In this lovely photo taken one hundred years ago for the Barnard College yearbook, The Mortarboard, Cornelia “Nina” Heal Dakin (1888-1963), class of 1912, is wearing her graduation cap and gown. She attended Barnard College in NYC from 1908 through 1911, but left school shortly after announcing her engagement to be married. What fascinates me is that this kind of information is available online, and you don’t have to have an Ancestry.com account to find out what your ancestor did in college.
In addition to old daily and weekly newspapers, college newspapers are available online. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I love reading bits and pieces about the lives of the people I’m researching, much more than the dates and places of vital records. In the past you had to travel to a college library to search through their archives, school newspapers, and old yearbooks to find out more about that person’s college years. More and more now you can conduct this kind of research from home.
From the articles I found online, Nina Dakin made her mark early at Barnard College getting herself elected president of the freshman class. The Barnard College class elections were reported in the New York Times. Her mother and father must have been pleased to see their daughter’s name in that prestigious newspaper!
Barnard’s Own Election
Barnard’s election returns were received yesterday. Miss Cornelia Dakin was elected President of the freshman class with a large plurality. The other successful candidates were Miss Annie Wilson, Vice President; Miss Eleanor Doty, Recording Secretary; Miss Florence Von Braineken, Corresponding Secretary; Miss Rosalind Case, Treasurer; Miss Eleanor Meyers, Historian, and Miss Lilly Stein, Chairman of the Entertainment Committee.” [Source: The New York Times, November 6, 1908 ]
I found out from the Barnard Bulletin online that Nina went on to serve in other positions of leadership during her three years at Barnard. She was also a member of the Alpha Zeta Sorority and in her spare time enjoyed acting in and organizing school performances, while maintaining good grades and a heavy class load. In one article, the writer reported that Nina Dakin had to resign her position as Chairman of the Sophomore Show Committee because she was carrying too many course credits and under the new rules had to restrict some of her extra-curricular activities [Barnard Bulletin, October 13, 1909]. I’ve no doubt she could have done it all. I find it admirable that she kept the heavy course load and gave up the officer position instead.
One of the more interesting articles about Nina [Barnard Bulletin, January 19, 1911] was the announcement of her engagement in January 1911. The article went on to state that Nina would be leaving college after taking her exams. She obviously loved attending Barnard College. She appears to have been a good student and was well liked and respected by her classmates. After leaving school, Nina and Harry “Ollie” Horn were married in the Fall. They enjoyed 49 years of marriage prior to Ollie’s death in 1960. From what I have heard about her I doubt Nina ever regretted her decision to leave college. She loved her married life, loved being a mother and grandmother, and her family adored her.
While she didn’t finish school herself, she was determined that her own daughters would attend and finish college. During the Depression years, Ollie want to only send their two sons to college. Nina quite firmly insisted that if he would not allow the girls to attend college then the boys would not go either. She was apparently serious as all four of their children attended and finished college. Cornelia “Happy” graduated from Hood College in Maryland and later went on to earn her Masters Degree at Wagner College on Staten Island. Mildred first attended Cornell University in NY and then finished up at Hood. Harry “Bud” graduated from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and John “Dake” graduated from Brown University in Rhode Island.
If your ancestor attended college there is a good chance that you can find out a lot more about that person by contacting the colleges they attended. Many colleges maintain biological files about their alumni. Brown University’s John Hay Library, for instance, has “over 50,000 biographical files on alumni, faculty and administration members, and some staff members. These files contain vital statistics forms from the Alumni Records office, and in most cases include newspaper clippings, curricula vitae, bibliographies, and correspondence.”