Launching a university where any academically qualified person could get an education was a radical idea in 1865, said Cornell University Archivist Elaine Engst, MA '72. In contrast to other universities at the time, A.D. White and Ezra Cornell wanted Cornell to be "aggressively non-sectarian," open to all regardless of religion, race, gender or ability to pay.
Yet at times during the university's early years, blacks and Jews who enrolled at Cornell often found closed doors at fraternities and sororities, added Carol Kammen, Tompkins County historian.
Engst and Kammen were featured speakers at "Part and Apart: Black and Jewish Students at Cornell, 1869-1969," a Jan. 26 lecture at the UJA Federation in New York City, part of the Cornell on the Road series. Using archival photographs, school documents and personal manuscripts from Cornell Library, Engst and Kammen stitched together personal accounts of early Jewish and black students to a capacity crowd of more than 100 alumni and friends.
"Both of our founders had wonderfully liberal ideas about how our institution would be run," said Kammen. However, "institutions are as imperfect as society; they reflect the people and times in which they exist."
Read more in the Cornell Chronicle.