Opening of Barnard College

October 7, 1889

Driven by the effective and fervent lobbying efforts of activist Annie Nathan Meyer (1867-1951), Barnard College opened its doors on October 7, 1889.

Although a number of northern women's colleges had opened during the 1870s, numerous cities, including New York, had little to offer young women of scholarly inclinations. In 1885, when she was 18, Annie Nathan, who was largely self-educated, sought educational alternatives by organizing a reading circle and enrolling in the newly established extension program for women at Columbia College.

Meyer married shortly before her 20th birthday in 1887 and soon began working to establish an affiliate women's college to Columbia. Meyer published a powerful letter in the Nation magazine and circulated a petition throughout the city to enlist the college's trustees in her effort. Meyer succeeded in securing funding and support from the trustees on April 1, 1889, leased quarters for the school, and began accepting applicants. Barnard became the first women's college in New York to offer the rigorous course work equivalent to that of male liberal arts colleges.

Annie Nathan Meyer continued her work with Barnard throughout her life, becoming a member of the first board of trustees where she remained active for the ensuing six decades.

Sources: Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 918-920;


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Jewish Women's Archive. "Opening of Barnard College." (Viewed on September 24, 2023) <>.


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