Looming over the stairs to the locker rooms and pool, a zinc “Young Woman” watches the comings and goings of the Scripps College health and wellness center, Tiernan Field House. She is mounted on a platform, with a small sign erected on the wall behind her: “Young Woman, Georg Kolbe (1877-1947), c. 1925.” The figure is slender and athletic, with European features and an unassuming disposition.
“Young Woman” represents what might be called an Aryan ideal. And her creator was associated with the Nazis.
The Field House and Scripps pride themselves on being places of diverse intellectual, emotional, physical and social health. Yet, the immediate presence of “Young Woman” when walking into the Tiernan facility makes those values almost laughable.
While his history is largely unknown by current Scripps students, Kolbe’s life as a revered Nazi artist defines his continued legacy of bigotry at the Claremont Colleges. Kolbe was named by Hitler as one of his favorite German artists at the time, as his young, nude, athletic sculptures were seen to be emblematic of the romanticized Germanic ideal of the Nazi Party. It was for this reason that he was asked to sculpt two statues for the Reich Sports Field at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Kolbe was commissioned for many other works by the Nazi Party, even sculpting a bust of the brutal Spanish dictator Francisco Franco as a personal gift for Hitler. He took on powerful roles in state commissions and contributed to official exhibitions of the Third Reich. He later made the Third Reich’s Gottebegnadeten list, which was a celebrated collection of artists who were considered to best represent Aryan values at the time.
The sculpture in Tiernan Field House at Scripps, “Young Woman,” only provides the name of the sculptor and says nothing of his Nazi ties. We must ask why this piece was installed at Scripps in such a prominent place, and why is there no clarification or historical framework provided with the sculpture.
I wonder what the sculpture says about our community if we knowingly allow for the so-called “Aryan” definition of womanhood to stand and represent our student body. Her position is emblematic of the toxic white feminism Scripps students claim to fight against. We cannot claim to be an institution that champions intersectional feminism, while proudly displaying a sculpture of the female form that promotes an ideology so blatantly steeped in sexism and anti-blackness.
The worst possible result of this article is that we allow for this racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic statue to continue to define our community. The second worst outcome would be for “Young Woman” to be taken down from her post at the wellness center and never talked about again.
To remove “Young Woman” while neglecting the larger trauma for people of color and other marginalized groups that her presence represents only feeds the same violent ignorance that has allowed such a statue to be displayed for so long. Whether this ignorance has taken the form of our Spanish colonial mission-style architecture on stolen land, our founder Ellen Browning Scripps’ history of providing loans rather than direct philanthropy to black organizations like the historic Colored Community Church as documented in the Scripps archives, or the history of exclusion stemming back to Scripps’ first Black students (as explored by Scripps librarian Jennifer Wormser), this sculpture is another piece in the ongoing history of marginalization at Scripps.
However, “Young Woman” is unique in that her exhibition at the school could be so easily rectified, and yet nothing has been done to mitigate her impact on the student body. It is our responsibility as administration, faculty, students and alums to challenge and critically evaluate our legacy. Not only does this mean that we must demand the immediate removal of “Young Woman” from Tiernan Field House, but we must also open ourselves up to a larger conversation about what inclusivity at Scripps really means.
We must remove “Young Woman” by Georg Kolbe, but also hold ourselves accountable for the lingering sexism and white supremacy in our community that she represents.
Lily Dunkin SC ’24 is studying politics and foreign languages. A proud Coloradan, she loves murder mysteries, skiing and Dolly Parton. She wishes to thank the SCORE team and Avalon Brice for their help finding sources.