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Meyer, Annie Nathan


MEYER, ANNIE NATHAN (1867–1951), U.S. educator, activist, and writer. Born in New York City to a family of early colonial stock (see *Nathan family), Meyer was an autodidact. Dissatisfied with the lack of serious educational opportunities for women in New York, Meyer determined to found a college for women within Columbia University, advocating her cause on the speaker's platform and in the press. When she had obtained substantial financial contributions, she negotiated with the trustees of Columbia University, and, in just two years, her efforts were realized. In 1889, two years after her marriage to alfred meyer, a prominent New York physician, Barnard College opened, and Meyer became its lifelong trustee. The Meyers had one daughter who died tragically in 1924.

Although Annie Meyer considered herself a feminist, she opposed the women's suffrage movement. Decrying unintelligent use of the vote, she called for the inclusion of an educational clause in the suffrage bill. Meyer was the prolific author of plays, novels, social studies, magazine articles, and art reviews, including Barnard's Beginnings (1935) and Women's Work in America (1891; rep. 1972). Her first novel, Helen Brent, M.D. (1892), celebrated a woman who chose medicine over marriage. However, Meyer idealized motherhood and expressed her opposition to mothers who worked for self-fulfillment in two plays dealing with that theme, The Dominant Sex (1911) and The Advertising of Kate (produced on Broadway in 1921). Another play, Black Souls (produced and published in 1932), dealt with hypocrisy and race relations in the American South. Her autobiography, It's Been Fun, appeared in 1951.

Meyer was an active lecturer and publicist who spoke to both Jews and African Americans about the "challenge of prejudice" and the need for pride in one's heritage. True to her principles, she sponsored and supported several Jewish and African-American students at Barnard, including writer Zora Neale Hurston. Early in the 1930s, she recognized the dangers of Nazism and clashed publicly with several prominent New Yorkers whom she accused of antisemitism. Though she was not acknowledged in her lifetime as Barnard College's founder, she never lost her enthusiasm for the school, even as she devoted her energies to literature and social justice causes.


D. Askowith, Three Outstanding Women (1941); M. Goldenberg, "Annie Nathan Meyer," in: jwa, 2, 918–21.

[Myrna Goldenberg (2nd ed.)]

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