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The new book A College of Her Own: The History of Barnard (Columbia University Press, 2020) by Robert McCaughey offers a comprehensive and lively narrative of Barnard College from its beginnings to the present day.
In 1889, Annie Nathan Meyer, still in her early twenties, led the effort to start Barnard College after Columbia College refused to admit women. Named after a former Columbia president, Frederick Barnard, who had advocated for Columbia to become coeducational, Barnard, despite many ups and downs, became one of the leading women’s colleges in the United States.
Through the stories of presidents and leading figures as well as students and faculty, Robert McCaughey recounts Barnard’s history and how its development was shaped by its complicated relationship to Columbia University and its New York City location. McCaughey looks at how the student composition of Barnard and its urban setting distinguished it from other Seven Sisters colleges, tracing debates around class, ethnicity, and admissions policies. Turning to the postwar era, A College of Her Own discusses how Barnard benefited from the boom in higher education after years of a precarious economic situation. Beyond the decisions made at the top, McCaughey examines the experience of Barnard students, including the tumult and aftereffects of 1968 and the impact of the feminist movement. The concluding section looks at present-day Barnard, the shifts in its student body, and its efforts to be a global institution.
Robert McCaughey is professor of history and Janet H. Robb Chair in the Social Sciences at Barnard College. His previous Columbia University Press books include Stand, Columbia: A History of Columbia University in the City of New York, 1754–2004 (2003) and A Lever Long Enough: A History of Columbia’s School of Engineering and Applied Science Since 1864 (2014).
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