Jews in Maine Colleges Between Wars


Collaborative student-faculty research finds Colby was exceptional in not setting quotas on Jewish students.

By Stephen Collins '74

Tau Delts
Members of Colby's Tau Delta Phi fraternity, ca. 1950.

With one notable exception, the history of quotas on the admission of Jewish students to Ivy League and what are now the NESCAC colleges during the first half of the 20th century is not a proud chapter for institutions now dedicated to diversity, meritocracy, and inclusivity. The exception? Colby, according to Desiree Shayer ’12 and Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies David Freidenreich.

Their student-faculty collaboration titled “A Tale of Two Colleges: Jews and Baptist Institutions in Maine During the Interwar Years” was presented at the national Association for Jewish Studies conference and in an on-campus preview, both in December.

Their research found that Colby’s lack of restrictions on the number or percentage of Jews admitted was unique among similar colleges they looked at, that Colby had a significantly higher percentage of Jewish students, and that the Jewish community in Waterville saw dramatic advantages in socioeconomic status as a result of the College’s admissions policy.

Which is not to say anti-Semitism didn’t exist. Though the president, trustees, and faculty supported chartering a Jewish fraternity beginning in 1919, student government was not persuaded to approve Tau Delta Phi for 14 years, and other frats didn’t admit Jews for years afterward.

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  • On December 16, 2010, Claire (Rosenston) Fishstein 1949 wrote:
    I entered Colby in 1946. The situation was quite different for men and women. In my class there
    were 6 women. Two pairs were roommates. I had no idea that Jews were not allowed in sororities.
    The women who broke the news to me were quite embarrassed by the situation. I was invited to open
    affairs, but I never went. I never felt the lack in any way.