Professional and Academic Training in the Fine Arts Program at NJC, 1920-1952


In 2018, the Douglass Residential College (DRC) celebrated the 100th anniversary of the college’s founding. The anniversary generated many programs and publications that extended into 2019 and 2020. For instance, in October 2019, Women Artists on the Leading Edge: Visual Arts at Douglass College by Joan Marter, Rutgers Distinguished Professor Emerita, was published by the Rutgers University Press. Aware of the college’s long history as a leader in visual arts pedagogy, Douglass Dean Jacquelyn S. Litt provided funding to support additional research by DRC students. We are delighted to share the results of Hallel Yadin’s research in this blog. Hallel is currently an Archives Associate at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York.

Professional and Academic Training in the Fine Arts Program at NJC, 1920-1952

Hallel Yadin, DRC ‘19


In its early days, New Jersey College for Women (NJC) was the only non-normal school (teacher’s college) option for New Jersey’s women. As such, it assumed some responsibility for preparing its students for the state workforce. Here lay some tension about its goals as an institution of higher education. While it fancied itself a small liberal arts college in the vein of Vassar or Sarah Lawrence, as per the sensibilities of its ever-decorous founder, Mabel Smith Douglass, the liberal arts did not always align with the needs of the state. The Fine Arts Department at New Jersey College for Women was one arena where this disconnect played out.

First, there were tensions related to art being regarded as a serious object of study in the academy. However, by the time NJC formed an art department, those had largely been alleviated. As Dean Mabel Smith Douglass wrote in 1930, “Long regarded by the colleges as merely a kind of adornment as far as solid education went, and as scarcely worthy of serious consideration, [art] has gradually, but surely, won its right to be considered, much as music, a serious study of dignity and importance and a reasonable, even an essential, part of a liberal education.” This reflects the description of the purpose of the art department in the 1930 course catalogue, which states, “The purpose of the department is (1) by the study and the appreciation of art to provide a part of a liberal education; and (2) specifically to prepare students to teach art or pursue it professionally.” This dual purpose demonstrates the department’s attempt to balance the demands of the liberal arts curriculum with the prerogative of NJC to prepare students for the workforce, especially as a public state institution.

Course Offerings

The art department began in the 1925-1926 academic year. For the first two years, its offerings were limited to art history courses:

❖ History of Ancient Art

❖ History of Early Christian and Medieval Architecture

❖ History of Italian Architecture and Sculpture

❖ History of Italian and Spanish Painting, History of Northern Painting

❖ History of Modern Art

NJC Art Class, 1920

A shift began in 1927 with the introduction of the Curriculum in Art for students preparing to teach “practical” art. This shift actually comprised two major developments: offers of pre-professional training in art-related fields, and the department distinguishing between practical, and, by default, “impractical” forms of art. In 1927, NJC began offering a “practical arts course,” specifically to train students to become art teachers.

The Practical Arts courses, divided into grade-level seminars, included the following topics:

❖ Color, Design, Freehand Drawing, and Perspective for sophomores

❖ Advanced work in color, drawing, and perspective for juniors

❖ Advanced work in color, drawing, and perspective for seniors

It makes sense that teaching would be the department’s first foray into arts-related vocational training, as teaching is the field that the plurality of NJC graduates pursued. A survey entitled “Vocational Interests of the Class of 1936” reported that 94 of the 203 respondents (which represented 90 per cent of the class) sought teaching positions. The next-highest response was work in department stores, with only 14 graduates. These figures are striking, especially since 32 respondents did not list career paths and likely were not planning to work at all.

Furthermore, the fine arts courses expanded beyond history and theory into the process of creating art. Starting in the 1930s, the art courses included:

❖ General Art

❖ Art Appreciation

❖ Drawing and Composition

❖ Design

❖ Commercial Design

❖ Drawing and Painting

❖ Theory and Practice of Teaching Fine Arts

The language that the art department used to delineate between “professional” and “fine” art evolved over time, but the division remains throughout decades of course offerings. In the 1920s, the course catalog differentiates between “fine art” and “applied art.” In the 1930s, it shifts to delimiting descriptions of art offerings as “graphic and plastic arts,” which were defined only as “painting, modelling, drawing, and design.” The 1940s brought intradepartmental discussion of the “practical branches” of the arts. In the 1950s, the Division of Fine Arts was described as providing offerings in both the “cultural and professional arts.” While the language changed, the department consistently differentiated between professional or “practical” arts, and non-professional or “fine” arts, despite robust offerings in both within the same department.

The art department also offered training in several career tracks in more traditional trades. One of these was the major in art education noted above. NJC also offered majors in interior decoration, fashion design, costume design and illustration, and commercial design at varying periods in its history. Outside of the art department, there were other majors that seemed to be confined to “impractical” women’s work, but actually had quite practical applications, like the industrial clothing application in the home economics department. (Home economics as a whole actually included “real-world,” outside-the-home tracks, like industrial nutrition, which kept the country fed during the Second World War.)

Beyond this, between 1937 and 1952, the art department offered a major in ceramic arts. The major granted a Bachelor’s of Science degree in cooperation with the ceramics department at Rutgers College and offered “an outline of training in the applications of art to the ceramic industry, including studio work in art and laboratory work in ceramics, as well as detailed study of the nature and uses of clays.” (It is worth noting that in 1945 the Department of Ceramics at Rutgers joined the School of Engineering, while at Douglass it was relegated to the art department.) Without having identified much more detail, we can speculate that the offer of this major was related to Trenton’s renowned pottery and ceramics industry.

The Role of Art Instruction in Forming a State Cultural Identity

The college was cognizant of the role of higher education in individual states’ cultural identity formations. As one dean wrote, “It is no longer a question of whether or not the arts belong in the university. They are already established on the campus. The question, therefore, is one of how Rutgers can expand its facilities and services so that it can assume a position of leadership in the cultural affairs of the state. We need our own solutions to cultural needs, not those of New York or Philadelphia…” There was a similar sense of the urgency of equipping New Jersey within the Fine Arts Department itself. As one chair of the department wrote in 1941, “New Jersey, more than any other state, with the possible exception of New York, is pioneering on some frontiers of American democracy … Our state cannot wait to see what other states have done and follow their lead.” NJC assumed the responsibility of providing New Jersey with its arts training. In this

way, the arts came into a professional role, and not just in terms of workforce training. This was workforce training that was in service of the state.

Margaret Trumbell Corwin

The institution was also cognizant of the role of art in national identity. As early as 1939, Dean Margaret Trumbull Corwin wrote, “Closely associated with English and history in the preservation of our cultural traditions are the fine arts.” For example, in the 1939-1940 school year, the art department reprised an “Americanization” exhibition that had first been held a decade prior. “Students, awakening to the realization of the historical significance of much that surrounded them and was taken for granted in their daily lives at home, responded enthusiastically,” reported the chair of the department. “More than two hundred thirty articles from over thirty countries were assembled, – a graphic picture of the international family backgrounds in this cross-section of American life.” NJC was aware of the role of arts and culture in both state and cultural identity formation, which no doubt complicated how it perceived its institutional responsibility as the only public liberal arts-style college for women in New Jersey.

This pursuit, however, complicates the clear-cut distinction between fine and practical arts. The fine arts were understood to be a requisite element of this quite pragmatic state-level cultural project. The chair of the art department once wrote, “Our department at Douglass feels that we should not let the state public school art program rest entirely in the hands of the state colleges.” (He is presumably referring to the state’s teaching colleges.) This indicates a sense that fine arts offerings — which were NJC’s purview in a way that was not the case for the normal schools — were a necessary element of arts education. This concept muddles the dichotomy between “practical” and “impractical” art discussed above. If New Jersey College for Women was to position itself as a cultural authority and cultural producer in New Jersey, its fine arts programs were of paramount importance.


Photograph Notes, in order of photograph appearance

1. Mabel Smith Douglass, ca. 1918 Rutgers University Archives

2. Art studio at NJC, 1920s, Rutgers University Archives

3. NJC students show their graphic arts skill in the yearbook, the Quair, 1921, Rutgers University Archives

4. Margaret Trumbull Corwin, ca 1950, Rutgers University Archives

Archives at Home: Collections


We hold a number of collections relating to New Jersey and the history of Rutgers University.  If you are generally interested in collections we have you are welcome to check out our finding aids (guides that explain what are in each collection). But since the whole idea is to bring the archive into your home, here are some items from collections that you can explore from anywhere.

Special Collections: 

University Archives:  

University Archives materials on the Internet Archive: 

Livingston Alumni Association: 

Archives at Home: Maps & Newspapers


We know there are tons of websites that show New Jersey Maps and Newspapers.  Today we want to highlight some of the resources you would find in our collections.



Have any questions?  You are welcome to contact us at or on social media.

Archives at Home: Exhibits


We have seen lots of museums and galleries showing off their collections and exhibits online, including our friends at the Zimmerli Art Museum showing off their Everyday Soviet exhibit. Here are some of our exhibits that you can explore from anywhere:

Digital Exhibits:

Exhibit Catalogs:

Exhibit Talks:

As always we are available on social media and email (

Archives At Home: Fun


With all of the craziness in the world and with so many staying home, Special Collections and University Archives wanted to find a way to bring the archives to you.  Over the next few days, we will be posting fun ways to check out things in our collections, how to access some digital collections, and links to view online exhibits.  We will continue to add to this list!

Today we will focus on the fun.  Below we have our list of social media sites, blogs, and other fun like coloring book pages based on our collections.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to reach out to us on any of our social media sites or by email at

Nicholas Culpeper, Elizabeth Blackwell, and the Lure of Herbalism


Happy 2020! We’re kicking off the new year with this piece by Emily Crispino, a graduate student in the Library and Information Science Department at Rutgers’ School of Communication and Information. During the fall 2019 semester, Emily was a public services intern in Special Collections and University Archives. In this position she assisted researchers at our busy reference desk and researched and responded to a variety of inquiries from around the world related to New Jersey history and genealogy through our virtual reference service.


While I cannot claim enough knowledge to call myself an herbalist, my shelves full of dried plants would seem to qualify me as an herbal enthusiast. I brew a yearly elderberry syrup to ward off winter colds, drink teas for just about every ailment, and occasionally concoct something new after consulting my personal library of herbals. Written by everyone from New Age gurus to a former botanist for the USDA, these books outline the medicinal properties of plants, accompanied by physical descriptions, dosage information, and recipes for preparations such as salves and tinctures. Often, photographs or botanical sketches accompany each entry.

Ideas about health and medicine have changed a great deal over the last 300 years, but the herbal format has remained largely the same. Special Collections and University Archives holds many examples of historical herbals, including two that I would like to examine in this post. The first is a 1798 edition of Nicholas Culpeper’s English Physician and Complete Herbal, first issued in 1652. The second is A Curious Herbal by Elizabeth Blackwell, a 1751 edition of a work first published in 1737. Just like my New Age gurus and government workers, Culpeper and Blackwell approached herbalism from entirely different points of view. Yet both books are written in the service of healing, designed to help people help themselves.


Nicholas Culpeper was a character to say the least, boasting a colorful career as an herbalist, astrologer, and sometime soldier against the King during the English Civil War. A non-conformist both in medicine and politics, Culpeper frequently received criticism from the more traditional physicians of his day. In 17th century London, the medical profession was dominated by the Royal College of Physicians, whose Censors bestowed licenses upon those whom they deemed worthy to practice. Culpeper loudly criticized their methods and accused them of overcharging for their services, making medical care inaccessible to the poor. In his own practice, he saw patients regardless of their financial status and examined them holistically before diagnosing and treating them. (2)

Elizabeth Blackwell’s herbal was born of more personal motivations. After her husband, a physician, was thrown into debtor’s prison, she began work on A Curious Herbal as a means to raise the funds to free him. While Blackwell was a skilled botanical illustrator and may have had some training as a midwife, she does not appear to have been an herbalist in the strict sense. The medical information in her book was primarily derived from another herbal, the Botanicum Officinale, with the permission of its author. Nevertheless, Blackwell spent years carefully sketching, engraving, and coloring plates of medicinal plants for her herbal, supported in her endeavor by a number of respected physicians and apothecaries. A Curious Herbal received significant praise and sold well, successfully paying her husband’s debts and securing his release. (1)

The differing backgrounds of Culpeper and Blackwell are clearly reflected in their herbals. Culpeper’s Complete Herbal contains a great deal more text than A Curious Herbal, including information on common ailments and preparing medicines in addition to his alphabetical directory of herbs. Sparing no words when explaining their properties, Culpeper’s physical descriptions of plants are surprisingly inconsistent, and he entirely neglects to describe those that he believes are commonly known. “I hold it needless to write any description of this,” he explains, referring to the elder tree, “[since] any boy that plays with a potgun, will not mistake another tree instead of elder.” The missing descriptions are not well supplemented by the illustrations, which are tiny and crammed onto designated pages.

Figure 1: Illustrations of elder and other plants from Culpeper’s Complete Herbal

Even these are 1798 additions, with the first edition of Culpeper’s herbal including no images at all. A Curious Herbal, on the other hand, is built around Blackwell’s illustrations. These full-page plates depict seeds, roots, and flowers in addition to the main bodies of the plants and are detailed enough to help readers identify them in the wild.

Figure 2: Illustration of elder from A Curious Herbal

The images in the first edition were colored as well, adding to their accuracy. At the same time, the accompanying text is minimal, lacking the depth of medical information contained in Culpeper’s herbal. There is also no distinguishable order to the entries, requiring one to flip through the entire book to find information on a specific plant.

Of particular interest is the front matter of A Curious Herbal, revealing a further difference between the two books. A large illustration of ancient Greek botanists Theophrastus and Dioscorides precedes the official endorsement of the College of Physicians, signed by its then-president and Censors.

Figure 3: Endorsement of A Curious Herbal by the College of Physicians

The recommendations do not end there, as a subsequent page proclaims the approval of nine more physicians and “Gentlemen.” This reception to Blackwell’s herbal could not be more unlike that of Culpeper’s, which, despite its immense popularity, received no such praise from the College. The College’s opinion of Culpeper may be summed up in a comment from member William Johnson, who proclaimed one of his works “a paper fit to wipe one’s breeches withal.” (2)

New editions of Culpeper’s Complete Herbal are published to this day, testifying to the enduring attraction of traditional medicine and home remedies. Elizabeth Blackwell too is slowly gaining recognition, and a calendar featuring her work has been released for 2020. Although they came to herbalism from very different backgrounds, those who come to it today are no less diverse. Alongside countless modern additions to the body of herbal literature, the centuries-old works of Culpeper and Blackwell have continued to inspire new herbalists—and herbal enthusiasts.


1 Madge, B. (15 April 2003). “Elizabeth Blackwell—the forgotten herbalist?” Retrieved from

2 Wooley, B. (2004). Heal thyself: Nicholas Culpeper and the seventeenth-century struggle to bring medicine to the people. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Historical Baking: Indian Pudding


By: Fernanda Perrone

Many of the cookbooks on display in Special Collections and University Archives’ exhibition From Cooking Pot to Melting Pot: New Jersey’s Diverse Foodways contain recipes for Indian pudding.

Recipe for Indian pudding from Margaret Baldwin’s scrapbook. Margaret Baldwin of Highland Park pasted her favorite recipes into this scrapbook for over 50 years.

I had never heard of this dish, so I became curious about its history and thought I might even try to make it. Unlike my intrepid colleague Tara Maharjan, who has documented her efforts at historical baking on this blog, I used a contemporary recipe from the Joy of Cooking. In the spirit of the exhibit, I was interested in how recipes originally associated with particular groups had changed over the years, in some cases entering the mainstream.

Indian pudding is a type of baked pudding, which are much firmer and more substantial than soft and creamy cornstarch puddings, because they include a significant amount of flour or other grain. Its main ingredients are milk, cornmeal, molasses, and spices. Indian pudding is a classic New England dessert, which, according to culinary lore, dates back to the Pilgrims. It may have its roots in British “hasty pudding,” made from boiling wheat flour in water and milk until it thickened into a porridge. In the American colonies, Europeans learned from Native peoples to substitute corn meal, which was indigenous in the New World, for wheat flour, thus giving birth to Indian pudding.

As in New England, Europeans in New Jersey learned about growing corn from Native Americans. The Lenape or Delaware Indians who lived in New Jersey were farmers, although they supplemented their diet by hunting and fishing. They grew over 12 kinds of corn. “Hard” corn was dried and pounded into cornmeal to make bread and other products. Corn and beans were staple crops, although they also cultivated squash, pumpkins, and tobacco. The Europeans who settled in New Jersey beginning in the mid 17th century included Swedes, Dutch, and Finns, Germans, and other ethnicities, although by the 18th century, settlers from the British Isles began to dominate. It is easy to imagine a settler cooking Indian pudding over an open fire.

It is likely, however, that Indian pudding was a construct that emerged during the Colonial Revival of the late 19th and early 20th century. The centennial of the United States in 1876 brought forth new interest in the early history of the country. Most often associated with architecture, the Colonial Revival was also expressed through restaurant design, food advertising and the popularity of works like The Colonial Cook Book (1911). This cookbook included no less than five recipes for Indian pudding, along with recipes for baked beans, pies, and other supposedly colonial dishes. In Colonial Revival iconography, corn, the New World staple, became a symbol of national pride and patriotism through its association with America’s indigenous past. It also hearkened back to a time of mythical cooperation between Native Americans and Europeans, epitomized by the Thanksgiving Day feast, where Indian pudding was a frequent dessert.

Although Thanksgiving has past, this week’s cold weather seemed a perfect time to make Indian pudding. I felt the weight of culinary cultural imperialism on my shoulders as I assembled the ingredients, noting the depiction of a Native American on the package of Indian Head-brand cornmeal.

Photo of Ingredients

I mixed the cornmeal with the milk, realizing I was going to spend a considerable time standing in front of the stove stirring.

Bowl of cornmeal and milk

The mixture thickened nicely and I added the molasses, butter, sugar, salt, and spices. To my surprise, the pudding was supposed to bake for 2 ½ to 3 hours! I was glad I had started early.

Pudding in baking dish

After 2 ½ hours, the pudding had a brown crust on top and was bubbling alarmingly. I left it to sit for 45 minutes, and then served it with a little milk. The recipe suggested cream or vanilla ice cream. The pudding was still hot and had a delicious flavor of molasses and a smooth but hearty texture. It was enjoyed by all!

Pudding in baking dish with a cat

From Cooking Pot to Melting Pot: New Jersey’s Diverse Foodways will be on display in the Special Collections and University Archives Gallery through February 28, 2019.


Carroll, Abigail. “’Colonial Custard’ and ‘Pilgrim Soup’: Culinary Nationalism and the Colonial Revival.” Ph.D. diss., Boston University, 2007.

“Indian Pudding,” A Family Feast, 2019

Lurie, Maxine N. and Richard Veit. New Jersey: A History of the Garden State. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2012.

Rombauer, Irma S. , Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker. Joy of Cooking. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.

Veit, Richard Francis and David Gerald Orr, ed. Historical Archaeology of the Delaware Valley, 1600–1850. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 2014.


Rutgers in the First World War: Voices of the Armistice—”Such Letters Will Be Invaluable in Later Years”


November 11, 2018 is Veterans Day and marks the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I. To commemorate this centennial, What Exit?  will be featuring letters from Special Collections and University Archives’ Records of the Rutgers College War Service Bureau. This collection features letters from Rutgers students and alumni who served in the First World War, describing their experiences serving in the United States and overseas. Each day between November 1 and 11, Voices of the Armistice posts will share what these Rutgers students from 100 years ago had to say about the moment when peace was declared.

Photo of Earl Reed Silvers

Earl Reed Silvers (class of 1913) was the director of the Rutgers College War Service Bureau. During the First World War, the bureau worked to keep Rutgers men in service in touch with the college and with each other. To achieve this, the bureau sent biweekly letters to the men in service, telling them about what was happening at Rutgers and asking the men to share their experiences of the war. The letters featured in the Voices of the Armistice series are the result of Silvers’s and the Bureau’s efforts.

Silvers’s first letter to the men after the Armistice opened with an expression of gratitude that the war was over:

“Since our last letter, on November 6, the blessing of peace has come to a war-weary world. And in a short time, thank God, there will be no more casualty lists, no more Rutgers boys among those who have made the last supreme sacrifice.”

Silvers went on to describe what changes had happened since the Armistice at Rutgers, which had been transformed into a war college, along with news about Rutgers’ wins and losses at football. Before closing the letter, he made several requests of the men receiving the letter.

. . . Why not all of you in the United States write to the Bureau on December 1st and all of you in Europe on December 30. We’ll make them College Letter Days. Let’s mark them on the calendar now. Write us about the peace celebrations in the places you found yourself when the armistice was signed, about what happened in the trenches on that memorable day; and if any of you are in occupied German territory, write a long letter about it. Such letters will be invaluable in later years.”

paragraph from typed letter on letterhead
Opening paragraph of the War Service Bureau’s first letter after peace was declared.

After the war, Silvers remained at Rutgers and authored a series of novels about Dick Arnold of Raritan College. He died in 1948.

The Rutgers War Service Bureau was formed in 1917 as a way to keep Rutgers men serving in the war in touch with Rutgers and each other. It was headed by Earl Reed Silvers (class of 1913), who was assistant to Rutgers president William Henry Steele Demarest. Thanks to a grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, the letters are now available online.

Be sure to visit What Exit? between November 1 and 11 for new stories and follow highlights on Special Collections and University Archives’ Facebook and Twitter.

(With assistance from Tara Maharjan. Silvers letter photo from the Earl Reed Silvers Collection (R-MC 044).)