Sharing Student Writings Across the Seven Sisters: History of Women’s Education Open Access Portal Project


As we announced last week, we recently learned that our grant proposal to the National Endowment for the Humanities has been successfully funded. For interested and curious members of the community, here are more details of the project:

The one-year planning grant we received is for an endeavor spearheaded by The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education to lead a collaboration between the schools once known as the Seven Sisters, which include Bryn Mawr College, Barnard College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, Vassar College, Wellesley College, and the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University. We have proposed to develop a shared approach to cataloging and providing access to digital versions of letters, diaries, and scrapbooks of the first generations of students of all seven schools.

The Seven Sisters schools were at the forefront of advanced education for women in the United States, educating many of the most ambitious, socially conscious, and intellectually committed women in the country. Going to college in the early years was not only an intellectually and socially awakening experience for these women, but it also provided an occasion for most of them to engage in extensive letter writing to family and friends, and to keep diaries and scrapbooks that preserved their impressions, ambitions, and memories of these first years of independence from home. Large numbers of these student writings are now preserved but siloed in the libraries of the seven schools, where they constitute an unparalleled and only partially tapped resource for the study of a wide range of women’s history issues over the last century and a half. The collections include discussions of race and class, political reform and women’s rights, sexuality and body image, the experience of being Jewish at predominantly Protestant institutions, interactions with students from Europe and Asia, and the experience of living through wars, the pandemic of 1918-1919, and the Depression.  This funding will allow us to make our collections more widely accessible to researchers and the general public through the development of a common search portal featuring digitized and transcribed facsimiles and an agreed-upon set of metadata and shared thematic vocabulary standards.

Currently, public use of the collections is impeded by their dispersal across the seven campuses and by the limited status of digitization of the items. The research value of these materials would be greatly increased by the ability to consider them as a whole body, rather than as associated fragments. The goal of this project, therefore, is to offer access to the papers through a single portal focusing on the experiences of students at women’s colleges. Since the value of a shared portal depends upon an agreed-upon set of standards for cataloging, taxonomy, transcription and digitization, a major part of the project’s work will be devoted to developing these standards.

The grant will fund one year of extensive planning between the schools, at the end of which we hope to embark on a program of digitization and transcription of student writings to be made accessible through the new portal. A longer-term goal is to implement a structure capable of accommodating digitized contributions from a wider group of institutions, further expanding the scope and utility of the aggregated collection.

Though the original visionary of the project, Jennifer Redmond, has since moved on, we look forward to working with Monica Mercado when she arrives in July to direct the Greenfield Digital Center in this next exciting phase of our work!

National Endowment for the Humanities Funds the History of Women’s Education Open Access Portal Project


Student_studyingBryn Mawr has just been awarded a $39,650 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for its “History of Women’s Education Open Access Portal Project,”  being run through the Greenfield Digital Center. This will be a one-year project to plan and conduct pilot work for an online portal to archival sources pertaining to the history of women’s higher education in the United States, and it is being done in collaboration with the special collections departments of the other Seven Sisters Colleges: Barnard, Mount Holyoke, Smith, Vassar, Wellesley, and the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University.  We will be posting much more about this exciting project in the coming months!

Bryn Mawr in the New York Times, 102 Years Ago Today


A quick post today to share a neat archival specimen found by College Communications intern Ivy Gray-Klein (Bryn Mawr Banter Blogger and champion of the College instagram). Ivy sent this New York Times archived article from March 10, 1912 our way: “Bryn Mawr Girls Tell Why They Chose This School in Preference to Others–How They Study and Play.” The article is a snapshot of Bryn Mawr life just over a hundred years ago. Some things are different, of course, but many remain the same.

Bryn Mawr Girls Tell_1

An image of the full text is posted at the bottom of this page. The column appears to be only the beginning of a longer piece, the rest of which is not included. Click on any of the images in the post to view and/or download the PDF from the New York Times.

The writer begins with a review of the campus’s picturesque suburban location, noting especially its proximity to the vast cultural offerings of Philadelphia. The “concerts, picture exhibitions, the theater, and the opera” to be experienced there apparently provided the 1912 Mawrtyr with a welcome “relief from work and the too feminine atmosphere,” which at times could “weigh on a student’s spirits.” Though the potential of temporary escape from such a stifling estrogen-drenched environment was an “asset to Bryn Mawr,” the greatest gift of the school’s location was that it provided access to both, whether or not the students made equal use of the two: “the students have all the advantages of a big city close at hand, while having country life at their door. There is little question that the country life is the most enjoyed.”

Pembroke Floorplan

Floor plan of Pembroke Hall showing varying prices for each room

Bryn Mawr’s dormitories have also always housed a diverse mixture of students. Unlike many institutions at which the residences correspond to the student’s class, the residence halls at Bryn Mawr were each a cross-section of the school, containing women of different ages and degree paths who commingled in the dorms. The article describes their efforts to practice social breadth at mealtimes:

At dinner the students sit at table with their friends of their own class, but to avoid exclusiveness on two nights a week, Tuesdays and Fridays, the fixed places at table are given up, and the seniors and graduates sit beside and get to know the younger students. “We do it, not because we want to, but because we think it good for us,” was the candid comment of a senior on this apparently altruistic plan.

Economic diversity has also been a long-standing feature of the residence halls. “There is no financial distinction,” reads the Times. “The cheapest and most expensive rooms are scattered throughout all the halls and often side by side, so in a truly democratic spirit the rich man’s daughter and the student who has a struggle to make both ends meet are brought together, to the advantage of both.” This was thought of as unusually progressive and sensitive to class privilege at the time, but we explored the flip-side of this arrangement in the digital exhibit Residing in the Past: Space, Identity, and Dorm Culture at Bryn Mawr College. Though it was a forward-thinking practice to deliberately interweave rooms of different prices, the public nature of the floor plans resulted in a high degree of exposure of social class for students who could not afford the more expensive rooms.

The Times‘s description of the 1912 Mawrtyr’s daily routine reveals some changes (“the student begins her day with attending chapel in Taylor Hall at 8:45 A. M.”) and some things that have remained very much the same (“After dinner there is time for talk, but every one expects to get in about two hours’ work before bedtime”). In the coverage of various College rituals, several familiar songs make an appearance, one annual tradition remains more or less identical in description, and one has disappeared altogether. Check out the full text of the article to find out which!

Bryn Mawr Girls Tell

Click the image to view the article on and download the full text.


March 10 1912 NYT After They Leave CollegeAdditional note: a search of the Times archive from March 10, 1912, reveals that the paper seems to have published a second article about the College on that day, shown at left: “After They Leave College: The Kind of Work the Bryn Mawr Graduates are Doing.” Click the article to view a higher resolution image. Though only a clipping is available online, it reveals some interesting statistics about the lives of the early generations–what percentages married, what percentages went into academia, and how many became milliners, are all revealed by the enticing clip. If anybody has a full copy of the Times from March 10, 1912, please do try to find the rest and let us know!

For more historical tid-bits and reflections on the history of women’s education, follow us on Twitter @GreenfieldHWE.


Women’s History Month 2014: Shaping Our Own Historical Narratives, and an Edit-a-Thon


Happy Women’s History Month!


Pembroke Arch in the Snow, via the Bryn Mawr College instagram

Here at the Greenfield Digital Center every month is women’s history month, but March is the #WmnHist-est month of all! This year we are celebrating by highlighting examples of women actively participating in the creation of the historical narrative. Rather than focusing exclusively on achievements of women in the past, we are encouraging women today to use their voices in the present to be agents of the historical record through whatever means are available to them. Our goal this month is to engage in actively shaping new narratives of the past, and to create opportunities for others to participate as well, so that we can move into the future with a richer self-understanding.

Recently I have been reflecting on the value of “activist, purposive” historical work, inspired in part by my participation in the History and Future of Higher Education (#FutureEd) MOOC, coordinated by HASTAC and led by Professor Cathy Davidson at Duke University. Davidson introduces this concept in order to shift the focus of historical work from the study of a static past to useful application in the present. Historiography tells us that there is no one historical truth: our understanding of the past is shaped by countless filters and biases. Therefore we must approach the study of history with awareness of our own filters and a clear idea of how we want to use knowledge of the past to shape our present and future. An “activist, purposive” history is one that approaches the past with questions about how we got where we are in order to empower ourselves to make changes that will take us where we want to go next. The Greenfield Digital Center proposes that we make March, 2014, a month of active explorations in history that give us the tools to execute important changes in our communities.


Hilda Worthington Smith: click here to view the Wikipedia article draft

Hilda Worthington Smith: click here to view the Wikipedia article

First, we are excited to announce that we will be hosting our first public Wikipedia edit-a-thon for WikiWomen’s History Month on Tuesday, March 25th, at Bryn Mawr College. In January we dedicated a blog post to reflecting on the value of using Wikipedia to write women back into history. (We also hosted a trial run edit-a-thon in which I began an article on Hilda Worthington Smith, which has now been finished but not yet approved for publication. Update: the article has been approved and posted!) Rather than having a narrowly defined theme like the Art + Feminism edit-a-thon that took place last month, this event will use the holdings of Bryn Mawr’s Special Collections to educate any user who is interested in learning the basics of editing Wikipedia, no experience necessary. Our iteration on the 25th will be one of several such events organized between the Seven Sisters Colleges:

How to host an edit-a-thon: always provide snacks!

How to host an edit-a-thon: always provide snacks!

  •  Barnard, Mount Holyoke, and Smith kick it off on Tuesday, March 4th (that’s today!). Join them in New York, South Hadley, or Northampton.
  • Radcliffe follows on March 12th in Cambridge.
  • Bryn Mawr wraps it up on the 25th: Our event page is a work-in-progress, but check it out now if you’re interesting in seeing a list of some of the articles that we will be working on improving.

Use hashtags #7sisterswiki and #WikiWomen to discuss the events and support those who are participating!


While we prepare for the edit-a-thon at the end of the month, we will be practicing a different type of “activist, purposive” history throughout March. As we have discussed in this space, the act of uncovering the history of diversity at the college has been a recent topic of focus here. The role of prejudice in Bryn Mawr’s institutional history can be difficult to piece together, partially because during the early years of the college, cultural assumptions about what constituted prejudice looked very different from how they are today. This makes prejudice invisible but implicitly present in all of our early history, but as it became a topic of national conversation over the course of the twentieth century the sense of awareness shifted. We are now beginning to dedicate more energy to uncovering these more recent threads of our history, rather than treading back over increasingly familiar stories of M. Carey Thomas’s racism (the 1916 speech extolling white supremacy, the sly exclusion of talented black student Jessie Redmon Fauset).

Moving beyond a conception of prejudice that is stuck in the past

Moving beyond a conception of prejudice that is stuck in the past

Though they are still important, dwelling too much on the shortcomings of an individual figure in our very early history is simple and safe, and may come at the expense of exploring more recent stories that require attention and accountability in the present day. Part of our work this year for Women’s History Month will be highlighting and publishing work, such as that of the Pensby Interns, that reflects actively on our recent history and incorporates the experiences of students, faculty, staff, and alumnae, to create a richer picture of who we are as a community. This new content will include a digital exhibit, several oral history interviews from alumnae, staff and faculty, and the results of a survey on diversity that was conducted over the summer. Explicit in this project is the question of what we can do to address the rifts that still exist more than 125 years after the College’s founding.

Watch this space over the course of the month as we reexamine key moments in the history of the College with an eye towards change in the present, and join us at our Wikipedia edit-a-thon to exercize your voice in the public record!

Don’t forget to spread the word: use #7sisterswiki and #WikiWomen and follow us on Twitter @GreenfieldHWE, and Tumblr at

“College Tackles Racism and Classism” in 1988: Learning From a Quarter Century of Conflict over Campus Diversity


HeadlineWhile browsing through a copy of the Summer 1988 Alumnae Bulletin this month, I came across an article in the “What Goes On” column of campus updates entitled “College Tackles Racism and Classism.” Noting its relevance to recent conversations in the college community, I perused the pages to get a sense of the climate of the college around these issues in the ‘80s. In doing so I learned about an event in the college’s history that reveals visible roots of our current dialogues on the topic of diversity.

Flipping through the Alumnae Bulletin in Special Collections

Flipping through the Alumnae Bulletin in Special Collections

THE ARTICLE. The piece begins by setting the scene: “On the morning of Tuesday, April 19, students, faculty, and staff filled Goodhart auditorium to capacity for an all-college convocation on racism and classism….The convocation was in response to a statement, written by two undergraduates and signed by more than 400 members of the college community, which asserted: ‘[E]ven though the administration may have fooled itself into thinking that it is actively opposed to racist and classist prejudices, it certainly has not fooled us,’ and went on to cite examples of prejudice from students quoted anonymously.” The story then includes several quotations that illustrate students’ encounters with prejudice on campus (shown in a graphic below), as well as describing demands brought by the student body and the response of President McPherson. I followed the trail to The College News–the paper known in its current iteration as the Bi-Co News–and read further coverage of the petition and the convocation incident in the April 8th, 1988, and April 22nd, 1988 issues, which are available on microfilm in Special Collections.

Perry House

Perry House

HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF. Stumbling upon this outcry of frustration1 from a past generation of students felt like déjà vu. It brought to mind a period during my freshman year in spring, 2007, a similar campus-wide crisis around the handling of race and class. The headline printed at the beginning of this post will also remind many of the more recent dialogues around the loss of Perry House,2 which have been both painful and productive. Feeling a disturbing sense of resonance between the 1988 episode and the various others that have occurred in years since, I was led to the question: are we reliving our own history over and over again? Are we cycling through the same ruptures with every new generation of undergraduates, losing all of the healing and the learned experience every four years?

MEASURING PROGRESS. The challenge of assessing how far we have moved forward since 2007, 1988, or 1885 is in the fact that campus climate on issues like these is always diffused across the beliefs, behaviors and tacit cultural knowledge of a diverse and fluctuating group—making quantifiable analyses elusive. I made a first attempt at numerical measure by turning to the course catalog. Students in 1988 called for an increase in classes featuring non-Western populations and minority groups. My rough comparison between the course guides from spring 1988 and spring 2014 shows an increase of almost 30% in classes that fit that description (from 28 to 36).3 The change is good to see, but I would speculate that it is also indicative of a globalizing national culture and a general shift towards more inclusive worldviews, rather than being reflective exclusively of attitude changes at Bryn Mawr.

A less scientific angle is to analyze whether the institution is doing a better job of supporting dialogue and accountability around issues of racism and classism. Part of the impetus for the 1988 convocation was that a group called the Minority Coalition (made up of several sub-groups of minority students’ associations) submitted an impressive list of demands for institutional action. These included increased enrollment of minority students and hiring of minority staff and faculty, more focus on non-Western populations in the curriculum, designated spaces for minority groups on campus, and support for programs and inclusive conversations addressing race and class.

Mary Patterson McPherson, the sixth President of Bryn Mawr College

Mary Patterson McPherson, the sixth President of Bryn Mawr College

In response, President McPherson established an Affirmative Action Advisory Board and directed the Deans’ Office to organize a series of anti-racism workshops to be held each fall. These measures, though far from “fixing” the problem, seem in retrospect to be the seeds of an important shift: they acknowledge the responsibility of higher level administration to foster institutional self-awareness and accountability, and they attempt to remove some of the “burden…[ from] the students, particularly the minority students, to call the college to task,”4 a concern that was expressed at the convocation. They create sustained infrastructures to address the problem, rather than relying on an approach of issuing too-little-too-late responses to eruptions on campus.

It appears to me that, since the outburst described in the article, the administration has taken a stronger lead in creating, supporting, and fostering discussion of diversity on campus. This page contains a short history of appointed positions and offices of diversity, beginning with the actions taken by President McPherson in 1988 and continuing through the formation of the Diversity Leadership Group and the Diversity Council and the 2004 founding of the Office of Intercultural Affairs (recently re-branded as the Pensby Center).

2013 Pensby Interns Lauren Footman and Alexis De La Rosa with Pensby Center Director Vanessa Christmas

Pensby Interns Lauren Footman and Alexis De La Rosa with Vanessa Christman

Despite the loss of Perry House, the school has also designated more physical and digital space to the topic. The Multicultural Center (now also referred to as the Pensby Center) was constructed in 2001 but didn’t come into greater use in the community until 2003-4,5 when it was the site of regular conversations around diversity led by faculty members Anne Dalke and Paul Grobstein, from which an archive and forum still exist on the web space Serendip (the series continues today at the Pensby Center; attend the next one this Thursday, February 27th, at 12 noon.) Since a main concern of the students in 1988 was that support for cross-cultural learning and awareness was too often initiated by the student body, it is significant that these conversations were convened and led by faculty members, involved participants from all sectors of the community, and took place in an institutionally endorsed space.


DIVERSITY AT THE COLLEGE TODAY. Though I am admittedly missing some historical knowledge about diversity at the college between the 1950s and late 80s, the 1988 episode strikes me as a turning point to which we can trace many institutional structures and cultural values that endure today. From the creation of President McPherson’s Affirmitive Action Advisory Board we can draw a line through the Diversity Leadership Group and the Diversity Council to the founding of the Office of Intercultural Affairs. Pensby currently fosters both regular conversations and opportunities for deeper engagement with the issues through programs like the Pensby Internships.6 Students also continue to play an active role in stirring conversation, raising awareness, and calling Bryn Mawr to hold itself accountable. One example of a grassroots student-led project that is open to the whole community is Leverage: The Zine (find it on Facebook, Tumblr), which documents microaggressions on campus. And, yes, the microaggressions still happen–though we may have moved forward since 1988 in many ways, prejudice and problematic language continue to exist in our community. And students are still angry. I sent the statement above from the 1988 petition (“the administration may have fooled itself into thinking that it is actively opposed to racist and classist prejudices, it certainly has not fooled us”) to Pensby Intern and recently elected Vice-President of SGA Alexis De La Rosa, asking whether she felt that the bitterness of those words still accurately represents students’ attitude towards the administration and its attempts to foster diversity at Bryn Mawr. She responded:

AlexisLauren-300x207_000I do think that there are students on Bryn Mawr’s campus that felt/feel that way. It is not easy being a student of color at Bryn Mawr when you feel like you are not represented within SGA, the faculty of the college, and even administration. I think that feelings of resentment built up for many students that rose to the surface last year, and although students rallied together around the issue of Perry House, emotions ran very high. The biggest complaint I heard from students last year was that they felt silenced; their thoughts and opinions were not being heard. I do however think that there was a major (positive) shift the moment President Cassidy and Interim Provost Osirim took over. President Cassidy immediately addressed student concerns and apologized for the college’s past mistakes, which had not been done before in a way that seemed sincere to students of color.

REFLECTIONS ON PROGRESS, AND BUILDING THE ARCHIVE OF CHANGE. To review documents like these and see so many instances of crises and outbursts over the same issues can feel like a community failing. I return to my original question: does it mean that we aren’t learning from our past mistakes, that history is repeating itself? My personal answer is no, for several reasons:

  • First, my review of the history suggests that we have made significant progress. While some of the comments and complaints can feel chillingly familiar to the 2014 reader of an article written as early as 1988, I believe that the Bryn Mawr administration now does a much better job of weaving diversity education into the fabric of the student experience. It is now recognized as an institutional priority rather than an inconvenient issue to be neglected until the pot boils over.
  • Second, the country and the world are changing at their own pace. We live within permeable walls here, and we cannot expect to be impervious to influence from problems in the greater culture. This effect is magnified by the fact that the majority of our community members are only present for four years at a time, and a new group of students must begin their social education every year from scratch. Racism and classism will remain present at Bryn Mawr as long as it exists beyond, and while we cannot untether ourselves from the slow pace of global change, we can hope to lead it.
  • Third, the nature of historical research is that sometimes only the big eruptions make it into the record, and many day-to-day realities slip past undocumented. If the pattern of growth were a smooth line of progression rather than one punctuated by episodes of conflict, we might have a less rich repository to draw on today while tracing these histories. Perhaps, therefore, it is a productive model of change rather than a failing to see so many crises written about in the College News and the Alumnae Bulletin: the conversations that are big enough to happen in public are the ones that form the narrative we look back on in the future.
A page from the Pensby Interns' digital exhibit, a timeline of diversity at Bryn Mawr College

A page from the Pensby Interns’ digital exhibit, a timeline of diversity at Bryn Mawr College

Building upon the third point, there is another effect that makes me think that episodes of rage and fierce debate have a productive function for our self-awareness and learning. Though I cannot speak for those who were here in 1988, I can say that the pivotal events in 2007 and in 2013 inspired students to both look back to the historical record and to deliberately create new material for the archives so that present lessons could be preserved for future eyes. In 2007, two students reacted to the events by “gathering stories of discrimination from current students and pertinent stories from The Bi-Co News and Bryn Mawr College archives in order to aid Bryn Mawr’s institutional memory,”7 and a play by People IN Color in 2008 used materials from Special Collections to generate a more reflective account of the SGA rupture and create new dialogue around the incident. Today, the ongoing work of the Pensby Interns draws on historical information held in the college collections while simultaneously generating new accounts of Mawrtyr experiences of diversity in the form of an oral history project, a survey to alumnae, and a digital exhibit consolidating their findings which will be published imminently on our website.

While these contributions to the archive of institutional memory may not prevent conflict from returning, they do mean that future Mawrtyrs will be able to read each moment of learning as part of a larger story of growth. It is our responsibility to learn from our own history and document the struggles of our present so that the importance of diversity can be an essential part of every Mawrtyr’s Bryn Mawr education.


Do you have historical knowledge or personal information about diversity on campus in the last twenty-five years (or beyond)? We would love to have your contributions. Share your experiences in the comments below, or contact us directly by tweeting @GreenfieldHWE or by emailing


1 Tracing the story back to the College News, that particular week also featured articles sexism and anti-racism at Haverford: see articles “Haverford Women Fight Against Community Sexism” and “March Responds to Racism“. Evidently, racism and classism were felt pervasively by certain students at the bi-co and the topics were being regularly addressed in public.

2 Concerns about the financial neglect of Perry House are also raised in the 1988 article.

3 Measuring against the spring yields a conservative estimate of improvement: fall 1988 featured only 21 courses offered, which compared to the course guide of spring 2014 would stretch the increase to over 70%.

4 Paraphrase of a statement by Joyce Miller, Director of Minority Affairs, excerpted from the 1988 Alumnae Bulletin.

5 History according to Vanessa Christman, Assistant Dean and Director of Leadership and Community Development.

6 We have been collaborating since this past summer with Pensby Interns Alexis De La Rosa and Lauren Footman and will be presenting some of their work later in the week. Watch this space!

7 I have not heard what the status of this project is and whether the collection survives in any accessible form; I have reached out to one of the students to find out and will update this space if I get more information.

The Greenfield Digital Center Announces New Director


Long-time followers of the Digital Center will recall that after her two years of outstanding leadership, our former Director, Jennifer Redmond, elected to depart last fall in order to pursue a position in the Department of History at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. After a carefully considered search, we are eager to announce that we have found our next Director and we are excited to welcome her this coming summer!


Monica Mercado at the ASA Digital
Humanities Caucus, November 2013

Monica Mercado will complete her Ph.D. in U.S. Women’s History at the University of Chicago this spring. With a background in women’s history, museum studies, and archives, Monica is already deeply engaged with many of the subjects that are germane to the work of the Digital Center. Her previous topics of focus have included, among others, religious history, feminist and queer history, the history of the book, and women’s educational history and practices. (For examples of Monica’s recent work, see the links at the bottom of this post.) Her work has often interrogated the extent to which marginalized voices are either preserved or silenced both in their contemporary environments and in the historical record, a topic that increasingly informs the work that we are doing here at the Digital Center and which we intend to pursue further.

We first became acquainted with Monica through our inaugural conference last spring, Women’s History in the Digital World, at which we convened nearly one hundred scholars, students, independent researchers, archivist, librarians, technologists and others who were engaged with digital work in the fields of women’s and gender studies. She has remained one of a vibrant group of conference attendees who have continued to converse, through social media and other outlets, about the crucial presence of scholars in these disciplines in digital spaces. Monica agreed to share some words here:

mercadoOver the last year I have found the Digital Center to be an incredibly useful resource for my work with University archives in Chicago. Women’s History in the Digital World introduced me to new colleagues across the humanities, in academic departments, libraries, archives, and elsewhere, who are building exciting new projects in women’s and gender history using digital tools and contexts.

I am thrilled to join the Digital Center as its next Director, and to continue the work that makes Bryn Mawr an important place for taking seriously the future of women’s history. I look forward to organizing programs building on the Digital Center’s inaugural conference, reaching out to both existing audiences — from whom I have learned so much — as well as to audiences new to digital history — students and more advanced scholars who can look to the Digital Center’s online portal as a resource for developing new projects, or figuring out social media in the age of the #twitterstorian. Some of my most rewarding experiences at the University of Chicago have resulted from creating opportunities for undergraduate students to get involved first-hand with archives and community history, and I hope to expand upon these opportunities online and in the classroom at Bryn Mawr, where I will design and teach courses for the Department of History. And as a Barnard alumna, I’m eager to pursue new research and collaborative ventures that further uncover the histories of women’s education in women’s institutions: at Bryn Mawr, at the Seven Sisters, and beyond.

See the links below to learn more about Monica and her work. We look forward to welcoming her in July, 2014, and opening a new phase of exciting work for the Digital Center.

Monica’s blog:

“A Desire for History: Building Queer Archives at the University of Chicago” (2013)

University of Chicago LGBTQ History Project tumblr (2012-present)

Religion in American Culture blog (contributor, 2013-present)

On Equal Terms? The Stakes of Archiving Women’s and LGBT History in the Digital Age (presented at Women’s History in the Digital World at Bryn Mawr College, March 2013)

‘On Equal Terms’ – Educating Women at the University of Chicago (co-authored with Katherine Turk, 2009)


“Women’s Colleges: Necessary and Invaluable” – Essay Competition Winner Erica Rice Reflects on Women’s Education


“There is no greater inspirational force than that which comes from surrounding
oneself with individuals whom she admires.”

Erica Rice, Class of 2017

Erica Rice, Class of 2017

We are excited to announce the first of the two winners of the third annual essay competition of The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education, sponsored by The Friends of the Bryn Mawr College Library. Our student winner, freshman Erica Rice, responded thoughtfully to the prompt “Women, education and the future… what do women’s colleges have to offer?” In her essay, she asserts that “equality means not only the freedom to be the same, but also very much the freedom to be different.” The benefits to be reaped from a women’s college education are not a uniform commodity, but are rather the extent to which the college culture and experience allow each individual to avidly pursue a  chosen path and excel in the areas in which she is most passionate. Congratulations, Erica!…

Women’s Colleges:
Necessary and Invaluable

The college experience can very easily become a paradox, as a college education should be what equips a young person to accomplish whatever they wish, yet during the time spent earning a diploma, a great deal of pruning other dreams and aspirations is necessary to earn the title of college graduate. The ability to focus and make decisions about one’s future is indeed important, but all too often in the college setting, in the process of becoming a college graduate, pieces of the individual dissolve. Colleges and universities have plenty to offer the future, but people have more. At women’s colleges, the student body is made up of individuals willing to identify as different and who believe that it is their individual aspirations combined with a college diploma that will be what changes their world. The college experience for these women will be a tool, not an identity; because their identity is something they are not willing to compromise.

In addition to bringing together an impressive and self-selecting group of individuals, the experience of women’s colleges is a precious commodity that will become no less important in the future. That women have come to assert themselves as intellectual assets on college campuses across the world is wonderfully exciting and an absolutely necessary aspect of global progress in every way. Leveling the gender discrepancy in education continues to be a process that demands the support of groups and individuals in every sector. However, it is vital to remember that equality means not only the freedom to be the same, but also very much the freedom to be different. This is where the experience of women’s colleges is so important. Women’s colleges provide that opportunity to both learn and live as part of a community aware of both its uniqueness as well as its absolute viability in an academic setting without ever asking the individual to sacrifice her identity as she knows it.

This corner of the educational landscape is incredibly valuable and that it be preserved is necessary. As a member of such a community, I can speak personally to the value of the institution of a women’s college. By making the decision to be a part of a community which is so deliberately unique, I have placed myself among the ranks of women who are united in our common goal of wanting to be agents of change and progress in our worlds. There is no greater inspirational force than that which comes from surrounding oneself with individuals whom she admires. At women’s colleges, peers serve as motivators because passion is contagious and I have experienced no shortage in a women’s college community.

Women who make the choice to attend all women’s colleges do not do so with the intention of being ignored. We plunge into our identities as we see them with confidence and live in our community with purpose. At women’s colleges, the product is not simply a college graduate. Rather, women’s colleges produce something far more influential: educated women who have reached their respective goals in their own ways. Women of this kind are what shape the world and that they have every resource to cultivate their aspirations is crucial. The accomplishments of graduates of women’s colleges are too many to count, as will be the contributions of future women in these institutions. Some things, however, are certain: these institutions offer something to their students that is unique and precious, and the world waits with bated breath for what the individuals who make these colleges what they are will offer next.

Do you have thoughts about the place of the women’s college in the twenty-first century educational landscape? Have there been aspects of your experience that have shaped your understanding of education for women in the world today? Respond in the comments, or tweet us @GreenfieldHWE!

Job Announcement: Director of The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education


AMG Digital Center logo_Page_1Job Search:

Director, The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center

 for the History of Women’s Education


The Bryn Mawr College Library is seeking a dynamic scholar to lead the development of The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education, an online portal to support original research, teaching, and the exchange of ideas about the history of women’s education, both in the United States and worldwide.  The Center’s website ( has been live since September 2012, and includes online exhibitions on the history of women’s education, instructional materials to facilitate teaching about the history of women’s education, and a resources and news section to connect scholars working in the field.  The Director will be responsible for further developing, editing, and curating the content of the site, for building connections with other scholars and institutions working in women’s education, for organizing and hosting events connected with the Center, and for working with a project advisory board made up of prominent scholars in the field.  The Center currently has two outstanding grant applications that, if successful, will be the responsibility of the Director to administer. The first is a planning project for the development of a portal for searching the digital collections maintained by the Seven Sisters Colleges, and the second is a project to build connections and digital collections in cooperation with women’s colleges in other countries.  Planning future projects and grant proposal writing will be an important parts of the Director’s role.   The Director is part of the Special Collections Department within the library, and will have an opportunity to be formally connected with an academic department.  The Director will also participate in the growing digital humanities program being cooperatively developed by Bryn Mawr, Haverford and Swarthmore Colleges.  The position begins during the fall of 2013, and is funded for two years.  The successful candidate will be encouraged to take part in the Council on Library and Information Resources Postdoctoral Fellowship Program in Academic Libraries.

The Director must have a PhD in the humanities or social sciences, preferably within the field of women’s history, the history of education or a cognate field.  The ideal candidate will have excellent written, oral and presentation skills, experience with grant writing, a track record of research in the field of women’s and/or educational history, and experience on a digital humanities project. Experience in the field of digital humanities will be a significant advantage, particularly experience with Omeka, the platform used to create the Center’s site, and with WordPress, Tumblr, Twitter and other social media tools.

Environment: The Bryn Mawr College Library is at once a strong undergraduate college library and a research library in a number of fields in the humanities and the sciences. The Library is a part of Bryn Mawr’s Information Services, a department that was organized in 2001 to bring together the library, computing, and instructional technology operations. The library works closely with the libraries of Haverford and Swarthmore Colleges through the Tri-College Consortium, one of the most influential academic library consortia in the country.

Bryn Mawr College is a private liberal arts institution located approximately 11 miles west of Philadelphia, PA, and it serves a population of 1,800 students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. The College has a long tradition of educational excellence, offering a dynamic and challenging work environment with many opportunities for professional growth.  Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore Colleges operate within an atmosphere of tri-college cooperation and collaboration.

Review of applications will begin October 7th.

To apply: send letter of interest, CV and three professional references to


A new beginning for the Center…


This blog post brings news that is both sad and exciting for me… after a very productive, educational and inspirational time as Director of The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education, I will be moving on as of September 25th 2013. I will be taking up a new faculty post at the National University of Ireland Maynooth in the history department. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at Bryn Mawr and have learned a lot, getting to immerse myself in the world of digital humanities while pursuing my love of women’s history – bliss! I will be able to continue my work blending digital humanities with pedagogy in my new role and look forward to integrating much of what I’ve learned here.

I especially enjoyed connecting with so many wonderful colleagues on Twitter, some of whom I was lucky to meet in person at the Women’s History in the Digital World conference last March (for a report on the conference click here).  The digital repository that resulted from the conference continues to remain popular: it now holds 42 records, which have been downloaded a total of 482 times to date. I do get to remain connected to the Center, however, as I will be joining the Advisory Board. In this capacity I hope to help advise the new Director and to assist in moving the Center on to its next phase of development.  The Center has been my focus over the last two years and I am delighted to be able to remain a part of its future. The Center’s growth has been tremendous – we now have 1252 items on the site, and since its launch in September 2012, the website has been viewed by over 41,000 people. The blog, Educating Women, has had over 25,000 page views and continues to attract new followers – be sure to keep up to date with news from the Center by visiting the blog regularly.

This news means that the role of Director is open and ready to be filled by someone willing to take on the exciting challenges of running a digital center. If you are interested in progressing the work of the Center, or you know someone who would be ideal for the role, be sure to share the job description and encourage them to apply. You can find all details related to the application procedure here in this document and we have announced it on Twitter and some of the major academic listservs – please feel free to share it on your own networks.


Hilda Worthington Smith, Director of the Summer School for Women Workers

SummerSchool15 (2)

Students and teachers at the Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers

As part of my work since returning from maternity leave I have completed two new research based exhibits for our site which are being finessed in their formatting but will appear in the next few days. These had been on my to-do list for quite a few months and I am delighted to have completed them at last! The first, looking at the Summer School for Women Workers that began at Bryn Mawr College, looks at the history of this labor education initiative that was subsequently replicated by Barnard College among others. The Summer School was an idea conceived by M. Carey Thomas at the end of her tenure as president of Bryn Mawr College. As the exhibit reveals, she was inspired with the idea of utilizing the prestigious college campus for education programs for factory workers after hearing of the news that Britain had passed suffrage legislation. Thomas’ sense of feminism led her to ponder how women who had achieved social and political change (such as suffrage) could assist their sisters. The Summer School was directed by Hilda Worthington Smith, a Bryn Mawr alum and social work pioneer. The school was the subject of a documentary, The Women of Summer by Rita Heller (available for viewing if you have access to the VAST Academic Video Online database) and was also featured in the Taking Her Place exhibit as an example of the history of Bryn Mawr in opening the campus up to non-traditional groups or students who were not conceived of in Joseph Taylor’s original plan for the college.


M. Carey Thomas

The second exhibit is on M. Carey Thomas herself. I talked about this research as it was in progress at the Women’s History in the Digital World conference and the Mediating Public Spheres: Feminist Genealogies of Knowledge conference and produced this reflective piece on her and on using the Omeka exhibit format. I was interested to study Thomas from multiple angles in an attempt to reveal different truths about her, positing that there is no single ‘Truth’ to be known about her (or anyone). For this exhibit I used her own words from different periods of her life, the words of her close friends, professional associates and colleagues all of which offer different insights into her personality. I have also featured her published writings on topics in women’s education, many of which appeared as a result of public speeches she gave and illustrate her profile during her lifetime as one of the foremost advocates of women’s access to education and the professions. You can access the exhibit by clicking here on the Center’s exhibit collection (it will be live in a few days).

A final reflection on the current state of women’s history in the US wraps up this post. Having spent much time over the last few months processing membership applications to the Coordinating Council for Women in History, I was struck by the breadth of interests that members have. On the application form members are asked to fill out three key words that represent their historical research interests, and this Wordle represents the responses members have given:CroppedHistoryWordle

Just for fun, I also used Tagxedo to represent these key words as a map of the United States:


A review of these terms affirms my own view that women’s history is a vibrant and eclectic space, and is a strong counterpoint to those who seek to pigeonhole historians who focus on women of the past. The Center has had a wide breadth of interests since its inception, and in the future it will continue to promote diversity in the narratives it highlights in women’s education in the past. As the Center enters its new phase of growth I hope all of you will continue to support its mission to get women’s history, particularly narratives that focus on education, noticed in the exciting sphere of digital humanities.

Thank you to all of you who have interacted with me in my work at the Center, its growth is also due to your interest and promotion.

Guest Post: A Room With a View



Christine de Pizan

In this guest post, Elena Johnson ’16 reflects on architecture, female scholars, and intellectual inspiration. In the Balch seminar, ‘Bookmarks‘, Professor Katherine Rowe asks her students to consider the tools and conditions that shape the way we think and write. Drawing inspiration from a syllabus that included Virginia Woolf and Christine de Pizan, among others, Elena began to theorize the role of the constructed academic environment in which she found herself during her first year here at Bryn Mawr. This essay is her reflection on windows–both as a source of inspiration and illumination, and as a representation of the spatial luxury to which not all female scholars have had access.

Elena collaborated with the Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education to pair her words with photographs from the Bryn Mawr College archives, which illustrate some of the themes that weave throughout the piece. In addition to appearing in this post, we will be releasing weekly clusters of images on our Tumblr page. Be sure to follow us so that you don’t miss any! And check out the first posting here.

Bryn Mawr rises from a foundation of scholarly pride and ambition. Rather than model its dorms and classrooms after other women’s colleges, it takes its inspiration from the brooding gothic edifices of Oxford and Cambridge. Stone worked like lace glitters with windows in a statement of almost overwhelming grandeur: this is not Virginia Woolf’s impoverished Fernham1. Its founders did not intend for it to serve as a home away from home, with all the “women’s work” that that then implied, but as a rigorous monument to academia.  If nothing else, it does its best to intimidate newcomers.

Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf

As a freshman at Bryn Mawr, I enrolled in the school’s writing seminar program.  Instead of reading about volcanoes or Greek mythology (my other two choices), I found myself in a class called ‘Bookmarks’, where we read Christine de Pizan and Virginia Woolf2. Both women published their work in times and places where female scholars were relatively rare and considered something of a joke at best. Both took on the challenge of defending women, but where Christine claimed the existence of an innate feminine virtue, Woolf declared that women had been deprived of the basic essentials requisite to great writing. It was while reading these, surrounded by echoes of Oxford and Cambridge, that I realized the subject for this essay: windows.

In her essay, A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf proposes that by possessing both a private room and the money to pay for a comfortable life, a writer gains independence: the ability to separate oneself from the bitterness and distraction of reality. But in isolating these prerequisites to genius, Woolf overlooks a third, equally vital resource. Windows provide the writer with light, a view, and a degree of isolation somewhere between mind-numbing loneliness and the constant interruptions of the wider world.


Thomas Library

Traditionally, windows address a practical concern by providing would-be scholars with the light they need to work. At Bryn Mawr, they grace the high walls of Thomas Great Hall, once the reading room of Bryn Mawr’s library, with gothic splendor. In this photo, lamps sprout from every desk, yet the students pictured work mainly by the natural light that floods the room. Today, the Canaday, Collier and Carpenter libraries have replaced Thomas as popular study spots, but if anything these modern equivalents have expanded on its window-laced walls and the students who study in their sunlit carrels draw easy comparison to a much older variant on the same theme.


Christine de Pizan

In illustrations of The Book of the City of Ladies, Christine appears illuminated by windows.  One artist includes skylights and a wide arced opening, which take advantage of the sunny day (see image at top of post), while another demonstrates the aid these windows lend with a handful of long golden rays cast over the writer and her desk, highlighting her work in the eyes of the viewer. Writing in a room of her own, with sufficient funds, with the light provided by her windows, Christine produced valuable volumes to help fill the sorry gap on Woolf’s shelf.

Windows offer metaphorical illumination in addition to the more practical sort. In A Room of One’s Own, Woolf describes the “branch of illumination” (Woolf 44) and the “lamp in the spine” (18) as the source of brilliance and innovation, while spending bright sunny afternoons at the imaginary Oxbridge as she searches for inspiration. However, the real world thwarts these sources: the Spartan meal at Fernham puts out the lamp, and outraged gentlemen cast shadows on her day at Oxbridge. Both the light and Woolf’s inspiration, linked in her mind and in her words, are disrupted by the realities of sexism. Only in the final scenes of her essay, as Woolf awakes to “the light . . . falling in dusty shafts through the uncurtained windows” (94), does the “branch of illumination” bear fruit, drawing her away from the looping and frustrated logic of a male-dominated world and allowing her to think, clearly and independently, in her own room, with her own money.


Studying in a window

Where light mingles physical necessity with a more esoteric need, the view through a window exists more basically as a source of inspiration. Woolf benefits from this phenomenon throughout her struggle to produce A Room of One’s Own. First, at Oxbridge, the sight of a tailless cat through the window inspires Woolf to ponder the missing elements in a society torn by post-war sexism. Then at Fernham, she and Mary Seton discuss the poverty of their sex while standing at a window overlooking the grandeur of Oxbridge. However, Woolf’s greatest revelation occurs at the window of her private rooms in London. Exhausted after struggling through the male-dominated shelves of the library without much success, Woolf finds her answers through her bedroom window, where the sight of a man and a woman climbing into a taxi together finally inspires the conclusion of her essay.

Just as a window lets light in, it keeps out a world of interruptions, creating a degree of separation that allows Woolf to enjoy the isolation of her room without sacrificing the benefits of a broader view. While walking over the fields of the fictionalized Oxbridge, Woolf suffers constant interruptions that repeatedly destroy her thought process. Only by imagining herself “contained in a miraculous glass cabinet through which no sound [can] penetrate” (6) can Woolf resume thinking, albeit temporarily, glorying in her “freedom from any contact with the facts” (6). This early realization later contributes to Woolf’s high regard for privacy, but the mention of glass bears scrutinizing. While walling herself off from the facts of an oppressively sexist society gives her room to think, Woolf thinks about what she sees, inspired by the world around her. Though this paradox has no easy solution, windows appear as a possible compromise.

The degree of separation a window offers also gives refuge to the “androgynous mind” as Woolf calls it, referring to Coleridge. She posits that because of the recent polarization of the sexes, the works her contemporaries produce lack the same element of suggestion present in Coleridge, Shakespeare and Austen. Writers become too obsessed with defending or injuring one sex or the other, personifying masculinity or representing femininity. The window allows the writer’s mind to “separate itself from the people in the street” (96) and the emotional and cultural turbulence inherent there. A writer at a window need not write as a man or a woman about men or women, but as a person about people. Whether sitting by a Single_dorm_room_Bryn_Mawr_Collegewindow in a London apartment, or in a dorm in Bryn Mawr, or in a medieval study while dreaming of a City of Ladies, the presence of windows offers the same thing: a degree of isolation between you and yourself, a space to see society without getting caught up in its emotion, and an unparalleled opportunity for authenticity without interference.

A room of one’s own means a door with which to lock out the skeptics and critics, even the simple doubters who smile condescendingly at the writer’s hunger for self-expression. That five-hundred a year, now a much larger sum, means the writer need not depend upon a skeptical father, or a critical husband, or a doubtful boss for her livelihood. While privacy and independence help, the writer will also need a window. Not necessarily a very great window or a very beautiful one, but a gap in the wall through which light may enter in and her mind may wander out, free from scrutiny. A window, so that when she pauses, grasping at the next thought to put on paper, she may see beyond her room and her money and the waiting page.  Perhaps she will see nothing but the cold rain, tapping against the glass and forming clear rivulets that pool in the grass. Or, maybe, she will see two people, a young woman and a young man, get into a taxicab together and drive away.


Do you have a favorite window on campus? Do you prefer to work by natural light, or in a more secluded environment? Respond in the comments, or tweet your replies @GreenfieldHWE.

Editorial assistance by Evan McGonagill.


1. In her essay, Woolf juxtaposes the impoverished, fictionalized women’s college “Fernham” with the wealthier, equally fictionalized men’s college “Oxbridge” in an effort to highlight the disparity between the sexes, as well as the positive effect luxury has on innovative thought.

2. Because of the naming conventions of the era, scholars refer to Christine by her first name only. So for the sake of accuracy (and at the cost of comfort) I will do the same in this essay.

Early Entrance Exams, part 2: Bryn Mawr and the Ivy Leagues


UPenn HeaderIt’s the start of the new academic year, and the Greenfield Digital Center is looking forward to greeting returning students and giving a special welcome to those of you who are on campus for the first time. We know it took a lot to get here. Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to apply to college 120 years ago? Last year we published a series of early entrance examinations from the Seven Sisters, the schools (including Bryn Mawr College) that defined prestigious women’s education in the late nineteenth century. Though the institutions were all founded with slightly varying visions, they were set apart as a group from earlier models of women’s education by their mission to provide academically rigorous schooling that led to a degree. For the first time, women were being offered an academic experience that was comparable to that enjoyed by men.1

The difficulty of getting into a good college is a constant source of discussion in the twenty-first century, with admissions departments seeing incredibly high numbers of qualified applicants every year. Shouldn’t it have been easier to get into college 150 years ago, when there were fewer people applying? Not so, as we learned in the last post: even if there were only a handful of girls around the country whose parents were interested in making sure they had access to a college education, getting in was hardly a piece of cake. As our readers noticed, the entrance exams were hard—hard enough so that few of us could pass today, perhaps even after the four-year education that the exam would have qualified us to receive!

Last time we looked at how Bryn Mawr compared to the other Seven Sisters. But how would the test measure up against similar examples from the Ivy Leagues themselves? It is well documented that M. Carey Thomas, the first Dean and second President of Bryn Mawr College, aimed to make the education offered by Bryn Mawr equal in rigor to the standard American male education. Shaped by her vision, the College pursued this objective more deliberately than any of the other contemporary women’s colleges. While digging through the archives recently we came across a document describing the entrance examination for the University of Pennsylvania, as given in 1893, as well as a copy of the Harvard Examination for Women,2 also from 1893. Comparing these three documents gives us a window into how Bryn Mawr3 would have appeared alongside the schools it was designed to emulate.

The Harvard examinaBrynMawrHistoryHarvardExamHistorytion and the Bryn Mawr examination have similar sections in algebra (though Harvard’s has only one section, while Penn and Bryn Mawr both feature two) and geometry. All three have a heavy focus on classical studies, which were considered to be an essential area of study in history, philosophy, literature, and languages for all serious students in the nineteenth century. The first deviation that I noticed is that a scan of Harvard’s history essay questions and Bryn Mawr’s reveal a stylistic difference: while Harvard’s requires definitions of terms and summaries of events, Bryn Mawr’s essay questions tend to be more in-depth, as you can see from the pages shown above. (The Bryn Mawr exam shown to the left, Harvard on the right. Click for an enlarged view.) The subjects covered by the different exams (as far as we can tell from the documents we have access to) are as follows:

Bryn Mawr

  • Mathematics (Algebra, Plane Geometry, Solid Geometry, Trigonometry)
  • Latin (Grammar and Composition, Caesar, Cicero, Virgil, Sight Reading)
  • (though the Greek requirement is mentioned in the exam summary, that portion of the examination appears to be missing)
  • English History
  • American History
  • Grecian History
  • Roman History
  • English (Composition, Grammatical Correction)
  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • Botany
  • Physiology
  • Physical geography
University of Pennsylvania:

  • Mathematics (Arithmetic, Plane Geometry, and Algebra)
  • History of the United States
  • Ancient History
  • English (Grammar, Composition and Reading)
  • Greek (Prose Composition, Grammar, Homer, and Xenophon)
  • Latin (Prose Composition, Grammar, Virgil, and Cicero)
  • German
  • French



  • History of Greece and Rome
  • History of the United States and of England
  • Mathematics (Algebra, Plane Geometry)
  • -rest of the document is omitted


It is difficult to make direct comparisons between the Bryn Mawr examination and the other two, considering that there are portions missing from the Harvard examination, and we only have a summary and description of the University of Pennsylvania examination. The University of Pennsylvania also had different requirements based on the division of their General Course in Science from the Course in Arts, options for specialization that the other schools did not incorporate into their exams. However, given the variances, the Bryn Mawr exam appears to require a broader command of subject matter from each candidate. For example, Bryn Mawr considered language study to be of the utmost importance, and required all candidates to be tested in Latin and two languages from Greek, German, and French. If she was not examined in all four, the candidate would be required to study a fourth language as part of her college curriculum. The University of Pennsylvania requirements, however, were narrower: candidates for the Course in Arts were examined in Latin and Greek only; candidates for the General Course in Science could elect to be tested in two 1892_035_Botanylanguages from Latin, French, and German, and candidates for the course in engineering were only required to know one language, either German or French. By gearing the test towards specialization in either humanities or sciences, the University of Pennsylvania thus required a narrower range of material for each candidate depending on his future area of study. Even candidates not applying to a specialized course at Bryn Mawr were required to have broad knowledge of both humanities and sciences—it appears to be the only one of the three schools that included a full section on botany. Would you have passed the section on botany based on your high school education?

An in-depth look at all three examinations suggests that the Bryn Mawr examination was the most challenging, mostly because of the incredible range of the subject matter in which the candidate was expected to demonstrate competence. This was directly connected to M. Carey Thomas’s vision for the type of education the school was to provide: in a published address given in 1900, entitled “College Entrance Requirements”, Thomas firmly stated her belief that “certain studies should be taken by everyone if we have in view the creation of intellectual power.” And it was the powerful intellect, not just career preparedness, that she was interested in cultivating for her students. Another reason that she advocated breadth as well as depth of study, especially in the pre-college and early college years, was that she did not believe that intellectual proclivities would necessarily arise immediately—the student needed time to explore different options and develop her abilities. In a memorable passage from the address, she refutes a statement by President Charles Eliot of Harvard University, first quoting him in his claim that “by the seventeenth, eighteenth or nineteenth year almost every peculiar mental or physical gift which by training can be made of value is already revealed to its possessor and to any observant friend” and responding that “I believe it is very rare—and as a rule profoundly unfortunate—for a decided aptitude or bent to manifest itself before a boy or girl has been two or three years in college, and usually the consciousness of it comes much later than this.” Thomas considered a broad education to be essential for the intellectual development of her students, no matter what they specialized in. However, it is also easy to imagine that the examination was crafted to be challenging in order to prove her point that women were as capable academically as men, and that Bryn Mawr College would be the school to prove that women could be educated at a level on par or even better than that of the equivalent elite male schools.

There is one item on the examination that distinguishes Bryn Mawr from its Ivy League counterparts and provides a hint as to what kind of school the candidate was applying to. In the grammatical correction section, candidates were required to fix the wording of the following passage:
1892_028_CorrectionsLarge_1Could it have been selected at random, or was it perhaps a nod of acknowledgment between the examiner and the candidates, aligned by a common conviction?

Would you have passed the Bryn Mawr examination as given in 1893? Would you have preferred to take the more focused University of Pennsylvania exam, or the Harvard Examination for Women? Do you think interdisciplinary study and late specialization is an important component of the college experience? Let us know in the comments section!

To view the examinations in full, click on the following links:



1 Furthermore, institutions like Bryn Mawr were offering access to graduate level education to women in the US, opening up the possibility of graduate study for American women without traveling to Europe for doctoral work as M. Carey Thomas had done.

2 The Harvard Examination for Women was a special case, as it was the only one that did not lead to admittance to the university issuing the test. At the time that Harvard began to give the examination, it did not admit women: the test was a way for young women to seek a certificate of academic achievement—a mark of accomplishment, rather than a ticket to the next phase of study. Though the University began offering classes to women through the Harvard Annex in 1879, it did not grant degrees to female scholars until the opening of Radcliffe College in 1894. Passage of the test was considered very prestigious, and the Bryn Mawr College entrance exam specifies that the Bryn Mawr entrance exam must be taken by all “except those who have passed in the corresponding divisions of the Harvard University Examination for Women, or who present a certificate for honorable dismissal from some college or university of acknowledged standing.”

3 We were unable to locate a Bryn Mawr College entrance examination from 1893, and will therefore be using an 1892 test for comparison.

Taking Her Place: Final Day and Digital Exhibit


We’re excited to invite Bryn Mawr’s campus and delegates to the Women in Public Service Project to view Taking Her Place today on its final day in the Rare Book Room gallery before we dismantle the exhibition.
GenderAndIntellect_THPExhibitTaking Her Place has been open since January 28th, and in that time we’ve had some great feedback from alums, students, faculty, and members of the public. Among the visitors we were able to extend special welcomes to over the course of the semester were attendees of the Women’s History in the Digital World conference, guests of Bryn Mawr College Alumnae/i Reunion weekend, and the Women in Public Service Institute. We especially loved hearing stories from the alumnae who came to the exhibition, some of whom shared recollections of people and events that are featured in Taking Her Place. We spoke with President Emeritus Pat McPherson about her memories of Margaret Bailey Speer, a graduate of the class of 1922 who went on to lead a Yenching Women’s College in China until the second World War forced her return to the States. (She subsequently returned to the area as headmistress of the Shipley School just across the street from the College, and maintained a relationship with this institution for the rest of her life.) We learned many new things about the school’s history from our enthusiastic attendees.

For those who would like to revisit the exhibition, or who never had a chance to view it in person, we’re delighted to announce that an online version is now posted on our website!GenderAndIntellect2_THPExhibit

The digital exhibit follows the same narrative as the exhibition and includes all of the items that were displayed in the Rare Book Room gallery. However, the new online accommodates more text, which allowed us to give more information about the items. It also meant we were able to include some items that didn’t make it into the physical exhibition: enjoy

Courtesy Tucker Design

Courtesy Tucker Design

browsing layout designs from before the show was constructed, links to additional oral history interviews, and images that we did not have space for in the gallery. We think it makes for an equally good, if not even better, viewing experience.

The exhibition can be viewed here and it will remain on our site indefinitely. Thank you to all who were able to view Taking Her Place, and we hope that those of you who didn’t have the chance to see it in person will enjoy it as a digital resource!

As always, the co-curators from The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education are happy to take questions, either about the process of envisioning and executing the exhibition or on the history of the college and women’s rise into the public sphere through education. If you’re curious to learn more about the history of women’s education and of Bryn Mawr College, take a look at some of the other exhibits and items from the collection that we feature on our site and keep an eye on this blog. Please write to, or follow us on Twitter @GreenfieldHWE to learn more about what we have planned next.

Call For Papers: Queer, Feminist, and Transgender Studies Research Cluster

Queer, Feminist, and Transgender Studies Research Cluster
2014 Conference
University of California Davis
May 15 and 16, 2014

Call for Submissions
Deadline:  Friday, March 31

Keynote Speakers
Ana Minan Raquel
Rigoberto Gonzalez
Julio Salgado

2014 marks the twentieth anniversary of the passing of the North American Free Trade Agreement, a neoliberal program with intentions to bring modernity to Latin America. 2014 also marks 20 years since the Zapatista indigenous rebellion surfaced to resist draconian neoliberal structural policies that plague the Americas. Coming out of social movement struggles against neoliberal currents, it became clear that the role of gender and sexuality formed an equally essential part in the shaping of both grassroots and state institutions.

This conference will examine sexuality, gender, and feminism in the shifts taking place within the Americas as they affect the circuits of queer migration, the transnationalism of feminist discourses, and the reconceptualization of forms of gendered subjectivity in relation to transcultural exchange within the hemisphere.

Reflecting on the past 20 years, it appears that Latin America is leading the continent when it comes to recognizing gender and sexuality-based rights.  While the US still struggles with federal marriage equality and workplace protections for LGBT people, Brazil has recognized same-sex civil unions for a decade; Argentina granted its citizens, including those underage, access to free coverage for gender reassignment surgery and the right to legally change their gender. Uruguay, Colombia, and Mexico have followed suit.

Discussions about gender and sexuality are at the forefront of hemispheric scholarship.For instance, how does gender and sexuality disrupt monolithic notions of the Americas? Given the advancements of gender and sexual rights based movements throughout the Americas, what are the negotiations of constructing new social policies within an economic and social neoliberal hegemony?

By rethinking “trans” in its relation to the hemisphere, this conference seeks to move away from strictly comparative analyses by examining transmigrations across borders, cultural straddling, as well as problematizing and queering the concept of the Americas itself. How do migrations across the Americas queer national belonging? How does gender, sexuality, and desire shape circuits of labor and pleasure?

Attending to gender and sexuality in the Americas in this way opens new possibilities for inquiry into relations of heteronormativity, homonationalism and imperialism; peculiar socialities in local, national and transnational contexts; disruptions to conventional narratives of a panethnic Latino culture; transgressions and gender negotiations.In particular, we are interested in breaking down borders between U.S. American and Latin American studies, as well as exploring how sexuality and gender work to police borders and citizenship.

Possible topics include:

Trans Politics
Gendered Configurations of Cultural Memory
Encounters and “Des-encuentros”
Rights Discourse and the Pinkwashing of the Americas
Transnational Feminisms
Reproduction and Nationalism
Regulation and Policing of non-normativity
Social Histories of queer sexualities in the Americas
Territories of resistance and eco-feminism
Embodiment of borders
Xenopobia and criminality of immigrants
Politics of Translation
Colonial religion and sexuality
Sexuality and racial formation
Medicine and Sexual difference
Public health policies/ regulation of sex work
Heritage and performance of identity
Rethinking gender in diaspora studies

We welcome submissions in English, Spanish and Portuguese.  If you are interested in presenting, sharing or discussing, please send an email to: (subject line: Trans Americas CFP) by Friday, March 31  and indicate whether you would like to:

1.  Present a paper (if so, please provide a title and brief abstract in the email body (250 words max))

2.  Organize a panel (if so, please provide the panel title and a panel abstract with paper titles in the email body (400 words max))

2.  Share work-in-progress as part of a roundtable workshop (if so, please summarize your line of inquiry or research interests in the email body  (250 words max))

3.  Present a performance (if so, please include a title, brief description of performance, and website if applicable in the email body)

Call For Papers: Managing the Scene: Women in the Film Industry

book-stack-and-ereaderManaging the Scene: Women in the Film Industry
An area of multiple panels for the 2014 Film & History Conference:
Golden Ages: Styles and Personalities, Genres and Histories
October 29-November 2, 2014
The Madison Concourse Hotel and Governor’s Club
Madison, WI (USA)
DEADLINE for abstracts: June 1, 2014

Area: Managing the Scene: Women in the Film Industry

Has there been a “golden age” for women working behind the camera—as writers or directors, for example, or as producers, editors, choreographers, costume designers, or set decorators? Women represented only 18% of the primary film management of the top 250 domestic grossing films of 2012, and directed only 4% of the fiction films slated for release in 2014. Just four women have been nominated for an Academy Award as Best Director of a fiction film, and only one (Kathryn Bigelow in 2009) took home the trophy. Is the golden age of women as principal film managers gone, in a flicker? Or it is upon us? What traits characterize a film “managed”—directed, produced, edited, written, choreographed, or even critiqued—by a woman? And why might those traits be golden?

This area invites abstracts that trace—or perhaps anticipate—the histories of women operating behind the cameras, as directors, producers, assistants, scholars, and critics. Proposals might address topics such as

•         career paths and strategies adopted by women in the film industry
•         critical histories and controversies explored by feminist film scholarship
•         the participation of women in national cinemas
•         women filmmakers’ roles in shaping the “women’s film” and other genres aimed at female audiences (family melodrama, romantic comedy)
•         women’s involvement in traditionally male-oriented film genres, from the action film to science fiction
•         creative innovation in feminist documentary, animation, and new media
•         gendered venues such as Women Make Movies and Lifetime Network
•         women as active audience members, fans, and remixers

Proposals for complete panels (three related presentations) are also welcome, but they must include an abstract and contact information, including an e-mail address, for each presenter. For updates and registration information about the upcoming meeting, see the Film & History website (

Please e-mail your 200-word proposal by 1 June 2014 to the area co-chairs:

Debra White-Stanley
Keene State College

Karen A. Ritzenhoff
Central Connecticut State University

Call For Papers: Tracing the Heroic Through Gender

book-stack-and-ereaderIn most societies the heroic is in many ways gendered. When considering the heroic, attributes of masculinity might first come to mind. Yet, from a historical perspective it becomes apparent that heroizations often also have feminine connotations. The social and cultural production of the heroic cannot be analyzed exclusively in terms of masculinity (and masculinity-studies), nor can we regard women or femininity simply as exceptions in this field. Rather, the relational character of the category gender needs to be taken seriously.

The fundamental relationality, the ‘constructedness’, and the historicity of gender are among the core assumptions in gender studies today. Based on this and by interdisciplinary cooperation the conference will examine forms, mediums and processes of heroization as well as discourses of heroic transgression, exceptionality or veneration for certain periods in time.

In order to give adequate consideration to the complexities of the historical entanglement between gender and heroization, we would like to use gender as an analytical tool in a new way. Speaking metaphorically, one might understand gender as a ‘tracer’ that ‘leads’ us, which way we may uncover new aspects of heroic ideas and concepts. In today’s natural sciences, a tracer is a substance that helps with the exploration of certain organisms or environments. In experiments, the tracer passes through these environments and reacts to each of them in a different way. Hence, the tracer itself is not the object of study; rather a third element distinguishable from the tracer is explored. Therefore we propose to use gender systematically to ‘trace’ various historical ‘environments’ of the heroic. We are interested in gender relations, men and women as heroes or heroines and their (intersectionally differentiated) construction. Primarily, however, we are interested in

(a) the heroic itself,
(b) the  historical contexts which shape the heroic,
(c) its medial and performative manifestations and
(d) its spatiotemporal trends and transformations.

We welcome scholars from all fields of the humanities and social sciences. The conference focusses on areas of European culture at three different points in time –1650, 1750 and 1850 – which are to be discussed from the viewpoints of different disciplines. Proposals including an abstract of max. 2000 characters and a one-page CV should be submitted by March 28, 2014 to The conference will be held in English. A collection of essays based on selected presentations from the conference is to be published.

An extended version of the call for papers with further conceptual research questions can be found at:

Call For Applications: Women’s International Study Center Residency

pages-flipWISC is seeking applicants for residential fellowships at Acequia madre House. These fellowships are intended as professional development opportunities for women and men who wish to pursue work in the four areas of WISC focus: women in the arts, sciences, cultural preservation and business. Fellows will live on-site alongside one another and may find their interactions contribute to their understandings of these linked fields. There is a $1000 stipend to off set the cost of living while in residence.

Applications are welcome from individuals needing a place to work on a publication or creative work, scholars with research interests in a local archive or collection, project developers seeking a space to develop a program or proposal, or others whose work relates to advancing scholarship and awareness of the achievements of women in one of the four areas of central concern to WISC.

Visit the website at

Iowa Women’s Archives Travel Grant

library imageThe Iowa Women’s Archives (University of Iowa Libraries) announces a grant
of $1000 to fund travel to Iowa City, Iowa, to conduct research in the Iowa
Women’s Archives.  The collections of the Iowa Women’s Archives are global
in scope and include rich sources on the history of the women’s movement,
political activism, African Americans, rural women, and Latinas, especially
in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  Proposals must be
postmarked by April 15, 2014.

Additional information can be found on the Iowa Women’s Archives

Anna Flaming (PhD, History, University of Iowa, 2013) for the Iowa Women’s

Call For Papers: Gender, History and Society

We would like to invite proposals for the conference ‘Gender, History and Society’ to be held at the University of Winchester on 4-5 September 2014. This conference aims to draw together scholars and postgraduate students from different disciplines who share a common interest in the study of gender to explore the impact and interaction of gender with both history and society. This includes, but is not limited to, history, religious studies, theology, psychology, sociology, literature studies, archaeology and the Arts. We are also willing to accommodate both paper and poster formats for presenting your research and would also consider alternative forms of presentation. We would also be keen to hear from students and academics who were willing to participate in a roundtable session on pedagogy-please contact us if you are interested in taking part.

Please send a proposal of approximately 250 words for a paper or poster and approximately 500 words for a complete 3-paper panel to by 1 May 2014.

More at H-NET:

Call for Papers: Finding Women in the Archives

book-stack-and-ereader Finding Women in the Archives: Experiences and Stories
from Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe

Deadline September 15, 2014

In the early decades of women’s and gender history as an academic
discipline, feminist historians devoted a lot of time and effort to
finding historical sources by and about women and making those sources
available to a wider audience. It turned out that women’s absence in the
historiography was not primarily due to a lack of sources but was
rather a consequence of (mostly male) historians’ conceptual frameworks
and assumptions about what counted as “history.” There is currently a
strong interest in rethinking archives, both as official institutions
and repositories of documents and in the broader sense of collections
holding “traces of the past,” sometimes put together with the help of
new technologies.[1] Recent publications challenge the older assumption
that archives are neutral and fixed repositories of
information and instead reconceptualize them as “artifacts of history”
(in Antoinette Burton’s words), shaped by material circumstances, state
interests, war and politics, the decisions of those who deposit
materials and of archivists, and much more. In addition to historians
rethinking archives, the on-going digital revolution has a huge impact
in the archival world. More and more archival descriptions and primary
sources are becoming available on-line.

We invite historians of women and gender in the region of Central,
Eastern and Southeastern Europe to reflect on their archival experiences
and the issues mentioned above. Questions we are interested in include,
but are not limited to:

-          What is the state of the archives in the country you are
working on and how has this influenced the questions historians ask, the
kind of narratives they can tell and, in general, what counts as proper
history? How has the archival landscape shaped research on women’s and
gender history?
-          How and to what extent has the specific nineteenth- and
twentieth-century history of the region influenced the state and
availability of archives, both more generally and specifically with
respect to the history of women?
-          Have efforts been made to make women’s records visible and
-          Have you developed specific research strategies to find
traces of women or to work around the limited sources available?
-          Did you make exciting discoveries when looking for women in
the archives? Sometimes a single document is enough to change our
historical understanding of women’s presence and agency; are there
examples of such findings in CESEE and their impact on our
-          What is the role of oral history research and the creation
of oral history archives in developing women’s and gender history in the
-          What counts as an archive, what do historians regard as
“reliable sources,” and how do they deal with different forms of
-          Are efforts being made to create and maintain archives of
other previously marginalized groups?
-          Does the digital revolution lead to a greater availability
and visibility of women’s archives/sources relevant for women’s and
gender history?

In addition to the specific theme of Finding Women in the Archives, we
welcome submissions on all topics related to women’s and gender history
in CESEE on an on-going basis.

Submissions of up to 8,000 words (including notes) can be sent to
Francisca de Haan (Aspasia Editor-in-Chief) at or to
Melissa Feinberg at

For more information, please write to one of the editors or visit, where you can also download the
Aspasia Guidelines for Authors.

[1]See for example A. Burton, ed.,Archive
Stories (2005); N. Chaudhuri et al, eds., Contesting Archives (2010);
and T. Zanish-Belcher and A. Voss, eds., Perspectives on Women’s
Archives (2013).

Francisca de Haan
Central European University

Call For Papers: Queer Youth Histories London Workshop

CFP: book-stack, Edited Collection & Book Launch

Queer Youth Histories Workshop, 19 June 2014

Weeks Centre for Social and Policy Research, London South Bank University,

Workshop: Keyworth K407 10am-5pm

Book launch & wine reception: Keyworth Mezzanine 5pm-7pm (the Workshop will be followed by the launch of Queering Religion, Religious Queers [Routledge], ed. Yvette Taylor & Ria Snowdon).

The heightened profile of queer youth cultures across an array of contexts has given rise to questions about variations in such practices, identifications, politics, experiences and manifestations at different points in time.  Despite significant expansion of LGBT historical scholarship in some areas, research focusing specifically on histories of youth and sexual and gender insubordination remains a fledgling field requiring nurture and growth.  To such ends, this workshop seeks to bring together scholars researching and writing on queer youth histories.

This research might include:

•   national or transnational historical research focusing on intersections of youth and non-normative or LGBTI sexualities and genders;

•   case-based analyses of particular examples of LGBTIQ youth organizing (such as youth groups, activist work, school cultures);

•   critical engagements with cultural texts (e.g. books, films, music) or events (e.g. concerts, demonstrations, conferences) with significance for queer youth histories;

•   historical examples of young people’s involvement in media and cultural production (e.g. community press, radio broadcasting or fan literatures) connected to non-normative or LGBTI sexualities and genders; and

•   historicizing analyses of cultural representations of queer youth histories (e.g. film, television, published fiction).

This workshop is also interested in work that reflects on:

•   methodological implications for doing queer youth history;

•   relationships and tensions between queer youth history and the larger field of LGBT/queer historical research; and

•   theoretical reflections on intersections of ideas about youth, history and non-normative/LGBTI sexualities and genders.

Presentations will be for 20 minutes each.

The Workshop is organized by Daniel Marshall (Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia) who in 2014 is a Visiting Scholar at CLAGS (CUNY, New York) and the Weeks Centre for Social and Policy Research (LSBU, London).  The Workshop will feature Professor Jeffrey Weeks as the closing Respondent.

There are plans to publish papers on this topic as part of an edited collection with an academic press. When submitting your paper proposal, please indicate if you would be happy for me to include your abstract in the proposal for the edited collection.

If you are unable to attend the Weeks Centre workshop but are interested in having your work included in the edited collection please include this notice in your email.

Please submit a 250-word abstract of your proposed paper plus a 100-word bio to by 7 April 2014.