Carefully constructed and thoroughly researched examination of the role played by Columbia University’s women in transforming a small, all-male, WASPy college into a diverse research institution and influential center for feminist scholarship.
Rosenberg (History/Barnard College; Divided Lives: American Women in the Twentieth Century, 1992, etc.) argues that the cosmopolitan nature of New York City, which offered an array of opportunities for women with training and talent, and the balkanization of Columbia, which grouped female students into separate schools with their own faculties, combined to provide a unique setting where women were able to challenge the status quo. When Columbia, long resistant to admitting women, finally acquiesced in 1889, it insisted they be kept in separate enclaves. The result was the nurturing of generations of female students by female faculty free of the masculine bias of conventional academic disciplines. From Barnard, Columbia’s all-female college, and from Teacher’s College and the School of General Studies came a corps of dedicated students who gradually gained entrance to the rest of the university. Using a wealth of sources, Rosenberg profiles the leading figures in the long struggle to achieve academic parity and to reshape thinking about gender, ethnicity, race, culture, and politics. She ranges from lesser-known reformers, benefactors, presidents, and professors to 15-minutes-of-famer Linda LeClair (who, in the 1960s, challenged the school’s housing rules by living off-campus with her boyfriend) to such well-known figures as anthropologists Ruth Benedict and Margaret Meade, Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and feminist writer Kate Millett. The personal details are necessarily skimpy at times, since Rosenberg’s cast is huge and the span of years more than a century. Because of Columbia’s location in the country’s media capital, the women whose ideas and actions shook up the university received attention and gained influence far beyond Manhattan. Rosenberg includes an impressive list of Columbia women and their achievements that illustrates the breadth of their influence.
Essential reading for women’s-studies courses.