Barnard College was founded in 1889 as the sister school of the male-only undergraduate college at Columbia University, and named after University President Frederick Barnard, an advocate of co-ed education. Though it continues to be affiliated with Columbia, Barnard has technically been independent since 1900, and it retains its own faculty, endowment, and board of trustees, as well as its own reputation as a member of the elite Seven Sisters.
Over the years, various scandals have shaken Barnard, often springing from its freighted relationship with Columbia. In the 1960s, the president of the then-straight-laced men’s institution told the president of the progressive women’s school next door that too many of its undergrads were wearing shorts and pants. A compromise was struck: while on Barnard’s campus, women could wear pants that weren’t too tight and shorts that weren’t too short; while on Columbia’s campus, they would have to cover up more. In 1968, a Barnard woman found living out of wedlock with a Columbia man was almost expelled; she was saved by the coordinated action of 300 of her fellow undergraduates, who said that they could not cast the first stone.
Barnard’s campus occupies four very well-maintained square blocks in Morningside Heights, across the street from Columbia University. As college campuses go, it is neither large nor heavily populated, with many Barnard students scattered throughout the city. Still, students enjoy having their own personal version of downtown Gramercy Park: an oasis from New York’s urban bustle that only they can enter. Like Columbia’s, Barnard’s architectural style is classical, with most buildings composed of red brick, and though its newer dorms are taller, the campus is built on a very human scale.
With its multitudes of restaurants, bars, clubs, theaters, sports arenas, parks, boutiques, department stores, and businesses, New York City can’t be beat for excitement and opportunity. Barnard is located on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, in an area that used to be seedier in parts and has recently gentrified. Real estate is precious and some members of the community, especially those in nearby Harlem, resent Columbia and its affiliates for continuing to expand in all directions. But mostly the college, which occupies only four gated square blocks, gets along with its neighbors.
The Barnard admissions page states that Morningside Heights, where Barnard is located, is ‘essentially a university town.’ I would emphasize the ‘essentially’ here. Although there are plenty of restaurants in the neighborhood, most are relatively mediocre and overpriced. There are few interesting shops and boutiques, and the most frequented retail outlets nearby are Starbucks and American Apparel. However, more interesting places can be found within the immediate vicinity of the University if you venture off Broadway; and your portal to the rest of New York, the subway, is conveniently located at the main gates of both Columbia and Barnard.
Midnight Breakfast: at the beginning of finals week, the administration, including the college president, serves food to the stressed-out student body.
Fall Festival: an outdoor celebration of autumn food (cider, donuts, caramel apples) and music.
The Big Sub: This campus-spanning sandwich grows every fall as students continue to add to it and then work together to eat the whole thing.
Greek Games: the four classes compete in a springtime campus Olympics.
Spirit Day: everyone expresses their love for the school by buying T-shirts and other swag and eating barbecue and ice cream.
Lauren Graham (1988) played Lorelai on "Gilmore Girls."
Patricia Highsmith (1940) wrote the novels "Strangers on a Train" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley."
Zora Neale Hurston (1928) wrote "Their Eyes Were Watching God."
Jhumpa Lahiri (1989) wrote "Interpreter of Maladies" and "The Namesake."
Margaret Mead (1923) was a prominent cultural anthropologist.
Judith Miller (1969) is a journalist who was jailed for refusing to reveal her source in the Valerie Plame scandal.
Cynthia Nixon (1988) played Miranda on "Sex and the City."
Anna Quindlen (1974) writes for Newsweek.
Joan Rivers (1954) is a comedian, actress and talk show host.
Atoosa Rubinstein (1993) was Editor-in-Chief of Seventeen magazine and founded CosmoGirl.
Ntozake Shange (1970) is an African American playwright who wrote "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf."
Martha Stewart (1963) is a TV host and business magnate.
Twyla Tharp (1963) is a prominent choreographer.
Suzanne Vega (1981) wrote the song “Tom’s Diner.”
Sports are not particularly big at Barnard, though the school, as part of Columbia, is Division I within the Ivy League. There are 15 varsity intercollegiate sports as well as club and intramural teams, none of which are too popular. Serious athletes cross the street to play on Columbia’s fields.
The European last name “Barnard” means “killer of bears” or “man as brave as a bear.” Appropriately enough, a bear is the school’s mascot.
While a student there, Martha Stewart worked as a model to pay tuition, and was named one of Glamour magazine’s Best Dressed College Girls of 1961.
Of the original Seven Sisters, Barnard is one of only five that remain single-sex.
George Washington won the only successful Revolutionary War campaign in New York, the Battle of Harlem Heights, on Barnard’s campus.
All first-years live in the four dorms that form the quad on campus: Brooks, Hewitt, Reid, and Sulzberger. Each has an array of singles, doubles, and suites. For upperclassmen, other options include Plimpton (further away from campus, on Amsterdam Avenue, with guaranteed singles), and Cathedral Gardens (even further away than Plimpton, with suites). Suites are available at three off-campus residential buildings (600, 616, and 620 116th street). They are built to house two to nine students in each with bathrooms and kitchens. “Wellness Housing” (substance-free) is also an option, as are co-ed living arrangements at Columbia.