Actress Myrna Loy might be better remembered today if she’d been as eager to cultivate her Tinseltown fame as actresses Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn, and if she hadn’t taken time off to help during World War II. But Loy had other ambitions. “She never thought Hollywood was the whole world,” says Emily Wortis Leider ’59, author of the first biography of the star of The Thin Man and The Best Years of Our Lives.
Slender, graceful, and nuanced, Loy catapulted to fame in the 1930s and appeared in more than 100 films, but ultimately found happiness in activist work, including campaigning for Democratic presidential candidates, working with Eleanor Roosevelt, and serving as a UNESCO delegate.
Loy, who died in 1993, had written an autobiography, but until Leider’s book, she had not been the subject of a biography. Leider, who has authored biographies of star Mae West and heartthrob Rudolph Valentino, was surprised to find herself charmed by the actress. Her book, Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, restores the spotlight to the Montana native whose appealing screen presence made her a celebrated Hollywood idol and gave her star billing with Clark Gable, Cary Grant, and William Powell.
“Myrna Loy is the only one of my subjects I liked better when I finished than when I started,” says Leider, who majored in English literature. “The brilliant [Mae] West was ahead of her time as a writer, comedian, and actress, but she was a narcissist. Valentino’s sudden death at age 31 prematurely ended
the career of a star ‘who never grew up.’”
But Loy was “a well-rounded and lovely human being” with “a charming sense of humor,” says Leider. Loy also had the keen ability to play off her co-stars’ emotions and reactions. “Extremely modern in her minimalist technique, she remains our contemporary in her ability to grow, to stay in the game and continue evolving,” Leider writes.
Loy began her career as a dancer in Hollywood and hit the jackpot in 1934 with MGM, playing the smart socialite Nora Charles in The Thin Man with Powell as her detective husband, Nick. The film struck a chord with Depression-era audiences hungry for humor and diversion. “You might not be living like that, but while you were at the movies, you could dream,” says the author. And Loy, who had star-quality looks and radiated warmth, appealed to both sexes.
She shone in The Best Years of Our Lives, a William Wyler directed movie about the post-World War II lives of servicemen. To play the wife of a veteran, Loy tapped the affecting experiences she had visiting wounded soldiers in military hospitals and nursing homes. “Some were blind,” Leider says, “and they would touch her face and feel her famous upturned nose and say, ‘Yes, this is Myrna Loy.’” Then she would go into the ladies room and cry.
The Best Years of Our Lives won the 1946 Academy Award for Best Picture, but Loy was overlooked when the Oscars were handed out. “She was robbed,” states the San Francisco-based Leider, who spent six years painstakingly researching and writing Loy’s biography. Leider also had the support of Loy’s stepson, John Terry Hornblow (and his daughter, Deborah). Terry was the child of her first husband, director Arthur Hornblow, Jr. The actress, who had no children, sustained a lifelong relationship with Terry and left her estate to his family.
Though her movie roles led her to be tagged with the moniker “The Perfect Wife,” she fared poorly in her private life. She had “terrible judgment” in men, Leider says, and was “a bit of a martyr.” She married and divorced four times. “After the fourth failure, she stopped thinking a man would be the answer to her prayers,” Leider says. “That was a good thing. If it had happened earlier, it would have saved her a lot of grief.”
She found fewer acceptable roles as she aged, although she performed in the nationally touring production of Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park in the 1960s and appeared on Broadway in a 1973 revival of Clare Boothe Luce’s The Women. In 1991 she received an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement at the Academy Awards.
“Marital happiness eluded her,” Leider says, “but as an independent woman at the end of her life, she was quite content.”
-by June Bell
Madeline Schwartzman, adjunct professor of architecture, begins her introductory studio class in architecture with questions like: What if people only had one eye? What if our eyes were not horizontal? What if we blinked light instead of darkness? Architecture “is all about seeing and touching and sensing,” she says with such thoughtful calm, no doubt to provoke abandonment of stale ideas about structure and edifice. “And at some point I thought, ‘How can I teach these students design when they really don’t understand how they see and sense?’ So I decided to go fundamental,” she explains.
Every semester, the students in her section of “Architectural Representation: Perception” use plain materials to construct beautifully elaborate wearable machines that rearrange at least one of the senses. The sleeve with intricate scaffolding by Chester Dols (CC ’12) translates touch into hearing. Doreen Lam ’10 creates a headdress with huge, individually articulable chipboard eyelashes that accentuate the effect of hair and lash movement on vision. The projects highlight sense so much, Schwartzman explains, “that they give you a whole new pulse on it.”
See Yourself Sensing: Redefining Human Perception delineates hundreds of such trippy experiences. In place of student projects, the lavishly photographed, beautifully designed tome presents work “at the forefront of investigation”—in architecture, fine art, design, cybernetics, and neuroscience. And yet the aim remains the same: to transform viewer into participant. As with the 2001 Museum of Modern Art installation by environmental artist Olafur Eliasson from which the book takes its name, you do not just look at these pieces, you activate them. They, in turn, rearrange your senses (or some of them, anyway). The objects in See Yourself Sensing are quite literally mind-blowing.
“I’m not the straightest architect in the world,” Schwartzman notes with characteristic understatement. In the past two decades, her architectural work has mainly taken the form of experimental films, in which space is as much a character as the characters. “There are benefits and detractions to being a mixed-career person,” she continues. “The detractions are that you’re never making all the connections in one field. The benefits are when you see across fields. Somebody is doing this in art, somebody in film, and somebody in interactive design. I felt poised to see those connections for the book.”
Machine artist Erik Hobijn’s self-immolation device allows you to safely experience “something that usually leads to your death,” Schwartzman says with enthusiasm. There are many contraptions in See Yourself Sensing that you wouldn’t want to try on at home. On the other hand, physiological architecture team Lucy and Bart is working on biological clothing that will attune itself to your exact temperature needs by growing on you like lichen. You may look like the Swamp Thing, but you’ll never wear such comfortable clothes. For a more sober—and imperative—reassignment of bodily powers, there is neuroscientist Paul Bach-y-Rita’s BrainPort, by which the blind “see” with their tongues.
The social arena is the concern of artist-activist Krzysztof Wodiczko whose Dis-Armor aims to draw out socially awkward youth. A shy kid dons an enormous spaceman helmet that projects his face onto cameras harnessed to his back. Voilà—he can now communicate with the world. Of course, there is the minor detail of the übergeeky getup. The contrast between a machine’s cumbersome, plainly archaic appearance and its slick twenty-first century purpose is a source of comedy throughout the book. Graphic designer Soomi Park’s high-tech protest art, LED Eyelashes, manages to be both glamorous and goofy. It offers a flashy alternative to the number one plastic surgery procedure in Asia—blepharoplasty, or eyelid supplementation.
Other contributors are less interested in improving society than in representing it. With Coffee Seeks Its Own Level, artist and architect Allan Wexler highlights the social ecology of the coffee klatch. He has umblical-corded together four cups so that not only conversation but the coffee itself circulates around the table.
“All the projects ask, ‘Who are we?’” Schwartzman writes in one of the book’s several penetrating essays. “One thing is for sure: we are in flux.” Occasionally she wonders whether a project “makes us less human or more.” But it matters less to See Yourself Sensing that a device be utopian or dystopian, grow out of the body or leave it in the dust, than that it spur novel thinking about our bodies and selves.
Four years ago as she was beginning research for the book, Schwartzman sat down with Mark Wigley, dean of Columbia’s graduate school of architecture, to come up with a list of practitioners of this pioneering work. “Mark is great at brainstorming,” she says, “but we could only think of 10 people—fewer than 10.” A couple of years later, those numbers had grown exponentially. “Every day there were more. But nobody had done this book”—collating diffuse pockets of research across disciplines and the globe. “My big thing was, I have to get this work out.”
Why the sudden deluge of material? “Everything is neuroscience now,” Schwartzman explains. “Neuroscience and interactivity.” Although the most ubiquitous forms this obsession takes are smart technologies and medical research, art that involves science, the body, “and the quality of being alive,” Schwartzman adds in a low murmur, has also exploded. “I was on the cusp of a wave,” she says. And it has not stopped rolling in.
When Teresa Pelletier ’13 took a seat in an introductory biology survey course during her first days as a Barnard student, she was anxious. “I remember being really nervous the first day of classes, being away from home, and in the first big biology lecture,” she recalls.
Then a student got up at the front of the room and described a program called Supplemental Instruction, which offers semester-long assistance with introductory biology classes provided by fellow students. “I listened to some smiling Barnard upperclass members who introduced SI,” Pelletier says. “I attended my first session and found that it eased my tensions toward the class specifically and about the new college experience in general. I attended SI regularly, and it helped me so much.”
Pelletier, now an anthropology major, did well in the biology class and is helping other students in the same course by serving as an SI leader. The biology program is one of several extra-help programs offered at Barnard in conjunction with rigorous introductory science, economics, and math courses. These sessions are designed to make sure students get the assistance they need.
Created at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, SI has been adopted by hundreds of colleges nationwide and internationally. Staff members from participating schools attend training sessions in Kansas City and implement SI on their campuses. At Barnard, 12 SI sessions are offered per week for the classes it covers, “Introduction to Cell and Molecular Biology,” “Introduction to Organismal and Evolutionary Biology,” and “Molecular and Mendelian Genetics.” An average of 25 students attend each of the sessions, which are free. During its first two years, the program was funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Since 2009, it has been funded by the Altman Foundation. The techniques used in the biology department’s SI program (to date the only subject to receive institutional funding) “help students learn how to find answers to their questions on their own,” says Paul E. Hertz, acting provost and dean of the faculty and one of the biology professors who helped introduce SI to the department four years ago. “We found students were struggling with the material and not knowing how to approach their studies,” he explains.
SI uses creative approaches to help students grasp complex materials. “Students in these courses can feel overwhelmed, so we try to facilitate exploring the material in a hands-on way. Sometimes we’re even a little silly,” says Tali Azenkot ’13, who is one of seven SI biology leaders this semester.
Azenkot shows students a twisted scarf to demonstrate the appearance of coiled DNA. She asks students to make diagrams of the processes of the cell cycle called mitosis and meiosis, photocopies the diagrams, and staples them together to make flip books, so students can see how the cell processes work. “The students are teaching each other how they mastered complex material,” Hertz says.
Students who attend SI get better grades, according to statistics from Maria Giunta, the administrator for the biology department who coordinates SI. Last year the grades received by program participants were 14 percent higher on average than those of students who never attended SI. “These classes are very challenging, and the sessions really help,” Giunta says. Attendance is kept confidential, so students don’t feel there is a stigma to seeking extra help. Students find out about SI from e-mails sent during the first week of school and from visits to their classes by SI leaders.
The program “encourages students to work in groups and learn from each other, rather than struggle on their own,” says Natalie Howlett, a member of the Class of 2010 and SI leader who works as a laboratory specialist in the biology department. It also helps them see “that science classes don’t have to be stressful—they can be rewarding and even fun.” Not to mention the possibility of encouraging future majors in science.
For help with several introductory and intermediate courses in chemistry and physics, the Office of the Dean of Studies Academic Assistance Program offers workshop rooms that provide assistance from upperclass students several nights a week. Up to 450 students per year use the rooms. “It’s a constant source of support available for students if they have questions,” says Adjua Starks, assistant dean of studies and dean for academic assistance.
Tutoring in small groups for courses in biology, economics, and math also is available for a fee through the Dean of Studies’ office. Students pay on a sliding scale; some pay nothing. The math department also offers help rooms staffed by professors, graduate students, and undergraduate teaching assistants that are open several hours a day, says Walter Neumann, the chair of mathematics.
For Azenkot, attending SI sessions when she was a first-year “really made a difference. I had never taken an advanced placement science course, and a lot of the material in introductory biology can be overwhelming,” she says. “SI really changed the experience—it made the information seem a lot more accessible and exciting.” The material proved so intriguing for Azenkot that, though she came to Barnard intending to major in economics, she is now a biology major. “SI definitely influenced my decision,” she affirms.
Her profile on the history department’s Web site notes that Professor Rosalind Rosenberg “specializes in American history, with special focus on women’s, social and legal history.” In fact, Rosenberg is a crucial part of Barnard’s history—having joined the faculty in 1984, the year after Columbia College went coed. “It was a time of exciting discussion,” she recalls. “I was impressed by the strong sense of community at Barnard and the dedication of the faculty and staff to each other, to the students, and to women in general.
“We had a pioneering women’s center and women’s studies department. We made gender a central concern in our first-year seminars as well as in courses across the curriculum.”
Over the past 27 years, in addition to the history department, Rosenberg has also taught in the departments of women’s, gender and sexuality studies, and American studies. In 1992 (revised in 2008), her book Divided Lives: American Women in the Twentieth Century was published. Her 2004 book, Changing the Subject: How the Women of Columbia Shaped the Way We Think About Sex and Politics, is the most comprehensive look at the roles various women played in the history of the university and how they affected women throughout academia and American society.
“In the late 1990s, my colleague Bob McCaughey asked me to participate in a university seminar on the history of the university in anticipation of the 250th anniversary of Columbia in 2004. I wrote a paper on the woman question at Columbia. In conducting my research for it, I was startled to discover that Columbia had produced more female PhDs than any other university in the country, including many that were far larger. I wanted to understand how that happened, so I decided to write a book about it,” Rosenberg says.
When she approached Columbia archivists, she was presented a single file folder marked “Women at Columbia.” She adds, “It was not a topic that really had engaged anybody’s interest.”
Rosenberg spent several years researching, interviewing, and organizing the information. Much of the material she unearthed is now part of the university’s archives. “Women are so often overlooked, forgotten, or misunderstood,” she says.
“It seems as though every couple of years, some news magazine runs a story about the death of feminism or women giving up on careers. I take it as my responsibility to set the record straight on that subject, in my classes and in my writing.”
Her impact on the history department at Barnard extends beyond her own areas of specialization. As its chair from 1987–1990, and again in 1998–2000, she helped strengthen the department by encouraging the hiring of professors who taughtsubjects other than American and European history. “I wanted our own department to reflect the world, so we began to hire in Latin American, African, and Asian history,” she says. “This is a college for women, so we hired faculty who showed a strong interest in working with women and advancing their interests. We also looked for faculty who cared as much about teaching and advising students as they did about their research.”
In addition to teaching at Barnard, Rosenberg, a member of the executive board of the Society of American Historians, has taught graduate courses at Columbia, and she says wherever the classroom is, students keep her motivated. Her youngest student was 16 and her oldest was 74. She has also loved working with Columbia’s Lifelong Learners Program for individuals 65 and older interested in auditing courses.
Her life and teaching have been impacted by the amazing women she has met and worked with, including longtime Barnard sociology professor Mirra Komarovsky; they first met when Rosenberg was an assistant professor of history at Columbia from 1974–82. “Mirra’s books were a major influence on me as a graduate student and shaped my understanding of women’s lives in the post-World War II period,” she says. “I tried to get Mirra to do an interview with me for the Columbia Oral History Project, but she always refused. Fortunately, her younger sister, Dolly, saved her papers. I was able to interview Dolly after Mirra died [in 1999], and that interview helped me greatly in writing Changing the Subject.”
Although Rosenberg’s official retirement date is December 31, 2011, she will be back on campus in the fall of 2012 to teach. This year she is focused on research and writing for her biography of Pauli Murray, a civil-rights advocate, feminist, lawyer, writer, poet, teacher, and clergywoman. “Time to make progress on this book,” says Rosenberg, which she began in 1994.
Turning 65 earlier this year, she feels it’s right for her to officially “retire,” but she eagerly looks forward to the continuous inspiration she receives from Barnard students. “They are so energetic and have so many great ideas,” she says. “I’m sure that I learn more from them than they learn from me. It’s wonderful to see their intellectual curiosity and their enthusiasm for life.”
Scholar, teacher, novelist, poet, and translator, and in the past five years, a painter with several exhibits to his credit, Professor Serge Gavronsky has spent 51 creative and productive years at Barnard in the French department and will retire—only “officially” that is—on December 31, 2011. “The reason I’ve been here for so many years is a question of enormous admiration for my students without whom I believe I probably would have retired years ago,” he says with a firmness not be questioned. The professor adds that only people unfamiliar with Barnard ask how students have changed since he began teaching in 1960. “We had brilliant students 50 years ago ... and that has not changed,” he affirms. “Barnard has given them the intellectual and emotional material allowing them to move forward after graduation.”
Most of Gavronsky’s life has been spent on Morningside Heights. Born in Paris to Russian parents, the family moved to the United States in 1941, fleeing Hitler. He attended Columbia College then received both a master’s degree and PhD from Columbia. “As an undergraduate, I was accepted in an illustrious seminar conducted by Jacques Barzun and Lionel Trilling. It was because of them and an ‘A’ paper I wrote, that they convinced me to go on for a PhD in history.” The paper, “The French Liberal Opposition and the American Civil War,” went on to become a book that explored Napoleon III’s official support of the Confederacy and the Liberal Opposition’s affirmation of the Union.
In 1960, Gavronsky began teaching at the College—his first teaching position—as a part-time instructor. The following year he taught an ambitious two-semester course on “The Writing of French History from the Middle Ages to de Gaulle.” In 1975, he became chair of the French department, bringing fresh perspectives and energy to the position, which he held until 2001.
He initiated two curricular developments: translation and literature, and French and Francophone studies, a literary and ideological movement first developed in Martinique and Senegal in the 1930s by black intellectuals and poets. These thinkers and their writings strengthened and affirmed black identity with their poetry and political activities. Over the years, he brought influential thinkers and writers to the campus—organizing Thursday meetings to which he invited people like Anaïs Nin and Susan Sontag. Gavronsky says, with a puckish smile, the only part of being department chair that made him uneasy was doing the budget: a lack of mathematical capacities made that a challenge, and someone in accounting always assisted him.
In addition to teaching, Gavronsky has been published extensively—poetry in French and English as well as 19 livres d’artiste and criticism. His first novel, The German Friend, dealing with politics, terrorism, and sexual intrigue, was published in 1982, and translated into Italian; the Italian translation featured a preface by Harold Bloom. His most recent novel is The Sudden Death of Serge Gavronsky, and he is currently working on a new novel. His scholarly works include two studies, Francis Ponge: The Sun Placed in the Abyss (1977) and Francis Ponge and the Power of Language (1979) about the French essayist and poet who worked mainly in the first half of the twentieth century, and was celebrated for seemingly fusing the two literary forms into prose poetry that eschewed symbolism and sentimentality. His latest translation and preface is Essential Poems and Writings (2008) by Joyce Mansour.
The professor has been the recipient of some of the most prestigious academic awards: In 1979, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, one year later, there was a Camargo Foundation Fellowship. In 1990, he received a Mellon Faculty Grant for outstanding teaching. He was also honored by the French government, which named him Officier dans l’ordre des Palmes académiques in 1991.
While Gavronsky is not teaching a course this semester, he will lead a seminar for graduating French majors in the spring. “I’m going to give them a great deal of liberty,” he says. “I will remind them of the major tracks—language, literature, translation, and French studies—and let each one decide which one they wish to concentrate upon.” He adds, “I’ve never done that before, but they will share each other’s papers. As a result, they will not only learn from their own papers, but will be enriched by the others. I’m looking forward to that and I think I’ll become very sentimental at the end of the seminar.”
Unsure what the future will hold, Gavronsky does not believe retirement means finality. Ever since a former art student, Constance Lane ’77, knocked on his door about five years ago and encouraged him to paint, he’s had two one-man shows in Manhattan and another in Brooklyn, and took part a group show in Brooklyn. An abstract expressionist who likes to work in acrylics, he says, with a classic Gallic shrug, “I refuse to look into my glass ball and predict.”
-Lois Elfman ’80
While strolling from Barnard Hall toward Lehman Lawn, visitors may notice a new marble bench engraved with such provocative statements as, “An elite is inevitable,” “It’s crucial to have an active fantasy life,” and “Push yourself to the limit as often as possible.” More than an eyebrow-raising resting spot, the bench, Selections From Truisms (Abuse of power comes...), is the work of Jenny Holzer, the award-winning American conceptual artist who focuses on the use of words and ideas in public spaces. The work is a gift from trustee emerita and art-history major Virginia “Jinny” Bloedel Wright ’51, a noted collector and patron.
“This is Barnard’s first major piece of artwork. As a world-class, provocative sculpture, the Holzer bench is a perfect addition to Barnard’s campus and well-aligned with Barnard’s mission of educating women to think and speak out,” says Lois Champy ’67, trustee and chair of the College’s Art and Design Advisory Council, recently formed and dedicated to enhancing aesthetics on campus.
Says Wright, who is also a member of the advisory council, “I loved my education here, so it seemed like it would be nice to give a piece back to the school, to put on the campus. I thought a work by a woman artist, that could be situated outside, would be perfect. I hope the students will take in the texts, that [they] will cause dialogue and argument and discourse.”
Wright has often credited Barnard for inspiring her love of art; it is her mission to share that passion. In a recent Wall Street Journal article highlighting her generosity to Barnard and the art world, she recalled studying under “legendary art historian Julius Held, whom she calls a ‘charismatic, wonderful professor, … a great influence on many, many students.’”
For Wright, this influence grew into a lifelong commitment to supporting the arts. The former owner of Current Editions Gallery in Seattle, Wright joined the board of the Seattle Art Museum in 1959 and founded its Contemporary Art Council. The Virginia B. Wright Art History Prize is awarded to promising Barnard seniors who major in art history. Her late husband, Bagley, in honor of their 50th wedding anniversary, established the Virginia Bloedel Wright ’51 Professor of Art History presently held by Alexander Alberro.
In May, just after the Holzer bench was installed on campus, Wright attended Commencement with her daughter Merrill Wright ’77 to see her granddaughter, Ava Potter, graduate with the Class of 2011’s art-history majors. At the ceremony, Professor Alberro presented Holzer with the Barnard Medal of Distinction; afterward the family joined the sculptor, President Debora Spar, trustees, and faculty from the art history department for a special dedication ceremony.
“Jinny Wright’s generosity has been instrumental in maintaining the high quality of Barnard’s art-history program and the Holzer sculpture is a part of that generosity,” said Professor Alberro. “The bench adds several dimensions to our campus. It is a point of interest for the Barnard community, and it will also attract people to campus to enjoy art. This piece is meant to be in public. It’s not just to look at and contemplate. It has an architectural component, and it is utilitarian.”
Holzer created the bench in 1987, as part of her “Truisms…” series, for which she compiled statements and aphorisms (“truisms”) and put them forward in various materials. Holzer’s recent use of text ranges from silk-screened paintings ofdeclassified government memoranda detailing prisoner abuse, to poetry and prose in a 65-foot-wide wall of light in the lobby of 7 World Trade Center. Since 1996, Holzer has organized public light projections in cities worldwide. Her work has been exhibited at major museums including Berlin’s Neue Nationalgalerie in 2001; Houston’s Contemporary Arts Museum in 1997; and New York City’s Dia Art Foundation (1989), Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (1989), and Whitney Museum of American Art in 2009.
- by Alyssa Vine
It is 9:30 on a bright morning in early autumn, but as is his usual style, Bret Silver has been diligently at work for more than an hour. He’s drafted a report on yesterday’s meeting with a potential donor; reviewed the College’s revenue charts; prepared for a board committee meeting; and tinkered with the finishing touches on an operating plan for the fiscal year.
As the new vice president of development at Barnard, working closely with the Board of Trustees and President Debora Spar, Silver is charged with overseeing the possibility of an ambitious capital campaign, with the goal of substantially increasing Barnard’s current endowment of $210 million. Elevating Barnard’s financial position through a capital campaign would enable the College to give greater support to its values and ambitions, such as enhanced financial aid, more endowed chairs, and physical-plant improvements. The College lags behind peer institutions, with sister schools Smith and Wellesley boasting endowments of $1.2 billion and $1.3 billion respectively. Silver notes, “Many institutions never leave campaign mode. In contrast, it’s been several years since Barnard completed its last capital campaign, which injects a large infusion of cash into the school’s endowment.”
Though he’s still familiarizing himself with Barnard, and with the academic community overall, Silver conveys a calm confidence. “Fund-raising is about interpreting the current vision of the College,” he says. “It’s about making people who haven’t been here for a while excited about supporting it.”
Silver is neither new to fund-raising nor to challenges. Since graduating from Colgate University in 1988 with a degree in history, he’s worked in development for three of New York City’s most prestigious artistic venues: Carnegie Hall, The Whitney Museum of American Art, and most recently, Jazz at Lincoln Center.
In the months since he began work at Barnard in June, Silver has conducted “a listening tour,” he says, engaging faculty, absorbing the vision of President Spar, and talking with students about how the institution transforms their lives. He’s also spent a fair amount of time off campus, meeting with current donors and other friends of the College. Silver notes, “the College will be well served by broadening its sight,” expanding its notion of the “logical constituency” to include not only parents, but also grandparents of students, as well as people outside the United States. “People who have watched students being transformed, enriched, and touched by Barnard—these people are part of our family,” he adds.
He also suggests reaching out to “individuals and companies for whom the unique work of the College is relevant. There are many corporations and organizations that care deeply about investing in the strength of young women.” And conversely, he explains, Barnard occupies a niche of sorts, with very few organizations like it.
Silver also would like to focus more heavily on international potential. “Our sisters and brothers have been doing this quite intently for a while,” he says. Together with Spar, Silver plans to visit Hong Kong and Seoul in December.
Though he doesn’t mention it immediately, Silver first fell in love with Columbia University some 20-odd years ago. During his junior year at Colgate, when friends ventured off to Japan and France, Silver moved to New York City. Columbia College, where he reveled in the vibration of urban life around the college experience, was “by far my favorite semester of my college years,” he recalls.
You might think that Silver, who minored in music at Colgate, would miss the energy of the arts, but no. And, if he is anxious about his mission and mandate in higher education, he doesn’t express it. His corner office overlooks a serene, otherworldly part of Manhattan: Morningside Heights with views of Union Theological Seminary, and, between apartment houses, vistas of Riverside Park. In the process of being personalized, his office space has yet to display his individual stamp—with the exception of a small blue Barnard bear “bank” on a long polished wood table, a continuous reminder of the task at hand.
- by Elicia Brown ’90
During summer break, arriving at work by 7 a.m. sounds less than thrilling, but for Barnard anthropology majors Julianne Maeda ’12 and Madeline Landry ’13, the early hour was worth it. For eight weeks, they participated in an archaeological project 10 years in the making in New York City’s Central Park—the excavation of portions of Seneca Village. The African-American and immigrant community was displaced in the 1850s when the park was created. Spearheaded by Nan Rothschild, professor of anthropology, and her colleagues Cynthia Copeland (New York University) and Diana diZerega Wall (CUNY), the project employed student interns with no archaeological field experience. “We are interested not just in excavation but in education,” says Rothschild, stressing the importance of students learning the process of archaeology as a scientific endeavor. Interns from several colleges representing disciplines as diverse as biology and history also participated.
Barnard recently added an archaeology concentration to its anthropology program, and a fieldwork component is compulsory. However, students Maeda and Landry were motivated by more than meeting a requirement. Both enjoy urban archaeology, and emphasized the fact that the dig was about focusing on the lives of everyday people. Maeda became interested in archaeology after taking introductory courses. “You get to work outside, with other people,” she says. Landry caught the archaeology bug while attending a forum held by the Philadelphia Archaeology Society, and decided to pursue a course of study at Barnard. “I stumbled upon the Seneca Village project, and it all fell into place,” she adds.
Approximately 1,600 people were evicted when Central Park was created. Seneca Village was a recognized community in the area. “They had a school and three churches,” explains Rothschild. The origins of the village’s name are uncertain, but it may have been named after the Roman philosopher Seneca because of his views on slavery, as Seneca Village was home to some abolitionists. During the park’s development, the village was portrayed as a shanty-town, ripe for razing. As scholars discovered, there were maps, census and tax records, among other documents, proving otherwise. African Americans and other immigrant groups lived there and owned property. “We’ve used the project to shed light on major misconceptions that people had about this community one very specific idea of this community and now we can go back and bring dignity to the people [of Seneca Village],” said Maeda.
After one week in the classroom, students set out into the field. A typical day began with everyone meeting in Central Park to pick up equipment and transport it to the site. Students worked in groups of two to four, digging layer by layer in 1-meter squares until they hit bedrock or sterile soil, a layer that contains no human artifacts. “It’s a slow process but really fun,” said Maeda. Everything was recorded on a sheet and sketches were made. “For every stratum, you have a collection of artifacts and a sheet where you log everything. You draw an aerial view and a profile view of the four walls and every little rock and root—it’s very exacting,” remarks Landry.
Eight weeks of fieldwork yielded more than 200 bags of artifacts. Among the items found were metal sheeting that may be roofing and nails from village homes. A leather shoe was uncovered, as well as coins. Shards of plates can be dated by the patterns on them. Artifacts are being examined at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Columbia, and CUNY, among other places. Although discovering material evidence is always exciting, Maeda reminds that it is not all about artifacts, “It’s a lot more than what you find in the ground. There’s a lot you can learn from pollen samples, ground surfaces—more than [you might from] ‘nice pots.’” Cattle, sheep, and goat bones were also found, indicating that villagers were raising, using, or consuming animals typical of a period middle-class community.
The Seneca Village dig faced the challenges of any urban archaeological project in a major public space. For safety and security purposes, the park required the interns to line each unit with plastic sheeting every Friday and to fill in the holes, which they had to dig out again on Monday. They also had to be careful about telling passers-by what they were doing. As Landry explains, “People always had questions but it was tricky because we wanted to engage the public but also did not want it to catch on. If we had been overrun with publicity we wouldn’t have been able to work effectively.” The team also worried about looting or disturbance of the site. Says Landry, “When anyone came up to us, our tag line was ‘We’re doing a project on the history of the park before it was a park.’” Still, everyone felt it was worthwhile and exciting to share the project with the people of New York City (an open house was held for visitors in August). Outreach within schools has taken place. Rothschild and her colleagues want to see Seneca Village brought into the College’s curriculum and into classrooms in schools, colleges, and beyond.
The site is now closed, spaces have been filled and grass has been planted. There are no plans to dig in the near future, but there is enough excavated material on which to focus. The fieldwork is done, but the lab work is getting started, according to Rothschild. As students, Maeda and Landry look back on the dig as a unique opportunity to gain insight into archaeology through a hands-on approach. “There’s no way to know what you’re going to find until you actually do it. You can’t prepare yourself for it in the classroom,” said Maeda. Landry agreed, “It’s so tactile, so physical and something you really have to learn by doing.”
-Stephanie Shestakow ’98
From her earliest days growing up in the segregated South to her posts as a correspondent for the PBS’s The NewsHour, and as a special correspondent with National Public Radio based in Johannesburg, global correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault has been drawn to the stories of powerful women. At the age of 12, Hunter-Gault knew she wanted to be a journalist. Her career has taken her to some of the most prestigious news outlets in the United States, such as Newsweek, The New Yorker, and The New York Times as its Harlem bureau chief. But she is best known for her long career at PBS and as the familiar voice bringing listeners news from Africa for NPR.
In September, Kathryn Kolbert, Constance Hess Williams ’66 Director of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies at Barnard, introduced Hunter-Gault as the first speaker at this academic year’s Power Talks, a series sponsored by the center that engages today’s leaders in conversation on provocative topics of the moment. In her talk, “From Closed Doors to Open Roads: A Journalist’s Journey,” Hunter-Gault relayed the crucial—and often overlooked—role that women play in politics and civil society around the globe. She spoke about growing up in Covington, Georgia, while Jim Crow laws still prevailed. Her school textbooks were hand-me-downs from white schools, often with pages missing. “That drove me crazy,” she said, “because I was a reader.” School playgrounds were tarred, burning the soles of children’s feet during hot weather. “Separate was definitely not equal,” she recalled.
To make up for these shortcomings, families held annual fund-raisers for the school. The son or daughter of the family that brought in the most money was made the event’s king or queen. One year young Charlayne was crowned queen. “The notion of being a queen took up residence in my head,” she said. She carried that feeling with her as she met with additional challenges.
It served her well as the first African-American woman enrolled at the University of Georgia and the school’s first African-American graduate. As she walked past heckling white students on her way to class, Hunter-Gault held fast to the image of herself wearing her crown.
As a young adult in the civil-rights movements, Hunter-Gault saw how much women contributed. They were not only on the frontlines of civil disobedience actions and marches, they also worked behind the scenes, transcribing meeting minutes, stuffing envelopes, and sweeping the office floors. She chronicled these formative experiences in the South in her autobiography In My Place.
As a correspondent from Africa, she found the continent’s struggles tightly interwoven with the story of the women living there. “The poorest of the poor in Africa are women,” she told the audience. Hunter-Gault has worked hard to make sure that Americans hear more than the typical storyline of war, famine, and disease. “African women are not standing still while horrible things are happening around them,” she said. There are numerous examples of women working to make a difference: the presidency of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia; the humanitarian work of Graça Mandela on behalf of Sudanese women; the political achievements of Asha-Rose Migiro of Tanzania who now serves as the deputy secretary-general of the United Nations; and most recently, the very public faces of women protestors of the Arab Spring. “I am convinced that solutions to Africa’s problems will come out of Africa,” said Hunter-Gault.
The brain I brought to Barnard was a sponge and a bird in a cage.
It was a sponge, yearning to know everything (except, maybe, math and science) and desperate to be in the presence of women whose lives were not mired in domesticity. I knew female intellectuals existed because I was a reader, but I had never met one. My own mother, smart and college-educated, able to quote Shakespeare by heart, was defeated by the social world Betty Friedan described in the The Feminine Mystique. My young brain craved more.
And got more. Barnard gave me a role model in an unmarried first-year English teacher hypnotized by the history of ideas, whose sustenance, as I saw it, was in reading, writing, and talking about books. It gave me poets and scholars, critics, art history, American studies, varieties of psychological theory, delivered by Colies, Ulanovs, Kowenhovens, and others in a veritable four-year flood.
But my brain was a bird in a cage, too. The puffy sponge of it had limits because it belonged to a female head, a female body, a woman’s life. In spite of the first-year English teacher, whose published work was about the Renaissance philosopher Erasmus, women were not the makers of these wonders of intellectual life, only teachers of them. You could go all the way to a PhD in literature at Columbia University and never read a woman writer. And “writer” was what my brain was whispering to me at night, flapping its wings against the bars.
Fast forward a decade. Ten years out of college and graduate school, a brainstorm swept me: Second Wave Feminism. The Women’s Movement. The storm, which became a hurricane, was so ferocious that it flung open the doors of my cage and I can still hear them banging in the whirlwind. And its eye, this liberating storm’s center, was right where I’d started—116th Street and Broadway.
At Columbia, Kate Millett exposed the woman-hating heart of some beloved male writers in her dissertation, sponsored there by two brave gentlemen on the English department faculty. The fact that sexual politics caused a great public stir was less meaningful to me than the very idea that one could think these thoughts, say and write these rebellious words, and still get a degree. On a rising tide, the Barnard Center for Research on Women won administrative support, after a hard-fought campaign—at a women’s college!
I sat in a room full of cigarette-smoking, energetic female intellectuals drafting a petition to Columbia to add a seminar on women to the prestigious roster of interdepartmental university seminars. In those rarefied meetings, experts met to discuss commas in Shakespeare or, I’m serious, “the nose in literature.” I couldn’t concentrate on the words for the petition, so loud was the babble in the room. “Quiet!” I said, ineffectually. “Did Virginia Woolf have to write under these conditions?” “No,” came the answer. “But Emma Goldman did.” And so opened yet another door, this one into the idea that my Barnard brain and the words it made had many kinds of uses.
By the time my unfettered brain turned 50, having absorbed a second flood of information and inspiration, it directed me to rid my bookshelves of anything purporting to be a complete survey—English literature, the colonial period in America—that did not include women. They simply no longer told the truth about the world. Piloted by that subversive organ in my head, I navigated onward, ’til my 50th Barnard reunion, a day of reckoning.
The thirsty brain I brought to campus is forced by time to acknowledge there are things I will never know, choose not to learn—the intricacies of Middle East politics, calculus. It tells me to start tap-dancing lessons, dig deeper into women’s history, and that, as a Barnard graduate, it matters much what I will do next. The cage is gone. As Dorothy Sayers wrote in her life’s last year: “Time and trouble will tame an advanced young woman, but an advanced old woman is uncontrollable by any earthly force.”
-by Louise Bernikow
Louise Bernikow has authored nine books and innumerable shorter pieces. Now at work on the history of the woman suffrage campaign in New York City, she will give a talk here next spring on sisters divided in that campaign—Annie Nathan Meyer and Maud Nathan.
Hudson River Park, Pier 26, New York City (2011) by Margaret Dessau ’68
Photograph from A Portfolio: Behind & Beyond Surface