Blogs, Exhibits and Tweets: Summer at The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education


Marion Park, President of Bryn Mawr directly after M. Carey Thomas. Park was a Bryn Mawr College alum and is the subject of a new exhibit to be developed over the summer for the website

The summer is here and we thought we’d share our plans for developing the Center’s site with you. We will be working hard over the next few months on developing new content, and continuing to reach out to you on social media (if you don’t follow us already, get to it @GreenfieldHWE or find our facebook updates on the Friends of Bryn Mawr College Library page).


See for further details on the platform we use to power our site

We are excited to be making two significant improvements to the site. The first of these is to make the site mobile compatible, so all of you who like to browse on your tablet or phone will be able to do so more easily once the changes come into effect around July. The second improvement is something that more directly affects our experience – we are in the process of upgrading to the new Omeka 2.0 platform, a huge improvement on the previous version from our initial poking around! If you are using the new platform and would like to share your experiences, be sure to get in touch ( The biggest change on the user end will be the search functionality, which will be greatly enhanced from its present version. Aside from the search, users will not notice differences or disruptions (we hope!) but the streamlined back end is definitely an improvement and will help us in our mission to digitize and display in the best way the resources we hold in the history of women’s education.

Marian Edwards Park was President of Bryn Mawr from 1922 until 1942 when she retired. When she came to Bryn Mawr as a student she was among the early generations of women who enjoyed higher education for the first time. A member of the class of 1898, she won the European Fellowship upon graduation, the college’s highest honor at the time. She returned to complete her PhD in classics in 1918. She therefore experienced life at Bryn Mawr from all perspectives: undergraduate, graduate and administrator. She oversaw the school through some dramatic times, namely the Depression and the beginning of World War II, and she was also president during the period in which it first allowed African American students to attend as undergraduates and as members of the Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers. Park also led the celebration of the College’s 50th anniversary, a major milestone of achievement in the ‘experiment’ of education for women. Because she  followed in the rather intimidating shadow of M. Carey Thomas, her contributions have not loomed as large in the historical record. However, Park will be the subject of a new exhibition this summer, examining in particular her condemnation of the increasingly horrifying events in Europe that led up to World War II. The exhibit will include evidence on her efforts to host Jewish scholars fleeing the Nazi regime. Keep an eye on the site for the exhibit and make sure to let us know what you think.

We hope to continue work on digitizing primary sources, particularly the rich collection of oral histories that we have been engaged in translating from cassette tapes to digitized recordings for over a year. This is slow, meticulous work, but we hope to be able to share them with you eventually on the Tri-College digital collections site, Triptych. If you haven’t seen them already, there are a few examples from the collection that were digitized as part of the Taking Her Place exhibition, available on our site here. This is a fascinating collection, including narratives from student, staff, faculty and alumnae, with memories stretching back to the first decades of the college’s existence. Work will be ongoing for the next year and more, but we will be releasing recordings to celebrate special events or for use in digital exhibits as appropriate when we can do so. There have been a few reflections from students working on this collection over the past while which you may have seen already, the last of which was by our most recent student helper on the project, Lianna Reed ’14.

Special Collections is also hosting a number of interns for the summer, two of which have been awarded brand new internships through the Pensby Center to focus on tracing histories of diversity at Bryn Mawr College. Lauren Footman ’14 will be examining the experiences of the African diaspora on campus, including sourcing participants to create new oral histories to add to our collection, a most welcome addition to our work at the Center in trying to uncover stories from that past for which we have little or no documentary evidence. Her fellow intern, Alexis de la Rosa ’15, is looking at Latina histories and will be surveying current students and alums later in the summer. Alexis and Lauren’s work will be available as a digital exhibit on our site at the end of the summer, and they will also be writing blogs about their experiences doing this important research. Both Alexis and Lauren are also jointly engaged in cataloging the papers of Evelyn Rich, class of 1952. Evelyn Rich was one of the first African American students to live on campus, and her extraordinary achievements span education, the labor movement and politics. We are lucky to have acquired her papers.

WHDW home pageThe popularity of the Women’s History in the Digital World conference repository continues – there have been over 300 full-text downloads from the repository so far. We are so proud of our wonderful contributors for sharing their work and hope anyone who hasn’t done so already will be inspired to. Plans for the next conference will be going into gear in the fall, so keep an eye out for updates and think about submitting an individual paper or a panel if you have been working on a collective project. You can also follow the recording of the conference by visiting our blog post which detailed the Twitter archive, Storify and blog posts on the conference and you can listen to Professor Laura Mandell’s inspiring keynote here.

As some of you know, I will be going on maternity leave for this summer, so if you wish to get in touch with someone about the work, please contact the Center’s Research Assistant, Evan McGonagill, who will be managing communications throughout the summer (you can contact her through the general email address:  There will be more blog posts and updates so don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and to visit the Educating Women blog. You can comment on any blog post you see, and we always look forward to hearing your comments so stay in touch, and happy summer!


“Proper Study for Ladies” and other gems that didn’t make it into Taking her Place


Books on display in Taking Her Place as part of the section on Gender and Intellect.

When we were collecting material for the exhibition Taking Her Place, it was a challenge to find items that would tell the story of women’s ascent into higher education without relying too heavily on only text. Periodicals such as The Ladies’ Companion and The Ladies Garland are some of the best resources that we have for gauging society’s attitude towards female intellectualism, as the articles they featured show the developing shape of public opinion. However, they do not make ideal exhibit items: arranged behind glass, the books are difficult or impossible to read at length, and an exhibition dominated by unreadable books makes for a bland visual display. Therefore, we found ourselves with many fascinating textual objects that illustrated the story we wanted to tell but did not have a place in the exhibition. Many of those items hold an important place in the narrative of women’s rise into the public sphere, and as we move into the final week of the exhibition, we will highlight a few of them on this blog in order to more fully flesh out the themes that we address in that space. We will post more material in conjunction with the release of an online version of the exhibition, which will take the form of a digital exhibit like the others on our website.


Title page of the July 1, 1842 issue of The Ladies’ Garland. Click for an enlarged view.

One item that we would have like to include is this article from an 1839 issue of The Ladies’ Garland, entitled “Proper Studies for Ladies,” which touches on many of the themes common to the opinion pieces of the era. As higher education for women appeared on the horizon, society grappled with what forms of knowledge would be appropriate for a woman to pursue. In this article, the anonymous male author juxtaposes the intellectual and commercial realms of society and seems to feel dubiously about women’s place in either.

The prevailing message of the piece is that modern women are wont to forgo the enriching study of history and natural philosophy in favor of “fashionable trifles,” “idle romances and puerile tales.” Instead, he writes, ladies “of the first rank” ought to “form their taste upon the best authors, and collect ideas from their useful writings.”


Page 31 of The Ladies Garland, Volume II, 1839, including “Proper Study for Young Ladies.” Click for enlarged view.

While I was combing through contemporary journals and magazines to get a sense public opinion across the era, this piece stood out to me as unusual. It struck me as fairly advanced for 1839 that a male author would take for granted that intellectual study was both available to and appropriate for women. However, though it seems progressive in its advocacy for ladies’ serious study, there is a strong conservatism at its core that I will devote this post to exploring. This paradox is characteristic of many of the articles that Jennifer and I read while researching for the exhibition: I’ve learned that progressivism and conservatism often move together in strange ways as society adjusts to major changes, and are rarely as separable or black-and-white as I would have initially expected to find them.

It fascinates me that the author is certain at such an early date that any woman who wished to could gain access to intellectually stimulating study. “This is a large volume,” he writes of such pursuits, “that is open to all.” However, “In vain…does nature present her miracles to the generality of women,” as if the study of natural science was so available that women would have to work hard not to be exposed to it. It is unclear exactly how he expected them to engage with such material, considering the state of formal schooling at the time: Oberlin College, the first co-educational college in the United States, had been founded only six years earlier, in 1833. The only other form of secular post-secondary education for women at the time was the seminaries that offered training for a teaching career, of which there were eight in existence nationwide in 1839. Since formal higher education was hardly widespread, the author therefore seems to imagine that women should be pursuing academic curiosity in a self-guided capacity.

Writers of a previous age, and many who wrote well into the 1800s, considered the education of a woman to be tantamount to her corruption. This author clearly disagrees, but if a woman of virtue could be an intellectual, what sort was she to be and to what end was she to use her sophistication? A hint can be found at the very beginning of the piece, in the epigraph:

“Beauty in vain her pretty eyes may roll,
Charms strike the sight, but merit wins the soul.” [1]

This quotation frames the article by asserting the value of substance over appearance, which is consistent with the article’s rejection of ornament—but, notably, it also situates the matter within the context of women’s appeal to others: it lays groundwork for an article that will posit female intellectualism as a tool for attraction; in short, another form of ornament.

The author’s thesis is that because they fail to take advantage of the intellectual richness available to them, most women thus reduce their prospects for good matches by offering only conversation which is vapid and unappealing to respectable men—who are, of course, the true victims of this unfortunate situation. “What preservation is there against weariness and disgust,” he ruminates, “in the society of women of weak and unimproved understandings? In vain do they endeavor to fill the void of their conversation with insipid gaiety; they soon exhaust the various funds of fashionable trifles, the news of the day, and the hackneyed compliments; and are at length obliged to have recourse to scandal.” The true goal, therefore, of women’s learning, is to make them into better companions.

The article suggests that the idea of what would corrupt women was changing. The previous belief was that knowledge itself would corrupt, whereas here it is the wrong kind of knowledge that is to be feared—In other words, a misuse of intellectual powers. Indeed, language of misuse, in the form of waste and misdirected spending, permeates the piece. Three examples come to mind: the phrase “in vain” appears three times including the epigraph, each instance describing a woman (if we count the personified Nature) fruitlessly expending effort in order to appeal to another. The unlearned lady whose foolish prattle fails to impress “soon exhaust[s] the various funds of fashionable trifles.” (Italics mine.) And, at the end of the article, the author bemoans the “waste of intellect which is caused by the dissipation of the town.” Instead of such wasteful behavior, he suggests that women “collect” (ideas from the best authors) rather than spend. This language underlies his portrayal of women consumed with the trivial trappings of femininity, especially those that could be linked to commercialism and had an air of cheapness: they were attracted to the “fashionable trifles” that were being marketed to them (in magazines just like this one), and even their trivial conversation (“the news of the day,” “scandal,”) is ephemeral and probably harvested from the gossip columns.


The Ladies’ Friend, another popular periodical at the time, interspersed fiction and opinion pieces with large pull-outs like this one depicting the fashions of the season.

Considering all of the negative associations that he establishes between women and commercial economy, perhaps the feminine ideal that the author paints (studious, yet passive, and economically disengaged) is a paranoid reaction to women’s growing economic power as a class of consumers. He manages to exclude women from both the commercial and intellectual realms: he blames them for partaking in the former, and suggests that they would be welcome in the latter if only they had the virtue to earn themselves a place there. And do they? He writes that “scarcely a young lady” exists who has not fallen into the pitfalls of cheap and entertaining literature. Though he idealizes the woman who devotes her time to academic study, he speaks of such women as if they are in practice an impossibility, a mythical being. Women’s real practices are demonized, and the hypothetical woman who “gets it right,” so to speak, doesn’t exist: perhaps he is so threatened by female agency that he is compelled to write them out of all public realms. So, if they can exist productively nowhere in the public sphere, what use are women to society? The one role that the author feels comfortable ascribing to women is that of passive indicator of the state of society. He ends with the proclamation that the “amusement [of proper study] will…repair that waste of intellect which is caused by the dissipation of the town,” as if women’s unintellectualism is a symptom of a societal disease. He implies that the health of society can be read through the quality and state of its women, positing them as a kind of diagnostic tool rather than as a class of people.

This article, one of many that we would have liked to include more prominently in Taking Her Place, demonstrates several themes that are common to the opinion articles of the age. It shows a surprisingly advanced advocacy for women’s learning, while still clinging rigidly to the traditional role of the subordinate an ornamental woman. It also conspicuously lacks an argument for education for its own sake: it was much more common to posit education as a means to serve some aspect of traditional femininity, such as aptitude for motherhood or (as seen here) male companionship. The juxtaposition of commercial and intellectual pursuits was also a major topic of writings of the time, especially with an air of blame towards any woman who demonstrated too much affinity for the former. Combing through these books and journals was a fascinating activity and gave us a broad sense of the complexity of changing opinion across an era. Anybody who is interested in learning more, or in reading other articles from our wide collection, is encouraged to come visit in Bryn Mawr Special Collections in Canaday Library and browse the collection for themselves.

[1]Though uncredited and misquoted, the lines are from Alexander Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock,” first published in 1712. The first line in the original text reads “Beauties in vain their pretty eyes may roll.”

“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.

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.

Early Entrance Exams: Could you get into Bryn Mawr in the nineteenth century?

As we welcome the new class of Bryn Mawr College students and greet the many established Mawrters we have already met, I began to ponder an aspect of our research that might be relevant to all those who have recently completed the admissions process…. examinations!

As part of our collaboration with Temple University students last year (see the blog post by Lisa MacMurray on her time as part of the National History Day Cultural Collaboration project) we examined entrance examinations from the past at Bryn Mawr College and the other Seven Sisters. Lisa and her colleague Sam Perry also sourced some examinations from Ivy League colleges in an attempt to compare the different types of exams across the male and female colleges at the end of the nineteenth century. What we found amazed us: most of us would never be able to get into these colleges if those exams were used today! Why so? Knowledge (with a capital ‘K’), or what is deemed sufficient knowledge to obtain and exhibit in order to describe oneself as educated at a higher level, is both culturally and time specific.

Many of the early entrance examinations for the Seven Sisters colleges had an emphasis on religious, bible-based history and candidates were expected to be familiar with the Old and New Testaments. While this may appear odd in today’s more secular educational cultures, it must be remembered that many colleges – both men’s and women’s – were founded on religious principles and were meant to cater specifically for students of particular denominations. Bryn Mawr College and Haverford were, as you will be familiar, founded by Quakers to be places where younger members of the Society of Friends could study within a religious atmosphere accordant to principles consistent with their beliefs.

Courtesy of the Wellesley College Archives

Others were founded on the same principles, and their examinations demonstrate their expectation that students entering their institutions be familiar with religious histories. Take this extract from the entrance exam for Wellesley College, generously supplied to us by their Archives department (click on the image to view an enlarged version) from June 1888

As you will see, the questions ask the students to analyze and give opinions on episodes from Biblical history, for example: ‘Outline the career of Noah’ or ‘Give in detail the covenant with Abraham and under what circumstances it was made’. I would venture to guess that given the diverse nature of students today and the diminished emphasis in the school system on learning religious histories as part of examinable courses, many students would struggle to answer such questions.

Courtesy of the Barnard College Archives

The exam paper on the left is from Columbia College c.1890s and was kindly given to us to display by Barnard College Archives. The topics of ancient geography and ancient history were ones expected by that institution to be familiar to students wishing to enter. Perhaps you specialized in these topics as part of your high school education, but I would certainly have found it difficult to answer ‘Give an account of the legislation of Solon, and the form of government of Athens to the time of Philip I’ (granted, I did my education in Ireland which focused on different kinds of topics for senior high school history, but even still, the nature of these questions seem both specific and difficult).

What about Bryn Mawr College? The first college program (which is available online as part of Bryn Mawr College Archives collection on Internet Archive) specified the entrance requirements as the following:  a candidate must be at least sixteen years of age, and give ‘satisfactory testimonials of personal character’. In addition, they would be examined in the following:

  • English: spelling, grammar and composition
  • Modern geography
  • Mathematics
  • Latin
  • Greek or French or German
  • If omitting Greek, candidates had to be examined in one of the following: the elements of physics; the elements of chemistry; the elements of physiology

So this is what you needed to be considered to enter the college …. what about the entrance examinations themselves? Again, Latin and Greek appear as important subjects and exams were conducted for both; in addition, mathematics, English, History, French and German and Natural science.

Bryn Mawr College Arithmetic Examination 1890

As you can see from the exam from Bryn Mawr College, students wishing to enter had to display a broad spectrum of knowledge in the examinations, from arithmetic to Greek, English to Geography, a particularly challenging array of subjects given that many girls did not go to formal secondary schools in the nineteenth century but were educated at home, either by tutors, governesses or themselves (or a combination of all three if they were lucky to have the resources).



Bryn Mawr College Latin Examination 1890


The Latin examination illustrates the importance put on classical languages in the college’s early years, with every entrant expected to have a base knowledge in order to progress in their studies. In this examination candidates were asked to translate selected passages from English into Latin, and others from Latin into English. The difficulty of completing all the requirements is indicated in the fact that an instruction appears at the end that candidates who ‘found the paper too long’ were advised to focus on the first three questions and divide the rest of their time in answering other parts. Are there any readers who would find the task easy? If so, provide us with translations in the comment box below …

Candidates for entrance to the college were also expected to have a knowledge of physical geography and be able to competently describe, for example, the leading physical features of both North and South America as in the example below (as with the other images, click on the exam image to see it appear larger in another window).

Bryn Mawr College Physical Geography Examination 1890

Looking at exams brings us also to analyze the nature of that kind of learning, or what is more commonly referred to as strategic rather than deep learning; in other words, ‘cramming’. This is not a contemporary observation, indeed a writer in the Bryn Mawr Alumnae Quarterly (Vol. VI January, 1913, No. 4, available online here).

“But there are other reasons why students entering the course are unequally prepared. You will say, ‘all the students have to stand the same entrance test.’ This is true, and that brings me to the third cause for the bad composition of our classes. We have evidently not the right test: our entrance examinations are not of the right sort. The students can ‘cram,’ which means they can make a show when really they know very little” (187).

Studying for exams is an essential part of college life, and for many one of its most challenging aspects. Next time, however, you think of how difficult you are finding your test questions to answer, remember that this was an experience shared by students in the past as well as your peers now, and do your best to keep calm and Mawrter on!

M. Carey Thomas and Mary Garrett – lives in letters

Following on from our previous posts by Bryn Mawr College student worker Amanda Fernandez (click here to see her first post specifically on the Thomas collection letters), I’m returning to the topic of letters from a different perspective – what the letters between M. Carey Thomas and Mary Garrett reveal about their relationship, and Garrett’s important role on campus during her life here with Thomas.

Mary Garrett

M. Carey Thomas










Before addressing the letters in details, I wanted to include a quick update about how the letters will appear on our site…

Letter from Mary Garrett to M. Carey Thomas, 1880. The letter details Mary's recent failure in an examination, which left her feeling embarrassed and deflated. She looked to Thomas as an inspiration in academic terms for her success in passing university exams and going to Europe for her doctoral studies

The letters will be featured in two ways on the site: as a collection which is searchable, showing both digital scans of the original letters (such as you see on the left) and their transcriptions, and as an online Omeka exhibit, which I will be working on in the coming months. The former method will allow for the searching of the letters by year and tag, for example, geographical place, and detailed summaries will be provided on the content.

These are currently being transcribed and the earlier years of their correspondence will appear first, with the collection growing as transcripts are produced. The exhibit, like the others on the site, will lead you through the broader narratives of their letters and the events of their lives, first as friends within a social circle that included shared friends and activists, later as living companions and fellow suffragists.

As Kathleen Waters Sander, Mary Garrett’s biographer has noted, Garrett was a figure of much interest in her day, but sadly her name has been somewhat forgotten in the realm of philanthropy and activism.  As Waters Sander comments in Mary Elizabeth Garrett: Society and Philanthropy in the Gilded Age (Johns Hopkins University Press: 2008), Mary was

a favorite of the turn-of-the-century press, who were fascinated by her unique combination of wealth, activism, business expertise, and extraordinary philanthropy. She became one of the country’s most publicized women, unselfishly using her money and status to transform women’s lives and to break down the barriers that prevented women’s equal participation in society (page1)

Born into the wealthy Garrett railroad family of Baltimore, Garrett grew up with a sense of purpose about her wealth; she wished to use it for altruistic means, to benefit society. She also wished to use her wealth to enhance women’s access to higher education and to professional medical education, providing educational opportunities to them that, ironically, she herself was not able to partake of. In the letter shown above, Garrett wrote to Thomas after her failure to pass the Harvard Examinations for Women (an exam regarded as a benchmark for accrediting women’s learning but this did not allow them access to Harvard University) which her friend Julia Rogers had just passed. Garrett felt herself to be unable to reach the high levels of academic achievement Thomas had attained in completing her degree at Cornell University, and Thomas was at that time preparing to take up her doctoral work in Liepzig, Germany. In this excerpt from a letter from June 10th 1879, Garrett’s tone of congratulation is tinged with sadness that she is losing a friend who has been an encouragement to her:

._ Your letter ought to act like a tonic_ It is so good to hear of the people who really are at work, even if one can not be of them I think I can say, Minnie, that I am truly glad you are going, but it will be a tremendous loss for us _ I wonder whether you know how much I have grown to care for you in the last two years + what a help + encouragement you have been for me_*

Again, as I have written elsewhere in this blog, Garrett felt that her difficulties in academic achievement could be linked to medical problems with her uterus:

… Dr. Jacob will not nearly be encouraging as I had hoped. Of course she says I can study even this summer a couple of hrs. a day, if I like; but that I shall probably never be able to work eight or nine hours a day + altogether I am freed to the conclusion that I was not cut out for a student either mentally or physically _ I am going to see her on Friday or Sat. for all examinations about that trouble wh. you may remember she said i had behind the uterus + wh. I am afraid is not very much better + as you can imagine, I am not looking forward to the visit with much pleasure.*

Garrett did confess to procrastination in her study in this letter, but her prose clearly indicates a belief that she did not have the physical capacity to study due to problems with her gynecological organs. Waters Sander has attributed Garrett’s stifling, conservative world in which her father prohibited her from pursuing marriage, college or a career, as the cause of her mental collapse, or ‘neurasthenia’ in Victorian terms, at the age of 25.

Despite her own health challenges and her lack of confidence in her own intellectual abilities, Garrett displayed true altruism, particularly her important role in the history of Bryn Mawr College, which, while documented, is not remembered to its fullest extent. Much like Garrett’s positive attitude to women’s education in general despite her own prohibition from academia, she generously supported (both financially and emotionally) M. Carey Thomas’ bid to extend her cultural education through trips abroad and to obtain the position of President at Bryn Mawr College Thomas so desperately craved (for more on the details of this support, see the excellent Thomas biography by Advisory Board member Helen Horowitz, The Power and the Passion of M. Carey Thomas). Garrett’s family had a strong sense of purpose in their civic activism in Baltimore, and this undoubtedly influenced her decision to open the Bryn Mawr School for girls in 1885 in Baltimore (along with Bessie King, Mamie Gwinn, Julia Rogers and Thomas, the Friday Night group) to educate girls for the entry requirements to any colleges that would allow them to enter. This school would open horizons for girls that these women had not had the opportunity to gaze at and the college preparation mantra of the new establishment ‘flew in the face of all conventional wisdom at the time’ on appropriate education for women as Waters Sander has observed (Mary Elizabeth Garrett, page 125).

Thomas was an active writer and her letters to Mary reveal her personal concerns and emotions which she often sought to keep private and distinct from her professional persona as Dean and then President of Bryn Mawr College. Even before assuming these roles, Thomas shared her challenges studying for her doctorate in Europe to Garrett, detailing her struggles not just with the work but also with the attitude towards women as they were studying. Carey’s letters to Mary in late 1879 revealed the harrassment she received from some of her male peers at the University of Leipzig, which she felt was their way of trying to chase out the women, an experience she warned Garrett and their friends to keep secret lest her family find out and demand her return to America. As is well known, Thomas eventually triumphed, receiving her doctorate summa cum laude from Zurich and returning to the US to embark on her strategy to be a serious scholar and to take control of Bryn Mawr College.

Thomas and Garrett lived for many years together at the Deanery which Garrett lavishly decorated with works of original art and fine furniture. The Deanery was, as well as a private residence for Thomas and Garrett (and Mamie Gwinn before her), a formal entertainment space used for faculty parties, dinners for visiting speakers and for student teas and other entertainments (which as you can see in this excerpt from the scrapbook of Lorraine Mead Schwable (class of 1912), included both Garrett and Thomas’ names on the printed invite).

As you can see in this picture of Mary Garrett enjoying May Day celebrations on campus, she was a well known figure and a feature of life at Bryn Mawr College and participated fully in its social calendar. Scrapbooks also reveal, as Jessy Brody has documented in her blog post on candids and ephemera,  that invitations from Thomas and Garrett’s were items kept by students in documenting their important moments at the college. As the invite particularly underscores, as well as the photographs of Garrett at May Day, she was quite clearly regarded as Thomas’ respected friend and companion and had a role of importance at the college. We must conclude, therefore, that whatever opinions people have/had on the nature of their relationship, it was recognized and accepted that Mary Garrett had an important role in Thomas’ life and that she enjoyed an elevated status at the college because of this and her Deanery connections.

Thomas and Garrett shared much in their ambitions for women in their contemporary society and worked closely on issues such as suffrage and access to higher education. Helen Horowitz has argued that it was Garrett who facilitated Thomas in being more public and vocal in her advocacy of women’s rights, particularly in expanding her realm of interest from access to higher education into suffrage and women’s role in the public sphere. Their letters reveal their shared aims, their intellectual exchanges, joint passions for art, literature, poetry and engagement with prominent scholars of their time, and their very different personalities that somehow seemed to work together in creating partnership, friendship and intimacy that lasted over four decades.

More will be explored in the forthcoming Omeka exhibit about their letters and what they can reveal to the historian about the influence they had on each other throughout their lives. In the meantime, keep reading the blog for further updates!

* With thanks to Amanda Fernandez for creating the transcription of Mary Garrett’s letter.


The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education participates in second year of award winning Cultural Collaboration Fieldwork Initiative

The National Archives at Philadelphia Education Program, as part of its leadership of National History Day Philly, partnered in 2011 with Temple University’s Secondary Social Studies Certification Program. The idea behind the collaboration is to inspire pre-service teachers to work with primary sources and thus encourage their students to create projects for National History Day.

Student participants in National History Day Philly at a reception at City Hall with Mayor Michael Nutter

Bryn Mawr College Special Collections became involved in this through The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education. The Director, Dr. Jennifer Redmond, mentored three Temple University students, Lisa MacMurray, Sam Perry and Teddy Knauss. The students were given the chance to collaborate in designing a lesson plan on the history of women’s education aimed to encourage high school students to research this important topic. Based on the archival material held at Bryn Mawr, the fieldwork experience collaboration allowed the student to create their own lesson plans based on letters, speeches, photographs and pamphlets from the nineteenth and twentieth century, all of which illuminate the lives of women educated at Bryn Mawr. The lesson plans will appear on The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women and Higher Education’s new website which is due to launch soon and will constitute one of the key resources developed to publicize the project and reach out to teachers and students alike.

We were among a range of institutions involved in the collaboration, which developed different ways to engage the students to think about the use of primary sources in their classrooms. The 2011 Participating Partners included the following:

  • American Swedish Historical Museum
  • Athenaeum of Philadelphia
  • Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries
  • Bryn Mawr Special Collections Department, Mariam Coffin Canaday Library, Bryn Mawr College
  • Cliveden of the National Trust
  • The Drexel University Archives and Special Collections
  • Legacy Center for Archives and Special Collections at Drexel University College of Medicine
  • Fairmount Waterworks Interpretive Center
  • Free Library of Philadelphia
  • Historic St. George’s UMC
  • Historical Society of Pennsylvania
  • Independence Seaport Museum – J. Welles Henderson Archives and Library
  • National Archives at Philadelphia
  • National Constitution Center
  • Pennsbury Manor
  • Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL)
  • Pennsylvania Hospital
  • Philadelphia City Archives
  • Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent
  • Philadelphia Museum of Art
  • Special Collections Research Center at Temple University Libraries
  • Dorrance H. Hamilton Public Media Commons at WHYY

Pre-service history teacher Teddy Knauss worked on a lesson plan designed for AP students, focusing on issued of diversity. As part of this he examined materials relating to the Bryn Mawr Summer School of Women Workers and critically analyzed issues of race and diversity in the history of women’s education. The Summer School, and those held at other college campuses across the USA, is the focus of an exhibit on our site which will be live soon.

Samantha Perry worked with fellow student Lisa MacMurray in producing a lesson plan on women’s struggle for access to higher education in the US. They looked at the entrance exams for the Seven Sisters colleges and compared them also with those of some of the men’s Ivy League colleges.

The Cultural Fieldwork Initiative recently won two awards for its work on this program: the Innovative Teaching Award from Temple University College of Education and an Outstanding Program of Excellence Award from the Pennsylvania Council for the Social Studies. Members of the initiative will be contributing an article, “Textbooks and Teaching” to the March 2013 special edition of the Journal of American History.

The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education will again be participating in the program when it launches in September. We hope to find more exciting areas of research to work with Temple students in producing lesson plans. In the meantime, if you are a teacher and would like to use our collections to create your own lesson plan, be sure to get in touch (

Below, Director of the Center Dr. Jennifer Redmond (third from right) at a ceremony at City Hall to mark the achievements of students at the National History Day Philadelphia competition at City Hall. With thanks to the Mayor, Michael Nutter, and to Ang Reidell and V. Chapman Smith (right and left of the mayor respectively) for their hard work on the Cultural Collaboration Initiative and their continued work on the program.

For more information on the initiative contact:

Andrea (Ang) Reidell,
Education Specialist
National Archives at Philadelphia

Finding my Inner Scientist: Documenting in Digital Humanities

This blog post was written by Jen Rajchel who recently finished her role as digital initiatives intern at The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education. 

Over the course of this year working on The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Higher Education, I found my inner scientist. We often don’t think of documenting projects and experiments as methodologies associated with the humanities, or at least I hadn’t. However, over the course of working on a few digital projects this year, documentation has been a key component.

Last summer, I attended a course on creating digital editions at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI),  aptly tagged as “summer camp for nerds.” In that class, our instructor Meagan Timney, advised us to document everything and that it can be helpful to think about the scientific method when beginning a digital project. Experimentation works best in a framework where it can be tested, adjusted, and revised, and even better when others can collaborate as a result of good documentation. Whether it’s testing a new platform, like the iBook, or learning a new coding scheme, such as TEI, processing steps as they happen can go a long way towards thinking through outcomes beyond the initial phase.

Throughout my year in a hybrid role as project assistant on The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Higher Education and working on the Tri-Co Digital Humanities Initiative (Tri-Co DH), I have learned how documentation is a way to collaborate on digital projects and create a shared community of knowledge. Working in a consortium like the Tri-Co (Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore) allows for exciting overlap in projects, especially digital ones, when expertise is shared even when subject matter doesn’t quite intersect– as in the case of my working on the Digital DuChemin project with Richard Freedman which focused on French Renaissance polyphony and on The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education researching dorm culture at Bryn Mawr in the 1900s. While working with on the DuChemin project, we explored systematic workflows and tested user personas in order to gauge the scope and interest of users. When beginning the work in the Bryn Mawr Special Collections, I was immediately engaged with questions of audience and considering what angle of research might best apply to large constituency.

By taking notes on the process (even something as seemingly small as a shared Googledoc or screenshots of a work in a progress), collaboration becomes a major component of the project and creates a shared community of expertise. Documentation becomes a great way to share your perspective on a project, whether that be through understanding the nuances and standards of transcription and TEI or creating a digital workflow and it also contributes to the sustainability of the project or center itself.

As part of The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Higher Education staff, I was able to test out new platforms for publishing and document those processes as well as be part of a team thinking through the larger digital workflow. It was incredibly exciting for me to come together with a team and map out the components of the entire project from research to digitizing to curating a digital exhibit. As a team, we’ve channeled our inner scientists and have produced a lot documentation. From creating models of digital workflow to producing digital preservation guidelines, I am really excited about how these will serve not only a great archive of the Center but also generate new collaborations and spark new discoveries with future digital projects within the Tri-Co and beyond.

Ever wondered what M. Carey Thomas sounded like? If so, listen up!

We have previously featured a radio broadcast of M. Carey Thomas (available in this post on the issue of single sex education today), but given the significant and perennial interest in her (and particularly her mannerisms) that we’ve noticed through talking to people about this project, I thought I’d feature it again.

Thomas recorded this broadcast in 1935, just a few months before her death. By this stage she was a well practiced speaker, having given public orations on women’s education and suffrage for many years. She also gave chapel speeches to the students at Bryn Mawr which are warmly remembered in students accounts of their time at the college. What many may not be aware of is that Thomas undertook elocution lessons in order to perfect her oratory. As Helen Horowitz has written in excellent biography The Power and the Passion of M. Carey Thomas, she ‘hoped the world would see her [as] a woman of dignity and taste’ (page 227) and her professionalism while speaking was undoubtedly part of this.

Thomas’ regular and memorable chapel speeches to the students ranged from her personal ideas and experiences to more polemical speeches on the importance of the ‘Bryn Mawr standard’ and educational opportunities for women. She clearly had a vision of women in the public world, a role that could only be obtained through higher education and active participation in society.

In the radio broadcast, Thomas spoke about her own journey through education, how she had never come into contact with an educated woman in her childhood, and how her mother’s friends offered expressions of sympathy rather than encouragement when she went to Europe to pursue her educational journey. As Thomas says, they would have been less scandalized if she had run away with the coachman than her decision to obtain higher education! It reminds us of the importance of role models in achieving ambitions; to be able to see someone achieve what you wish for makes it ultimately seem more possible for you and more acceptable for those who see it as out of the norm. Although women’s access to higher education in the US is no longer in question, this sentiment holds true: role models, mentors and successful examples are necessary to envision and realize goals, regardless of what they are.

Thomas also highlights in the speech the objections made to women’s education at Bryn Mawr in its early years, with claims of physical incapacity resulting from the ‘strain’ of undertaking a degree, arguments which existed for centuries before Thomas’ own experiences and referred to in Michelle Smith’s (BMC ’12) post earlier on this blog. The societal expectations of women’s intellectual and physical capacity for higher education were low, and this may explain the detailed monitoring of student’s physical health in the early years of the college, proving that academic study could be combined with physical education to positive effect.

Thomas’ talk is a celebration of how far women had come in 1935 from her own days of education at the end of the nineteenth century, and her spirit of optimism and encouragement is something I feel is imbued in the overall spirit of The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education. 

Click here to listen to M. Carey Thomas mcareythomas1935 and let us know what you think!

Searching the M. Carey Thomas papers online – now made easier than ever with Triptych

Many people are interested in the papers of M. Carey Thomas, not just to explore the details of her own life, but because of the numerous famous people she hosted at the college and her voluminous correspondence with notables of her day. The above photograph shows Thomas standing on the verandah of the Deanery, her home for over five decades of her life. A history and guide to the Deanery has been digitized and can be found in Bryn Mawr College’s new institutional repository by clicking here.

The index or finding aid to her papers at Bryn Mawr College Special Collections was created when this archival material was committed to microfilm, and we have now digitized the index to make it even easier to search her correspondence. Although this collection is relatively well known, we hope it will become even more so now that you can search the descriptions of the materials online.

Using Triptych, you can now perform word searches of the many letters she wrote and received and which can be viewed either in their original form by coming to the Special Collections Reading Room or you may view them on the microfilm machines in Canaday Library or through ILL. To request material, just pay attention to what Reel Number is indicated as this corresponds with the relevant box of original material.

The M. Carey Thomas index can be found in the ‘Finding Aids’ section of the Triptych site and there are three different listings by which entries can be searched: the Author Index, the Reel Listings and the Author/Recipient Index.

The Author Index details the correspondence Thomas had with others and gives descriptions of the letters in the folders, such as the below screenshot describing correspondence with Mary Garrett in 1894-5 regarding her health and financial matters. Searching this way will allow you to pinpoint more specifically what letters you may wish to view; Thomas’ correspondence with certain people is extensive and this will assist you if you wish to focus just on a certain period of letters or those from a particular person. As part of our work we have been digitizing and transcribing the letters between Mary Garrett and Thomas and this will form part of the digital collections of The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education site (see previous post by Amanda Fernandez ’14 on the Educating Women blog, ‘From frustration to fascination’ which describes her work on this part of the project).

The Reel Listings are in chronological order and begin with material relating to Thomas’ early life as a child and include letters and materials related to her family.

For those interested in her formative years, this material includes papers from her mother, Mary Whitall Thomas, describing her personal reflections on religion and women’s place in society, and her journal detailing the Baltimore life of the Thomas household. This material gives us a glimpse into her personality and helps us to understand somewhat where Carey Thomas received her belief in women’s independence and the possibilities for a woman’s role outside domestic concerns.

A selection of this early material from Thomas’ childhood is currently being transcribed by volunteer Joanne Behm, a Bryn Mawr College alum, and a blog post on some of her findings will follow soon on the Educating Women blog so check back for more details. Many of the early letters between Thomas and her cousins are richly illustrated with their childhood drawings and will also be digitized and made available to view online as part of our digitized collections.

Finally, the Author/Recipient Index allows you to search if you know the name of the person corresponding with Thomas, and this will direct you to the reel/box numbers where you can find their letters (note: you will find letters arranged by year and thus correspondence over time from the same person can often be found in multiple boxes)

A note on the limitations of this method of searching: it is often necessary to know the exact name of a person as names of organizations are not always listed, so for example, you may need to know the exact name of the Secretary or Treasurer of an organization in order to find letters relating to them. There are also precautionary tactics needed when searching for correspondents who married whilst Thomas was writing to them as seen in the screen shot below.

Despite these limitations, the possibilities afforded by online searching of this catalog greatly increase the likelihood of you finding the letters that you wish to and it is much easier to use than the hard copy.

Our thanks are due to digital project assistant Jessy Brody for digitizing the materials and digital collections specialist Cheryl Klimaszewski for her work on Triptych.