Jewels in Her Crown: Treasures of Columbia University Libraries Special Collections

Exhibition Themes > Philanthropy, Social Services, Human Rights > 75. Memorial to Columbia Board of Trustees

75.  Memorial to the Columbia College Board of Trustees. Printed document, with signatures in ink, on paper, 26 sections,. New York, 1882-1883. Barnard College, Barnard College Archives

On April 22, 1882, a large public meeting was held to discuss the reform of women's higher education in the City of New York. The venue was the Union League Club on East 39th Street, which had been formed in 1863 to support the Union during the Civil War. Prominent speakers at this meeting included Joseph H. Choate, the Reverend Henry C. Potter, and Sidney Smith, who drew attention to the "empty minds and nimble fingers of women" in arguing that there was a need for reform in women's education. When it was Choate's turn to speak, he stressed that women were entitled to an equal education and called for an end to the "educational privileging" of the male sex. At the conclusion of the event, attendees began signing a petition calling on the Trustees of Columbia College, the leading institution of higher learning in New York, "to extend with as little delay as possible to such properly qualified women as might desire it, the benefit of education at Columbia College by admitting them to lectures and examinations." As more persons signed in the subsequent weeks and months, section after section was glued on to extend the document, until it was 75 feet long and held the signatures of 1,410 persons, including those of then United States President Chester A. Arthur, Samuel P. Avery, Theodore Roosevelt, and Susan B. Anthony.

Presented to the Columbia College Board of Trustees in February of 1883, the giant Memorial served as proof that many progressive citizens of New York favored the idea of post-secondary co-education, a trend that was already well-established elsewhere in the United States. Although the Trustees (with the lone exception of President Frederick A. P. Barnard) voted to reject the Memorial's substance, it did persuade them to immediately form the Select Committee on the Education of Women. In the fall of 1883, the Committee issued a report advocating the improvement of higher education for women. Although still not allowed to attend the lectures that were so essential to a genuine college education, qualified women were offered the Collegiate Course for Women, which permitted them to receive syllabi and to take examinations. When Annie Nathan Meyer enrolled in the Collegiate Course, she found its shortcomings so great that she made it her personal mission to help found an independent, four-year women's college in the City of New York annexed to Columbia, and with precisely the same academic standards. That vision finally was realized in the fall of 1889, when Barnard College opened with the provisional blessing of the Columbia College Board of Trustees.

In the spring of 2003, one hundred twenty years after it was presented to the Columbia College Board of Trustees, the Giant Memorial was returned to the Barnard College Archives by the Northeast Document Conservation Center, following a process of manual restoration that took the better part of a year, and was made possible by a generous gift from the Class of 1942. Originally rolled on a wooden dowel, too fragile to be examined for many years, the 75-foot document was meticulously repaired, flattened, photographed, and cut into twenty-six sections which were individually encapsulated in Mylar.

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