“Gender and Generations”: Oral Histories of Colleges and Universities at OHA 2014


Greetings from Madison, WI!

Picture perfect: Fall break in Madison, Wisconsin.

It’s fall break at Bryn Mawr, and I’ve been traveling to share work with colleagues at the Oral History Association’s annual meeting in Madison, Wisconsin. As someone who has been teaching, advising, and doing oral history research for just over two years, this was my first visit to the OHA, and it was an energizing meeting of scholars and other practitioners from around the country. The conference was an opportunity to think critically about the stories we collect and who tells them; given our work at the Greenfield Digital Center, I was excited to spend a lot of the conference talking about (and listening to) histories of higher education, and women’s higher education in particular.

I had been invited to present at the OHA by American Studies scholar Carol Quirke, who is documenting the founding years of her institution — SUNY College at Old Westbury — with the site Experiments. Together with CUNY oral historian Sharon Utakis, our panel, “Places of Privilege, Places of Struggle: Oral Histories of Activism and Movement Building in the University” considered how oral history projects with the stated purpose of collecting evidence of social movements on campus “live” in University collections, and how they might inform current campus conversations. My paper, drawn from projects I previously directed at the University of Chicago, focused specifically on pedagogy, and what it means for oral history interviews to be the meeting point between past and present LGBTQ student activists. As the project Closeted/Out in the Quadrangles: A LGBTQ History of the University of Chicago enters its fourth year of work, and as I’ve moved on to Bryn Mawr, I find myself more and more compelled by the idea of college campuses as intergenerational sites of history and memory, with possibilities for current students, alumnae/i, faculty, and library staff to work together in expanding the scope of what counts as campus history.

Kate Eichhorn, The Archival Turn in Feminism: Outrage in Order (Temple University Press, 2013)

Kate Eichhorn, The Archival Turn in Feminism: Outrage in Order (Temple University Press, 2013)

I couldn’t help using the conference as a place to share the oral histories Brenna Levitin, Class of 2016, collected this summer as part of her digital project “We Are/We Have Always Been”: A Multi-Linear History of LGBT Experiences at Bryn Mawr College, 1970-2000. Brenna’s research will continue on next year, as will other projects chronicling less-known stories in Bryn Mawr’s past. As I noted in my conference paper, I have reason to be hopeful for continued engagement with these new histories. Our work is indebted to the worlds of feminist and queer archiving as they have expanded and spread into institutions like the university and independent collections over the past few decades. “For a younger generation of feminists,” Kate Eichhorn writes in The Archival Turn in Feminism, “the archive is not necessarily either a destination or an impenetrable barrier to be breached, but rather a site and practice integral to knowledge making, cultural production, and activism.” Her premise can be illustrated, on a small scale, at the university and college archives where I’ve worked: our classes and programs can draw new audiences — students involved with campus organizations — who feel that we might offer a productive space in which to explore an activist and social history.

Kelly Sartorius, Deans of Women (Palgrave, December 2014)

Kelly Sartorius, Deans of Women (forthcoming from Palgrave, December 2014)

In between giving my paper Thursday and presenting at Saturday’s oral history community showcase, I was excited to grab a seat at Friday’s standing-room only panel, “Current Feminist Practices of Oral History,” featuring a comment by Sherna Berger Gluck — whose 1991 edited collection Women’s Words: The Feminist Practice of Oral History is still used in women’s history classrooms. If, as Gluck contended, feminist oral history originated as a radical experiment, how are we still experimenting in our research and teaching? Kelly Sartorius, from Washington University in St. Louis, gave an important example of how oral history interviews can drive a research agenda. In her presentation “From a Life History into the Archives,” she argued for a “feminist life history approach.” Sartorius charted how she used the worldview of one narrator, University of Kansas Dean of Women Emily Taylor, to guide her work in the archives, and move away from the “waves” metaphor usually used as shorthand for mainstream feminist activism in the U.S. context. If we often talk about student protesters as the leaders in “second wave” feminist agitation on campuses, Sartorius’s research recovers the work of feminist university administrators, working with and for student activists in the middle decades of the twentieth century. Her new book, Deans of Women and the Feminist Movement: Emily Taylor’s Activism (Palgrave, December 2014) will certainly be on my winter break reading list.

University of Wisconsin students in the Historical Society Library reading room, 1904.

University of Wisconsin women students in the Historical Society Library reading room, 1904.

Before leaving town, I also had a chance to stop in to the Wisconsin Historical Society, where I followed up on my research into Catholic women’s education at the turn of the century. I found exactly what I was looking for in the library’s historical pamphlets collection, with the added bonus of finding traces of women’s education history throughout the Society’s halls. Like other midwestern “land grant” universities, the University of Wisconsin admitted women “to the full advantages of the University” in the 1860s. (Having just filed my course proposal for next semester, when I’ll be teaching histories of women’s higher education in 19th and 20th century America, I was excited to see a turn-of-the-century photo of women students at work prominently displayed next to the reference librarian’s workstations!)

Although my Madison sojourn has come to a close, readers can still view our conference discussions on Twitter with the hashtag #OHA2014. The call for proposals for next year’s meeting, “Stories of Social Change and Social Justice,” was announced in the conference’s printed program; in the meantime, the Oral History Review will be recapping other important conference conversations. Given our ongoing project to digitize Bryn Mawr oral history interviews (currently languishing on cassette tape) and support new interviews conducted by our students, there’s much more to come.

“We Are/We Have Always Been”: A Multi-Linear History of LGBT Experiences at Bryn Mawr College, 1970-2000


Early days of the May Hole celebration (1980s) courtesy of Deb Rowan, Class of 1990.

Early days of the May Hole celebration on May Day. Photograph courtesy of Deb Rowan, Class of 1990.

Over the summer, Tri-Co Digital Humanities Initiative intern Brenna Levitin (Class of 2016) began new research into histories of LGBT individuals and communities on campus. What started as a simple question — do materials exist in the Bryn Mawr College Archives to document LGBT life? — led us to new donations from alumnae/i and a rethinking of our digital tools.

We’re pleased to announce that Brenna’s project is now online, accessible through the Greenfield Digital Center’s website:

“We Are/We Have Always Been”: A Multi-Linear History of LGBT Experiences at Bryn Mawr College, 1970-2000

We Are/We Have Always Been” uses college newspapers, ephemera, photographs, oral histories, and informal interviews to show pieces of a fragmented history that continues to develop in the present day. In doing so, it highlights the multi-linear nature of the narratives that make up personal and institutional memory.

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

Brenna Levitin, Class of 2016.

Brenna’s project departs from the form of past exhibits published by the Greenfield Digital Center in that it is built on a platform called Scalar, rather than Omeka. With its flexible approach to narrative, Scalar allowed Brenna to situate parts of the story within and beside one another, in addition to traditional sequential relationships. Brenna’s documentation of this work, including her summer blog posts, lives on as a broader reflection on process; Greenfield Digital Center Assistant Director Evan McGonagill also considered how we might begin to think about the “T” in LGBT histories, particularly in the women’s college context.

We also encourage readers to visit “History of Gender Identity and Expression at Bryn Mawr College,” created by Pensby Center summer intern Emmett Binkowski (Class of 2016) to recognize Mawrters with diverse gender identities. Along with the digital exhibit “A Point of Difference” — recently completed by Alexis De La Rosa (Class of 2015) and Lauren Footman (Class of 2014) to document histories of students and staff of color — these projects reflect the Greenfield Digital Center’s commitment to research that tackles the diverse and challenging histories of Bryn Mawr College and its many communities.

Brenna will return to the Greenfield Digital Center in Spring 2015 through Bryn Mawr’s Praxis program, which will provide an opportunity for her to continue pursuing oral history interviews with alumnae/i and community members.

Comments? Questions? We welcome your thoughts below, or via email to greenfieldhwe@brynmawr.edu.

A Point of Difference: Diversity at Bryn Mawr College


A Point of DifferenceLast summer, Bryn Mawr’s Pensby Center interns Alexis De La Rosa ’15 and Lauren Footman ’14 began research on histories of diversity on campus, with a particular focus on students and staff of color. Their research took many forms: surveys, new photography, and oral history, as well as research in the College Archives. We’re pleased to announce that their project is now online, and hosted on the Digital Center’s website:

A Point of Difference: Diversity at Bryn Mawr College

Alexis De La Rosa and Lauren Footman

Alexis De La Rosa and Lauren Footman

Over the past year, Alexis and Lauren have reflected on the origins of their project. More recently, Digital Center Associate Director Evan McGonagill considered how we document the experiences of students of color in our archives and institutional histories–what she called building an archive of change. In the conclusion of their exhibit, Alexis and Lauren write:

We hope our work will just be the beginning of an ongoing institutional commitment to research, acknowledge, and document the experiences and contributions of marginalized communities on campus, and join us in celebrating this rich history.

We view this research as necessary, and just the beginning of what we imagine as more projects linking student interest in the history of Bryn Mawr College to our diverse communities. We’re looking forward to continuing these conversations on campus, and in our digital spaces.

Do you have historical knowledge or personal information about diversity on campus in the last twenty-five years (or beyond)? Share your experiences in the comments below, or contact us on Twitter @GreenfieldHWE or by email: greenfieldhwe@brynmawr.edu.

A “Treasure Trove of Forgotten Bryn Mawr Hilarity”: Gems from the Oral History Archive

Zoe Fox, Class of 2014

Zoe Fox, Class of 2014

Greenfield Digital Center student worker, Zoe Fox, who follows in Lianna Reed’s footsteps as she digitizes the oral history collection, has posted an entry on the Special Collections blog about her recent findings. Zoe describes what it is like to venture through the “treasure trove of forgotten Bryn Mawr hilarity” as she helps us preserve the faltering cassette tapes on which the collection is currently stored. This week, her endeavors led her to an interview with Emily Kimbrough, Class of 1921, in which Kimbrough gives an account of a “wild and hilarious trip to Europe” that she shared with a friend when they were “fresh out of Bryn Mawr”–a story which was eventually published as a book, adapted for the stage, and turned into a successful movie and short-lived television series. Click here to learn more at the Special Collections blog! And Zoe, we trust you will share more tales as you continue to unearth the tales of Mawrtyrs past.

Diana Lynn and Gail Russell in the 1944 movie

Diana Lynn and Gail Russell in the 1944 movie of Our Hearts Were Young and Gay, adapted from Kimbrough’s book of the same title

“I’m not a historian but I am interested in people’s stories”: Lianna Reed ’14 reflects on working on Bryn Mawr College oral histories

In this guest post by Lianna Reed ’14, you can learn more about the digitization of the oral history collection held by the Special Collections department of Bryn Mawr College. As part of its work, The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education is converting the audio tapes into digital files which will eventually be hosted on the Tri-College digital repository site, Triptych.

Previously, student worker Isabella Barnstein worked on the project and wrote about her experiences. We are further along with the work now and finding out more and more about alums from the past. Some of the material has been used in our Taking Her Place exhibition which can be linked to by scanning QR codes on certain labels. These include the 1935 radio broadcast by M. Carey Thomas and interviews with faculty, staff and students in the past (you can find them by clicking this link to our site). The exhibition runs until June 2nd and after this it will be made available as a digital exhibit on our site so make sure to visit the digital exhibitions section of the site ….

Guest blogger and Special Collections student worker, Lianna Reed '14.

Guest blogger and Special Collections student worker, Lianna Reed ’14.

I have been working on the oral history project with The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education for three months and not only have I learned how to digitize cassette tapes to mp3 files but I have also been absorbed into the lives of Bryn Mawr women from ten, twenty even eighty years ago.  I’m not a history major or English major, in fact my academic work doesn’t usually relate to my work with Special Collections. I actually appreciate this difference because working here is a release from my academic life as a double major in Political Science and French. I get to come to work and listen to alumnae talk about their time as students in the 1940s, sneaking out of the dorms past curfew (10pm) and going to the cemetery down the road. I become immersed in the details of women who became renowned archaeologists, politicians, activists, tutors, and the list goes on and on. Oral histories are an interesting form of history because they involve someone else, usually the interviewer, prompting the interviewee to respond to certain questions. However with Bryn Mawr women, these questions are often disregarded as the women believe that they themselves aren’t interesting. I have heard so many women say “Oh, you don’t want to hear about that. It isn’t interesting.” Actually, most things are interesting, especially anecdotal commentary. Even when the women describe how challenging Bryn Mawr was and their feelings about not using the degree, prompting them to feel unworthy of their degree, it is interesting and valuable for the history archives and also for those of us that are soon to be graduates.

My first oral history was my most memorable. Fleta Blocker was a bell maid in Radnor who came to Bryn Mawr as a teenager on the recommendation of her sisters. Too young to work she was put on staff for a trial year before she was hired permanently.  Fleta would end up working for forty years at Bryn Mawr College. Honored as one of the longest serving employees at Bryn Mawr, Fleta wasn’t just a bell maid, she was a friend and a student herself at Bryn Mawr. Fleta saw more change and development at Bryn Mawr than anyone else. But what does it means for Bryn Mawr’s Special Collections digital archives to have Fleta’s interview? Who will listen to her tell her story? Who will understand what it meant to her and, of course, the students, to have her there in the dorm? While Fleta’s interview is linked on the website of The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education and featured in the Taking Her Place exhibition and we can track who listens and in what language, we can’t always know how they might understand Fleta’s time at Bryn Mawr in the college’s history. Maybe oral histories are like podcasts and while you can’t force anyone to listen to them, they are an integral piece of history that is accessible, not just for the Bryn Mawr community but for the community of women’s education around the world. Faculty are always celebrated for their accomplishments and their connections with publically accomplished students, but what about the other people who supported and encouraged students to become the people they are remembered to be?

What does working on this project mean for me? As I said I am not a historian but I am interested in people’s stories. I am interested in doing research in sub-Saharan Africa on the effects of transitional and restorative justice. Oral histories are one of the most important forms of archival material that we have as humans. Oral tradition is the way we know and remember songs, family history, and recipes we love to cook. Oral history and oral tradition help to clarify the ways in which restorative justice has impacted the lives of many. For example, the gacaca courts in Rwanda are an oral tradition that are both a method of enacting justice and also a form of history as the plaintiffs, witnesses and criminals participate in an open dialogue. These histories are invaluable to the success and development of Rwanda in the present day. I hope that after having listened to hundreds of different interviews from people reluctant to talk and people more than enthusiastic at Bryn Mawr I will be prepared for whatever might come my way in the field. When I am out in the field I can gather information necessary to create a dialogue, not only amongst those I am interviewing but also with the wider international community producing a discourse that gathers many people’s individual stories, much like the archives at Special Collections at Bryn Mawr College.

Maids, Porters and the Hidden World of Work at Bryn Mawr College: Celebrating Stories for Black History Month

From the Bryn Mawr College Archives

We have previously referred to the maids and porters who worked at Bryn Mawr College in other posts and here we reflect more on their presence and significance at the college as part of our celebrations of Black History Month at Bryn Mawr College. If you haven’t already, make sure to check out the Tri-Co Chapter of the NAACP on Facebook and on Tumblr for details of their events throughout the month of February. We have been working with them to assist in their research and their exciting program should not be missed.

From the Bryn Mawr College Archives

From the Bryn Mawr College Archives

We are interested in the campus as a space, one that housed different groups across the years and one that is often remembered due to its distinctive architecture and beautifully kept grounds. In thinking more about campus communities and space, it seemed appropriate to examine what evidence we had on those who were integral to maintaining it: maids and porters, the majority of whom historically were African American.

One finding we have made from the research we have conducted at The Albert M. Greenfield Center for the History of Women’s Education on maids and porters at the college is that despite the fact that they were often incredibly close to the students, they rarely feature in the memorializing students did of their lives here. Why is this? Were they so fundamental to the experience of living in the dorms that it was almost too obvious to acknowledge their presence in their reminiscences? Were many maids and porters shy about getting their photos taken? How would they describe their experiences if we could speak with them today? Although we have many questions, we do know, however, through scrapbook evidence, that the maids and porters produced a theatrical show every year and the College Archives contain some photographs of the ways in which students and maids and porters interacted in the dorms.

From the Bryn Mawr College Archives

We also know that there was a night school, a Sunday School and a Maid’s Club which offered classes to interested maids. The Maid’s Club kept a library in their club room and it was reported in the College News of November 15, 1922 that the maids were ‘particularly enthusiastic about singing’ and often sewed while they met (see Offerings to Athena page 103 for more on maids at Bryn Mawr).

From the Bryn Mawr College Archives

From the Bryn Mawr College Archives








From the Bryn Mawr College Archives

From the Bryn Mawr College Archives



Jen Rajchel’s exhibit on our site examines dorm cultures at Bryn Mawr and Jessy Brody’s work on scrapbooks has revealed their virtual absence from the photograph albums and scrapbooks she reviewed – over one hundred in total – that span the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This is despite the fact that students and the staff who looked after their domestic needs in dorms across campus had multiple daily interactions, either in person or through the transmission of goods or services. Seeking out their experiences has required a little more detective work and a stronger reliance on source material from oral histories, memoirs and personal letters, rather than traditional documentary sources that can be used in the construction of ‘important’ historical figures, or those who maintained personal archives.

From the Bryn Mawr College Archives

One such example is a wonderful interview with Fleta Blocker, which you can listen to in its entirety here. Blocker began at the college as a bell maid, a position that revolved around answering the telephone in dormitories, but she progressed in her roles at the college, ending her four-decade career as a Hall Manager, a role previously only held by white women. Her life was rich and full: active in her church, she traveled the world, inspired by the Bryn Mawr environment to see places such as Oxford and Africa. We included a link to this interview in the new exhibition Taking Her Place at the Rare Book Room Gallery in Canaday Library (on view until June 2nd 2013) in the Broadening the World of Bryn Mawr section, as there was a connection between maids at the college and the women who attended the Summer School for Women Workers. (A digital exhibit on the latter group is coming to the site soon!) The women at the Summer School, many of whom worked in poor conditions in factories across America, were moved to complain about the living conditions they saw the maids had, living in the attics of dorms without proper ventilation in the heat of summer. This was an issue that resurfaced again and the ‘living in’ arrangement was eventually phased out.

From the Bryn Mawr College Archives

We also learned from an interview with alum Jane Drucker (whose interview, along with many others, will be available later this year on the Tri-Co digital repository Triptych), that it was a student rather than a member of the staff who headed the Maids and Porters Association for their dorm. This was not a staff association as such, and Drucker recalls her main responsibility as being to organize end of year gifts for the staff who looked after her dorm. It was not, therefore, despite its name, an association to advocate for staff. Looking back, Drucker thought this was odd, but at the time it was the norm that women students would fulfill such a role.

From the Bryn Mawr College Archives

Photographs of the work that maids and porters did, however, are a feature of the college archive collections and many personal scrapbooks and photograph albums. The immaculately kept dorm rooms appear regularly in scrapbooks, catalogs and what appear to be college commissioned photographs so their importance in the life of the college cannot be underestimated. Many of the photographs show elaborately decorated rooms that imitate parlors in houses where ladies would sit; it is obvious that much effort has been put into creating environments that are comfortable and appropriate for college women. It’s worth considering, therefore, the people who worked to maintain such homely environments.

At The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education we are interested in representing the diversity of experiences in education and illuminating the world of women at Bryn Mawr and other colleges in the past. Examining the lives of those who helped them to focus more intently on the ‘life of the mind’ rather than domestic concerns is another angle of vision on past worlds. As we uncover more information through our research activities, we will be adding it so keep watching the site. In the meantime, this great timeline about the “Invisible Women” in domestic service in US history created by Mother Jones is well worth visiting.

Finally, if you have memories you would like to share or any comments, make sure to add them below!

New Exhibition: Taking Her Place

Opening January 28 until June 2nd 2013

Class of 1912 Rare Book Room,
Canaday Library, Bryn Mawr College

Exhibition hours daily 11 am – 4:30 pm

Open Wednesdays until 7.30pm during term time


Taking Her Place is an exhibition dedicated to showcasing the history of women’s education through the treasures of Bryn Mawr’s collections of rare books, manuscript material, photographs, textiles, oral histories and art and artifacts. It opens on January 28th 2013 with a talk by renowned historian and biographer of M. Carey Thomas, Professor Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, Professor Emerita at Smith College and a member of our Advisory Board. Her talk will be on ‘Reading, Writing, Arithmetic … and Power: Education as Entry to the World”. This will take place in Carpenter Library B21 at 5.30pm and all are welcome to attend. A reception at the Rare Book Room Gallery will follow.

Taking Her Place illuminates the story of women’s access to the public world of employment and civic engagement through education, the key way in which women in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries expanded their sphere beyond the confines of their homes. We trace the early origins of educational debates, feature the histories of famous alums, and show how Bryn Mawr grew into the diverse environment for women’s education that it is today. This is an interactive exhibition and you will be able to link to further content online using smart phones or tablets.

There will be other events throughout the time the exhibition is showing, including a talk by Professor Elaine Showalter, Bryn Mawr College class of ’62 and Avalon Foundation Professor Emerita, Princeton University, on Thursday April 18th 2013 at 5.30pm, also in Carpenter Library B21.

We are offering three guided tours by the co-curators as part of Alumnae Reunion Weekend where we will tell you more about our choice of objects, the themes of the exhibition, and can answer any questions you have. Please see the official calendar of events for further details. Further updates will also be provided on our site.

Call for papers: Women’s History in the Digital World, the first conference of The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education

Call for Papers: Women’s History in the Digital World

Keynote Speaker: Professor Laura Mandell

Director, Initiative for Digital Humanities, Media, and Culture
Professor, Department of English, Texas A&M

Bryn Mawr College

March 22nd and March 23rd 2013

The first conference held by The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education will be held on Bryn Mawr College campus and will bring together experts and novices to share insights, lessons, and information on the landscape of women’s history in the world of twenty-first century technology.

‘Women’s History in the Digital World’ will bring together scholars, archivists, digital humanists, students, and all those interested in the development of women’s history in the new era of digital humanities research. The conference will begin with a keynote address by renowned digital humanist, Professor Laura Mandell on Friday March 22nd, followed by a reception. Panels will be held all day on Saturday March 23rd.

The Center seeks scholars working on women’s history projects with a digital component, investigating the complexities of creating, managing, researching and teaching with digital resources. We will explore the exciting vistas of scholarship in women’s histories and welcome contributors from across the globe.  Key issues, new projects, theoretical approaches and new challenges in the digital realm of historical and cultural research on women. All thematic areas and time periods are included: this is a chance to share knowledge, network and promote stimulating conversations in women’s history in the context of digital humanities initiatives today.

We invite individual papers or panels on new projects, theoretical approaches, teaching, research and new challenges in the digital realm of historical and cultural research on women.

Please email abstracts (200 words max) and a bio (100 words max) to greenfieldhwe@brynmawr.edu by December 14th 2012.

Check the website for further updates or follow us on Twitter @GreenfieldHWE

We are live! Announcing the launch of The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education

The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education is proud to announce the official launch of its website! We’ve been in beta for some time now, and while the site continues to grow, we can now proclaim to you all that we are live and ready to receive your comments….

The past year has been one of exciting growth for The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center and we are delighted to finally share the fruits of our hard work with you. The website will serve scholars in the US and across the world by providing free, open access to materials on the web related to the history of women’s education. We have digitized a variety of our own resources and built partnerships with other colleges to feature related original sources in their possession. An example of this is our collaboration with Dr. Anne Bruder’s class at Berea College. Dr. Bruder (editor of Offerings to Athena and Advisory Board Member) challenged her class to create a digital exhibit reflecting on the gendered histories of Berea College (the exhibit can be found here).

The website also features thematic exhibits on past alums, such as Margaret Bailey Speer, lesson plans created by Temple University students as part of the Cultural Collaboration Fieldwork Initiative, and current Bryn Mawr undergraduates’ work on the scrapbooks created by students in the early years of the college. We are focusing on digitizing prominent or unique items in our collections which will be freely available for teaching, research or general interest to users across the world.

The Center’s team has been led by Jennifer Redmond, and consists of a number of key members focusing on both the digital and research components of the Center:

  • Cheryl Klimaszewski, Digital Collections Specialist in Canaday Library, has continued as the technical lead on the project
  • Jessy Brody (BMC ’10), a Digital Assistant on the project, has been heavily involved in the digitization of scrapbooks and research on athletics at Bryn Mawr
  • Jen Rajchel (BMC ’11) recently finished her role as Digital Initiatives Intern and is currently the Assistant Director of the Tri-Co Digital Humanities Initiative
  • Evan McGonagill (BMC ’10) is a Research Assistant working at the Center, focusing on researching the collections and is in charge of the social media presence of the Center. (Click here to see the Center’s team and click here to see the Advisory Board members).

The work of the Center continues to be overseen by Eric Pumroy, Director of Library Collections and Seymour Adelman Head of Special Collections; and Elliott Shore, Chief Information Officer and Constance A. Jones Director of Libraries and Professor of History.

As part of the launch of the site, we are announcing the second annual essay competition, again kindly sponsored by the Friends of the Library. The theme is ‘Transformations: How has the Bryn Mawr College experience made you the person you are today?’  Further details on the competition can be found here.

Our first exhibition, Taking Her Place, will be hosted in the Rare Book Room gallery in Canaday Library, Bryn Mawr College, from January to June 2013. Given the intense scholarly interest in the lively field of women’s educational history, we feel the exhibition will be a welcome addition to exploring the history of women’s reading, learning, scholarship and their battle to take their education and expertise from the private to the public sphere. It will also be a way to visually narrate the journey many women traveled to achieve their ambitions of becoming learned women.This show will explore women’s worlds of reading, learning, educational attainment and entry into the world of work and the public sphere. The exhibition will be launched by Professor Helen Horowitz, renowned historian of women’s education, biographer of M. Carey Thomas and one of the keynote speakers at the ‘Heritage and Hope’ conference in 2010 which celebrated the 125th anniversary of the founding of the college. Her talk on January 28th 2013 will be on “Reading, Writing, Arithmetic…and Power: Education as Entry to the World”. On Thursday April 18th 2013 Professor Elaine Showalter, Bryn Mawr College class of 1962 and Avalon Foundation Professor Emerita at Princeton University, will also be coming to give a speech as part of the exhibition program. Please check back here for further details on these exciting events. A digital version of the exhibition will be made available online after it closes.

The exhibition is jointly curated by Jennifer Redmond and Evan McGonagill. We are creating ‘Taking her Place’ with the assistance of our colleagues in Special Collections, Eric Pumroy, Brian Wallace, Marianne Hansen, Lorett Treese and Marianne Weldon, with the digital expertise of Cheryl Klimaszewski and Jessy Brody.

Finally, we are also announcing the first Call for Papers ‘Women’s History in the Digital World’, to be held at Bryn Mawr College, Friday 22nd and Saturday 23rd March 2013. We are honored to have as our keynote speaker Professor Laura Mandell, Director of the Initiative for Digital Humanities, Media, and Culture and a Professor in the Department of English at Texas A&M. The conference will bring together scholars working on women’s history projects with a digital component, exploring the complexities of creating, managing, researching and teaching with digital resources. We will explore the exciting vistas of scholarship in women’s histories and welcome contributors from across the globe. This will be the first conference held by us, but hopefully this will become an annual event. We wish to bring together both experienced and newer scholars in the world of digital projects on women. Watch this space for further details!

There will be other public events throughout the Spring so please check back regularly at http://greenfield.brynmawr.edu/ and follow us on Twitter (@GreenfieldHWE). Announcements will be made also through the Friends of the Library Facebook page. 

We welcome your feedback on the new site, please leave comments here or else get in touch directly with the Director (jredmond@brynmawr.edu or via Twitter @RedmondJennifer)


Process, memory and form: exploring the spoken and the written word in the Bryn Mawr College collections

This post is brought to you by Amanda Fernandez (’14) who has been working as a project assistant in Special Collections throughout the summer, specializing in digitizing material for The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education. Here she reflects on the difference between digitizing and transcribing oral and written records, both of which illuminate the lives of alums in the past, finding frustrations and fascinations again in comparing epistolary and oral practices in recording memory and interpreting impressions from the past ….


Summer being almost through, most student workers still happily off at their summer destinations, clinging to what remains of sweet summer and denying the soon to come scholastic year, I have stayed and carried on with my letter transcribing here in Special Collections. In addition to this, in order not to find myself enveloped (no pun intended) in a monotonous workflow, which would eventually incite distaste towards the project (as well as M. Carey Thomas and Mary Garrett), I have taken up another task. The project, which once belonged to Isabella Bartenstein (who is now happily gallivanting about Avignon!), involves listening to and digitizing a collection of interviews of alumna and long retired staff, all in order to compile a digitized collection of the Oral History Project. The project started in 1960 and was an active effort on behalf of the Alumnae Association to collect personal accounts of students’ and staff members’ experiences at Bryn Mawr and how it affected their lives.  In 1981, the OHP became more of a collaborative project when the paper work and cassettes were moved to the archives. Caroline Rittenhouse (BMC class of 1952) conducted many of the later interviews and directed the project when she became the College Archivist in 1987. The transferring of these audio tracks from the ancient medium of cassette tape to mp3 on a digital recorder by means of a tangle of wires that turn my workspace into jungle, can be tedious or thrilling, depending on the entertainment and interest value of the interview as a whole. Some of the most interesting interviews turn out to sound more like conversations which is suggested against in the general interview guidelines but, is almost entirely inevitable considering that the dialogue usually occurs between two alums.

I’ve found that audio recorded interviews relay much more information than the hand-written letter does. Letters, more specifically the letters that I have been transcribing, are not capable of lending me as accurate an insight into M. Carey Thomas as would an interview I think.  In transcribing and reading the letters, I tend to peel out my own conclusions—imposing my assumptions in order to erect the shadows of two people and a dramatic exchange draped over their correspondence. To be honest, I have gone as far as judging M.C.T. for the way she’s dotted her i’s.  In retrospect, something seems obviously askew in that practice—how could I understand enough about the culture of written narrative (which entails so many variables; structure, etiquette and subsequent tone, the relationship between the addressed and the addressee etc.) in that time and setting to  mold detailed personalities? I could also draw illusory conclusions from an audio recorded interview if the interviewee is putting on a ‘persona’—but even then, the intuition developed in perception of sound gives the theatrics away.

In listening to interviews I am depending on the human memory—which does not have a reputation for accuracy or precision, especially with the wear and tear of time. Experiences are subjective and the ‘singed’ memories thereafter are much like the newspaper clippings I find attached to letters; they yellow and tear here and there, the paper thins out and sometimes the words that were once clipped for their current relevancy in that time are now relevant in another upon being re-read—sometimes completely transformed by new perception that has been changed much in the same way as the physical clipping. We know that each person will recreate scenarios and memories according to the way they perceive and process—these interviews are unique in that memories are sewn together—memories most times compared and sometimes even confirmed. The exchange of sound waves seems to solidify the person that in letters appears just as a shadow; we are able to build a more three dimensional personality in our heads, we sense their stories in sound, the tone and expression being audible and creating a clearer picture.

Most of the interviews, if not all, are based on a standardized interview format—meaning that each of the interviewers are asking the same questions. Some interviewers ask the interviewee to expand, or they turn the interview into more of a dialogue where one relates to the other, prompting a more enthusiastically responsive and detailed answer. I guess interviews also depend on commonalities and relationship—what the interviewer can draw from the interviewee depends very much on what they have in common in regards to their experience at Bryn Mawr which would allow for the best and most informative dialogue—this also limits the interview in a situation where there is no familiarity. The most intriguing interviews I’ve heard thus far are those that have evolved into conversation due to the binding induced by commonality—such as one between two alums who were both raised by alums. In this exchange they share not only their own experiences (as one time students at BMC as well as what it was like being raised by BMC alums) but also the BMC memories transmitted to them by their mothers. At certain times throughout the recording, I caught the presence of four, each alum and her mother’s memory.

Through these tapes I have also confirmed my own faith in the long standing reputation of exceptional characters that proceeds Mawrters, women that  exceed expectation and burst out of the restrictions imposed on them by the social codes of their time. This was clear to me in most of the interviews, but particularly in two, the interview of Katharine Fowler Billings (class of 1925) who became an accomplished and renowned Geologist in the 1920’s when it was practically unheard of for a woman to take up such a profession.

An article on her pioneering work appears here on the GeoScience World site.

Isabel Benham

The second was of Isabel Benham who scraped and clawed her way as an independent woman on Wall Street starting in the 1930’s and I could not help but tear up a bit when she remarked, “Bryn Mawr taught you you were the best that there was and you can do anything you want.” Isabel was even dubbed the ‘Mother Superior’ of Wall Street (go to Link to Isabel Benham’s College Yearbook). In both of their interviews, their voices resounded with enthusiasm despite the distance of years from their time at the college and good humor.

Aside from what I have learned from the nature of the medium of audio, I am assured by the content of these interviews that Bryn Mawr women grow to be ‘defy-ers’ of their time.