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Select Guide to Women's History Collections

Compiled by Emilyn L. Brown

In the early 19th century, the rapid growth of new industries and employment opportunities emphasized the special need for higher education. In New York City civic and religious leaders began meeting in December of 1829 to launch a new educational institution. Their efforts eventually led to the founding of the University of the City of New York, incorporated on April 18, 1831.(1) The founders took great pride in the University's liberal approach to education hoping it would extend its benefits "in greater abundance and variety… to larger numbers of young persons, who form the rising hope of our country."(2) Yet, during its formative years, the University primarily served young men seeking careers in law, education or medicine. Women, consigned to a "separate sphere of influence," had fewer choices regarding education. However, in the final decades of the century, organizational strategies helped them gain equal footing. This important chapter in NYU's long history is well documented in the University archives.

Early Pioneers of Change

Rev. Howard B. Crosby (1826-1891), a Presbyterian minister and fourth Chancellor of the University from 1870-1881, publicly advocated coeducation. His stance led to the involvement of the New York chapter of Sorosis, a national women's club. According to Sorosis founder Jane Cunningham Croly (1829-1901), a suffragist, popular journalist, and magazine editor who wrote under the pseudonym "Jennie June," their mission was to elevate the social and professional status of women. Other notable members of Sorosis included Anne Charlotte Lynch Botta (1815-1891), a teacher, poet and artist married to University professor Vincent Botta.

In 1876, a few years after several women had been admitted to the School of Art, Ms. Croly organized a petition drive to get University officials to admit women to all schools. Additional support came from the Eucleian Society, a literary organization headquartered in the old University Building. The Society frequently debated the intellect of women and published a resolution in support of their admission. Eventually, the University's governing council amended their policies toward women. In response, Rev. Crosby published the essay "Coeducation," stating his wish to see "young men and women on the same benches at the same time, receiving the same intellectual discipline in the humanities and sciences."(3)

Additional victories took place in 1888-89, when Mary B. Dennis became the first woman to gain admission to the University's Graduate School of Arts and Science. In 1890, the Women's Law Class and the Women's Legal Education Society was founded to provide women with legal knowledge, "in order to better protect their rights."(4) Henry M. MacCracken, the University's sixth Chancellor from 1891-1910, was also a staunch advocate of coeducation and allowed the Society to administer the law class. The University sponsored the lectures. Prominent members of the Society included Margaret Sage, Helen Miller Gould, and Margaret Buell Munn who with other Society members developed twelve full and twenty part-time scholarships.(5)

Dr.Emily Kempin, a graduate of the Zurich Law School, has been credited with the formation and the success of the University's first woman's law class, held on October 30, 1890. Prior to teaching the class, she had been permitted to attend legal lectures with men in 1888 and taught Roman law to unreceptive male students.(6) Along with Mrs. Fanny B. Webber, Dr. Kempin had also founded a legal aid society to aid the poor.(7) Three women were enrolled in the first class, graduating in 1892. The same year, Ms. Dennis became the first woman to receive a Ph.D from the University. A 1893 law school graduate, Stanleyetta Titus, became the first woman to be admitted to the New York State Bar.

After Dr. Kempin left the University at the end of the 1890-91 to accept a teaching post in Switzerland, Professor Isaac Franklin Russell, a prominent lawyer who received his B.A. (1875) and M.A. (1879) from the University, took over the position. For more than a decade, he developed and improved the class curriculum and his lectures were compiled and published as Outline Study of the Law.(8)

The accomplishments of the law school led to other critical developments. In 1890, formation of The Women's Advisory Committee, (WAC) was authorized by the University Council. The primary task of the WAC was "to prepare for [the Council's] consideration plans and recommendations for the advancement of the University's work for women." The rationale for this decision was explained by Bayrd Still, former University professor of history and its first archivist, "It was deemed expedient to have the cooperation of representative women interested in the promotion of University work in the most advanced lines of study and investigation."(9) Over the next 30 years, WAC developed the School of Pedagogy, one of the first in the nation.(10)

Scholarships provided by WAC members also helped increase the number of women enrollees. Mrs. Martha Buell Plum Munn, (1856-1926) and her family were among the largest contributors to this cause and assisted in the University's educational development as well. Her daughter, Aristine Munn-Recht served as the first Dean of Women at Washington Square College (WSC) from 1917 to the early 1920s and her son, James Buell Munn (1890-1967), served as Dean of WSC from 1928 to 1932.

Helen Miller Gould also joined WAC in 1894, providing numerous scholarships for the School of Pedagogy. Ms. Gould was equally generous in other respects. Continuing her father's earlier financial support of the University, she and her brother Frank financed the opening of the University Heights Bronx campus, the building of the University's Hall of Fame and the Gould Library. Ironically, these financial gifts, which totaled more than $2 million, did nothing to alter the restrictions placed on women's attendance at "The Heights."(11) Until 1959, women were only allowed to attend summer sessions.

Although women were admitted to the University in incremental stages, the strength of their pioneering efforts can be measured by the number of female graduates, faculty members and administrators who have distinguished themselves in music, education, law and medicine. The following profiles are only a few of the archival records that document the success of women at NYU.

NYU Profiles

The Marion Eugenie Bauer Papers MC 3

Marion Eugenie Bauer (1887-1955) was the first woman faculty member to join the Music Department at Washington Square College. Educated at St. Helen's Hall in Portland, Oregon, she studied under several famous musicians and received a Master of Arts (hon.) from Whitman College in 1932, and Doctor of Music degree (hon.) from the New York College of Music in 1951. Initially, she held the position of Instructor in Music from 1926 to 1928 at Washington Square College. In 1928, she was appointed Assistant Professor of Music, a title she maintained until 1930, when she became an Associate Professor. Ms. Bauer was a member of the Society of American Women Composers and served as a lecturer, editor, critic and writer. She retired from New York University in August 1951.

The Lillian Herlands Hornstein Papers MC 140

The Lillian Herlands Hornstein Papers (1909 - 1999) detail the career of an NYU "professor of distinction." Ms. Hornstein entered Washington Square College as a student in 1925 where she received her BS (1929), MA (1930) and Ph.D. (1940). She remained at NYU where she began her teaching career as a graduate assistant. By 1959, she had become a full professor and taught Medieval English Literature until her retirement in 1974. As a Chaucerian and English scholar, the Hornstein Collection reflects her personal professional interest in research and includes correspondence, bibliographical indexes, manuscripts, papers and articles pertaining to Chaucer, medieval studies and linguistics.

The Dorothy McSparran Arnold Papers RG 19.3

Several administrators contributed to the development of NYU's services for women. Dorothy McSparran Arnold (d.1971) graduated from Cornell University in 1918. In 1924, she taught as an English professor at Washington Square College, which already had a solid reputation for women's undergraduate education. By 1925, she had become a counselor of student affairs for women students. Several years later, the Council appointed Mrs. Arnold Assistant Dean. She continued in this role until November of 1948 when she became Dean of Women, reporting directly to the Dean of Washington Square College until her retirement in 1961. As an Advisor and Dean, Mrs. Arnold was concerned with promoting the welfare of women students. She provided a sense of continuity, structure and assisted in the development of new programs for women. In addition, she served as an active advisor to most of the women's organizations on campus and helped coordinate many of the activities of the League of Women, women's honorary and social societies and women's athletics.

The Arnold records contain important material on women's organizations at NYU such as the League of Women and the Eclectic Society records spanning some thirty years (1920's-50's). Information highlighting the constant struggle that Dean Arnold waged to gain funding for adequate facilities and programs for women, annual reports, and the American Association of University Women and Mortar Board files are also valuable additions to the collection. Arnold's files on the cases of two New York University victims of the 50's political paranoia, Edwin Berry Burgum and Lyman R. Bradley are also of great interest. Burgum, a tenured member of the English department was dismissed by the Chancellor after refusing to testify before the McCarran Committee in 1952. Bradley, convicted of contempt for refusing to surrender the records of Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee to the House committee, was temporarily suspended and removed from the chairmanship of the German department. Photographs are filed within appropriate folders.

Washington Square College: Counselor to Women Students-Dorothea Berger Records:1952-1966 RG 19.4

The Berger Papers (1952-1966) detail Dorothea Berger's role as an administrative counselor focusing on women's interests. Although many of her records duplicate, overlap, and seem to incorporate some of Arnold's Papers files, noteworthy files include her work with Judson Residence, University Christian Foundation, Association of Women Students, Loeb Student Center, Gamma Gamma Sigma, Parker, Pan-Hellenic and Junior Advisors folders. The Berger papers and Arnold papers should be regarded as complementary collections.

The Alice Keliher Papers -- MC 139

In the field of education, Alice Keliher (1903-1995) became one of the University's most devoted champions of early educational development. A former neighbor and close friend of Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, they both shared a commitment to human rights. Over the course of her professional career, Ms. Keliher served as Director of Child and Youth services for the New York Office of Civil Defense, secretary for Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia's Committee for Wartime Care of Children and taught at NYU for more than two decades.

Related Materials in the University Archives

  • Archives H
    Archives H includes subject files that feature various aspects of NYU's wide range of history. Material on the University Heights campus, the Womens Advisory Committee, specific NYU schools, events, obituaries and many other newsworthy items are available.
  • Biographical Files
    The biographical files contain clippings, obituaries, CV's and other personal background for NYU's faculty, administrators and some students and alumni. It is often used in conjunction with the portrait files described below.
  • Portrait Files
    The Portrait File Collection includes photos of many notable women affiliated with NYU, including Anne Charlotte Lynch Botta, Jane Cunningham Croly, Emily Kempin, Alice Keliher, Marion Eugenie Bauer, Dorothy McSparran Arnold, Lillian Hornstein and many famed alumni. Some photo files are cross-referenced with biographical files containing correspondence, curriculum vitae and obituaries.
  • Class Collections (RG 40.1.2)
    Class Collections include scrapbooks, autograph albums, constitution and minute books, announcements, diaries, artifacts, newspaper clippings, cor-respondence and commencement memorabilia. This collection is cross-referenced to the Chancellor's Records for the class of 1939 and the biographical file.
  • Clippings Collection, 1875-1960
    Arranged chronically, the Clipping Collection offers an extensive history of women at NYU. Files pertaining to the Law School include "Legal education for women," (1893), "Law lectures for women," "Women Graduates"(1903), "Plans for the Women's Law Class" (1896-97), "Women's Law Class" (19041897-Apr. 26, 1900), "Do Women Make Good Lawyers?" by Dean Ashley (Box CF8 Apr. 4, 1900 Jun. 9, 1904) "Women Lawyers and their powers" (Box CF8 Apr. 4, 1900 Jun. 9, 1904) "Are Women Crowding Men Out? (Box CF8 Apr. 4, 1900 - Jun. 9, 1904) Mrs. Sutro, first female NYU law graduate, dies (1906 Clippings Folder - Scrapbook); "Women's law class closes," "Thirty-six women graduates in law" and "Women lawyers termed 'suffragists,'" (1914). Articles about the School of Pedagogy, especially early disputes are also represented in the collection such as "Women in university row" and "Women's Board a university power" (1901 -1904). See also Archives H. Clippings about University Heights include " Gifts from Helen M. Gould (1896-97; 1900, 1904).
  • Historical Publications on NYU (RG 2)
    Includes original documents, dissertations minutes and published works relating to the early history of NYU.
  • Student Records
    Eight boxes of student record books document registration for the years 1832 - 1916 (RG 12.4). The records include the names of students and their parents, their address, fees, and other pertinent remarks concerning their education.

Notes and Bibliography

(1) Founding of the University, RG 1.0, and "An Act Incorporating the University of the City of New York, Chancellors Records, 1827 - 1888, RG 3.0.1, Boxes 46 and 53. This was the original name of New York University

(2) J.M. Mathews et al, "Considerations upon The Expediency and the Means of Establishing a University in the City of New York Addressed to the Citizens," Founding of the University RG 1.0, Series 1, Box 57

(3) "Coeducation," The Chancellor Howard Crosby Papers, 1870 - 1881

(4) For the Better Protection of their Rights: A History of the First Fifty Years of the Woman's Legal Education Society and the Woman's Law Class at New York University. NY: New York University Press, 1940. p. 4; Law School Student Records 1860 - 1940.

(5) Frusciano and Pettit, New York University and the City, pp. 72-73

(6) Ibid.

(7) Ibid.

(8) For early descriptions see for example, Women's Law Class Bulletins, RG 22, Box 1

(9) Preliminary notes on the history of the "Women's Advisory Committee" and "Committee of Women-Honorary" prepared by Bayrd Still, November 29, 1978, Archives H; Bayrd Still, Lectures on the Early History of New York University, 1982, MC 43, Box 1

(10) School of Education Faculty Minutes, 1890 - 1977, RG 26.0, Box 1

(11) "New York University's Own Hall of Fame," p. 17, Bayrd Still Lectures on the Early History of New York University, 1982, MC 43, Box 1

Recommended Readings

Abate, Catherine M. "How Long Must Women Wait For Liberty?" New York and the Women's Suffrage Movement 1848-1920. NY: Prepared by Catherine M. Abate, State Senator, 27th District, 1995.

Bender, Thomas. New York Intellect: A History of Intellectual Life in New York City From 1750 to the Beginning of Our Own Time. NY: Oxford University Press, 1988.

"Considerations upon The Expediency and the Means of Establishing a University in the City of New York Addressed to the Citizens." New York: Grattan, Printer, 22 Wall Street, 1830. Founding of the University 1830 - 1958, RG 1.0

Dim, Joan Marans & Nancy Murphy Cricco, The Miracle on Washington Square: New York University. Lanham, MD.: Lexington Books, 2001.

Eckhaus, Phyllis. "Restless Women: The Pioneering Alumnae of New York University School of Law." New York Law Review, Vol. 66, 1996.

For the Better Protection of their Rights: A History of the First Fifty Years of the Woman's Legal Education Society and the Woman's Law Class at New York University. New York: New York University Press, 1940.

Frusciano, Tom and Marilyn Pettit, New York University and the City, an Illustrated History. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1997.

James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

McCracken, John H. "The Education of Women." College and Commonwealth. New York: Century Co., 1920.

Potash, David M. The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at New York University: A History. New York: NYU Arts and Sciences Publications, March 1991.

Rosenberg, Rosalind. Beyond Separate Spheres: The Intellectual Roots of Modern Feminism. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1982.

Still, Bayrd. "New York University's Own Hall of Fame," New York University, Archives H.

__________. Preliminary Notes on the History of the Women's Advisory Committee and Committee of Women - Honorary, prepared November 29, 1978. Archives H.

Straus, Percy S. New York and New York University: A Statement of Purposes and Plans. Historical Publications of New York University, RG 1, Series 10, Box 1.




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