Annie Nathan Meyer
(1867 - 1951)
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
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.