Barnard and the Women's Movement: From Suffrage to the Seventies

Petition for equal access to education for women at Columbia, 1882

The gradual acceptance of higher education for women in the latter part of the 19th century was key to the transformation of women's lives in the decades that followed. Barnard's founding occurred alongside the establishment of other women's colleges in the Northeast, as well as the appearance of coeducational private and state universities throughout the country. At right is an excerpt from a petition to Columbia's Trustees from the Association for the Promotion of Higher Education for Women, which was signed by 1400 supporters, including some of the city's most influential women leaders. This document eventually led to the admittance of a small number of female students to Columbia, and seven years later, to the formation of an "affiliated college" named for Frederick Barnard, the Columbia president who championed a place for women at the university.

"Suffragism and feminism at Barnard," by Juliet Stuart Poyntz, Barnard Bear, 1914

Barnard's founding took place more than 40 years after the Seneca Falls convention, with the right to vote as one of its central concerns. Thus, it was not surprising that, during its second decade, Barnard's campus included an active Suffrage Club, coexisting with such extracurricular groups as the Glee Club and the Whittier Hall Mandolin Club. In the Barnard Bear of 1914, Juliet Stuart Poyntz '07 ( at the time a Barnard instructor) traced the trajectory of the Suffrage Club from its beginnings, during her senior year, as being composed of an "intrepid few ... regarded as 'queer,' as lacking in balance and altogether abnormal" to, merely seven years later, more closely reflecting "the world outside" where "suffrage is not only tolerated but has (alas!) actually become fashionable." Poyntz presciently noted that "the Barnard public needs more education ... on the general economic and social position of women and the history of the woman movement." (for more on this fascinating feminist, see this Archives Blog article).

Suffragists from National Women's Party picketing White House, circa 1917  (View object)

Three suffragists, including Josephine Paddock '06, at left, holding banner in front of gate: "'We shall fight for things which we have always carried nearest our hearts--for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their government.' President Wilson's war message, April 2nd 1917"

Woman Suffrage Party of New York City, pamphlet, 1912

Nestled among theater playbills, Greek Games memorabilia, sketches and birthday cards, this pamphlet from New York City's Woman Suffrage Party was preserved in the scrapbook of Sophie Parsons Woodman, Class of 1907. The speaker, Carrie Chapman Catt, served two terms as the president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and is seen as instrumental in paving the way for the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment.

Suffragists demonstrate voting procedures at mock polling place, circa 1917  (View object)

In 1917, still three years away from full women's suffrage in the United States, the New York State Constitution granted women the right to vote, and the first woman was elected to Congress, Jeannette Rankin, of Montana, which passed an amendment in 1914.

Physical education students on stall bars at Barnard, circa 1922  (View object)

In contrast to the requirement of completing just one gym class by today's graduating senior, during its formative years, for several decades, Barnard required four years of compulsory Physical Education. Behind this emphasis was both the disavowal of the Victorian concept of the frailty of women's bodies, as well as the promotion of social skills and the establishment of habits that would lead to healthy and energetic adult lives. A new swimming pool and a large gymnasium were among the college's earliest acquisitions. An active Athletic Association and the Greek Games rounded out a strong athleticism on campus.

Basket ball teammates warming up, 1917  (View object)
"Basket Ball at Barnard," New York Times, 1910

More than half a century before the passage of Title IX and its impact on women's collegiate sports, Barnard boasted a plethora of athletic outlets; in addition to "basket ball" (where "one hundred girls [clamored] for places on the teams"), hockey, baseball, tennis, track, archery, golf and fencing were offered and were increasingly popular. In spite of the high rates of enthusiasm and participation rates among the students, the teams never excelled in the intercollegiate sports arena, and they gradually turned to interclass competitions.

Basketball tip-off on Millbank Quadrangle, circa 1917  (View object)

Isabel Greenbaum '18 (left) vs. Marie R. Carmody '19 (right). See Mortarboard 1918, p 77.

Basketball Game at Barnard, 1935  (View object)

A free throw in the Odds and Evens basketball tournament at Barnard College. Left to right: Garnette Snedeker, Dorothy Watts, Margery Ray and Adele Hansen. Class of 1937.

Barnard Summer School for Women Workers in Industry, Class of 1928  (View object)

The Barnard Summer School for Women Workers in Industry (SSFW), in operation from 1927-1933, was part of a larger academic movement to provide workers' education for women, whose presence in the labor force escalated after the First World War. It was started at Bryn Mawr College and included schools as diverse as the Universities of Wisconsin and North Carolina. The mission of SSFW was stated as providing "young women in industry opportunities for the study of Economics, Science, English and other subjects as a means of understanding and enjoying life... [it was ] planned and directed so that students may gain a clearer insight into the problems of industry and feel a more vital responsibility for their solution."

Barnard Summer School for Women Workers in Industry Science Lab, circa 1928  (View object)

Although the classes at SSFW were rigorous, some of the women, aged 20-35, had left school as early as the sixth grade. Most of the students were Russian or Polish, and the overwhelming majority worked in the garment industry. They commuted daily to the Morningside Heights campus, and their school day was a bit under 12 hours. Fortunately, In addition to academics, the program also included athletics, music, art - and that quintessential collegiate experience - eating meals in a cafeteria.

Barnard Summer School for Women Workers in Industry students ironing clothing, 1928  (View object)

In addition to the garment trade, SSFW students worked in industries ranging from chemical and electrical plants to jobs in book binding, beauty culture and restaurants. The program was not meant to be seen as a step toward workplace advancement, which might be a natural presumption from our more careerist perspective. Rather, according to its brochure, "[t]he majority of students ... are back in industry, helping to make possible educational opportunities for other workers, and giving active service in many kinds of community organizations."

Linda LeClair and Peter Behr, The Daily News, 1968

In the politically and culturally charged spring of 1968, Linda LeClair, a Barnard sophmore, was brought up on disciplinary charges by the College administration for living off campus with her boyfriend, Columbia junior Peter Behr. "The "LeClair Affair" received widespread attention and led to the reconsideration of housing rules and discussions about a sexual double standard during a time when women's roles were not changing as quickly as one might think. As LeClair remarked in the Spectator: “Barnard students had to live at the dormitories, and there were some stringent curfews, and Columbia students could do whatever they wanted to ...The media coverage made it into a story about sex ... but really what it was about was power and equality. There was a lot of unhappiness about the kind of patronizing attitude toward the college women that this represented.”

Spring Festival, South African Dance performed by members of BOSS, 1969  (View object)

The Barnard Organization of Soul Sisters (BOSS) was established in the fall of 1968 by students from the Class of 1969 - which entered with a mere eighteen black students. Their concerns included increasing the presence of black women on campus, as well as incorporating African American studies in their courses. BOSS members dancing, from left: Sandra J. Hemphill '71, Frances Sadler '72, Ruth M. Louie '71, Phyllis McEwen '72, and unknown dancer.

Barnard Women's Center Brochure, 1974

As the Barnard Women's Center brochure's subtitle aptly states, "a women's college responds to the challenge of the women's movement." Established in 1971, the Barnard Women's Center was the forerunner of today's Barnard Center for Research on Women (BCRW). At a time before there was a Women's Studies Department, which was established in 1977, the Center offered academic courses in related programs, and included such courses as "Childrearing: a survey of Alternatives," "Images of Women in American Intellectual History" and "Sex Discrimination and the Division of Labor." They also offered non-credit courses and workshops, sponsored conferences, including the ongoing "The Scholar and the Feminist," published pamphlets and reference sources, and housed a resource collection which served as a clearinghouse of information on women's services.

Barnard College students protesting the closure of women's college Kirkland College on Fifth Avenue, New York, circa 1978.  (View object)

Kirkland College was established in 1968 as a counterpart to the all-male Hamilton College, in Clinton, New York. A women's college, it was envisioned as being more experimental and innovative than Hamilton, and was based on the progressive views of its founder and former Barnard President Millicent McIntosh. An economic downturn coupled with a reassessment of the value of women's colleges, led to the dissolution of Kirkland and its merger with Hamilton in 1978, as a coeducational institution.

International Women's Coalition at International Women's Day march, 1975  (View object)

In 1975, which was designated as International Women's Year, the United Nations gave official sanction to, and began sponsoring, International Women's Day. See Barnard Bulletin, March 3, 1975, p 1.

Barnard Abortion Action Committee demonstrators, 1976  (View object)

The Abortion Action Committee at Barnard was formed in 1972 as a response to community and legislative issues, combined with advocacy and education at the college level, for improved gynecological services regarding birth control and reproductive rights.

Women's Peace March, Barnard Bulletin, 1975  (View object)

A coalition of Barnard students marched with pacifist and anti-war groups such as Women Strike for Peace as early as 1961, as mentioned in the Barnard Bulletin.

International Women's Day banner on Barnard Hall, 1977  (View object)

A moment of calm in front of Barnard Hall, before a day filled with conferences, workshops, and other events. In 1971, students even filed a request for classes to be cancelled each year to allow for greater participation.

Celebration of Black Womanhood, 1978  (View object)

In February of 1978, Barnard's Organization of Black Women (BOBW, formerly BOSS, which changed its name in 1975), sponsored its first Celebration of Black Womanhood. A tradition which continued for many years, its two-day program included forums, workshops, and lectures that promoted "the social, cultural and political awareness of the Black women on campus."