to George A. Plimpton (1906)

Barnard College
New York
Office of the Bursar
June 20, 1906

My dear Mr. Plimpton: –

If you were not gifted with an optimistic temperament, and capable oftaking a large and comprehensive view of a question I would think it unwise to send you the enclosed lists, and call attention to some facts concerning them.

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

Only thirteen schools in New York, Brooklyn, and Staten islands (the city proper) send us pupils. Of these thirteen private schools, five send us only Hebrew students. Of 62 taking preliminary examinations twenty-nine are Hebrews; of the 102 taking complete examinations 40 are Hebrews. t seems to me that this condition cannot be longer ignored. We are certainly losing ground. Many reasons contribute to this, but some of them we must recognize. We are not able to do any successful missionary work in the schools, for things have reached the pass where this sort of zeal but brings us more and more Hebrews, and all history proves that any cause which attracts the support of large numbers of Hebrews is a losing cause in the end. This question seems especially vital to me now, on account of us running dormitory in the near future. This is our only opportunity of winning a different constituency. I do not think we should do anything drastic, but I do believe that the trustees should consider this whole question, and formulate some policy in regard to us. A dormitory, which will receive any number of Hebrews from all parts of the country as resident students, will do us incalculable harm. Already Hebrews are coming to us from other sections of the country. They are not form good jewish families. I happen to know that “the word has been passed” that Barnard treats the jews well, and that no discrimination is made here regarding them, except in the nature of fraternities. I was asked to urge our rich Hebrew girls to get some of their friends to give us a dormitory, and it was in the course of this conversation that the above observation concerning the attitude to the jews was made to me. I could not affirm that the gift of a dormitory building from a Hebrew would be the most embarrassing gift that could come to us.

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

Will you think carefully over this matter? I feel sure that some attitude in regard to this question must be assumed before our dormitory starts.


Very truly yours,

N. W. Liggett


[Attachment: “Candidates Entering in 1906” — see “Liggett1906” ExcelSheet]I

2 thoughts on “N.W. Liggett to George A. Plimpton (1906)

  1. Hello! After reading this letter and the information on the social origins of Barnard Students, I would be interested to find out if this sentiment reflected the feelings of other people involved with Barnard, namely the Board of Trustees. From 1914-1939, there were limits on Jewish applicants. Where did these negative sentiments regarding Jewish students come from? And why were they tolerated for so long? I am especially curious about the level of toleration for this discrimination, as the Board of Trustees included several Jewish members and the school was founded by Annie Meyers, a Jewish woman.

    1. Excellent comment! Back to you tomorrow but you are aalready at a critical juncture: How do you determine whether Bursar Liggett is speaking for all the trustees, some of them (e.g., Plimpton) or none of them?

      Welcome to the world of historical analysis.


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