Remembrance of Barnard Things Past

We’ve been collecting memories of alumnae about their Barnard days. Everything—from recollections of life-changing moments to pages from journals—has been posted to our 125th anniversary website.

By Abigail Beshkin

Illustrations by Sarah Burwash

Recalling Annie Nathan Meyer

Victoria Hughes Reiss ’41

Between my third and fourth years at Barnard, I lived in Woods Hole, Mass., taking care of the children of a doctor’s family, the Reznikoffs, who were spending the summer there. We lived around the corner from Annie Nathan and Alfred Meyer and saw them frequently; Mrs. Meyer enjoyed talking to me, a current student of the College she founded.

She had a reputation for being very outspoken, so I don’t think it would be unseemly for me to relate now, over seven decades later, one incident that I remember well. Toward the end of the summer of 1940, the Reznikoffs had a big party, inviting many members of that big medical community who summered there. Mrs. Reznikoff asked me to help serve and she had purchased a maid’s uniform for me to wear. She said that it would make it easier for guests to know that I could help them. I didn’t mind since it made sense and also I was very fond of the Reznikoff family. However, Annie Nathan Meyer was outraged, and she told me that she was embarrassed to see me put in such a position. A college woman shouldn’t be asked to wear a maid’s uiform.

Well, Mrs. Meyer wisely didn’t voice her opinion to everyone, and the Reznikoffs were used to her outspoken ways. Dr. Meyer, a very gentle man, was somewhat deaf but heard enough of the conversation to say, “Now Annie, now Annie,” as he did whenever she embarked on a tirade. The Reznikoffs became lifelong friends of mine.

 

A Mysterious Cloud of Green Gas

Nora Robell ’48

We entered in September 1944, and looking at the newspaper headlines, we saw they had dropped the atom bomb on Japan. I was a chemistry major, and the lab windows faced across Broadway to Columbia. We noticed every time we came in in the afternoon that there would be some kind of vapor from a slot in [one of ]the buildings, and it looked like a pennant, flying, wafting in the breeze. It was as though it was made up of pea-soup green particles. And I heard afterwards that Robert Oppenheimer was supposed to be working on the atomic bomb there. Maybe this might have been some of the stuff that was coming out of [that] laboratory.

 

 

How a Visit to the Barnard Placement Office Gave Me My Life’s Direction (For Better or Worse)

Joan Sweet Jankell ’58

It’s the start of senior year, and we’re encouraged to visit the placement office to discuss where we think we’re going. Like many English majors, I thought I’d like publishing, but to give myself a gimmick, I said I’d like to publish children’s books. The placement officer said “How about being a children’s librarian?” I said “Who, me?” But she had a plan: the American Library Association was hosting a panel of librarians to explain the field to college placement officers. Barnard was the only school to bring along students. I think five of us went. I know one classmate who definitely became a librarian (in academia). I went to Columbia’s library-science program for my master’s and worked for the New York Public Library as a children’s librarian for 40 years and an adult specialist and supervisor for seven more. I never forgot the children’s librarian on the panel holding up The Biggest Bear by Lynd Ward and explaining where the author got his inspiration for the picture of the bear that almost capsizes the rowboat. That’s how Barnard gave me my career.

 

Pages From the Past

Madeline Walsh Hamblin ’64

During my four years at Barnard, I kept a daily journal. Thus far, I have reread the first year of the journal and hope, by my comments below, to capture some of our first year. I was from a small town in Wisconsin and was quite unprepared for both the intellectual intensity of my Barnard classmates and the immensity of the city. I wasn’t sure Barnard was right for me, but by the end of the first year, I wrote, “I think I like Barnard after all.”

Barnard Related

  • Arrival at Barnard on 9/18/60. Assigned to 8th floor of Hewitt Hall in a tiny garret room meant as a single but with bunk beds and a roommate
  • Posture exam which included wearing a dickey
  • Speech tests which involved reading an Aesop’s fable 
  • Placement tests
  • Will Herzberg lecture to freshmen on “Conformity and Authenticity on Campus”
  • Mrs. McIntosh talk and reception
  • Parietal hours 11 on week nights and midnight on weekends unless special permission granted
  • Two weekend passes a month
  • Salter’s Book Store
  • Tak-Home for late-night forays for food
  • Four-hour Wednesday zoology lab
  • Walks in Riverside Park
  • Snowball fight with Columbia “boys”
  • Dr. Nelson and the obligatory physical exam (urine specimen, hemoglobin and TB testing) with pronouncement, “You are a very healthy girl.”
  • Greek Games (250 participants) with at 50/50 tie between freshmen and sophomores
  • Much studying
  • Much babysitting for spending money

Costs

  • 30 cents for subway ride
  • $1.95 for NY Ballet ticket
  • $3.80 for ticket for the play Becket
  • 80 cents an hour for babysitting
  • $1.69 for blouse at Klein’s
  • 99 cents for jerkin
  • $3.19 for a Greek bag
  • five cents for Staten Island ferry

Barnard Bacchantae:The Beginning

Margarita “Ari” Brose ’84

I came to Barnard wanting to sing, and found a chorus to sing with my first week of school, the Columbia University Glee Club. It was all men, because Columbia was still an all-male college. But the group had a good tradition of women singing the first- and second-tenor parts, so I was happy to audition as a first tenor. We had a great conductor, and I liked all my fellow women tenors, including classmates Beth Knobel and Mary Reiner, and upperclasswomen, Cathy Schwartz, Clare Delmar, Bev Weintraub, and Betsy Thorne, among others. In my sophomore year, the conductor suggested we Glee Club women get together and sing a song for one of our alumni concerts during our spring tour. He gave us some music, we practiced, and then performed it at one of those concerts.

A few of us liked the idea of singing together as women (although we also enjoyed singing with our men friends), and as an organizer type of person, I made sure we got together to practice and sing the following year. We decided to form our own a capella group on campus and I suggested the name Barnard Bacchantae. I had gone to a summer dance camp as a child and the different age groups were named after Greek gods and goddesses; one year I had been a “Bacchantae.” My Barnard classmates quickly saw the value of a name reminiscent of the Barnard Greek Games and one our members, Peggy Hong, came up with the tag line “Vinum, Viri, et Cantus” or “wine, men, and song.” (Or does Beth Knobel get credit for that? I don’t remember.)

We were the only women’s a capella group on campus at the time, although it would not take too many years for that to change (especially after Columbia went coed in 1983). We performed at reunions, the John Jay Yule Log Ceremony, Brooks Lounge, and for exchange concerts with other women’s schools. I often tell the story of our performing at the Furnald Folk Fest on the same night that our fellow alumna and emerging pop/folk star, Suzanne Vega ’82, performed. (I’m sure she sang Tom’s Diner that night.)

 We struggled to find a Barnard alma mater, or any song that would work as a Barnard College song. In my senior year, a song was commissioned to be the official Barnard song, but never stuck. Bacchantae still sings College on a Hilltop, which we revived as the school’s alma mater.

 I love that Bacchantae is still singing on campus 32 years later. I loved being part of a small group of women (almost all of whom I now keep in touch with on Facebook across the U.S. and three continents), and it makes me feel good to know that women still want to perform together, and want to be part of a special group representing Barnard. And guess what? My Bacchantae/Glee Club women still love singing the Columbia University/College songs with our Columbia College classmates! Roar, Lion, Roar!

Beyond the Magnolia Tree

Shinequa Watkins ’11

Barnard was not just a place [where] I received a great education and learned life lessons along the way; I am blessed for all the phenomenal woman I met. Each professor, classmate, and college staff member invested in my mental, collegiate, and physical well-being. Along the way, each has comforted me in a time of distress, shared a smile, and inspired me in their respective ways. I was not only prepared to tackle the world head-on academically, I had the poise, the confidence, and well-rounded sense that helped me adapt to every opportunity and obstacle I faced after graduation day. I look back and cherish those memories with classmates underneath the magnolia tree, those times I hung onto the every word of my professors and guest speakers that shared experiences, knowledge, and encouraged me to excel. Although the campus is beautiful, my favorite place was the Barnard bookstore, where I worked for all four years. It was the place to share with prospects and families just how amazing Barnard was and all it had to offer, a place to reach out to younger classes and “show them the ropes” and reassure them it would all be okay. Celina Kelly ’09 and Breanna Bartley ’10 were those women for me as a frosh. I am ever grateful to be loved by, and to learn from, these ladies. I emulated them in the following years, dragging people into the store for the latest Barnard-chic apparel and to see how life within the iron gates was treating them. Perhaps a biased statement, but true nonetheless, Barnard is the best place in New York City. Tucked away in Morningside Heights, Barnard is a safe place that fosters individuality, respect for difference, educates according to a high standard, and builds your confidence to be the woman you’re meant to be!

 

Thankful for a Holiday on Campus

Jo Chiang ’15

One of my favorite memories of Barnard actually happened last year, during Thanksgiving. A bunch of my friends lived in Cathedral Gardens, and we decided to collaborate and work together to make a huge Thanksgiving feast for all of us. So, I was living in Plimpton with my suitemates, and we made three pies. We had chicken—a whole chicken; we had mashed potatoes, we had asparagus, we just had a humongous spread. And we all took it to Cathedral Gardens, and sat together and had a wonderful Thanksgiving meal, and it was just so lovely.