Famous Historical Women Who Should Have Gone to Barnard

by Victoria Fourman

Zora Neale Hurston is just one of Barnard’s many amazing alums

Barnard College has always provided an intellectual haven to some of the brightest, keenest, and most curious female minds since its founding in 1889. It has offered women an opportunity for education that, at many times during the school’s history, was not available elsewhere. In the 125 years following its inception, Barnard has produced a number of brilliant women who have influenced the world through their work in the fine arts, politics, science, and other fields. Margaret Mead, Zora Neale Hurston, Twyla Tharp and Cynthia Nixon comprise only a small fraction of distinguished alumnae. Women have chosen Barnard College to educate them to become better, more informed and active members of society. This sparks a question…what other women in history might have chosen Barnard College for their education had they the opportunity to do so? Of course, I can’t include all the women who would have thrived at Barnard, as that would be a very long list indeed, so I’ve explored just a few options of accomplished, talented women in history who just might have been the perfect Barnard women.



Remember – no hats (or crowns) allowed on CU IDs

Queen Elizabeth II am definitely biased as she is one of my favorite historical figures (I even wrote about her in my application to Barnard), but I think Queen Elizabeth I would have thrived here. Firstly, she was already incredibly educated before she came of college-age. By early adolescence, she could speak six languages, and was known for her love of learning. She stud-ied philosophy, rhetoric, mathematics, logic, and history as a child, and I imagine a political sci-ence degree from Barnard would have been the perfect preparation for her to lead her beloved England.





Mary Wollstonecraft

A strong pioneer in the field for both women and men’s rights

As one of the earliest advocates for women’s rights, Mary Wollstonecraft would have felt right at home at Barnard. She called for equal opportunity in education for boys and girls in the mid-eighteenth century. In her Vindication of the Rights of Woman, she argues that men and women deserve the same fundamental rights as human beings. I think Wollstonecraft would definitely have agreed with Barnard’s mission to provide young women with a top-notch education, and wouldn’t it have been lovely for her to receive the very education for which she fought?

Which English class would she have taken?

Jane Austen
Barnard is known for its strong English program, so what better place would there be to perfect some already stellar writing skills? Austen, unfortunately, was unable to attain much in the way of a formal education but that didn’t stop her from writing some of the most beloved works of fiction ever (not to mention the most wonderful literary heartthrobs*). With her proclivity towards witty criticism and comment on the society of young women, she’d never have to worry about any sort of writer’s block while on Barnard’s campus.
*Looking at you, Mr. Darcy.

Possibly a bold, brave Barnard student?


Sojourner Truth
She was a woman ahead of her time, and her beliefs in civil and women’s rights would have seamlessly fit in at Barnard, where equality and women’s education are celebrated every day. I could endlessly sing the praises of this particular woman, considering some of the bold things she did during her life. In particular, after escaping slavery with her daughter, Truth went back and took her former master to court to regain custody of her son. Her “Ain’t I a Woman?” extemporaneous speech called men out on their double standards in treatment of different races. This was a woman who truth(no pun intended)fully majored in unafraid.

A potential Human Rights major?

Eleanor Roosevelt
Born and raised in New York City, Eleanor Roosevelt would have been a stellar Barnard student. Her formal education ended when she was seventeen, but think of the things she might have accomplished in her time spent here. Roosevelt was deeply interested in social causes, and spent most of her adult life working with civil rights issues, fighting poverty, and, later in life, serving in the United Nations. Given her dedication to serving marginalized groups throughout society, I can imagine Eleanor Roosevelt would have been very interested in the Human Rights program here at Barnard.


Victoria Fourman is a first-year at Barnard and a staff writer for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Images courtesy of Barnard, Wikipedia, The Telegraph, Marie Claire, xroads, and FirstLadies.org.

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