“Above all nations is…”: The Fraught Legacy of Goldwin Smith with Joanne Lee and Angel Nugroho


Paul Fleming, Taylor Family Director of the and the L. Sanford and Jo Mills Reis Professor of Humanities, Cornell University

Angel Nugroho, Cornell Arts & Sciences senior majoring in Archeology and Information Science

Joanne Lee, Cornell Arts & Sciences senior majoring in Government with a minor in Global Asian studies and Law and Society

Paul (00:00):

Hello and welcome to the Humanities Pod. I'm Paul Fleming and today we're talking about the legacy of Goldwin Smith, the famous 19th century historian, who came to Cornell in 1868 and was the upstart university's first academic star. He lived with the students in Cascadilla hall. His lectures were printed in newspapers. His scholarship was regarded throughout the world. Cornellians adored him. Goldwin Smith Hall, opened in 1906, is named in his honor and was the first building dedicated to the humanities at Cornell and the first home of Arts and Sciences. Goldwin Smith, in short, has had an immeasurable impact on Cornell. His cosmopolitan motto "above all nations is humanity" still stands inscribed into a bench in front of Goldwin Smith Hall. And yet his legacy, to put it lightly, is fraught. He has been called “the most vicious anti-Semite in the English speaking world”, which is truly saying something in the 19th century.

His views on race were equally abhorrent. His departure from Cornell was precipitated by the decision to admit women as students, a fatal mistake in his eyes, “because all hopes of future greatness would be lost with women at Cornell”.

Joanne (01:18):

I think the fact that that fear exists kind of proves that they know that women are able to make those reasoned arguments that can potentially, you know, threaten support for their own. And so I think it's, it's really important to recognize that kind of underlying fear. And I think that trickles into some of the other views that Goldwin Smith had, his racist antisemitic views. Is this really about the health of the public sphere in political debate and the future of the nation, or is it about maintaining the power structures and the gender hierarchies that already existed? And I think that's really important to recognize, when we think about the implications that that has for us now.

Music (1:58)

Paul (2:03)

The image of Goldwin Smith in the 21st century -- racist, anti-semite, sexist -- is not the tidy image of the beloved statesman and scholar of the early 20th century. We have with us today, two young Cornell scholars to help guide us through this complex history. Joanne Lee is a Cornell senior major in Government with a minor in Global Asian studies and Law and Society, and Angel Nugroho is a senior major in Archeology and Information Science.

Both Joanne and Angel are part of the exciting new Humanities Scholars Program in Cornell's Arts and Sciences and housed at the . The Humanities Scholars Program fosters independent interdisciplinary undergraduate research in the humanities. Part of the first inaugural cohort of 30 students, Joanne and Angel are here to share some of the fruits of the research on Goldwin Smith as part of this cohort. Welcome Joanne and Angel.

Joanne (2:57):

Thank you so much for having us.

Paul (2:59):

Great. So let's begin with what brought you to researching the legacy and views of Goldwin Smith. When I arrived at Cornell in 2011 and moved into my office in Goldwin Smith Hall, no one said much about him. What was the fascination and impetus for embarking on this research?

Angel (2:13):

Yeah, that point about not really knowing about who Goldwin Smith was, despite his name being on this really major building on campus really intrigued us. And, of course, it was part of the project that we had been assigned to within Professor Ghosh's class as part of the Humanities Scholars Program. And we were all kind of given as a starter the recent Sun article about the removal of Goldwin Smith's name. From the honorific for professors within Goldwin Smith. So we wanted to look more into, okay, what were Goldwin Smith's actual views and, you know, do those carry into the values that we have today for Cornell and even the values that were created like at the start of the university. And both me and Joanne were looking at a specific piece that Goldwin Smith had wrote about women and specifically about women’s vote. And we kind of happened to be reading the same article and wanted to further look into Goldwin Smith's views on women in general, especially co-education.

Paul (3:59):

So what did you find in your research? I mean, particularly keeping it focused on the status of women, what did he think about women's suffrage? What did he think about as we heard, you know, his view of women at Cornell?

Joanne (4:07):

Yeah, so the were a few major points that Goldwin Smith pointed out in the article that Angel mentioned that was published in McMillan's magazine. First and foremost, he believed that women cannot be separated from their emotions and are unfit to make reasonable political decisions. And so this is a quote we pulled from his article. He explicitly mentioned the dangers of "the influence of a pretty advocate appealing to a jury."

Paul (4:03):


Joanne (4:04):

And so we really kind of see what he thought there. And connected to that, he talked about how women should not be participating in the same academic vigor as men because they belong in the "feminine sphere." And again, here we have another quote from him “The love of Liberty and desire to be governed by the law alone, appear to be characteristically male." And that “to take the female vote would be suicidal." And so it's very, very clear kind of what his stance is on in regards to women's suffrage. And connected to that some of the other points that he made was that, you know, allowing married women to vote would endanger the family, because it gives her reason to oppose her husband in the public sphere. And as, as you mentioned beforehand, you know, his view on co-education was that it will lower Cornell's prestige and the potential for future greatness. And so we really see a consistent view that he held on women's participation in the political sphere and in education.

Paul (5:36):

Yeah. I'd Like to pick up on one point there because it seems that the fear is, you know, somewhat typical stereotypical ‘women as irrational, women as emotional, women whose place should be in the domestic sphere,’ but also a worry, but then about the influence, potential influence, of women on their male counterparts and there's certain persuasiveness in this and that the fear of them opposing their husbands in public. I'd like to hear a little bit more about that.

Angel (6:00):

Yeah. Actually there's an example that came to mind immediately when you said like that, that bit of persuasion. Where kind of this opinion that like women are kind of only they don't have rational thought, but they can be used to persuade and kind of like convince people by other means and one of like the quotes that Goldwin Smith had on Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, because they actually came to Cornell a few times, talked about the value of co-education with Ezra Cornell and were like in talks about trying to implement co-education at Cornell. There was a quote from Goldwin Smith that was when the two had come to visit, that they had suddenly essentially like poured butter on his head in order to convince Ezra Cornell to allow women. And that by no other means, could they have like rationally, like had a debate or like convinced Ezra Cornell instead it was like through force or through like their nature as a woman rather than, you know, being seen as equal.

Paul (6:44):

That's incredible. Ezra Cornell did turn Cornell into co-education at that time. Can you tell us a little bit about, you know, the debates at that or why, Cornell did go coed and very early?

Angel (6:55):

Yeah. So something that interesting that we discovered over this process was how a lot of the other founders of Cornell at this time Ezra Cornell, A.D. White, Henry Sage, were staunch supporters of co-education and really wanted to enfranchise women by giving them education. In particular Ezra Cornell in his own history, as some people at Cornell may know, Ezra Cornell did not have an elite education compared to some of his other counterparts. He grew up poor. He only like had like about like a fifth-grade education and then later was self-taught and then only grew to a status like later in life after moving to Ithaca. And then saw Cornell as a way to really enfranchise people like himself who grew up as farmers and did not have as much opportunity into education. And one of those people, that were disenfranchised with education happened to be women. So part of that was, okay, ‘who are the other people that also deserve education?’ and then addition like A.D. White and Henry Sage, before they came into Cornell also had histories of either like being strongly influenced by the women in their lives and wanting to enfranchise them and make them economically independent and allow them more agency like within the world.

Paul (7:56):

Because that brings up an issue that, you know, a hot button issue here, debates about Goldsmith, his racism, his sexism, antisemitism, are reminiscent of other hotly debated disputes right now, for example, regarding the founding fathers who on the one hand proclaim ‘all men are created equal’ and, on the other, only allowed propertied white males to vote and enshrine slavery to law -- and that was basically codifying it as perfectly lawful – and themselves owned slaves. How do you as scholars deal with these contradictions, particularly when people appeal to, "well, you need to look at it in the historical context." And the historical context of the 19th century is not the historical context of the 20 now the 21st century. Were Goldwin Smith's views, you know, were they so outside the pale, were they true outliers or how do you reconcile kind of your position as 21st century scholars looking at a 19th century situation?

Joanne (8:42):

Yeah, I think it may be, you know, easy to dismiss his views and regard it as keeping with the times. But he was actually regarded as a man ahead of his times in many ways.

Paul (8:55):

Goldwin Smith was?

Joanne (8:56):

Goldwin Smith, yes. And he was, he was praised for his, you know, intellect and his insight in that manner. But keep in mind that, you know, the women's suffrage movement was going on just a few miles away, in Seneca Falls. And so, it's, it's really insufficient to kind of swear a hands and kind of sweep it under the rug over there. And so I think it can be, be easy to argue that his accomplishments as a scholar kind of balances out his, some of the more problematic views, but you know, I think our values are constantly changing. And regardless of when we kind of came to the realization that, you know, diversity is important to our community and for our collective growth, I think it should be held at a particular weight. And so it's not, I don't think it's fair to kind of put those two at the same level. And I think it's important to add extra weight to the values that we hold as a community now and be comfortable with looking back and making reevaluations and making distinctions between, okay, he was this kind of person who held these conflicting views personally and you know, academically.

Paul (9:58):

Yeah. I mean, I want to pick up something you said there, Joanne, I mean Seneca Falls, which is right up the block, it's the heart of the women's suffrage movement and the first famous convention was 1848 and it was 20 years before Goldwin Smith came to Cornell. There was a movement afoot, and it was right here in the neighborhood. So one can say that, you know, he may have stood for some of the views of the time, but they're by no means were these the only views of the time. In fact, there were very powerful voices, these abolitionist voices, women's suffrage voices. So I, I just I'd want to highlight that point. Because I think it's really important that you said that here and, you know, and Ezra Cornell being a counterpoint, as far as the view on, on women's suffrage and women's education.

Music Break (10:35)

Paul (10:43):

But this brings us to archival research. And that's a crucial part of the Humanities Scholars Program. Especially because Cornell is so rich and unique historical literary scientific and artistic works. But as you know, archival research often comes with the unexpected. You're hoping to find something and you don't find it, or you're not expecting something and suddenly it's there, and I'm always interested when you do archival work and you do research. Can you tell us a few of the things that unanticipated things that you stumbled upon, something that emerged in your research that you really weren't expecting to find?

Angel (11:13):

Yeah. So one of the things that I wanted to highlight and part of our research process was really just going to the digital archives that are on Cornell library, and clicking through pages like during this time and seeing, you know, what's a good representation of student life right now, what's going on with the students. So we found a lot of pictures of student classes at the time. Really interesting perspective of like campus, only Morrill and McGraw Hall existed at the time or even just Morrill Hall. And one of the things that came up like randomly was this piece from the Cornell Era, which was a student newspaper at the time, and this was a publication from 1870. And it was kind of getting at student voices and getting a temperature check on the student opinions at the time. And during this time there was the debate about co-education going on, whether or not the school should admit women. And it seemed like they had asked a few students like, okay what do you think about this decision? And there were some interesting comments from students, where they predicted, oh, if we admit women, then we're either going to have ladies who are thus educated through the whole four years of college course either spend their period and having lovely time with young gentlemen thus often destroying the advantages of both for completing the course or come out those strong bodied women with strong minded views of the Elizabeth Cady Stanton notoriety. So it's really interesting, because at that same time Elizabeth Cady Stanton is in contact with Ezra Cornell and is having these discussions with him. While over here, we have students who disagree with Elizabeth Cady Stanton's views, or really are more worried about her character and her attitude and kind of being faced with a woman in the public sphere who has strong-minded views or alternatively feeling like they would be distracted from their studies because a woman is in the classroom.

Paul (12:48):

Yeah. That's interesting, particularly the “strong-minded” view. But what do you think he means with the – [granted] we can't get into the mind of this 1870 student –  but what he means with this “strong-minded” views. I mean, with the perception of women, particularly what it says about men, as far as their ability to be… I mean, what happened to the rational character of men that they're advocating for as well? Any thoughts on that?

Angel (13:05):

No, I think like I wanted to cover like Joanne's point earlier about like Goldman Smith's views on, you know, the woman's vote and how the worry was that the woman would oppose her husband within the family. And again, there's this worry if, oh, like a woman with strong minded views would be someone that could go against me, considerably like go against me. So I think, really the worry is not, oh, we're going to have like this angry woman on her hands, but someone that, I have to face in the world and there must be some sort of fear associated with that.

Joanne (13:33):

Yeah. And kind of going off of that if I may. you know, if you really look at the logic of the arguments that these folks are making, if it was truly true that, you know, women were incapable of making reasonable arguments, you know, it wouldn't matter if they publicly opposed their husbands.

Paul (13:49):


Joanne (13:50):

Because you know, they would be humiliating themselves, but

Paul (13:52):

Right on

Joanne (13:53):

I think the fact that that fear exists kind of proves that they know that women are able to make those reasoned arguments that can potentially, you know, threaten support for their own. And so I think it's, it's really important to recognize that kind of underlying fear. And I think that trickles into some of the other views that Goldwin Smith had, his racist antisemitic views. Is this really about the health of the public sphere in political debate and the future of the nation, or is it about maintaining the power structures and the gender hierarchies that already existed? And I think that's really important to recognize, when we think about the implications that that has for us now.

Paul (14:34):

Yeah. Brilliant, Brilliant. And Joanne, anything you found in the archive in your research that you weren't expecting?

Joanne (14:39):

Yeah. So I think for me you know, in addition to what Angel said, I think just purely from the perspective of a student in the 21st century, I think seeing those very letters that Elizabeth Cady Stanton sent to Ezra Cornell was kind of shocking for me because oftentimes when you're learning about history and all of these historical figures, they almost kind of seem like mythical figures and seeing two monumental figures in correspondence is kind of like worlds colliding. And it kind of reminded me of this simple fact that, yes, these are real people who coexisted at the same time, and seeing kind of the discussions that they had and reading Elizabeth Cady Stanton's tone in the letter really animates the behind the scenes discussions that took place. And it really adds another layer to what you would imagine and went on that led to where we are now. So, so the letters were really, really shocking and interesting, and interesting is not the right word, but really insightful for me.

Paul (15:38):

Yeah. I mean, as you say, I mean, not only that they inhabited the same time, but the same space. I mean, again, Seneca Falls is right up the right up the road from Ithaca. So I wonder if you could talk a bit about the research process itself, sources, materials, archives. What did you learn by going into the archives and the importance of the humanities research for these types of questions that hit at the heart of identity of institutions like Cornell? I mean, this is something that all institutions are kind of going through right now, working through their past that is often a very fraught, complicated past of the 19th century, these founding moments.

Angel (16:09):

Yeah. So we first got introduced to the archives within professor Ghosh's class, via Lance Heidig, librarian at the Cornell Rare Manuscript Collection who unfortunately passed away last semester, and he was really instrumental in directing us to the digital resources for the archives. He like had this whole session in class, and we all really appreciated his enthusiasm and excitement about the archives. So during last spring, when we were all online, it was much harder to go into the library, get appointments, and actually look at the archives physically. So luckily Cornell has a really vast digital collection of all of their older letters, manuscripts, the letters that we found, like from those like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, they had all been digitized and were put onto the Cornell library. So that made the work a lot easier. But a lot of the issues sometimes with these resources is there is so much of it. There's not always a really descriptive information about it or title or like easy way to search it up. So a lot of the time what I was doing is I going into the era of like 1870s and then just clicking through pages and seeing, you know, what's going to come up, because I wasn't really sure what would be in the archives in the first place. And then one of like the shocking things that we also found was going through like photos of this time as well, where I had mentioned like the class photos of students, and you can kind of see after 1872 and the creation of Sage Hall, the women's dorm dormitory, where, after the university officially admitted women, you kind of start to see diversity grow within the classes ever so slowly inching forward through the years.

Paul (17:32):

Through. So you can just see that in the photos themselves?

Angel (17:34):


Paul (17:34):

That’s amazing.

Joanne (17:35):

Yeah, no, same thing. I think the I think the photos really were illustrative of the impact and, you know, kind of explaining the visuals of those photos, like in 1877, you see a class photo, that's just all men.

Paul (17:49):


Joanne (17:49):

and then we see a photo of, I think it's seven, yeah, seven female students in 1887 and from 1890 onwards, you slowly see more women in these class photos that are growing in number. And so I think having the visual illustration of the timeline was really helpful in seeing the impact and the progression of the history there.

Angel (18:13):

And also back to the question of the importance of humanities research. I think this class in particular and this whole process of being part of the Humanities Scholars Program has really opened my own thinking to humanities research and really exposed me to what that involves, because at the beginning the process, I had no idea what humanities research really entailed. And I think the point with identity and understanding who we are as a college and our history is really key to that because I meet so many other students, especially students like myself who are not from Ithaca, who really are unaware of the long histories that Ithaca and Cornell are associated with. So being able to take a class like history of Cornell really exposes you to that, but also doing things like this, where you actually see that not only does this history exist, but it's still held within Cornell. These are documents that Cornell has, and it really makes them physical. It really makes them … this is something that you had to work for, I think like me Joanne had this conversation yesterday where we kind of abstractly used to think about the women's rights movement, versus when we're seeing these documents, these conversations had to occur among those with Cady Stanton. Like, they had to actually like physically come to Cornell and Seneca Falls and have these discussions. And it really makes it much more tangible than it is just from a history class.

Music break (19:24)

Paul (19:30):

So, one final question. I want to note that in December, 2020, the Cornell university board of trustees voted to remove Goldwin Smith's name from the honorific titles of 12 professors, but at the same time declined to rename the building itself, Goldwin Smith Hall, any thoughts on the decision of the board of trustees and how to handle more, how to handle such situations going into the future, because this is, this is every university: Princeton, Amherst, it's everywhere. So from your research, from your engagement with this one particular issue, any thoughts on this?

Joanne (19:58):

Yeah, I think, you know, there will always be "pragmatic considerations” that go into these decisions, whether it be financial, political. But I think, you know, going back to that discussion about the values that we hold as a community, what does this say to our students who already are struggling with imposter syndrome at Cornell, who are already struggling to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance at this institution? What does it mean to continue to hold this very visible legacy of someone who didn't want them here? Even after unearthing and learning about the views that this figure had about these groups. And you know, yes, it can be argued that keeping the name of the building is a process of recognizing some parts of our history that we are not too proud of. But if that really was the main concern, if the concern really was embracing some of the not so proud moments, the priorities should be on how do we move on from this in a way that does not continue to harm the impacted groups. And I think there are ways to achieve both, so it can be, you know, we can rename the building and have a plaque or a section dedicated to explaining why it was renamed and the history behind it, and the debates that went on and so, yes, the removal of Goldwin Smith's name from the honorifics is progress, but this process of reckoning with this history is incomplete without renaming the building. And I think those are some of the things that we should be keeping in mind in the continuing discussions about similar issues.

Angel (21:42):

Yeah, another thing to consider with within all of that is, what does it mean to have someone's name on a building and especially in the building within a university, within an institution, and kind of back to the beginning where we talked about the bench that is outside Goldwin Smith and the quote from Goldwin Smith “above all nations is humanity”. That humanity was not all humans. It was a humanity that was only white, only male, only Christian, even a very specific subset of Europe. Yeah. So how is that humanity itself? And I think we talked a lot about how we need to be aware of values now in the present and hold them equal to, you know, where we were at Cornell’s founding, but even then we've discussed how Henry Sage, A.D. White, and of course Ezra Cornell had very different values to Goldwin Smith. And I think at the core that we all continue to recognize today at Cornell is any person any study. And that's something that was purposeful from A.D. White, it wasn't just a random quote or random gimmick for Cornell advertising, but truly that a A.D. White and Ezra Cornell fully intended for any person, no matter their gender, to come and attend and get an education. And if that continues to be a value that we hold dear at Cornell and something that really isn't reflected within Goldwin Smith.

Paul (22:56):

Sorry to go off on a little of a different track, but since you're talking about the Humanities Scholars Program and humanities research, do you want to give us insights into what your final projects are going to be for your capstone projects? Do you know already?

Angel (23:07):

I can go first, yeah. Both of our projects are very in flux. My project has changed quite a bit, but I'm also an information science major. So I've been really interested in the intersection between technology and humanities research in particular with my archeology major. Right now, I'm investigating pseudo-archeology communities and pseudo-archeological movements where we see a lot of things nowadays that have entered the public sphere, where people are really convinced that Atlantis exists or in other conspiracy theories associated with the past, especially considering who was within the Americas before Columbus or other theories about ancient civilizations, the pyramids, civilizations in South America. And these conspiracy theories are not really well supported by the archeological evidence [and yet] a lot of these communities are very convinced that this thing had had to happen. And I'm hoping to do an analysis of these online communities that exist particularly on Twitter or other online spaces, where a lot of this spreads really quickly among people that are interested in history, but then also may have an interest within white supremacist ideology, where a lot of these histories have become twisted and turned in support of believing that there is this one race that is allowed to be in the Americas or the idea that it was only the white race that was responsible for certain technological progress. So, I'm hoping to figure a little bit more about that, but right now I'm doing a graphical analysis of these people on Twitter and who they're connected to, and have the flow of information of pseudo-archeology theories works on Twitter.

Joanne (24:52):

That is so cool. I'm always mesmerized whenever Angel talks about archeology or whenever other students of the program talk about their research, because they're pursuing such interesting and fascinating topics with so much depth and passion, and you can really see that when they talk about their projects. I always just enjoy listening to other people's projects. My project: I'm a government major and I've always been interested in the concept of democracy. And so whenever there's a discussion about democratization, it seems like there is always an intervention of some sort of like Western state and the conversation even regarding democratization in non-Western states always involves some sort of mention of a Western savior. And so I wanted to look at the current moment and the solidarity between Southeast Asian democratization movements that are going on right now in Thailand and Myanmar and the solidarity with East Asian civic societies including, you know, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and looking at that intra-Asian regional solidarity and how that's impacting the movement in Southeast Asia through something called the Milk Tea Alliance and histories of democratization in South Korea and how that is presented in the current moment. And I think one of the most valuable moments that came in my research this semester was I was always trained in social scientific research. My conclusion would always lead into, okay, where do we go from now? So policy recommendations, action plans, things like that. As someone who's not so well read in Asian studies or the region, I really had trouble grappling with, "okay, what's the direction that I move towards from this research?” And I've had a lot of conversations with professors in the Asian studies department, and one of the things that they told me was, you know, there is still significance and value in just recognizing things about this moment. Yeah. And, you know, recognizing that there is the solidarity within Asia, within the region, without external forces. And that really hit me, because I always was trained in thinking, okay, I have to create something new about the future. And they said, it's completely fine not to know where to go from, here because policy makers are struggling with it. That's why we're talking about it. And so I think there's a comfort that I gained from just knowing that it's already completely valid and valuable to just recognize what is happening. And I think that really is the beauty of humanities research, and just really observing and embracing and internalizing.

Music Break (27:33)

Paul (27:36):

Great thank you very much Angel and Joanne for this conversation. Its been really enlightening.

Angel / Joanne (27:40):

Thank you so much for having us.

Paul (27:42):

It’s been a real pleasure.  We've been talking today with Joanne Lee and Angel Nugroho, Cornell undergraduates, who are part of the inaugural cohort of the Humanities Scholars Program housed in the . Their work is just the tip of the iceberg and the years to come. We have a lot more to learn from the students in the Humanities Scholars Program.

The Humanities Pod is a production of Cornell's , introducing you to some of the new work, the current conversations, and the latest ideas of humanists at and around Cornell.

The pod is produced by Tyler Lurie-Spicer*. Our music is from the continuing story of counter by David Borden performed and recorded at Cornell by Mother Mallard’s Portable Masterpiece Company. Our thanks go to Cornell's college of Arts and Sciences, and especially the Cayuga nation, the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ' on whose traditional homelands Cornell is located.

*Special thanks to Abigail Younger for significant contributions to the production of this episode.


More news

View all news
The Humanities Pod