In 1887 Bryn Mawr College hired Philadelphia Quaker architects Walter Cope (1860-1902) and John Stewardson (1858-1896) to design and build Radnor Hall. With this first commission, the newly formed partnership officially replaced Addison Hutton as the architect of Bryn Mawr College, thereby establishing the relationship that led to their engagement for a rapid succession of campus buildings. These include Denbigh (1891), Dalton (1893), Pembroke (1894), Rockefeller (1904), and the library (1906).

With an eye to creating the appropriate architectural expression for M. Carey Thomas's vision of Bryn Mawr College, Cope & Stewardson combined the Gothic architecture of Oxford and Cambridge Universities - retaining some of their classical elements - with the local landscape to establish the "collegiate Gothic" style. Their work not only marked a new direction in the creation of Bryn Mawr's physical character, but also became enormously influential in determining the face of many college campuses across the country.

From the start, Thomas cultivated a close and mutually respectful working relationship with the architects, particularly with Walter Cope, as he was the true designer of the partnership. With each of the campus buildings prior to the library, Thomas was involved in supervising the details, but for the most part allowed Cope the freedom to develop the design concept himself.

Thomas was appointed President of the College during the design and construction of Pembroke Hall. It was with the design for this building in particular that Cope perfected his concept of American collegiate Gothic. The building was an enormous success. It was so widely admired that Cope was asked to copy his design at both Princeton University and Washington University in St. Louis.

Several years later, Thomas became anxious to avoid a similar situation with regard to the library. In her letter of March 25, 1903 to Cope & Stewardson, she expressed her strong desire that its design remain "an individual feature of Bryn Mawr."

In 1902, the Trustees, Alumnae, and Friends of the College raised the $250,000 needed to build the library, thereby securing a matching gift from John D. Rockefeller, which was later generously increased to $455,000. The funds allowed construction on both Rockefeller dormitory and the library to get underway in 1903, the former with relatively little difficulty or debate, but the latter, the cause of controversy from the start. An additional $50,000 left to the College by Joseph E. Gillingham enabled the completion of the library's north wing in 1907.

Planning Thomas Library

 
  Bryn Mawr College
 Campus Plan - Hutton, Vaux & Olmsted
 Collegiate Gothic - Cope and Stewardson
Details & Interior - De Forest
Paving Tiles - Mercer
Decorative Sculpture - Ashbee & Miller

Bryn Mawr College Library Special Collections. September 21 - December 20, 2001