Two and half years ago I was scarcely aware of the existence of archives, but now my intended career lies in that field. Bryn Mawr College’s Special Collections is a wonderful place to serve my apprenticeship, not least because I’m an alumna of the college. Bryn Mawr has always been known as the scholarly sister, and I’ve been called a true Mawrter for my geekiness. My not inconsiderable enthusiasm is sparked by most anything to do with cultural history – any time, any place – but as the product of women’s education my job in BMC’s archives is personal. I’m learning about my heritage: about the institution that both nurtured and shaped my values and ambitions when I was an undergraduate, and about the generations of Mawrters who came before me.
I am a member of the team working on The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education. My primary role is to digitize a collection of photo albums and scrapbooks which were assembled by alumnae during their time as students; most date to the first four decades of Bryn Mawr’s existence. The items in this collection provide an unusually intimate view into the lives of Bryn Mawr students in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Looking through the scrapbooks, I get a sense for the texture of their lives that formal portraits and secondary sources simply can’t provide. As a historically-minded alumna, I’m blown away; as an aspiring archivist, I’m delighted to be involved in making this collection more widely accessible to past and present members of the Bryn Mawr community, to scholars and students of all kinds, and to the simply curious.
Candid photographs in the scrapbooks are of particular interest items. As this candid, to the left, from the scrapbook of Marion Rawson ’22 demonstrates, some aspects of college life never change.
On the other hand, ephemera (items that were originally intended for temporary use and weren’t meant to be saved) are often reminders of how much the details of daily life can transform with the passage of time. For example, delicately hand-colored invitations to luncheon are no longer part of Bryn Mawr student life, much less an invitation to tea from the legendary President M. Carey Thomas and her companion Mary E. Garrett.
Marion’s scrapbook has a large number of wonderful candid shots and you can explore the whole thing on Triptych. Also available on Triptych is the scrapbook of Jean S. Davis ’14. Lorraine’s has not yet been scanned, but I will continue to provide updates here as I proceed with digitizing this fascinating collection.