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Magisterial Feminae, 1930-1980: Home

How women who studied the ancient world innovated Brooklyn College, the Latin Greek Institute, and Beyond

Welcome! This exhibition focuses on the contributions made by the Magisterial Feminae—female professors who taught premodernity in a range of disciplines between 1930-1980 C.E. at Brooklyn College. Premodernity concerns the world between 5000 B.C.E. and 1500 C.E. The Feminae presented here include faculty from a broad range of departments: Classics, Art, English, Government, History, or Modern Languages and Literatures. For more information about these women and their work, see The Feminae.

The materials presented here tell the story of these women’s extraordinary contributions to the classroom and their discoveries and transformative insights to the study of premodernity. It also situates their achievements in the context of a mid-twentieth century academic landscape that was always challenging, if not sometimes downright hostile, to women. Finally, it seeks to demonstrate how their specific training as premodernists equipped them with an array of skills that were put to uses beyond the classroom and often had tremendous effects on the larger institution of Brooklyn College.

This exhibition contains four major threads. The Premodern World focuses on the history and academic achievements of premodernist women faculty. The history of the Latin/Greek Institute, founded in 1973, is recounted in the LGI page. Women Persevered details the perseverance these Feminae showed despite the discrimination faced by women in the academy in the 20th century. Finally, Humanities at Brooklyn College relays how these Feminae built a strong tradition of teaching, research, and scholarship of the humanities at Brooklyn College. Since the founding of Brooklyn College, the humanities have been central to the College’s academic mission, inspiration, and disposition, and women have been essential to their success.

All the artifacts in the exhibit were assembled by faculty and student researchers. The majority are part of the extraordinary collections of the Brooklyn College Archives. Our exhibition is a testament to how the local can be transcendent: though focused on BC’s Magisterial Feminae, we tell a larger story about the history of women, higher education, and the nation as a whole.

For a list of exhibition credits and acknowledgments, please see the dedicated tab. Enjoy!

Lauren Mancia, Associate Professor of History,

Lucas Rubin, Director of the Latin/Greek Institute,

“I have never forgotten what [Alice Kober] once said to us:
“How do you tell a great book? Your hair stands on end and the back of your neck tingles.” I fell in love with Homer, with my teacher, with those classics all at once. I don’t think I’ve ever again floated in such clouds of glory.”
~Eva Brann, ’50

“In fact, as a [student] medievalist, I learned useful and marketable skills as well as more esoteric ones. I learned how to write papers, how to do research, how to think independently, and how to balance intense academic demands with an active social life.”
~Anne Finkelman Ziff, ’61

“The courses taught by history faculty [and Mary Francis Gyles particularly], were demanding and challenging and gave me the tools with which to pursue knowledge in and outside academia that was imbued with critical thinking— before the term became a buzzword of today.”
~Miriam Sharma ‘62

“Omnibus satis constat quomodo haec magistra doctissima [Rita Fleischer] effecerit ut lingua Latina floruerit, in urbe numquam dormienti (et quoque, ut fit, in orbe terrarum ultra hanc insulam fabulosam). Nunc tamen nobis, et praecipue societati nostrae hoc tempore, virtutes et labores eius sunt colendi. Multa opera, libellos et libros, scripsit scribitque.”
~Richard Gilder and Judith P. Hallett

Classical World, Vol. 101, Number 4, summer 2008, pp. 537–538