A Fearless History

Over 130 Years of Majoring in Unafraid

In 1917, Josephine Paddock, Class of 1906, was among the suffragists who picketed the White House to demand a voice for women in the government.

The vision was bold:
Create a rigorous and challenging college for women equivalent to the education offered by Columbia.

Barnard’s Story

At the turn of the 20th century, suffragists were still campaigning for the vote, and Columbia University, like most other institutions of higher learning at the time, would only admit and educate white men. Eventually, the Columbia Board of Trustees agreed to create a syllabus for women to earn a certificate from the University.

Still, they were prevented from joining regular classes. A group of New York City women, led by young student activist Annie Nathan Meyer, wanted more. They assembled a committee to support their vision and, after two years of petitioning, convinced the Trustees to create an affiliated college, which they named after Columbia’s recently deceased president, Frederick A.P. Barnard, who argued unsuccessfully for the admission of women to Columbia University.

Founded in 1889, Barnard was the only college in New York City, and one of the few in the nation, where women could receive the same rigorous and challenging education available to men.

The school’s founding was largely due to the rallying efforts of Annie Nathan Meyer, a student and writer who was equally dissatisfied with Columbia’s stance and staunchly committed to the education of women. She joined forces with a small group of her peers to petition the University Trustees for an affiliated, self-sustaining liberal arts women’s college. In two years, she accomplished what she had set out to do.

343 Madison Avenue
343 Madison Avenue, circa 1889

Barnard’s first class met in a rented brownstone at 343 Madison Avenue, just blocks from Grand Central Station; there were six faculty members and 14 students in the School of Arts. Nine years later, the College moved to its current site in Morningside Heights. One of the original Seven Sisters colleges, Barnard was, from the beginning, a place that challenged women intellectually.

In 1900, Barnard was included in the educational system of Columbia University, with provisions unique among women’s colleges: It was governed by its own trustees, faculty, and dean and was responsible for its own endowment and facilities, while sharing the instruction, the libraries, and the degree of the university.  

In 1983, when Columbia College went co-ed, as Frederick A.P. Barnard had wanted more than a century before, one might have thought Barnard would easily be subsumed. Instead, then-President Ellen Futter fought for the College to remain independent and worked toward a new and lasting agreement with Columbia in light of their decision to admit women.

Over the course of over 130 years and 13 great women leaders — from winning the right to hire faculty in 1900 and the pivotal protests of 1968 to the historic admission of transgender women in 2016 — Barnard has continued to flourish and excel.

From the start, Barnard’s mission has been to empower smart, ambitious women by offering rigor and relevance in an academic community where women lead. As our reach broadens, the mission grows ever more powerful. For decades Barnard women have fought for suffrage, peace, gender equity, social justice, climate action, and more.

Blazing Trails in STEM

Her family wanted her to become a debutante, but Elsie Clews Parsons from the Class of 1896 chose to go to Barnard and later became the first woman elected president of the American Anthropological Association.

Margaret Mead transferred to Barnard as a sophomore English major to join the Class of 1923. An anthropology class with the pioneering cultural anthropologist Franz Boas changed her life course — and the way we study human culture.

The only physician in the U.S. to be board-certified in internal medicine, hematology, endocrinology, and metabolism, Lila Wallis ’47 founded the National Council on Women’s Health and served as its first president.

Dr. Helene Gayle ’76, the CEO of the Chicago Community Trust, led HIV/AIDS research efforts at the Centers for Disease Control for two decades, later serving on President Obama’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.

Megumi Yamaguchi Shinoda, Barnard Class of 1928, was the first Asian American woman to graduate from Columbia Medical School

 A Long Tradition of Literary Stars

Zora Neale Hurston ’28, best known for her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, was Barnard’s first black graduate. Today, the College is a leading institution for Hurston scholarship.

Ntozake Shange ’70 won an Obie award for her groundbreaking choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf. Shange remained an active member of the Barnard community until her death in 2018.

Edwidge Danticat ’90 drew on her Haitian heritage in Krik? Krak!, and at age 26, she became the youngest person ever nominated for the National Book Award for this short story collection. Her novel Breath, Eyes, Memory evolved out of an essay about her life that she wrote at Barnard.

After the publication of her critically-acclaimed novel Ask Again, Yes in 2019, Mary Beth Keane ’99 found herself in an unlikely place: in front of the millions of live viewers of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.

Erica Jong ’63 redefined a generation of feminists with her 1973 novel Fear of Flying. On campus, the Erica Mann Jong ’63 Writing Center has been providing students with a resource for honing their writing skills since 1996.

" class="hidden">21世纪英文报电子版