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).

Wiki Education Foundation at Bryn Mawr

This month, the Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education and Bryn Mawr LITS are pleased to partner with the Wiki Education Foundation to discuss​ how and why instructors might consider building Wikipedia assignments into coursework.

On Tuesday, February 16 from 4:30-6pm in the Quita Woodward Room (Thomas Hall), we will host a workshop with Jami Mathewson, Educational Partnerships Manager at Wiki Ed, who will introduce the resources and tools available to support instructors teaching with Wikipedia. Jami will bring ideas from the NWSA women’s studies initiative, and share new plans for 2016’s Wikipedia Year of Science — including ways for instructors and students to join efforts aimed at increasing the representation of women in science on Wikipedia.

RSVP for the workshop here. Bring your devices, your questions, and your ideas!

Wikipedia and Women’s Studies

For more than a year, we’ve been following the National Women’s Studies Association’s Wikipedia Initiative, addressing the vast gender gap on Wikipedia. The easiest way to improve Wikipedia’s representation of women, they have shown, is to participate in the Wikipedia Education Program, a project in which students contribute content to Wikipedia in place of a traditional research paper through a classroom activity. The Wikipedia Education Program in the United States and Canada is run by the Wiki Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization that builds connections between universities and Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects in the United States and Canada.

About Wikipedia​

One of the world’s most widely read websites, with approximately 550 million unique visitors per month, Wikipedia articles are often the number one hit when using a search browser. Its broad public presence, open for editing to anyone, offers a unique opportunity to participate in an online community of practice.

W​hy teach with Wikipedia?

As an educational tool, the development of Wikipedia articles allows students to create collaborative work with a visible impact on a global audience. Whether adding new sources to existing Wikipedia pages or creating new pages on notable topics, students gain deeper insight into their course material and learn to evaluate critically the reliability of sources. With faculty and students reporting enthusiasm and high levels of motivation for the Wikipedia assignment over the more traditional, Wikipedia assignments have the potential to deliver education that goes beyond a semester.

Questions? Contact Monica L. Mercado, Director of the Greenfield Digital Center, at All are welcome.

Daughters of the Samurai: Author Janice Nimura visits Bryn Mawr

Bryn Mawr College is delighted to welcome Janice P. Nimura to campus on Tuesday, January 26, 2016. Nimura is the author of Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey From East to West and Back, published in 2015 by Norton. According to the publisher:

daughters of the samurai coverDaughters of the Samurai describes the journey begun in 1871, of five young girls who were sent by the Japanese government to the United States. Their mission: learn Western ways and return to help nurture a new generation of enlightened leaders in Japan. Raised in traditional samurai households during the turmoil of civil war, three of these unusual ambassadors—Sutematsu Yamakawa, Shige Nagai, and Ume Tsuda—grew up as typical American schoolgirls. Upon their arrival in San Francisco they became celebrities, their travels and traditional  clothing exclaimed over by newspapers across the nation. As they learned English and Western customs, their American friends grew to love them for their high spirits and intellectual brilliance. The passionate relationships they formed reveal an intimate world of cross-cultural fascination and connection. Ten years later, they returned to Japan—a land grown foreign to them—determined to revolutionize women’s education. Based on in-depth archival research in Japan and in the United States, including decades of letters from between the three women and their American host families, Daughters of the Samurai is beautifully, cinematically written, a fascinating lens through which to view an extraordinary historical moment.”

Ume Tsuda portrait, 1890.

Ume Tsuda portrait, 1890. Bryn Mawr College Special Collections.

One of these young women, Ume Tsuda, attended Bryn Mawr College. Upon her return to Tokyo, she founded a similar institution for Japanese > women, which grew into the important and prestigious Tsuda College of today. The connection between Bryn Mawr and Tsuda Colleges has remained strong over the years and sparked a host of connections between Tri-Co colleges and Japan over the years.

Nimura will visit with staff and students in Taylor Hall from 1:30-2:30pm today, an informal opportunity to discuss the book and women’s international education initiatives. She will also speak to students in HIST 303: History in Public: Race, Gender, and Campus Memory from 3-4pm.

  • For more on Japanese ties to U.S. women’s education, read Febe Pamonag’s 2012 article, “‘A Bryn Mawr School in the East: Transpacific Initiatives for Japanese Women’s Higher Education,” in Pacific Historical Review 81.4 [link to full text on Tripod].
  • For more on Janice Nimura, visit the author’s website.

“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.

“Teaching History through Archives” at AHA 2016

ahaGoing to AHA 2016? Greenfield Director Monica Mercado will be co-chairing the Committee on Women Historians mentoring/brainstorming session on Saturday, January 9, and later that day will be speaking about Bryn Mawr College projects on the panel “Teaching History through Archives.” Her paper, “Archives Praxis: Supporting Independent Study and Experiential Learning in Special Collections,” will detail student work including “Black at Bryn Mawr” and “We Are/We Have Always Been,” initiated by undergraduate student researchers:

How might faculty and archivists encourage students to undertake a sustained engagement with local archives and special collections, beyond the one-time class visit? Monica L. Mercado will detail recent projects centered on the Bryn Mawr College Archives, designed by students, and made possible by the College’s Praxis Program, which gives undergraduates the ability to conduct semester-long fieldwork for credit at a wide variety of research sites. Reflecting student interest in unpacking the historical context for a number of current campus conversations, these projects and their public-facing products have had the added benefit of drawing the attention of the larger campus community to the College Archives and its rich but understudied women’s history collections. Through discussion of three case studies, the paper will consider the role of History faculty, archivists, and librarians as supervisors and collaborators with undergraduate students; the possibilities these projects offer for developing contemporary collecting efforts and digital tools; and the opportunities and constraints of teaching with archives outside of the traditional classroom setting. As experiential learning offerings grow in popularity on our campuses, this paper argues that college and university archives can support undergraduate learning goals in new ways with benefits for multiple constituencies.

For more on the conference, follow the #AHA16 Twitter stream or search the online program.


“Sisters Launch Digital Archive” in the Alumnae Bulletin

Thanks to the Bryn Mawr Bulletin for featuring our seven institution collaboration, College Women: Documenting the History of Women in Higher Education in the November 2015 issue, which also features an important set of “Letters to the Editor” on the topic of Black at Bryn Mawr. We look forward to sharing our work with more alumnae/i in the new year!

Read more at the Bulletin site, here, and explore the College Women site online at


Finding Religion at College? Documenting the History of Women in Higher Education


Mount Holyoke students walking by Abbey Chapel, ca. 1940s. Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections, via

After returning from the Digital Library Federation Forum in Vancouver, I reflected on one of the College Women site’s lesser themes, religion. How might we go about studying religion at the women’s colleges?

As someone who has studied, taught, and written about American religion and American women’s higher education separately for quite some time, I’m intrigued by conversations about the place of religion on college campuses, in both the built environment and the curriculum. Our Seven Sisters digital project ( and conversations with my students who participate in religious life on the 21st-century campus show me new ways of continuing these lines of inquiry, in the College Archives and in our new virtual portal.

Read more over at Religion in American History: Finding Religion at College? Documenting the History of Women in Higher Education. [link]

‘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 in the Classroom

Setting up for Professor Alicia Walker's seminar, "Building Bryn Mawr." (Photograph by the author.)

Setting up for Professor Alicia Walker’s seminar, “Building Bryn Mawr.” (Photograph by the author.)

Although I’m not teaching a course this semester, I’m still getting to spend time in the classroom, sharing the Greenfield Digital Center’s resources with students and faculty across disciplines. Together we look not only at the growing array of resources Greenfield supports on the web –, Black at Bryn Mawr, and Greenfield’s own collections exhibits – but also at materials housed in the College Archives: scrapbooks, photograph albums, papers, and more. Some classes are an obvious choice for a Special Collections visit, such as Professor Alicia Walker’s seminar, “Building Bryn Mawr,” where students are studying the early stages of development of Bryn Mawr’s campus, exploring the ways in which the founders of Bryn Mawr understood architecture as a key aspect of the institution’s image and aspirations. But I’ve also worked with faculty to integrate archives materials with class sessions on race and photography, or storytelling and digital narratives. If you ask me, the possibilities are endless! Continue reading