Barnard College was created in 1889 in order to provide women with an opportunity to receive a top education in New York City. Since its founding, many Barnard students have gone on to accomplish great things. From the first Latin American Nobel Prize in Literature winner to the first Orthodox woman to be ordained as a rabbinical leader, Barnard women have been pushing boundaries and changing the game for over a century. Here are some accomplished women who spent their college years as Barnard Bears.
1. Jhumpa Lahiri – writer
While a freshman at Barnard College, Jhumpa Lahiri discovered her roommate’s copy of the novel Light Years by James Salter, which caused her to fall in love with contemporary literature. Eleven years after graduating from Barnard College, Jhumpa Lahiri won the Pulitzer Prize for Interpreter of Maladies, her collection of short stories. She has since published several novels, as well as numerous short stories and essays in The New Yorker.
2. Lauren Graham – actress and writer
Most people know Lauren Graham from her role as Lorelai in the hit TV show Gilmore Girls. Never one to be pigeonholed, Graham has also had roles in many different shows and films, such as Parenthood, and has written two novels. Graham’s Barnard pride is evident; she returned to Barnard to welcome new students to college in 2014, and she could be spotted sporting a Barnard baseball cap on an episode of Parenthood.
3. Zora Neale Hurston – writer and activist
Zora Neale Hurston was a significant figure in the Harlem Renaissance and a hugely important novelist. Though her work went underappreciated for many years while she was alive, her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God is now often recognized as one of the most important works of the early twentieth century. She made history as the first black student to graduate from Barnard College.
4. Jeanine Tesori – composer
Barnard College is known for its excellent theatre and music departments – not to mention its proximity to Broadway shows – so it’s no surprise that one of the most talented present-day composers studied at Barnard. Jeanine Tesori entered Barnard intending to be pre-med, but she later changed her major to music. She has since worked on many Broadway musical compositions, including Fun Home and Shrek The Musical. In 2015, Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron became the first women-only writing team to win a Tony Award for a musical score when they received the award for Fun Home.
5. Chelsea Peretti – comedian
While at Barnard, Chelsea Peretti took advantage of attending college in New York City by attending improv classes and making connections with other comedians. Now, she’s well-known for her role as Gina Linetti in Brooklyn Nine-Nine and her Netflix stand-up special, One of the Greats.
6. Linda Laubenstein – physician and activist
Linda Laubenstein’s name may not be as well known as some of the others on this list, but it should be. Laubenstein was a doctor who was instrumental in early AIDS research during the U.S. AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. After contracting polio during her childhood and ending up a paraplegic, Laubenstein chose Barnard because of its wheelchair accessibility. She went on to conduct groundbreaking research connecting Kaposi’s sarcoma with AIDS and to co-found Multitasking, an organization dedicated to finding employment opportunities for people living with HIV and AIDS. A major character in Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart was based on Laubenstein and was portrayed by Julia Roberts in the HBO film adaptation.
7. Ntozake Shange – writer
Ntozake Shange is best known for her first work, “for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf,” which combines several artistic forms to tell the stories of seven women’s experiences facing racism and sexism. In addition to this work, she has written many more plays, essays, novels and poems. Shange has stated that she “felt as if she came of age as a feminist and an artist at Barnard” where she was heavily involved politically and artistically on campus. The Barnard Archives and Special Collections recently acquired Shange’s personal papers, including early poems, essays and an annotated manuscript of “for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf,” so students can gain a deeper understanding of Shange’s work.
8. Martha Stewart – businesswoman and television personality
Martha Stewart majored in history and architectural history at Barnard before releasing countless cookbooks and eventually creating her own company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. She now guest-stars on TV shows and continues to release craft and cooking advice through her company. According to Stewart, she has been struck by lightning three times.
9. Diana Chang – writer
Diana Chang is the author of several novels and poems, with her most famous novel being The Frontiers of Love. Chang studied English and creative writing at Barnard. During her college years, she had poetry published in the prestigious Poetry Magazine, as well as Barnard’s own literary magazine. After publishing five novels, Chang returned to Barnard College as an adjunct associate professor of English.
10. Greta Gerwig – actress, writer, and director
If there's one alumna with obvious Barnard pride, it's Greta Gerwig. As well as co-writing and starring in the critically acclaimed Frances Ha, Gerwig co-wrote and co-starred in Mistress America, a film that takes place partly at Barnard College and tells the story of a Barnard student. She returned to Barnard to speak at the opening of the Athena Film Festival, an annual Barnard event celebrating women in cinema. Recently, she co-starred in Twentieth Century Women, and made her directorial debut with Lady Bird (which she also wrote), which will be released this fall.
The list of noteworthy Barnard alumnae definitely doesn't stop there; Barnard students have a long history of going on to do big things, and these listed women are a few examples out of many. There are countless graduates from a variety of fields who have made a difference after graduating from Barnard College, and there are doubtlessly many more to come.
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