Annie Nathan Meyer was one of the founders of Barnard College despite the opposition of the establishment. Her personal experiences at Columbia College gave her the reasons why there should be a college for women.
She was born on February 19, 1867, in New York City, to Annie August and Robert Weeks Nathan. Her descendants were one of America's oldest and distinguished families of Sephardic Jews, who were prominently involved in the commercial and cultural life in New York since the Revolutionary War.
Her father's speculation on Wall Street brought him to the brink of bankruptcy. He took a job on a small railroad in the Middle West. The five children saw their parents fall apart as her their mother turned to drugs and died in Chicago in 1878 and the children went to live with their grandmother in New York.
Annie prepared herself for college with special tutoring and she was finally enrolled in Columbia College. After a year, she dropped out of college to marry Alfred Meyer, a prominent physician, who was her cousin and thirteen years older.
A few weeks after their wedding, she began organizing a committee to work for the development of a women's college at Columbia. She reasoned that if Columbia didn't have to pay for it, they might be receptive to the idea. She persuaded fifty well known New Yorkers to support the concept of a college for women.
Meyer was an astute politician when she named the college after F.A.P. Barnard, Columbia's recently deceased president. While his widow and many members of Columbia's board of trustees were against erecting another add-on college, this move defused them. They could not oppose naming the college after one of their presidents.
Large donations started coming in with her husband being the first to contribute. In September, 1889, the college became a reality when it opened its doors for women to start the first semester. Annie Meyer became a trustee and was active until 1942.
Meyer was a prolific writer. She had written a play, "Black Souls," in 1935, which was one of 26 plays that she had written. She also wrote articles against women suffrage, not because she didn't want them to have the vote, but she was against the notion that women would purify politics. She wrote three novels, an autobiography and two books of non-fiction. Most of her themes were on the conflicts that women experienced in having a career and marriage.
Meyer was very proud of her Jewish-American ancestry. She was active in the Daughters of the American Revolution. She raised money to purchase a portrait of Issac Moses for the Museum of the City of New York, in 1933, and she also raised enough money for a performance of Ernest Bloch's "Sacred Music," in 1944. She was an early critic of Nazi Germany and she was an ardent Zionist.
Meyer died of a heart attack on September 23, 1951, in New York City. Her major contributions were in her role as a founder of Barnard College for women and for her advocacy for the full developments of women's talents.
Sources: This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes & Heroines of America : 150 True Stories of American Jewish Heroism, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.