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Mirabile Dictu: The Bryn Mawr College Library Newsletter

Fall 2009 Issue 13

Bryn Mawr’s First Four Anniversaries
Lorett Treese

“To the making of Bryn Mawr College then the very stars in their courses seem to have worked together; from her cradle no good genius, no fairy godmother has been absent.”

M. Carey Thomas wrote the above for the speech she intended to deliver on the college’s twenty-fifth anniversary. The celebration started on 21 October 1910 when delegates from other educational institutions and distinguished guests arrived for high tea with the college’s staff in Pembroke dining hall. As evening fell the guests took their places on the roof of the library’s cloister to witness Lantern Night. Dinner followed in the gymnasium where various educators were given five minutes to argue the case of liberal versus vocational education, with M. Carey Thomas acting as toastmistress.

Saturday the educators divided into groups to debate the pros and cons of college entrance exams, lay criticism versus college teaching, and science courses versus literature, history, and economics courses in American colleges. That afternoon, guests made their way to the gymnasium for the addresses of congratulation by ten prolix speakers, including seven college presidents, that resulted in M. Carey Thomas having to abbreviate her speech.

It rained on the weekend chosen for the celebration of the college’s fiftieth anniversary in November 1935. An editorial in the Alumnae Bulletin reported, “The weather was dismal and the campus sodden, and yet one had always a sense of beauty, which suddenly one realized had nothing to do with material things.” While the most important component of the celebration was reserved for the following day, presentations delivered on Friday evening were more lighthearted in nature. Miss Park presented what she titled “Historical Sketches” of the history of the college, including tidbits about its founding and growth over the past fifty years. The audience in Goodhart Hall was also treated to a monologue written by one of the college’s dramatic stars, Cornelia Otis Skinner 1922. The leading lady portrayed a member of the class of 1889 who delivered her viewpoints on the faculty, the curriculum, and the importance of education for women. A photograph of her costumed in a long plaid dress with a bustle appeared in the New York Times.

The speakers on Saturday included the presidents of Harvard, Radcliffe, and Johns Hopkins, as well as Miss Thomas. That afternoon was the presentation of the M. Carey Thomas Award to Dr. Florence Rena Sabin, a distinguished medical scientist and Johns Hopkins professor. Following a dinner at the Deanery for alumnae, the undergraduates trooped into Goodhart to hear a repeat of Park’s “Historical Sketches” and the Skinner monologue, this time with Magdalen Hupfel Flexner 1928 in the starring role. Mrs. Flexner had been the college’s book store manager. An editorial in the Alumnae Bulletin commented, “It was the College’s own party, and the College had a hilariously good time.”

Bryn Mawr’s seventy-fifth anniversary celebration started with the Winter 1960 issue of the Alumnae Bulletin. The authors of its articles were faculty, administrators, alums, and illuminati such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Arnold Toynbee, and Judge Learned Hand. The magazine aptly introduced what would be the theme of the year-long anniversary: Bryn Mawr’s emergence as a “small university” dedicated to the advancement of scholarship and the widening horizons of its community.

Events culminated at the Seventy-fifth Anniversary Convocation held 4 June 1960 in Goodhart Hall, coinciding with that year’s reunion. Following an academic procession, invocation, and address by Millicent Carey McIntosh 1920 and President of Barnard College, President Katharine McBride presented distinguished service citations to seventy-five alumnae who had won acclaim in the fields of arts and letters, education, public service, science, and medicine. Among them were classicist Edith Hamilton 1894, poets Marianne Moore 1909 and Hilda Doolittle 1909, Nobel Prize Winner Emily Greene Balch 1889, and Cornelia Otis Skinner.

For its Centennial Celebration, the college stretched out the celebration with festivities in June 1984 including a Turn-of-the-Century Picnic with music and dancing in the Cloisters. Events of the fall semester began on Thursday, 18 October with a Centennial Convocation in Goodhart followed by a champagne reception and concert. President Mary Patterson McPherson reflected upon the Quaker tradition of the college’s founders and the subsequent eras ushered in by its later leaders. Friday and Saturday were filled with academic discussions at various symposia. Lest the community be overwhelmed with academia, the weekend also included a hockey tournament featuring teams from Bryn Mawr, Mt. Holyoke, Smith, Vassar, and Wellesley.

Spring centennial celebrations started off on Thursday, 28 March with a performance of the Dance Theatre of Harlem. The following days featured three symposia, one on neuroscience, another on gender, and a third on two of Bryn Mawr’s literary giants: Hilda Doolittle and Marianne Moore. Svetlana Alpers delivered a lecture titled “The Master’s Touch” about Rembrandt in Dutch Art.

One of the highlights of the spring centennial was feminist and writer Gloria Steinem, who spoke on “The Women of the Eighties: The Second Wave.” Identifying the first wave of feminism as the period dominated by suffragists and abolitionists, Steinem said that the issues of reproductive freedom, rights for nontraditional families, and the redefinition and re-evaluation of work would be the issues for modern feminists promoting institutional change.

The college brought forth two publications: a collection of vintage photos from the college archives and A Century Recalled, edited by Patricia Hochschild Labalme, class of 1948, a collection of essays on various aspects of college history. The Alumnae Bulletin published four special issues honoring the ideas and accomplishments of the college and her alumnae/i.

In 2010 Bryn Mawr College will celebrate its 125th anniversary. Events, exhibitions, and publications are being scheduled, and there will be a graceful combination of retrospection, pageantry, good humor, and good will, not to mention a reflection of the college’s wide-ranging concerns and cutting-edge scholarship.


Celebrated actress and Bryn Mawr alumna Cornelia Otis Skinner portrayed a member of the college’s first class at the fiftieth anniversary.