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Past Presidents

Ella Weed ca. 1885, Credit: Knowlton /  Barnard College Archives

Ella Weed

Ella Weed was born on January 27, 1853, in Newburgh, N.Y., the eldest daughter of Jonathan Noyes Weed and Elizabeth Merritt Weed. She attended Miss Mackay's school in Newburgh before attending Vassar College, where she wrote for the Vassar Miscellany, helping to create the publication's high reputation. After graduating with honors in 1873, in 1875 she went to Springfield, Ohio, to teach at an all-girls school, specializing in preparing students for Vassar. In 1882, she returned to New York to teach at her former school, Miss Mackay's, and in 1884, she became head of the day school at the Anne Brown School New York City.

Annie Nathan Meyer sought Weed's assistance when she wanted to establish an annex to Columbia for women. She hoped to replace the existing Collegiate Course for Women, which did not allow women to attend lectures but required that they complete the same work at the same standards as the male students who did go to lectures. Weed's contacts at the Anne Brown School were socially prominent, and she was able to get the signatures of significant New Yorkers on a petition to Columbia University trustees. As a result, Barnard College was established.

Weed was an essential part of establishing Barnard's standards and reputation early on. She was a member of the board of trustees as chairman of the academic committee, performing the academic duties of dean, while still remaining in her position at Anne Brown School. She also helped with public relations and fundraising for the college. Weed believed in high standards, which became evident in the various ways she shaped the Barnard education. She established a Greek entrance requirement to mirror that of Columbia College. She also believed that it was important to have a breadth of knowledge and therefore did not allow students to specialize in any area, with the exception of the sciences. Additionally, she did not allow students to transfer into the College so that all Barnard graduates would receive a Barnard-only education, and to further ensure standards she insisted that Columbia supervise all instruction at Barnard, winning the cooperation of Columbia's faculty and administration. Ella Weed's determination that women should be equipped with the tools they needed to fully realize their abilities made her an important figure in women's education and in Barnard history.

Emily James Smith ca. 1897, Credit: Barnard College Archives

Emily James Smith

Twenty-nine-year-old Emily James Smith became the first dean of Barnard College in 1894 when it was still at its original location of 343 Madison Avenue. Her wise manner and strong determination aided her in setting the foundations for Barnard’s sound curriculum and its commitment to assembling a good academic staff.

Smith graduated from Bryn Mawr with its first class and went on to become one of the first women to study at Girton College of Cambridge, later becoming a distinguished scholar of Greek at the University of Chicago. Her mastery of the classics allowed her to become personally involved in the education of Barnard students, teaching Homer to first-years and Plato to sophomores. Through her interactions with students and her high involvement in the College’s everyday affairs, Smith successfully molded the school’s character, setting the pattern for its place in the larger university system.

Under Smith, the College moved to its current Morningside Heights location, with one block of land where Milbank, Fiske, and Brinckerhoff Halls were constructed. With this move, she fought for Barnard’s rights to offer classes that Columbia did not and in 1898, Smith was able to secure Barnard alumnae representation on the Board of Trustees at Columbia. Two years later, Smith renegotiated Barnard’s terms with Columbia, whereby Barnard was given representation on the University Council, Barnard faculty appointments were made by the University, which continued to grant all degrees, Barnard students were allowed to take some Columbia graduate courses, and Barnard could expand in any direction it saw fit. This agreement made Barnard the only women’s college in the country at the time that could act independently while allowing its students open access to an ivy-league university. Barnard was responsible for its own finances, and the College, like a modern woman, paid its own way.

Smith’s marriage to famed publisher George Haven Putnam proved that a woman was capable of successfully combining a happy marriage with a successful career and helped make her a role model to her students. Smith’s term as dean ended on February 1, 1900, when she resigned due to her pregnancy. She returned to the College as a part-time lecturer from 1914–30 and remained a presence in Barnard’s development.

Laura Drake Gill ca. 1901, Credit: Barnard College Archives

Laura Drake Gill

Laura Drake Gill, the third dean of Barnard College, was born in Chesterville, Maine. She attended Smith College, specializing in mathematics and received a bachelor's degree in 1881 and a master's degree in 1885. She later became president of the Smith alumnae association. After further study in Europe at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, the University of Leipzig in Germany, and the Sorbonne in France, she received a doctorate degree in civil law from the University of the South. Excepting the time she took off to pursue her master's degree and advanced study in Europe, Gill taught mathematics at Miss Capen's School in Northampton, Massachusetts, where Smith is located, from 1881 to 1898.

In 1898, at the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, Gill joined the Red Cross and was among the first group of nurses sent to Cuba. She was put in charge of hospital affairs in Cuba, a position she later continued in New York and Tennessee, selecting and placing nurses in army hospitals. Gill was also in charge of the Cuban Orphan Society, where she helped to secure homes and education for orphans. Her work in Cuba established her reputation as both an educator and a leader, and in 1901 she was appointed dean of Barnard College.

Gill served as dean of the College until 1907. Under Gill, Barnard's campus expanded in size to three-and-a-half acres, after a generous donation by Elizabeth Milbank Anderson, who also donated Milbank Hall. Barnard's endowment also grew to over half a million dollars, thanks in part to John D. Rockefeller. Barnard's enrollment increased, necessitating the building of Brooks Hall, a residence hall. During this time, Barnard's Greek Games were started. Gill resigned in 1907.

Virginia Gildersleeve, 1937, Credit: Pach Brothers / Barnard College Archives

Virginia Gildersleeve

Virginia Crocheron Gildersleeve was born in 1877, the daughter of Judge Henry Alger Gildersleeve and Virginia Crocheron, and grew up in New York City. She attended Barnard College, as her mother wanted her to stay close to home. In fact, Gildersleeve continued to commute to Barnard and live at home with her parents for years, even after she was appointed dean of the College. She later moved into a duplex apartment on Barnard's campus, where the Vagelos Alumnae Center is now housed. She graduated first in her class in 1899 and later enrolled in graduate school at Columbia, where she received a master's degree in history in 1900 and a PhD in English in 1909. She taught at both Columbia and Barnard before being appointed assistant professor of English at Barnard, and in 1911, Columbia University President Nicholas Murray Butler, her former professor at Barnard, made her dean. Despite the wishes of parents and the board of trustees, Gildersleeve did not prevent her students from becoming politically active. Later, in the years leading up to World War II, Gildersleeve urged students to resist being close-minded, telling them to avoid believing only official propaganda and discounting other views. "More than anything else in the world," she said, "I want to preserve for Barnard the utmost freedom of discussion and I ask the cooperation of all in preserving this freedom."

In fact, Gildersleeve fought for the rights of Barnard students and female students everywhere. Thanks to her work, Columbia's professional schools, such as the School of Journalism, were opened to women. Later, she also fought to open the medical, law, and engineering schools to women. Gildersleeve's work affected other women's colleges as well. In 1924 she formed the Seven Sisters association with Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Radcliffe, Smith, Vassar, and Wellesley. Gildersleeve helped women to gain places in the sciences during World War II, arguing that highly trained scientists were needed to win the war and without female scientists, the country would not have enough. As a result of the war and Gildersleeve's work, many Barnard graduates were able to find jobs. Gildersleeve even helped to found the Navy's female reserve officer's corps, WAVES, and in 1945 she was appointed by President Roosevelt to the United States delegation to author the United Nations Charter, where she insisted upon the creation of the Commission on Human Rights (which later produced the Declaration of Human Rights). She also served as chair of the American Council on Education and twice as president of the International Federation of University Women.

Gildersleeve also fought for the rights of married women at Barnard, believing that a woman's marital status was personal and should not affect her employment. In the 1910s, the New York City public schools did not allow married women to teach, and in 1906 Barnard Dean Laura Drake Gill forced physicist Harriet Brooks to resign when Brooks announced that she was getting married. Under Dean Gildersleeve, married women and even mothers were allowed on the faculty. She also saw the injustice in allowing faculty members paid leaves of absence for being ill but not allowing new mothers the same benefits. She persuaded the Board of Trustees to allow new mothers a one-term leave of absence with full pay or a full year off with half pay. In 1947, after achieving much for the College, she retired from her position as dean after 36 years of service.

Millicent Carey McIntosh, 1956, Credit: Manny Warman/ Barnard College Archives

Millicent Carey McIntosh

A native of Baltimore, Millicent McIntosh was chosen from more than 60 candidates to become the fourth dean of Barnard in October 1947. She was later made the first president of Barnard College in 1952. Serving in these roles until 1962, McIntosh was one of the most beloved and inspiring of all of Barnard’s leaders, with her friendly and approachable demeanor prompting many to address her as “Mrs. Mac.” Her achievements as dean are numerous, for McIntosh sought to advance the education of women and firmly believed that one needed training as a scholar in order to fulfill one’s role as a person.

Married to pediatrician Dr. Rustin McIntosh and mother of four sons and one daughter, McIntosh was the first dean of the Seven Sisters colleges to be both a wife and a mother. A graduate and later a teacher and Acting Dean of Bryn Mawr, McIntosh received her PhD in English from Johns Hopkins and served as the head of the Brearly School for Girls for 17 years. In her tenure at Barnard, she took on the monumental task of procuring greater funding so that Barnard could renovate and increase space and salaries. She initiated Operation Bootstrap, a development fund campaign that, with help from donors like John D. Rockefeller and Barnard alumnae, raised $1.7 million for the remodeling of Milbank Hall, which included the addition of the Minor Latham Playhouse in 1953; the building of Lehman Hall in 1959, with its library and classrooms; and the construction of Reid Hall in September 1961. McIntosh was also instrumental in centralizing all gifts to Barnard though The Barnard Fund and in forming the first long-range development plans of the College. She advocated strongly for greater cooperation with Columbia, but in a way that allowed Barnard to maintain its integrity and independence.

Although McIntosh believed that happiness and fulfillment may or may not lie in a career, her successful balance of marriage, children, and career made her a role model for her students. She saw education as a way to prepare young women for the complicated balancing act that was life.

Rosemary Park, 1962, Credit: Jack Mitchell / Barnard College Archives

Rosemary Park

Rosemary Park became president of Barnard College after the retirement of Millicent McIntosh in 1962. Her father, Dr. J. Edward Park, was president of Wheaton College and, at the time she became president of Barnard, her brother was president of Simmons College in Boston. She graduated summa cum laude from Radcliffe College, majoring in German, in 1928, and in 1929 she received her master's degree. She studied in Germany at the University of Bonn and the University of Cologne, from where she earned her PhD in 1934. She taught German at Wheaton and then later at Connecticut College. There, she held a series of different positions: dean of freshmen, academic dean, acting president, and president. While at Connecticut College, which was at the time a women's college, she established Connecticut College for Men and then later admitted men as graduate students. She served as president there from 1947 to 1962, strengthening the curriculum, adding new buildings, and raising large amounts of funds.

She continued similar work at Barnard. Park encouraged Barnard women to pursue the sciences and fought for Barnard to have its own new science laboratory, despite discouragement from Columbia, which felt that its labs were sufficient. She believed that by not having its own lab, Barnard would be conveying the message "that it didn't believe in science for women." Furthermore, she encouraged women to study subjects such as advanced mathematics and foreign languages in order to help fill society's need for scientists and linguists. After leaving Barnard, she went on to UCLA, where she served as a vice chancellor and, later, a professor. While there, she helped to establish the Plato Society, an academic program for people who had retired. Park was a member of the Society, actively taking courses until her death in 2004 at the age of 97.

Martha Peterson, ca. 1968, Credit: Bradford Bachrach/ Barnard College Archives

Martha Peterson

Martha Peterson, president of Barnard from 1967 to 1975, was chosen after a nationwide search. The first Midwesterner to head Barnard, Peterson was described as being straightforward, down-to-earth, and very warm. She led the college through difficult years, when demonstrations and protests against the Vietnam War were raging all around. Rather than stifle her students and ignore their political beliefs, she decided to hold a town hall meeting to let the students speak their minds. She approved of a student’s right to protest, until the protest became negative and self-defeating. She also recognized the value of having student input on decision-making committees. Her belief was that administrative changes should come about through agreements based on the participation of students, faculty, and trustees.

Born in 1916 in Jamestown, Kansas, Peterson graduated from the University of Kansas in 1937 and received her master’s degree in educational psychology from the University of Kansas in 1943. She became the dean of women at the University of Kansas in 1952 and later took on a similar role at the University of Wisconsin. With a doctorate in educational psychology at the University of Kansas completed in 1959, she arrived at Barnard as a highly accomplished scholar, who had experience working with and handling the needs of female students. She left Barnard in 1975 to become president of Beloit College in Wisconsin.

While at Barnard, Peterson successfully defended Barnard’s interests in its relations with Columbia by arguing to expand cross-registration so students of both could take an unlimited number of courses at either school, regularizing the College’s relationship with the University in regard to payment for the use of Columbia’s facilities. Throughout her tenure, she was able to maintain Barnard’s stability in troubled times, while increasing its luster as a top women’s college.

Credit: Warren Jagger/ Barnard College Archives  Jacquelyn Mattfeld, 1976

Jacquelyn Mattfeld

Jacquelyn Mattfeld took office as president of Barnard on July 1, 1976, at the age of 50. At that point, the College was being eyed acquisitively by Columbia University.

Born on October 5, 1925 in Baltimore, Mattfeld received a diploma from the Peabody Conservatory of Music in 1947 and her bachelor’s degree from Goucher College in 1948. She went on to earn her PhD from Yale in 1959. Later, as associate dean of student affairs at MIT, she was responsible for the affairs of both graduate and undergraduate females. Mattfeld also served as provost and dean of faculty at Sarah Lawrence College in 1965, a part of the Brown University faculty in 1971, and as dean at Brown in 1974.

Mattfeld’s extensive leadership experience at other top institutions made her a good fit for Barnard, which needed a strong leader who could stand up to the demands made by then Columbia University President William J. McGill. McGill envisioned a merger between Columbia and Barnard by 1985, and tensions built between the two as Mattfeld stressed Barnard’s autonomy, bringing negotiations to a halt for a while. Eventually Mattfeld succeeded in gaining support for Barnard’s continued autonomy and pushed for a partnership, not a merger. After reviewing the intercorporate agreement with Columbia, Mattfeld had Barnard trustees write out a specific mandate calling for the College’s continued autonomy.

In 1981, Mattfeld tendered her resignation, citing that her goals had been accomplished and that most importantly, Barnard would maintain its position as a prestigious female institution of higher learning.

Credit: Barnard College Archives  Ellen V. Futter, 1984

Ellen V. Futter

In 1981, Trustee Ellen V. Futter was named the ninth leader and fifth president of Barnard College, a post she held for thirteen years. A native New Yorker, Futter graduated Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude from Barnard in 1971. She earned her J.D. from Columbia in 1974. Elected to the Board of Trustees as a student representative, Futter was eventually elected to a full membership on the board.

At the time of Futter’s inauguration at Barnard, she was, at the age of 31, the youngest person ever to assume the presidency of a major American college. Barnard survived the difficult decade of the 1980’s under her determined leadership. She preserved Barnard’s independence from Columbia when it’s leadership decided to admit women in 1983, and in light of the decision, Futter helped establish a new affiliation accord. She launched a major fund-raising campaign, accepted the recommendation of a faculty committee on a maternity- and parental-leave policy in 1985, and in a most daring decision, embarked on the construction of a new dormitory, Sulzberger Tower, for which Barnard did not yet have the funds. She was a provocateur for change, advancing the institution while staying true to its history and its mission.

In 1993, she left Barnard to become president of the American Museum of Natural History. Ms. Futter is also a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Widely recognized as a dynamic voice for education, she has been awarded numerous honorary degrees, and is the recipient of the National Institute of Social Science's Gold Medal Award and the National Organization of Women's Eleanor Roosevelt Leadership Award. In 2009, she was elected to the American Philosophical Society.

Judith R. Shapiro, photo credit Victoria Cohen

Judith R. Shapiro

Judith Shapiro, came to the College in 1994, the first Barnard president to be educated in the New York City public schools system. In addition to being a well-respected anthropologist, she also is known for her work in women's education and community development and advocacy in New York City. In 1998, she was named one of Vanity Fair's "200 Most Influential Women in America." Shapiro attended Brandeis University, where she graduated magna cum laude. She received her PhD from Columbia University. In 1970, she became the first woman to be appointed to the department of anthropology at the University of Chicago before joining the Bryn Mawr faculty in 1975. Later, she became chair of the anthropology department, then acting dean of the undergraduate college for a year before becoming provost in 1986, a position in which she remained for eight years.

Under President Shapiro, Barnard College made incredible advances in several different areas. The number of applicants has doubled, resulting in the College becoming increasingly selective. Additionally, the College is more financially secure than it has ever been, more than doubling its endowment to $171 million and doubling the amount of alumnae who made gifts to the College. The College curriculum was also refined under Shapiro, establishing "The Nine Ways of Knowing." Shapiro's dedication to ensuring technological fluency among students led to the establishment of the Barnard Electronic Archive and Teaching Laboratory, which uses technology to enhance education. Under Shapiro's leadership Barnard has also begun a major building and restoration project, which includes the construction of the Nexus. Additionally, in June 2007, President Shapiro announced, along with several other presidents of liberal arts colleges, that Barnard would no longer participate in U.S. News and World Report's annual college rankings.

The various groups of which she is part evidence President Shapiro's dedication to New York City. She serves on the Board of the Fund for the City of New York, the executive committee of the Board of the New York Building Congress, and on the New York State Leadership Council for the development of a Women's Museum in New York City. She is also a partner in the New York City Partnership and Chamber of Commerce and a member of the advisory committee of Save the Children (Every Mother/Every Child). This dedication to Barnard's role in the world beyond its gates led to the establishment of a major public forum on women's advancement. In 2001, Shapiro established The Barnard Summit, which drew over 1,000 people in its first year and featured panelists such as activist Marian Wright Edelman and former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.

Shapiro has been honored with several awards and distinctions, including the National Institute of Social Science's Gold Medal Award for her contributions to women's education in 2002. In 2003, she was elected to the American Philosophical Society, the prestigious society founded by Benjamin Franklin. She has also served as president of the American Ethnological Society, was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences, and a fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies. She has had articles published in The New York Times and The Chronicle of Higher Education, and her views have been cited in The Christian Science MonitorThe Boston Globe, and U.S. News and World Report, among others. She is also the editor of Source of the Spring: Mothers Through the Eyes of Women Writers, a collection of essays, many of which were written by Barnard alumnae and faculty.