“The Best Thing in a Girl’s Life”: Early Women’s Colleges in Fiction and Fact

Senior Year

students rolling hoops

dancing around the may pole

By the time they are seniors the girls in the stories are well established in college.  They know all the ins and outs of success with faculty and academics and have learned how to enjoy themselves thoroughly.  They also take on a great deal of responsibility: they advise younger girls and get them out of trouble, they lead the clubs, they take an active role in fund-raising for the college, they organize and work on college events and traditions to make them run smoothly.  Some of the books are patterned after one or another of the Seven Sisters (Babs attends Wellesley, although the Four Corners trump her at “Bettersley”), but many of the activities and ceremonies were common in all women’s colleges: class shows, suppers given by one class to another, hoop rolling, step singing, outdoor days, laurel or daisy chains.  Bryn Mawr shared the performance of complex May Days with Mount Holyoke, although Lantern Night is unique to the school.

The heroines of the books develop college loyalty that extends beyond their own coterie or their class; they are passionately fond of their alma maters.  Graduation, therefore, evokes a mixture of feelings: pride at accomplishment, excitement about future plans, and intense sorrow at separation from friends and the school itself.  The students swear eternal love to their friends, often not knowing when they will see them again, and leave campus full of nostalgia.

one has a curious feeling when one faces the fact that it is over helen grant senior 1907

students at graduation

drawing of student departing campus

Suffrage & Settlements
The World Outside

Bryn Mawr College Library