NEH Awards $260,000 Grant to Expand ‘College Women’ Archives Portal


collegewomen.orgIn Summer, 2015 we announced the beta launch of the cross-institutional archives portal  College Women: Documenting the History of Women in Higher Education (, a collaboration between the institutions once — and often still — known as the “Seven Sisters.” The site development was funded by a Foundations planning grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and allowed us to begin imagining a resource that could serve both researchers and the casual browser interested in the shared histories of women’s education at some of the first U.S. women’s colleges in the Northeast. Today, we can now share that the National Endowment for the Humanities has recently awarded a Humanities Collections and Reference Resources grant to Bryn Mawr College that will allow us to expand the digitization project with our seven partner institutions beginning in Summer 2016.

A Poetry Hour on Bryn Mawr's Campus (1930) via

A Poetry Hour on Bryn Mawr’s Campus (1930) via

The College Women archives portal brings together digitized writings and photographs from our seven libraries, dating from the mid-nineteenth through the early twentieth centuries, and documenting the experiences of students attending Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Smith, Vassar, Wellesley, and Radcliffe (now the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University). In the first phase of our work, the partners established a metadata schema, built and tested the beta site, and developed an approach to building subject-focused digital collections that can serve as a model to other institutions pursuing collaborative ventures. The portal currently holds a sample selection of 318 items, mostly photographs; the next phase of the project will focus on the expansion of content, allowing us to digitize, catalog, and upload 50,000 new images to the portal with a focus on student writings from letters, diaries, and scrapbooks. The research value of these sources will be greatly increased by the ability to consider a wide range of student materials in conversation with each other, as part of a larger phenomenon in the history of women in America, rather than as isolated fragments that document only the history of the individual colleges.

In an era in which women’s access to education still cannot be taken for granted, and women’s colleges in the United States are increasingly pressured to justify their continued existence, the exposure of these unique collections will be a key resource for researchers interested in tracing the experiences and impact of women’s higher education. By linking these materials under a common searchable access point, we hope to illuminate questions that still resonate today: how did young women’s social and intellectual relationships inform their entry into the public sphere?  How did differences in social and economic status between students influence day-to-day life on campus? How did the atmosphere of women’s education as nineteenth-century “experiment” influence their attitudes and experiences, both in their undergraduate years and beyond–and how might we use those histories to build supportive educational environments for marginalized populations around the world today?

Are you interested in using archival primary sources to explore the history of women’s higher education? Tell us what kinds of materials you would like to see included in in the comments!

For more information, contact Eric Pumroy (epumroy [at] brynmawr [dot] edu) or Christiana Dobzynski (cdobrzynsk [at] brynmawr [dot] edu).

Evolution and Tradition: Learning from Digital Culture while Honoring the Past


bmcMost of our past reflections on the relationship between our digital mode and the content we publish have been concerned with how different platforms influence the messages we craft. However, we haven’t given as much space to the equally interesting matter of how the culture surrounding digital tools resonates with aspects of our subject matter.

In September, Joshua Kim published an article in Inside Higher Ed entitled “Is Digital Culture Changing Academic Culture?” In the piece, Kim reflects on the contrast between “digital culture,” which he characterizes as rapidly-evolving and experimental, and the “solid and stable” nature of traditional academic culture. Each holds apparent value: the agile and non-hierarchical nature of digital culture allows for exciting collaborations to arise, stoking innovation, while the long-reaching histories of established universities lend “a foundation on which to build.” As digital scholarship percolates in institutions of higher education, conflicts (or at least growing pains) can arise, but Kim argues that despite the apparent incongruity, universities could reap great benefits by incorporating some of the aspects of digital culture that initially seem at odds with their tradition-oriented culture.

The article has stuck with me in the last few months as I’ve considered Kim’s point in relation to how schools address issues of social inequality on campus. Academic culture benefits from stability for many reasons, and tradition can be an integral and important part of educational experience (just ask a Mawrter). But there are ways that this constancy can feel like entrenchment that reach even beyond the domain of digital versus analog scholarship. Kim’s reflections on digital culture reminded me of current ongoing dialogues both in and outside of the academy on difficult issues such as race, gender, and sexual assault; issues in which rapidly evolving approaches to inclusion and identity run up against deeply ingrained societal problems.

Continue reading

Margaret Hall and Bryn Mawr: On the Front Lines of the Great War


Margaret Hall

Elizabeth in Special Collections

Elizabeth Reilly, Class of 2014, at work in Special Collections

Veteran’s Day is observed every year on November 11th to commemorate the anniversary of the end of World War I, one of the pivotal events of modern history. As a women’s college, Bryn Mawr did not send students or alumnae into direct combat in the early twentieth century — an era before women entered battle alongside men — but members of our college community were very much linked to the turmoil in Europe.

Recent Bryn Mawr College graduate Elizabeth Reilly spent the summer of 2014 researching materials related to World War I in Bryn Mawr Special Collections. As part of her work Elizabeth immersed herself in the papers of Margaret Hall, Class of 1899, who volunteered with the Red Cross near the front lines in France. Using a wide range of sources, including Hall’s correspondence, photographs, ephemera, a bound manuscript that Hall herself compiled upon her return, and other resources from Special Collections, Elizabeth created a digital exhibit, using Omeka, that captures Hall’s unique story almost a century after the fact. Elizabeth’s project is now available on the Greenfield Digital Center website:

Margaret Hall and Bryn Mawr: On the Front Lines of the Great War

By drawing on the full resources of the college archives, Elizabeth weaves together several stories and perspectives into a rich narrative. Her exhibit incorporates findings from alumnae files and records, personal correspondence, ephemera, and published sources to build a biography of Hall’s WWI experiences that also highlights the experiences of other Mawrters volunteering in Europe and at home on Bryn Mawr’s campus.

The Bryn Mawr "Patriotic Farm,"

The Bryn Mawr “Patriotic Farm,”1910s.

Elizabeth also reflects on what it means to research physical materials in an age of digital methods and tools. Calling for an incorporation of both approaches, she writes, “navigating and learning from archival collections online can be invaluable in our present digital information driven culture. But,” she argues, “they should be used alongside physical collections whenever possible.”

Margaret Hall and Bryn Mawr” is the latest student-produced digital project published on the Greenfield Digital Center‘s website, combining archival research and digital writing methods. On both our main site and our blog, we strive to support and publish student work that interrogates the relationship between women’s history and the digital world.

Do you have feedback on this project, or suggestions for new areas of research? Leave a comment below!

This Wednesday: Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon for Women in STEM

Wednesday, October 22nd
Canaday Library, Bryn Mawr College

4:00pm Introduction to Wikipedia
5:00 – 7:30pm Editing Session

Learn how to write articles, add images, and update citations on Wikipedia.
(Or come for the snacks.)

Bring a laptop to Canaday Room 205 this Wednesday for a Wikipedia editing session and an instructional lecture from Mary Mark Ockerbloom, Wikipedian in Residence at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. We will be working on articles related to women in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math, in honor of the first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace. You are also free to edit based on your own projects and interests–but we’re especially interested in adding more women’s history to Wikipedia.

See our previous blog post for more background information. Further details of the event and potential article projects can be found on the Wikipedia event page.

No experience necessary!

Snacks will be provided!

Bring a laptop!

Questions/RSVP to

New Ada

Upcoming Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon, October Edition: Ada Lovelace and Women in STEM

Join the Greenfield Digital Center and Bryn Mawr College Special Collections for our second Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon!

Our first edit-a-thon this past March was a collaboration with the “Seven Sisters” colleges for women’s history month. This time around we’re riffing on the theme, with a twist for October: we will be focusing on using materials from the College archives and manuscripts collection to enhance articles on women in technology in honor of Ada Lovelace Day and American Archives Month.

New Ada

Who was Ada Lovelace?

Ada Lovelace was a female mathematician who lived from 1815-1852, and is often described as the world’s first computer programmer. Though computers as we know them today obviously did not exist in her time, Ada is credited with writing the first algorithm for a programmable machine—Charles Babbage’s “Analytical Engine,” a theoretical design that would later form the basis for the first computers built in the 1940s. In today’s male-dominated programming culture, it can come as a surprise that the first person to program a computer was a woman. However, Ada’s contribution was merely the first in a long history of innovations and advancements by women in computing that have been omitted from the dominant historical narrative of technological development. (NPR did a recent piece highlighting Ada’s work and tracing the history of women in computer programming. Listen here.) Women are discouraged from participating in technology today both by a culture that actively excludes them, and by the erasure of the long history of female involvement in and contributions to the field—an act of willful cultural ignorance that obscures potential role models from young women who are interested in pursuing work in computing. This is reflective of similar problems in the larger world of male-dominated STEM* fields. Every October, Ada Lovelace Day brings an opportunity for us to recognize the achievements of women in STEM.

Wikipedia Edit-a Thon 2014: Ada Lovelace and American Archives Month

Mary Mark Ockerbloom

Mary Mark Ockerbloom

At 4:00pm on Wednesday, October 22nd, Mary Mark Ockerbloom will join Bryn Mawr College staff, students, faculty, and members of the public in Canaday Library, Room 205 to give an instructional lecture on Wikipedia editing practices. The introduction will be followed by an editing session from 5:00 – 7:30 in which attendees can work on articles individually or in groups. The focus will be on women in STEM in the College archives, but participants are invited to bring their own projects or use the College collections to improve an article on any topic. Bring an idea, bring a friend, and bring a laptop and charger for editing. RSVP (optional but encouraged) on the Wikipedia project page or by emailing

There is absolutely no experience necessary, though it is recommended for new editors that you create an account prior to the event. Attendees may feel free to come and go as needed. Snacks will be provided.

Can’t make it in person?

Participate remotely! Work on a suggested article from this list, watch our progress and document your own on the etherpad document, and use the hashtags #BMCwiki, #ALD2014, and #ArchivesMonth!

Want to learn more about archives and the digital record? Come to our Personal Digital Archiving Day on Thursday, October 23rd—learn how to save your digital materials long-term!


Remember these?

*Science, Technology, Engineering and Math

Looking Back, Thinking Ahead: The Greenfield Digital Center Summer Recap


Summer already feels long behind us, as recently returned Mawrters and their professors get back into the swing of things and the weather cools. Now that everyone is settling in for the new semester, it’s an ideal time to catch up on what you missed over the past season of activity at The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center! We had an eventful summer, both finishing old projects and pushing forward on new ones, and, of course, we welcomed our new Director to campus. Here’s a recap of what we’ve been up to and a preview of some things we’ll be sharing soon:


  • Monica Mercado arrived in July and immediately hit the ground running. Already she has been through new faculty orientation, CLIR training, an ArcGIS workshop, and more—and somehow found time to return to the University of Chicago to graduate with her PhD in August.
  • The 2013 Pensby Center interns, Alexis De La Rosa ’15 and Lauren Footman ’14, put the finishing touches on their digital exhibit exploring the experiences of students and staff of color on campus. In addition to Lauren andAlexis De La Rosa and Lauren Footman Alexis’s research documenting a history of diversity at Bryn Mawr, results from Alexis’s survey to alumnae about their experiences, and original photography of students and spaces on campus, the exhibit includes a series of new oral history interviews that tell the stories of faculty, staff, and students who were impacted by issues of race and class during their time at Bryn Mawr. The digital project A Point of Difference was released in July and can be viewed hereContinue reading

Translating Archival Materials into the Digital Realm: Samone Rowe Uncovers a “Candid Campus”

Recent graduate Samone Rowe (BMC ’14) interned with The Greenfield Digital Center and Special Collections to create an original digital exhibit featuring the College Archives. Here she reflects on her connection to the archival materials documenting early Bryn Mawr students. You can view Samone’s project, Candid Campus, and other exhibits built on Bryn Mawr’s collections here.

Page from the scrapbook of Lucy Shoe (Meritt), Class of 1927.

Lucy Shoe Meritt, Class of 1927, Bryn Mawr College Scrapbook and Photo Album Collection, Special Collections, Bryn Mawr College.

Last summer, I was granted the opportunity to work with the Photo Album and Scrapbook Collection within Bryn Mawr’s Special Collections. My research, completed over ten weeks, resulted in Candid Campus: The Lesser Known Narratives of Bryn Mawr College, a Greenfield Digital Center exhibit detailing hidden aspects of the college’s culture. The scrapbooks and albums included postcards, photographs, playbills, newspaper articles, and a myriad of other trinkets and clippings.

Since the internship summer served as the precursor to my final year at Bryn Mawr, I appreciated seeing which moments of their academic careers the school’s alumnae held most dear and comparing those experiences to my own. Even now, months later, I continue to wonder how I fit into Bryn Mawr’s legacy and what effect the school will have on my future.

A scrapbook I developed a somewhat personal connection with was that of Frieda Woodruff (née Wagoner), a graduate of the class of 1951. The design of her album was simple: small black-and-white photos explained by minimal text. Yet, the sentimentality of the album starkly contrasted its stark layout.  Her photographs, which chronicled her final two years at the college, unexpectedly mirrored experiences of my own. Initially, I was amused by images of Woodruff and classmates waiting for their modern art course to begin and an allusion to “The Thinker” sculpture. As I continued to gaze at photos of her friends studying, sunbathing, and joking around, everything in Frieda Wagoner’s album seemed so natural and familiar to me. It was thrilling to see how the Mawrter spirit hasn’t changed much over the years.

Euretta Simons, Class of 1936, Bryn Mawr College Scrapbook and Photo Album Collection, Special Collections, Bryn Mawr College.

Euretta Simons, Class of 1936, Bryn Mawr College Scrapbook and Photo Album Collection, Special Collections, Bryn Mawr College.

Creating the exhibit was both exciting and illuminating. As a history of art major with a strong interest in new media, working with the Greenfield Digital Center allowed me to explore translating visual and physical materials into the digital realm. Since the summer, I have continued to sharpen my newly-gained virtual exhibition skills by curating digital exhibits for class assignments and scanning and editing various types of archival materials with Special Collections. My ten weeks spent with the Greenfield Digital Center and the Scrapbook and Photo Album Collection were invaluable, and I hope I get the privilege to complete projects similar to Candid Campus in my post-Bryn Mawr endeavors.

Scalar: A Digital Take on Physical Space


This piece originally appeared on the blog of the Tri-Co Digital Humanities Initiative, who have sponsored Brenna Levitin (BMC ’16) as our intern this summer. In addition to the two posts she has published on the Tri-Co DH site, Brenna has published regular updates on this blog. To catch up with her summer work, read her thoughts on a find in the 1989 Alumnae Bulletin, her consideration of silence in the archives, and her approach to using digital tools to address the silence.

Mapping Scalar paths in post-its

Using post-its to map Scalar paths

When I last wrote, I optimistically assumed that July would be for oral histories and August would be for creating the exhibit. In reality, oral history work has bled over into August, and I’ve actually been building the exhibit since mid-July. I also described the analog/digital split in my project, which has evolved; as August has worn on, I’ve simultaneously handled our first donations of alumnae/i materials (flyers, photos, etc) while drafting the actual pages of the exhibit.

As the first Scalar project undertaken at Bryn Mawr Special Collections, I am conscious of my duty to document the process. Scalar has offered me enormous freedom to design the exhibit in any multi- or non-linear way that I wish. That freedom is not without a price, however; non-linear documentation means that pages can fall through the cracks; technically contained within the exhibit but unlikely to fall within the viewer’s path. Recently, I struggled to decide how to organize the exhibit in a way that would not imply that this history is complete while still showcasing every possible morsel of information that I gathered. Continue reading

LGB(T): the problem of gender identity in a historical narrative


Last week a comment by G Ragovin on Brenna Levitin’s most recent blog post raised a crucial point, which I believe warrants a response and a call for further thought:

Really really hoping that this winds up being LGB and T, rather than LGb. I’m aware that sometimes discussing trans or gender non-conforming folks adds whole new dimensions to work that genuinely are beyond the expertise or time that a researcher has available, but also that the history of gender non-conforming folks and LGB folks is deeply intertwined, difficult to pull apart because of the ways identity categories have shifted.

G’s comment reminded me of a couple of aspects of this project that we have not yet addressed on the blog, including how we are grappling with the slippery nature of identity categories over time, and how we plan to represent gender non-conforming subjects in the final product(s). Studying avenues of gender- and sexual deviance in relation to a changing mainstream always poses dilemmas when performing research on historical queer subjects: to excavate stories from the past for a contemporary audience sometimes involves acts of translation that suggest false equivalencies and elide important aspects of historical context. Past lgbt-flagprojects have taught me the difficulty of researching queer subjects in the nineteenth century,1 a challenge that G alludes to: “you can ask (and this may not be a useful question for gaining insight into past lives, but you can ask) would some 19th and early 20th c. inverts take to the terminology of the contemporary trans community, if they knew of it?”

Any researcher will be confronted with various dimensions of cultural change that make it difficult to draw clean lines between eras when working on queer subjects in the past. These include, among others:

  • Evolving vocabularies for describing identity categories
  • Shifting politics of identity categories, such as harsher or relaxed stigmas
  • Changes in the practices that would mark one as a sexual/gender deviant
  • Differences in how people document their sexual and gendered identities in ways that are readable to the future.

As G alludes to in their comment, the inclusive term “LGBT(Q)” tends to be applied very broadly despite the fact that trans* people tend to receive secondary recognition and that their perspectives are often markedly different from cisgender non-heterosexual individuals. In her work on this project for Tri-Co DH, Brenna is striving to incorporate voices beyond Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual, but G was right to suggest that this aspect of the project presents an extra challenge.2 Though less obscure to us than those of the 19th century, even queer histories from the last few decades often resist direct mapping to present-day vocabularies.


Transgender Umbrella page from the GENDER book. (cc)

In our first oral history interview, we asked our interviewee to comment on recognition of LGBT subjects in the College’s academic course material. He prefaced his response by remarking that “the B[isexual] and T[ransgender] dimensions did not figure, in ’89.” He acknowledged that there were transgender students as well as faculty members on campus at the time, but we have not yet been able to make contact with them in order to establish details or accounts of their perspectives. We have managed to be in touch with multiple transmen who identified as lesbians when they attended Bryn Mawr, and at least one is participating in the project. To what extent do their accounts represent a trans* student experience at Bryn Mawr? Certainly their experiences must be treated as valid and authentic, and yet they will never be able to furnish us with a sense of what it would have been like to navigate the social and academic waters of Bryn Mawr as an out member of a trans* community—nor should they be lumped in with a more generalized lesbian experience, even though they were active participants in lesbian and bisexual communities.

We’re interested in representing a variety of individual experiences without tokenism; a mentality of trying to check all the boxes should not be, and is not, our guiding strategy.   Yet it remains a challenge to balance the responsibility of inclusion with an awareness of the complexity of identity and the shortcomings of the vocabularies that we use to describe them. While questions remain about how to frame the contributions of our participants, we will continue to grapple with creating space for authentic T[ransender] voices in this work while leaving room for fluidity both in cultural and personal histories.


1A classic example of this problem from Bryn Mawr history is the personal life of the school’s second president, M. Carey Thomas. It is well known that she spent most of her life with female companions with whom she was emotionally intimate. However, no source provides perfect clarity on the exact extent of her physical intimacy with either Mamie Gwinn or Mary Garrett, her two long-term partners. Thomas lived in an era in which the convention of the Boston marriage made formalized romantic friendships between women socially acceptable, but such partnerships obviously existed in a different social context from current-day same-sex relationships. Because of her reputation as a staunch feminist and a forward thinker across many fronts, it can be tempting to view Thomas’s associations with Gwinn and Garrett as proto-lesbian relationships. However, to do so is problematic both because it insinuates details of physical intimacy that the historical record cannot confirm or deny, but also because it privileges sexual activity as a marker of legitimacy.

2For excellent recent work on the gender and gender non-conforming individuals at the College, see 2014 Pensby intern Emmett Binkowski’s project History of Gender Identity and Expression at Bryn Mawr College

Silence in the Archives, Part II: New Paths


For Brenna’s previous reflections on this topic, see Silence in the Archives, Part I: Inviting Inquiry.

Brenna Levitin '16 asks, how do we study lesser-known aspects of Bryn Mawr student life?

Brenna Levitin ’16 in the College Archives. How do we study lesser-known aspects of Bryn Mawr student life?

Since my unconference session at PhillyDH@Penn, I’ve spent many hours mulling over ways to represent a project which each day becomes more complex. Because of the silence of our archives on the topic of LGBT life at Bryn Mawr, my project now relies heavily on personal accounts, discovered both through oral histories and informational interviews with alumnae/i and members of the faculty and administration.

Oral accounts are notoriously tricky: often narrators mix up names or dates, and personal narratives color everything. It’s the job of the historian (or historian-in-training) to interpret the narrator’s stories and to position them within both the overall narrative and the narrative of their life. It’s important to think critically about what might have shaped a person’s narrative so that we as historians do not naively accept everything we are told: we may hear two accounts which are factually divergent but represent equally valid experiences.

As I slid down the archival silence rabbit hole, it became clear that Omeka, the technology which The Greenfield Digital Center typically uses to create digital exhibits, would not be able to contain a decentralized, testimony-based project such as this one. My supervisor, a more experienced digital humanist than I, suggested an alternate program: Scalar.

scalarlogoFor those unfamiliar, Scalar is an open-source, online tool which allows scholars to build non-linear or multi-linear multimedia “books.” So far, Scalar appears to be a better tool for this project because it can showcase oral histories alongside blocks of text and images. I am especially enchanted by Scalar because it allows items to annotate or comment on other items, a great way to represent many, divergent stories, and because it allows multiple paths. As I build the exhibit, I’ll be able to specify not only an overall, linear path, but also a path which contains major events held by LGBT student groups or one with all of the reported instances of homophobia.

This multi-linear capacity means that not only are we not tied to one narrative, something which history struggles to accommodate at the best of times, but we are also free to portray the richness and diversity of the LGBT experience at Bryn Mawr. Some people loved college life, others didn’t; some were head of the Rainbow Alliance while others stuck to their tight-knit foursome. Every time that I send an email to a community member to request an interview, I include the fact that I’m not just looking for one universal, positive, “gay Bryn Mawr” experience. It’s important to me to amplify the voices of all; for without those voices, our tenuous connection to our history as an LGBT institution would fray irreparably.