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History of Finch College

JESSICA GARRETSON earned her B.A. as one of the seven women in Barnard College's first graduating class in 1893. Looking back on the four years she studied there, she said she considered them a waste of time, and observed that her college education had prepared her for one thing - to be a tutor in Greek! After marrying James Finch and receiving her law degree from New York University in the same month that she gave birth to a daughter, she decided to establish a post-secondary school for women that was "different," and she did! The Finch School opened in 1900 with 13 students. Its curriculum was oriented toward the practical, with as many workshops, studios and practice rooms as classrooms. As enrollment grew, additional room was needed, and by 1904, with grants she had received and a hefty mortgage she arranged for the construction of the building on 78th Street known to many Finch women as the Academic Building. There, in addition to an academic faculty, most of whom were visiting professors from Columbia University, were actors from the New York stage, Seventh Avenue fashion designers, performing instrumentalists, singers, poets and politicians.

MEANWHILE, MRS. FINCH BECAME MRS. COSGRAVE. Her first marriage ended in divorce soon after the turn of the century. In 1913 she married the distinguished journalist, John O'Hare Cosgrave, who proposed to her during the intermission of a Carnegie Hall concert.

PREPARATION FOR THE "RECURRENT CAREER" was at the heart of Jessica Cosgrave's educational philosophy, and along with her intense interest in "current events" (a term she coined), became the inspiration for the Finch curriculum. Women's lives, she said, are unlike men's lives; women's lives have distinct phases. Therefore, a woman should be in school until she is 22; for the next three or four years she should launch into the first phase of her career; in her mid twenties she will marry, put aside her career and devote her energies to raising a family, four children was the ideal number. At about age 40, with her children in school, a woman should resume her career and, Mrs. Cosgrave advised, seriously consider entering politics.

IN ADDITION TO RUNNING WHAT WAS THEN TERMED "a fashionable school for girls," Jessica Cosgrave worked energetically from 1900 on for two "causes"; Women's Suffrage and Socialism. She was quoted in a NEW YORKER magazine "Profile" by Angelica Gibbons in 1946 as saying, "If there is any sensation more exquisite than walking up Fifth Avenue to music in a parade for an unpopular cause, I don't know what it is." She said that in one of the suffrage parades "People on the sidelines become impassioned to the point of throwing rotten vegetables and eggs at the ladies as they passed." Angelica Gibbs goes on to note that this experience proved so invigorating to Jessica Cosgrave that after marching, most of the way up Fifth Avenue, she dropped out of line, took a cab back to the starting point, and "hoofed it all the way up again with another contingent."

JESSICA COSGRAVE'S "SOCIALISM" may seem a bit incongruous considering how many of the young women from all parts of the United States, South America, Europe and Asia attending Finch came from wealthy families. In 1911, asked about her membership in the Socialist Party and the appearance as speakers at the Finch School of Upton Sinclair, Walter Lippman and other "radicals," Mrs. Cosgrave said: "My chief object is to awaken Social Consciousness in the girls. I want my graduates to become powers in their communities, not idle fashionable women. I don't teach these young girls actual Socialism, but Social Activism." Thirty-five years later, in 1946, when a Finch student interviewed Mrs. Cosgrave, and asked about her politics, she said she stood "Just a bit left of center"!