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).

“College Women” at the Digital Library Federation Forum [video]


College women beta site 6-11The October talk featuring Greenfield Director Monica Mercado, Rachel Appel (Bryn Mawr College Digital Collections Librarian) and Joanna DiPasquale (Vassar College Digital Initiatives Librarian) is now online via The University of British Columbia Open Collections. “College Women: A Collaborative, Cross-Institutional Archives Portal” begins at 00:14:50.

‘College Women’ Goes West: DLF Forum 2015

DLF-Forum-2015-logo-150210We’re in beautiful Vancouver, BC this week for the Digital Library Federation Forum. On Tuesday afternoon, Greenfield Director Monica Mercado, Bryn Mawr College digital collections librarian Rachel Appel, and Vassar College Libraries digital initiatives librarian Joanna DiPasquale will be presenting a project update on our archives portal, College Women: Documenting the History of Women in Higher Education.

There’s a few ways to follow along:

We’re looking forward to presenting with the University of Virginia Scholars Lab project Take Back the Archive, a public history project created by UVa faculty, students, librarians, and archivists to “preserve, visualize, and contextualize the history of rape and sexual violence at UVa, honoring individual stories and documenting systemic issues and trends.” How can digital women’s archives work together and share in other conversations after we return to Bryn Mawr?

Greenfield on the Road: Fall 2015


Students Take a Drive, ca. 1940s, Mount Holyoke Archives and Special Collections via

Students Take a Drive, ca. 1940s, Mount Holyoke Archives and Special Collections via our new archives portal,

With the Fall semester underway, I’ve been scheduling travels to share our work with digital women’s history and women’s education archives with colleagues around North America, and right here on Bryn Mawr’s campus. If you’re attending one of the following events, do introduce yourself – it’s a pleasure to share our collaborative work in women’s education history with new colleagues and old friends. [Unfortunately, my rental car doesn’t look half as snazzy as the one Mount Holyoke students took for a spin on!]

September 19, 2015 | UNYWHO (Upstate NY Women’s History Organization)
“Digital Histories of Women: Projects and Possibilities”
Geneva, NY

September 30, 2015 | Bryn Mawr College Pensby Center Diversity Conversations
Black at Bryn Mawr: What’s Next?”
Bryn Mawr, PA

October 27, 2015 | DLF Forum
College Women: A Collaborative Cross-Institutional Archives Portal” (co-presenting with Rachel Appel and Joanna DiPasquale)
Vancouver, British Columbia

January 9, 2016 | American Historical Association Annual Meeting
“Archives Praxis: Supporting Independent Study and Experiential Learning in Special Collections” as part of the panel Teaching History Through Archives.
Atlanta, GA

In the meantime, you can also find me walking campus as part of the Black at Bryn Mawr project, which has two upcoming public walking tours: Saturday, October 3 at 2:30 pm (as part of Bryn Mawr College alumnae volunteer summit) and Friday, October 23 at 2:00pm (as part of Bryn Mawr College Family Weekend). These tours meet in front of Thomas, rain or shine, and all are welcome. Spring 2016 tours, including one during Reunion weekend, will be listed on the website when they are scheduled, so stay tuned!

College Women: A Collaborative Cross-Institutional Archives Portal


Bryn Mawr College archery team, undated, via

Bryn Mawr College archery team, undated, via

In June, we announced the launch of College Women: Documenting the History of Women in Higher Education (, a project of the seven institutions once known as the “Seven Sisters” colleges. With a one-year Foundations planning grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, we developed an archives portal that brings together–for the first time online–digitized letters, diaries, scrapbooks and photographs of women who attended the seven partner institutions: Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Smith, Vassar, Wellesley, and Radcliffe (now the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University).

This summer we put the finishing touches on a white paper documenting our collaboration for the NEH Division of Preservation and Access, Humanities Collections and Reference Resources. The white paper joins our application narrative, freely available on the NEH site; both serve as useful documentation for thinking through collaboration across multiple institutions. The white paper, in particular, makes the case for finding ways to collect geographically disparate collections in a vital and sustainable site, and over the long term, using that site to stimulate significant new work in women’s history. But, as we wrote, the project partners also saw a secondary goal of creating an open-source infrastructure and set of procedures that could be adapted by other institutions interested in developing their own subject-based digital collections. Our white paper, its accompanying standards documents, and the site architecture, design and accompanying documentation available through Barnard College’s GitHub, are all readily available for other initiatives interested in pursuing this approach.

To read more, download the “History of Women’s Education Open Access Portal Project” from the Bryn Mawr College repository, here.

College women beta site 6-11

Our work on this project is ongoing and collaborative. College Women is currently available in a beta version, featuring 300 photographs, letters, diaries and scrapbooks from the seven partner institutions. As more of our historical documents are digitized and catalogued, we plan to expand the content of the site, and continue to write new grants towards these goals.


Going to DLF? College Women project team members Rachel Appel (Bryn Mawr College), Monica Mercado (Bryn Mawr College), and Joanna DiPasquale (Vassar College) will discuss the collaboration as part of the program on Tuesday, October 27.

We continue to welcome feedback on the site, in the comments below, and through a form on the College Women homepage.

A New Start: Monica’s First Days at the Greenfield Digital Center


On July 1, 2014, Monica L. Mercado joined Bryn Mawr College Libraries as the CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow and Director of The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education.

Last week, I unpacked my boxes, learned how to read the SEPTA train schedule, and arrived on campus, eager to dig into Bryn Mawr Special Collections and the resources supported by the Digital Center.

Exploring Bryn Mawr's campus.

Exploring Bryn Mawr’s campus.

This month I’m getting up to speed on our NEH-funded planning grant, already underway, which is supporting the development of a collaborative digital portal with the libraries of Barnard College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, Vassar College, Wellesley College, and the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University. [You might have seen the project announced on Philly last month.] This portal will make available materials documenting the first generation of students at the colleges once known as the “Seven Sisters,” and we hope it will offer researchers new access and insights into the experiences of women at our institutions in their founding years and beyond.

I’m also interested in considering how the Digital Center and the College Archives can document more recent histories of women’s education. This summer, we’re lucky to have TriCoDH summer intern Brenna Levitin (BMC ’16) at the Digital Center. Brenna is currently investigating queer histories of Bryn Mawr for a future digital exhibition, mining the College Archives, and beginning an oral history project that we hope will continue after her internship concludes.

Monica's summer reading: A Book of Bryn Mawr Stories (1901)

Monica’s summer reading: A Book of Bryn Mawr Stories (1901)

I’m already energized by sharing a workspace with Brenna and the College Archives’ other student workers, who are happy to answer all my questions about campus! Moreover, advising students like Brenna doing new research in women’s education history has been a terrific introduction to the wealth of materials housed in Bryn Mawr’s archives (and already digitized), but also suggests to me ways in which the Digital Center can be part of a conversation about collections development, and how we document the last few decades of student life.

Although it may be the middle of summer, we’re busy planning for the year ahead. With the greater College community, we’re looking forward to the formal inauguration of Bryn Mawr’s ninth President, Kimberly Wright Cassidy, on September 20, for which I’ll be creating my first digital exhibition. And as I prepare my upcoming course on women’s education history for the Bryn Mawr College History Department, I’ll be reviewing how the Digital Center can serve as a more robust repository of ideas for college-level teaching in women’s history.

We’re also beginning to think about a second conference, building on the success of last year’s meeting, Women’s History in the Digital World. In many ways, my own introduction to digital history was facilitated by the connections I made at that inaugural conference, and I hope to use the Digital Center as a platform to reach audiences new to digital projects in women’s and gender history, as well as to support the work of a growing group of historians, archivists, and digital humanists who are making possible the future of the feminist past.

As part of getting to know the Bryn Mawr community, I’ll be working closely with Digital Center Assistant Director Evan McGonagill to continue to build relationships with College alumnae/i as well as scholars engaged in the growing field of digital history. Through our website, this blog, and other social media,including tumblr and Twitter, as well as events on campus, we hope you’ll continue to follow our work.

History of the Seven Sisters: a quiz and a lecture

It’s time for a history of women’s education quiz!
(in honor of finals week)


History of the Seven Sisters talk at Fleisher Art Memorial in Philadelphia, April 22, 2014

  1. In their early years, which two Seven Sisters schools required domestic work as part of their students’ education in order to maintain femininity and prevent them from being perceived as unmarriagable?
  2. Which school is credited with starting women’s basketball in 1892, less than a year after the game was invented for men?
  3. When one school began to pursue a full college charter, it was vehemently opposed by then president of Bryn Mawr, M. Carey Thomas, who considered it to be the only real competition to Bryn Mawr’s formidable academic standard. Which school posed the perceived threat?
  4. Which school was the first and only to hire an all-female faculty upon its founding?
  5. From its beginnings, one school was known for a much more ethnically, religiously, and politically diverse student body than those of the others due to its urban environment and its lower tuition. Can you name the institution?Answers at the bottom of the post, and in the lecture video below!

These were among the new facts that I learned while researching for a talk on the history of the Seven Sisters Colleges, which I delivered to a group of alumnae/i from the Seven Sisters Alumnae Clubs of Philadelphia at the Fleisher Art Memorial on April 22nd. The event was organized by Erin Rocchio (MHC ’06), the president of the Mount Holyoke College Club of Philadelphia, and hosted by Elizabeth Grimaldi (BMC ’03), executive director of Fleisher. We had over sixty attendees, representing a dynamic and intergenerational group of Seven Sisters graduates.


Evan McGonagill

It was a challenge to squeeze such a fascinating history into a single hour: each school has a unique story of its own, and I struggled to choose which details to omit. However, rather than focusing closely on individual schools, my goal was to show the ways in which all seven evolved together both in relation to each other and to the shifting cultural environment that surrounded them. The mid- and late-nineteenth century, which forms the backdrop against which the schools were launched, was a time of deep skepticism regarding women’s intellect. The climate gradually changed as the experiment of college education for women successfully navigated its first few years and mainstream culture began to embrace the idea. However, the twentieth century brought its own complex mixture of advances in women’s rights (such as the victory of the suffrage movement) and new barriers to women’s equality, some of which precipitated directly from the schools’ initial success. It is a very interesting history (in my opinion!) and I enjoyed researching the details of the schools’ foundings in addition to the ways that their identities developed in contrast to one another.


Seven Sisters Alumnae/i engage in discussion after the lecture

I was delighted to be able to talk to the alumnae/i about this history, and to hold a dialogue about issues facing institutions for women’s education in the present day. I synced the slides from my Prezi presentation with audio from the talk, which you can view and listen to below. You can listen to most of the talk** below, where it is synced with the slides from my Prezi presentation. Look for a brief cameo from Lisa Simpson towards the beginning! As always, please contribute your thoughts on the history, present, or future of women’s education in the comments.

Quiz answers!

1. Mount Holyoke and Vassar
2. Smith College
3. Radcliffe College
4. Wellesley College
5. Barnard College

*Since the audio recording is clipped due to sound clarity in the beginning, my credits were omitted: the talk drew on many sources but relied most heavily on the excellent and informative Alma Mater: Design and Experience in the Women’s Colleges From Their Nineteenth-Century Beginnings to the 1930s, (Beacon Press, 1984) by Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz.

**The battery from the recorder unfortunately cut out before the discussion ended, but the first few minutes of dialogue are captured.



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!

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