The nature of Thomas's relationship with Walter Cope changed when work began on the new library. This project, later to become her namesake, held a special place in Thomas's heart, causing her to become more involved than ever in its design. Thus, she took over responsibility for the design concept almost entirely, claiming later that it was she who told Walter Cope exactly what she wanted.
I should like to reply fully to Mr. Stewardson's [John Stewardson's younger brother Emlyn] question as to who designed the plan of the Library, . . . as Mr. Cope and I had it very clearly understood between us. The plan of a library building with a cloister was mine entirely. I drew the whole thing with the seminary and professor's rooms, main reading room, cloak rooms in front, the school room below and consulted various people about it, before I took it to Mr. Cope. . . . I also, as Mr. Stewardson will remember, selected the arrangement of the front very much as we have it at present, and asked Mr. Cope in designing the plan to bear in mind the effect of King's [C]hapel with the front facade and entrance of [O]riel at Oxford. When we first talked of the library building I brought him two or three photographs, and my skeych [sic] of the arrangements of seminary rooms. . . . After careful thought he told me that he thought it could be made charming and that he would give it his approval. He thereupon drew the charming elevations that, as I think I have already told you, enabled us to obtain the $250,000.
M. Carey Thomas to Cope & Stewardson
April 14, 1903
The library project became the arena in which the struggle was played out between Thomas and the College's conservative Quaker Board members. Since the inception of the College, they had become increasingly troubled by what they perceived as Thomas's elaborate spending, as well as practices not in keeping with a Quaker institution.
The first of many controversies arose over the library's site. While Thomas was abroad during the summer of 1903, Henry Tatnall - a member of both the Board and Building Committee and one of Thomas's main opponents - decided that the agreed-upon site needed to be reconsidered. It had been determined several years earlier in a conference between Walter Cope, John Stewardson, Frederick Law Olmsted, then-President Rhoads and Dean Thomas. By 1903, Thomas was the only survivor of this original group.
As Thomas explained in her July 25, 1903 letter to Tatnall,
The two buildings [the library and Rockefeller Hall] were planned from the beginning together, and Rockefeller was planned to recede and advance on its front toward the Campus with direct reference to the Library. The joining of the two buildings, Pembroke and Rockefeller, was designed so as to look well with the Library on the present site [the one recommended by Cope] ...
We have been most fortunate in the past at Bryn Mawr in following the advice of our architects at a time when other colleges did not realise this necessity, as they do now; and it is to this that we owe our beautiful college campus, the most beautiful of any Eastern college. Walter Cope has placed every college building since Merion . . . and they have all been placed exactly right.
Thus, when Tatnall suggested moving the building back some thirty feet, Thomas was greatly distressed. In a thirteen-page letter to him, she outlined all the reasons that such a change would be disastrous, not least of which would be the need to substantially redesign the building. The issue was complicated by the fact that Cope had died prematurely in 1902, and Thomas did not feel that Jamieson, the Cope & Stewardson partner who had taken over the "artistic side," possessed the necessary experience for such a job. In the end, Tatnall backed down and construction began with only a minor delay.
The library is built of gray stone in the so-called collegiate Gothic, or Jacobean Gothic, style of architecture of the period of 1630, this being the date of Wadham College, Oxford, which was selected as a model for the building. The library forms three sides of an enclosed quadrangle surrounded with cloisters. The Class of 1901 gave the stone fountain in the centre of the quadrangle and the electric motor operating it. The main east front, 174 feet long, faces Taylor Hall at a distance of about 150 feet. Its principal entrance is opposite the tower door of Taylor Hall and is connected with it by a broad cement walk. The main building contains a three-story stack with accommodations for 88,000 volumes, and above this a large reading room extending over the entire main building, with large north and south end windows and eleven large windows in the long east front and in the garden front to the west. The tracery of these windows is copied from the windows of the dining hall of Wadham College, the President of the College having obtained the permission of the Warden of Wadham to send a photographer from London to take large photographs of them. The entrance porch is an exact copy of the entrance porch of Oriel College. . . .
Bryn Mawr College 22nd Annual Report
October 1, 1906-September 30, 1907
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