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Barnard’s Founder

Lawrence Bush
February 19, 2018

Annie Nathan Meyer, the key founder of Barnard College, was born on this day in 1867 into an illustrious colonial Sephardic New York family (Emma Lazarus was among her cousins). Although Meyer was an active opponent of women’s suffrage — which brought her into direct conflict with her activist sister, Maud Nathan — she personally obtained the approval, the funding, and the first lease for New York’s first women’s college and served on its board from 1893 until 1942. Meyer was a well-known novelist, playwright, and memoirist. She resigned from the Daughters of the American Revolution because it sanctioned segregation, brought Zora Neale Hurston on scholarship to Barnard (breaking the school’s color barrier), and consulted regularly with the NAACP. In the 1930s, Meyer confronted Madison Grant, president of the New York Zoological Society, as a pro-Nazi racist, and wrote countless letters-to-the-editor calling attention to the persecution of German Jews.

“Had my ambition been less, the gap between idea and fulfillment would perhaps have been slighter.” —Annie Nathan Meyer

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.