Barnard is the only college for women — and one of only a few liberal arts colleges in the country — to offer NCAA Division I athletics. But long before the founding of the Columbia-Barnard Athletic Consortium, a unique agreement in which Barnard and Columbia students compete together, and the passage of Title IX in 1972, which prohibits sex discrimination in any educational program or activity receiving federal financial aid, Barnard students found opportunities to seriously engage in athletics.
In 1896, seven years after the College was founded, students created a bicycle club. Intercollegiate competition began in 1902, but was replaced by intramural sports (internal competition) in 1926. In addition to track and field, archery, volleyball, and tennikoit (a tennis-like game played with a rubber ring instead of a ball), intramurals included week-long Greek Games events featuring competitions in a wide range of activities, from poetry to dance to chariot racing (in which students played horses).
It wasn’t until the 1970s that intercollegiate competition resurfaced, thanks to the passage of Title IX, a surge of interest in sports in the culture, ongoing negotiations between Columbia and Barnard over merging, and action on the part of Barnard students who voted to appropriate $10,000 of their student activity fees to sponsor three intercollegiate teams: swimming, basketball, and volleyball. But these teams — known collectively as the Barnard Bears — and others that followed in the years between 1975 and 1983, were hampered for years by a lack of funding (the basketball and volleyball teams even shared uniforms). But the determination and passion of the Barnard Bears made them a natural springboard from which to begin Columbia’s women’s program after Columbia College went co-ed in 1983. That year, under the leadership of President Ellen Futter, the two schools signed an agreement for Barnard students to play on Columbia’s Division I teams, and athletic equity was reached.
To mark the 35th anniversary of the Columbia-Barnard Athletic Consortium, and to celebrate Women’s History Month, Barnard hosted an event on March 11, “Beyond the Game: Women, Sports, and Competition.” Among the panelists was Judie Lomax ’10, the first-ever women’s basketball player to lead the NCAA in rebounds per game for two consecutive seasons and the first player in Columbia’s history to be named the Ivy League Women's Basketball Player of the Year.
As part of this celebration, we offer here a look back at five remarkable members of the Barnard community. Their experiences in Barnard athletics shaped not only their lives but the athletics landscape on campus.
Trudi Patrick ’17
The highlight reel of Trudi Patrick’s college swimming career begins with her first year on the Columbia team, when she broke the school record in the 200 meter butterfly and was part of the first team in the swimming program’s history to go undefeated in the dual meet season (in dual meets, only two schools compete against one another). She was one of a select group to attend the Ivy League swimming championships during each of her four years, competed at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and the 2015 Pan Am Games, and served as team captain her senior year. “It was really a great time in my life,” she says.
Her personal highlights include sharing meals with fellow swimmers, where they discussed details of the latest practice, older students shared academic advice, and everyone consumed enormous quantities of food. (Swimming makes you hungry.) Patrick recalls with a mix of glee and embarrassment how she would take a dish from each of the multiple food stations at Hewitt “and just sit down and go at it.”
The classroom offered her sustenance of a different sort. “Barnard opened my eyes and pushed me to think critically about the society in which we live.” Through the Athena Scholars Program in her senior year, Patrick launched City Kids Swim, a social impact initiative designed to bring swimming to underserved communities. Patrick ran a swim clinic in the Columbia pool for children ages 4 through 15, which drew an overwhelmingly positive response from parents and children, and Patrick continues to provide one-on-one lessons.
Today, she works at Adobe as an account manager on the Ad Cloud TV team and has been working with the Columbia/Barnard Athletic Consortium to plan a women in sports event aimed at helping women student athletes at Columbia and Barnard pivot from school to the real world. She still swims — but only in the summer, at the beach with family or friends — and her three-hour pool practices have been replaced by Zumba classes.
Juliet Macur ’92
An award-winning journalist currently working as a Sports of the Times columnist at The New York Times, Juliet Macur is the author of an acclaimed book on Lance Armstrong and recently published an exposé of the exploitation and harassment of NFL cheerleaders. In pursuit of stories that often unite politics, culture, and athletics, she has traveled the world and flourished in a sphere where, as she puts it, “Some old-school people still feel women shouldn’t be covering sports.” After graduation, when Macur worked at her first newspaper job, covering the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars for The Orlando Sentinel, a male reporter shouted at her from across a crowded press room, "What do you know about football? You’ve never played the game!”
At that moment and others like it, the grueling experience of rowing, which she took up as a sophomore at Barnard and continued until the birth of her first child in 2011, stood her in good stead. “Because I learned this high degree of toughness from rowing, there has never been an assignment that’s been too hard,” she says. Known for the extreme demands it makes on the entire body, rowing is, as Macur puts it, “pretty much torture” on the best of days. But she recalls with fondness the camaraderie she shared with her teammates and the many early mornings she ran across the darkened campus, dodging startled rats en route to pick up the van she used, as team captain, to drive her teammates to the boathouse uptown.
One practice in particular stands out in her memory: On a very cold autumn morning, the coach kept the team on the river during a driving rainstorm. The women in the eight-oared boat were exhausted and soaking wet, their hands numb. Yet the practice kept going, the boat racing back and forth between the Henry Hudson Bridge and the Broadway Bridge, at the northern tip of Manhattan, again and again. “I remember thinking if I could do that and not die I could probably do anything,” Macur recalls.
Philippa Portnoy ’86, ’90 BUS
Manhattan native Philippa Portnoy began her first year at Barnard as a Division III athlete on the tennis team and graduated as a member of Division I. When she arrived on campus in 1982, Columbia hadn’t yet gone co-ed, and the Consortium hadn’t yet been founded, so she began her undergraduate tennis journey as a Barnard Bear, competing exclusively against other Seven Sisters schools. The transition from Beardom to Consortium was gradual, allowing Portnoy and her teammates to adapt to a new level of competition; by Portnoy’s senior year, the team was playing a full Ivy League schedule. When the team first began Ivy League play in 1983, they were beaten badly by Cornell; their triumph against Cornell in 1986 was proof positive of the team’s transformation. “We knew we had come a long way,” Portnoy says.
Being a member of the tennis team was “the most important part of my experience as an undergrad,” says Portnoy. During early-morning van rides to a practice facility in Fort Lee, New Jersey, she and her teammates shared details of their academic and personal lives, building friendships that continue today. Portnoy learned the power of hard work and dedication and, as team captain, leadership skills she later deployed as head of the Latin American Aviation Finance Group at Citigroup. “Being on the team, and being team captain, gave me confidence in my voice. At Citigroup, I worked in a fairly male-dominated industry, traveling the world, and I wasn’t intimidated by any of that.”
Today, Portnoy is a member of Barnard’s Board of Trustees and remains deeply invested in supporting the institution that helped shape her. A founding member of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies, she’s also a co-founder of the Women’s Leadership Council for Athletics, which has over the past 10 years raised approximately $4 million for athletics. Though she’s currently focused on raising her 17-year-old triplets, Portnoy is as busy as any athlete in training season. She is a member of Columbia’s Alumnae Engagement Committee and helped to plan the first University-wide women’s conference, held last year. Portnoy also serves on numerous Columbia and Barnard committees, was a 2014 Columbia Alumni Association medalist, and was named as one of the 25 most influential athletes of the Columbia-Barnard Athletics Consortium.
Robin Wagner ’80
In 1976, Robin Wagner arrived at Barnard and embarked on a schedule of training and academics that only a nationally ranked 19-year-old figure skater could have mapped out. To maintain her relationship with her longtime coach and enjoy the support of her family, she lived at home on Long Island, where six days a week she rose at 4 a.m., practiced for four hours, and took the train to Barnard. There, she maintained a full course load, then headed to ballet lessons or to a rink in the city for additional practice before commuting home. In high school, such a balancing act had worked. But Barnard presented new challenges, and both her schoolwork and skating suffered. Determined to test herself as an athlete, she took a semester off, setting her sights on competing at senior nationals. But the goal eluded her, and with a heavy heart, she said goodbye to competing in the sport that had defined her life for years.
Wagner returned to Barnard and found in her classmates a level of intellectual curiosity that inspired her and shaped the coach she became. “There was a culture of not being satisfied with traditional answers,” she says. When she began coaching a young skater in 1998, that experience “kept me going, kept me asking questions, and allowed me the confidence in myself and my skater when other people had doubts.” The young skater Wagner coached, Sarah Hughes, won the gold medal for the U.S. at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. Wagner went on to coach two more women who competed in the Olympics. Now Wagner, who is still very active, is enjoying life in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, where she is currently learning to golf and basking in the change of scenery. “After having spent so many years in a refrigerator as a competitor and a coach,” she says, “I’m ready for some warm weather.”
Gloria Callen Jones
When Gloria Callen arrived at Barnard as a first-year in 1942, she had already set 35 American swimming records and one world record, won 13 national titles, and been voted Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press. She also had been selected for the Olympic team that would have represented the United States at the 1940 games but were canceled due to the outbreak of World War II. In addition to her athletic feats, “Glorious Gloria” was celebrated for her looks and glamour: Featured on the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine and profiled in Life, she was voted one of the country’s best-dressed women. But when she arrived at Barnard, she did not join the swim team — there wasn’t one to join — and she never competed in swimming again.
Instead, she participated in aquatic novelty events, including one called “Aqua-Ducks.” Performed with classmate Anne Ross ’45, a nationally ranked diver who had also been selected for the 1940 U.S. Olympic team, Aqua-Ducks featured water ballet, tandem swimming, and a nightshirt race. Described by her eldest daughter, Christine Huber, as “very vivacious, fun-loving and effervescent,” Callen was also active in dance committees. At one coffee dance in 1943, she met Herbert Jones, Jr., a young midshipman training on a Navy Reserves ship docked in the Hudson who had, along with other midshipmen, been ordered to attend. A year later, the two were married in St. Paul’s Chapel at Columbia. Huber says Jones “really loved college,” but once her husband returned to the U.S. after serving in the Pacific, there “wasn’t a thought” that they would stay apart; Jones left Barnard to join him in San Francisco.
“She took great pride in having gone to Barnard and had some very strong friendships from Barnard that she maintained,” says Huber. Callen was a strong believer in women’s rights and encouraged all three of her daughters to be feminists. She lived for many years in Charleston, West Virginia, where she was an active volunteer in many local organizations, held multiple leadership positions at the Garden Club of America, and was a member of Barnard’s Board of Trustees from 1986 to 1991. She died in 2016.
— Deb Schwartz