Enthroned and enthralled

Enthroned in a beribboned Bryn Mawr chair, Nancy Vickers wore a plush owl (attached to a mortarboard) on her head and an amethyst owl ring on her little finger. The “wonderfully preposterous” ceremony was not her inauguration as Bryn Mawr’s seventh president, but her induction into the Alumnae Association as its first honorary member.

As part of a November 1 gala celebrating the Association’s centennial, volunteers dressed period costumes presented Vickers with symbols of the College as well as the programs run by and for alumnae/i. She also received a mug and earrings made from Alumnae Association refrigerator magnets. The Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research presented Vickers with a poster depicting its outreach work and The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, a medal of a 15th century French poet. A translation by Professor Catherine Lafarge of the Greek hymn Sophias Philai into Renaissance French, one of Vickers’ academic specialty areas, was sung by the undergraduate a cappella group, the Night Owls.

The logo adopted for the centennial, seen on a banner in these photographs, is a wreath of Maypole ribbons that celebrates the lifelong connections made at Bryn Mawr and nurtured through the Association’s continuing education and career programs. The design is based on the pattern of interlacing knotwork, a form of ornament symbolizing life that is found in cultures around the world. The lantern, adapted from the Association’s seal established at its founding in 1897, represents the search for truth.

When the logo is reproduced in color, the four undergraduate classes are represented by dark blue, light blue, red and green ribbons; McBride Scholars by purple; and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research by yellow.

Resolved, 1890: students should not be told their grades

The purpose of the Alumnae Association of Bryn Mawr College, incorporated 100 years ago in 1897, was — and remains — “to further the interests and the general welfare of the said college.” The original charter included a warmer purpose: “To cultivate intimate relations and friendly feelings among the graduates of Bryn Mawr College.”

Alumnae Association meetings were in fact held before formal incorporation by the first graduating class. The minutes of June 4, 1891 reveal that the main, and most controversial, item on the agenda was alumnae representation on the Board of Trustees. Not surprisingly, the Dean, M. Carey Thomas, had strong views on the subject. Though she was recorded as saying that she felt such representation would be desirable, alumnae, she said, “were too young to have weight among the Trustees. {Furthermore} our Trustees ... are only a judicial body; all the policy is initiated by the President and the Dean; the Trustees simply accept or reject the measures brought before them.”

From the beginning, then, alumnae were concerned to participate in the life and policy of the College. At an 1890 meeting, they discussed the marking system of which they disapproved because it encouraged working for “standing.” “We are convinced that the health of the students is injured by the strain of working for high marks,” and they resolved, therefore, that students should not be told their grades!

Perhaps to our regret, this interesting proposal came to naught. Alumnae did, however, gain influence over College policy with the eventual appointment of Alumnae Directors, who, with the 13 Trustees (all members of the Society of Friends), formed the College’s governing body. In May 1976, the Board eliminated the Quaker requirement and consolidated Directors and Trustees into a single body.

Under the current arrangement, a member of the Board of Trustees is nominated each year by the Alumnae Association (but elected by the Board) for a six-year term through the Nominating Committee process instituted in 1968. Replacing a cumbersome process of election by alumnae ballot to all offices of the Association, this Nominating Committee presents a slate for election at the Annual Meeting of the Association held at Reunion

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