Towards a New History of Douglass College: Essays by Students from the Douglass Scholars Program

Towards a New History of Douglass College: Essays by Students from the Douglass Scholars Program

Seal of Douglas college. pine tree, 1918
Douglass College Seal



In the spring of 1999, Professor Deirdre Kramer, Director of the Douglass College Scholars' Program, invited us to teach a scholars seminar based on the university's archival resources. Since relatively little has been published on the history of Douglass College since George P. Schmidt's 50th anniversary celebration Douglass College: A History (New Brunswick, 1968), we decided to make the history of the college the focus of the seminar. In class, we tried to position Douglass College, founded as New Jersey College for Women in 1918, in the continuum of women's higher education, beginning with the women's academies of the early republic and following in the tradition of the colleges for women founded in the mid-nineteenth century. As a constituent part of Rutgers University, Douglass was also placed within the context of the nineteenth-century land-grant colleges and modern state universities. The seminar traced the development of Douglass College from its struggling early years to its contemporary status as a residential women's college within a multi-faceted research university.

In class, the students were exposed to the University Archives, particularly the records of Douglass College, and each student wrote a research paper based on some aspect of the college's history which interested her. Fortuitously, 1999 marked the twentieth anniversary of the Douglass Scholars' Program. In commemoration of that anniversary, and in celebration of the history of the college, now in its eighty-second year, we present the students' papers. We would first like to thank the five students–Elizabeth David, Shana Groeschler, Christine Appel, Lauren Hyer, and Catherine Demarest–for without their hard work in a new and taxing area, this volume would not exist. We would also like to thank Deirdre Kramer for giving us the opportunity to teach the seminar, and the Douglass College Scholars' Program, Douglass College, and the Associate Alumnae for making possible the publication of this booklet.

In their essays, all the students focused to some degree on the undergraduate experience at Douglass College. In her essay on Douglass College traditions, Elizabeth David traces the Yule Log, Campus Night, and Sacred Path ceremonies to the earliest graduating classes, and shows how these traditions have evolved from a way of promoting unity among members of a particular class-year, to a way of unifying all Douglass College women. Shana Groeschler also covers 80 years or so of Douglass history in her study of the development of the college's home economics department. Home economics played an important role in the founding of the college, which received federal funding to provide industrial training to New Jersey women. From its foundation until its merger with its counterpart at Cook College in the early 1980's, however, home economics at Douglass struggled with the tension between the vocational nature of the curriculum and Douglass' identity as a liberal arts college.

Christine Appel mines the history of another Douglass department, German, in her essay on the Bergel-Hauptmann case. In this notorious episode, Lienhard Bergel charged that he was dismissed from his position as an instructor in the German department because of the Nazi sympathies of the chairman, Friedrich Hauptmann. After a lengthy investigation, a special university committee cleared Hauptmann of all charges. Fifty years later the case was reopened and another university committee again cleared Hauptmann of dismissing Bergel for political reasons, but maintained that he was indeed a Nazi. Paying special attention to the role of the students in the controversy, Christine reevaluates both reports and comes up with a fresh perspective on the case.

Lauren Hyer and Catherine Demarest chose to concentrate on the more recent history of Douglass College. Lauren explores the influence of the feminist movement of the early 1970's on the college, both in terms of academics and student life. She demonstrates how the women's movement, along with changes in the structure of the university, led to a reaffirmation of Douglass' mission as a women's college. Catherine Demarest also addresses these issues in her essay on the history of the Douglass Scholars' Program. The Scholars' Program was founded in 1979 at a time when Rutgers College had recently become coeducational, and university reorganization was on the horizon. In subsequent years, the program became the academic flagship of the redefined college. In this 20th year of the Scholars Program, her thoughtful essay makes a fitting conclusion to this volume.

  • Traditions of Douglass College: The Transition from Class-Centered to College-Centered Focus
    By Elizabeth David
  • The Impact of the Women's Liberation Movement on Douglass College
    By Lauren Hyer


In Fall 2000, the Douglass Scholars Program sponsored the sophomore-junior seminar "Issues and Debates in Women's Higher Education." This seminar uses Douglass College as a case study to focus on the development and history of women's higher education in the United States. Douglass College, originally know as New Jersey College for Women (NJC), was founded in 1918 by Mabel Smith Douglass and the State Federation of Women's Clubs. In spite of scant resources, NJC developed into one of the premier women's colleges in the country. During the semester, the six students (Allison Badertscher '01, Suzanne Boyle '03, Jacqueline Green '03, Kathryn Mogol '03, Bernice Rosenzweig '02, and Amanda Winter DC '03) explored this history through using the archival records of the college preserved in the Rutgers University Archives. The archives enabled the students to go beyond the standard account of the college, George P. Schmidt's Douglass College: A History (Rutgers University Press, 1968), and cast new light on controversial issues such as Mabel Smith Douglass' leadership style, student rebellion and unrest in both the 1920s and 1960s, and the sweeping changes which occurred at Douglass College and in the university as a whole during the 1970s and 1980s. The students investigated these topics in a series of short papers, several of which are available on this web site illustrated with photographs from the Rutgers University Archives.

We would like to thank Deirdre Kramer and the Douglass Scholars Program, which provided generous funding for the creation of this web site, and the following students who worked on the site: Allison Badertscher DC '01, Carlos Ron RC '01, Veronica Meyer SC '03 and Luis Martinez RC '04. Special thanks go to Sam McDonald, Rutgers University Libraries Webmaster and his student assistant for providing technical assistance and support. Most of all we would like to thank the six students who worked so hard in the seminar and inspired us with their enthusiasm.

Fernanda Perrone
Thomas J. Frusciano

thumbnail of woodprint of Vorhees chapel steeple

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