The Barnard College Board of Trustees Correspondence 1889 -1907 consists of letters to and from board members and other correspondents including administrators, students, New York City and New York State officials, and influential citizens. While most of the documents correspond to the 1889-1907 time span, some items may be found for the years 1883, 1886, and 1910-1915. Topics relate to the College’s founding and continuing operation, ranging from administrative matters and fund raising to curricular questions, faculty issues, and student life.
History of the Barnard College Board of Trustees
The first Barnard College Board of Trustees, established in 1889, was made up of many veteran advocates of women’s education. These include Silas B. Brownell and Annie Nathan Meyer, each of whom were centrally involved in the 1883 and 1888 petitions (respectively) to the Columbia Board of Trustees for the establishment of an affiliated institution of higher learning for women in New York City. The Board’s first presiding officials were the Rev. Arthur Brooks as Chair, Mrs. Joseph H. Choate as Vice-Chair, Jacob Schiff as Treasurer, and Hamilton Mabie as Secretary. These Board officers were succeeded by Abram S. Hewitt, Mrs. A.A. Anderson, George A. Plimpton, and Frederick Waite respectively. Other prominent members of the first Barnard College Board of Trustees included Mrs. Francis B. Arnold, who would play an important role in the College’s development as the Chair of the Building Committee. Most notable was Miss Ella Weed, who would serve as the College’s first Dean in all but name before the title officially existed.
The Barnard College Board of Trustees oversees the College on several fronts: financial, administrative, curricular, and in regard to faculty and student life. The structure of the Board changed minimally during the College’s first years. Board members were initially appointed for life in accordance with the College’s charter and had broad responsibility for major administrative appointments and policy decisions. Early on, associate member positions to the Board were created in order to foster greater support for the College’s expansion. In 1898, alumnae member positions were added. The first alumnae appointed to such a position was Florence Colgate, who later earned permanent board membership. Other than this change, it was not until 1945, when the trustees voted to place seven-year term limits for all positions, that any changes were made. In 1950 the charter was amended to grant a “lifetime trustee” membership to Annie Nathan Meyer, a founder of the College, who had served on the Board since its inception.
The Barnard College Board of Trustees Correspondence 1889 -1907 consists of letters to and from board members and other correspondents including administrators, students, New York City and state officials, and influential citizens. The correspondence ranges from handwritten postal cards, handwritten letters on personal and professional stationary, typed personal communications, typed official circulars, and published open letters. For the most part, specific attachments referred to in letters are no longer to be found with the correspondence. Some documents so referenced, such as Board meeting notices and minutes, a provisional charter report, curriculum reports, annual reports, faculty contracts, and College forms and circulars, may be found in corresponding records in the Barnard College Archives. Among the correspondence’s extant attachments are various administrative expense bills and receipts; lists of subscribers (see Feb. 14, 1893; Jan. 25, 1898; May 2, 1902); and plot diagrams of possible real estate purchases in Morningside Heights (Nov. 30, 1892 and Dec. 17, 1894). In addition, the collection includes as separate documents some annual reports discussed in the letters, namely those of 1890-1891 and 1901-1902. Other records that provide context for the letters are Dean reports to the Board and the manuscripts for the series of speeches delivered on Laura Gill’s inauguration as Dean on May 1, 1901. The latter are housed in a separate folder for that fiscal year. Other noteworthy documents include official letters from Melvil Dewey in his capacity as Secretary of the University of the State of New York on topics such as annual reports, library resources, and the New York State Educational Exhibit for the World’s Columbian Exposition.
The correspondence deals with both operational administrative matters and administrative questions involving larger policy decisions. The former topics include operating expenses, building repairs, teaching supplies, scheduling, Barnard College promotional material, and student records. For example, a series of letters from May 1889 to January 1893 addresses the leasing of Barnard College’s original site at 343 Madison and housekeeping arrangements. The most frequent correspondents with the Board on such practical matters are Miss Elizabeth Abbott, the College’s first executive officer; and Mrs. N. D. Liggett, who from 1891 to 1924 managed the College’s administrative affairs in several capacities, including the position of Bursar.
Larger administrative topics include the incorporation of the College along with its provisional and absolute charter (1889, 1894); the College’s physical expansion and financing; the creation and allocation of student scholarships; major administrative appointments; faculty hiring and contracts; and college entrance and curricular requirements. The records document key moments in the College’s physical expansion, such as the acquisition of new development sites; the establishment of laboratories in Chemistry, Botany, and Zoology; and the building of the Barnard College Library. Discussions of the College’s financing, indebtedness, donations, and fund raising campaigns figure prominently. Noteworthy in this respect are letters from 1898 to 1902 detailing plans for the College’s financial sustainability and fundraising campaigns. These include an open letter from John D. Rockefeller published on May 2, 1902, setting forth a fund raising challenge based on a $200,000.00 donation of his own; and several open letters from George A. Plimpton to subscribers thanking them for their contributions. A Treasurer report from Plimpton to the Barnard Executive Committee dated April 4, 1902, and included in the correspondence, details the history of the fundraising drive led by Rockefeller. Concerning student financing, the records also include detailed accounts of specific scholarships and their recipients. Notable among the scholarships discussed are the “Brooklyn” scholarships established by Seth Low in May 1895, the Lucille Pulitzer Prize created by Joseph Pulitzer in 1898 in memory of his daughter, and the Jessie Kaufmann scholarship established in 1902.
Procedural questions regarding the Board—from scheduling to the establishment of by-laws—make up a portion of the records. The creation of the Deanship figures prominently in the correspondence of the early years. Dean appointments become a recurring topic throughout the correspondence, as do the resignation and appointment of Board officers. In its early years, the College experienced the deaths of two leading administrators: Ella Weed in 1894, and Rev. Arthur Brooks in 1895. Discussion of these events and their implications for the College holds a central place in the Board member correspondence of that time. Notable in this respect is a series of extended exchanges between George A. Plimpton and Melvil Dewey on various candidates to succeed Ella Weed as head of Barnard College. The records also include the typescript of Silas Brownell’s eulogy for Rev. Brooks.
Curricular topics discussed in the correspondence range from the composition of a liberal arts program, specific course requirements in different subject areas, and the establishment of a graduate course in English. The question of how much authority the Columbia College Board of Trustees should retain over the appointment and contract terms of Barnard faculty members is an important topic in early correspondence. Notable in this regard is an extended letter from Ella Weed to Silas Brownell (Nov. 11, 1890) that includes revisions of charter articles on this point. Noteworthy in respect to faculty contract terms in the later correspondence is a series of letters of 1906 addressing whether or not a female faculty member’s marriage mid-contract should impede reappointment. A notable faculty correspondent with the Board is Dr. Emily Gregory, responsible for the creation of the Botany Department. A notable frequent correspondent on faculty issues and appointments is Dr. N.D. Britten, first Dean of the Faculty.
With regard to student life, the topic of coeducation figures significantly, most notably in a letter of 1883 from Cornelius Agnew, a Columbia College Board Trustee, regarding the 1883 Memorial Petition for the Higher Education of Women. Policy issues bearing on student admissions, student life, and student requirements are interspersed throughout the letters in discussions of the progress and particular circumstances of individual students. Noteworthy in this respect are a series of exchanges in May and September of 1894 between Mrs. Liggett and Florence Colgate in her student years concerning the completion of coursework after an extended illness.
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This collection is located on-site.
Restrictions on Use and Copyright Information
Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. Permission to publish material from the collection must be requested from the Barnard College Archives. The Barnard College Archives approves permission to publish that which it physically owns; the responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.
Barnard College Archives
Lehman Hall, Room 19
New York, NY 10027