President of the Alumnae Association Susan L. MacLaurin '84 (left and right) and Executive Director Wendy M. Greenfield (center), dressed as Mawrters of 2001 and 1901, presented President of the College Nancy J. Vickers to reuning alumnae with a rhyming translation of the opening words of the College Hymn and an anassa kata.
Photography by Paola Nogueras-Balasquide Tagliamonte '84
Assistant to the photographer, Sadie White '03
With reunions held for the classes of 1931, 1941, 1942, 1951, 1961, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1976, 1981, 1986, 1991 and 1996, more than 900 alumnae, family and friends were on campus for a weekend of catching up with classmates and learning about the Bryn Mawr of today and of the future.
"We are not just freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors this weekend," MacLaurin said, "but span more than 70 class years, from the Grand Women of 1931 to the undergraduates working as Reunion helpers. The community of alumnae supports us through a lifetime and takes us even beyond as a part of Bryn Mawr's unique legacy. Your experiences are our history.
"The theme of Reunion this year, 'Looking Back and Looking Forward' was anticipated on May Day with 'Bryn Mawr 2001: A Space Odyssey.' President of theCollege Nancy J. Vickers led the parade in a spaceship. The College's Plan for a New Century took on an ambitious spin as Bryn Mawr applications were accepted from other planets and galaxies, and the College commissioned the physics department to construct a craft capable of launching Bryn Mawr students and faculty into space. The launching pad was the new lake between Pen y Groes and Rhoads, and the Bryn Mawr spaceship was none other than 'Blue Bus II.' Through the colonization of Mars, Bryn Mars, we prove once again that you can't sell Mawrters short. Whoever said, 'Men are from Mars' did not know Mawrters well. Down with the patriarchy. We all know that Bryn Mawr women will run Mars!"
What is 'Visual Culture'?
Teaching at Bryn Mawr has changed vastly as a result of "the computerization of the academic experience," according to Steven Z. Levine, Leslie Clark Professor in the Humanities, chairman of the history of art department, and director of the Center for Visual Culture. His Reunion lecture, "What Is Visual Culture," showed how digital media are transforming the way students learn about the history of art.
The site of the lecture, Thomas 110, provided a convenient analogy: The room was formerly part of the library that housed "the stacks." In the '90s it became a "smart classroom" with Internet access. Now, instead of browsing the stacks, students and professor surf the web.
Increasingly, virtual reality accompanies existential reality in college classrooms. For example, the Internet slowly is replacing the slide show in history of art classes. "When I came to Bryn Mawr in 1975," recalled Levine, "I was a virtuoso of the slide medium. For these past 25 years, I grew more and more elegant in the presentation of slide lectures. Then all of a sudden, just when my skills were at their mesmerizing peak, I found out that this was an obsolete medium."
However, Levine called this era "the most exciting time in my 25 years on the faculty," with the computer allowing "a new kind of conversation" to take place between professors and students. A student living for a semester in Sri Lanka can e-mail a professor with the same ease as a student living in Rockefeller. A shy student intimidated by Levine's "bearded ferocity" can e-mail him a question at 2 a.m., and he can e-mail a response a few hours later.
Today, teaching is web-based-and justly so. "People will expect to be able to forge a new community when they come to Bryn Mawr, drawing upon some shared media. If those media are no longer the written media of the Christian/classical consortium of culture in which I was still schooled, then one thing that does draw us together is the new media. We are all citizens of the world of television, advertising, movies and computers. In our information economy, it is through the visual interface, through the computer screen, that information is mediated in the first instance. Increasingly, all of our students, however diverse their backgrounds may be in terms of race, religion, ethnicity, and so on, will have experienced in their schooling the relationship of the new media to the world of knowledge."
While Levine sympathized with the critique that viewing digitized paintings on the Internet degrades the actual, unique experience of interacting with a painting in the flesh, he pointed out that today's culture is not one of aesthetic appreciation but "a culture of images, not of paintings."
And at that level, there's no degradation at all. "Through the digitization of images," he said, "we enter a new domain of culture. We enter virtual reality where, increasingly, the whole of a person's cultural interaction may be delivered through the home computer. Is that a thing to lament, or is that a thing to celebrate? As historians of culture in a university, we have to acknowledge what's happening around us. This is happening."
He compared the digitization of images to an ancient pot that has been broken into many pieces, excavated and configured to present coherent meaning. Similarly, paintings are photographed and put onto the web through the combination of pixels, which by themselves are meaningless, like the shards of the pot. "The configuration that is more and more utilized in presenting knowledge to one another in the world is digital media."
Finally, Levine predicted that physical interaction with paintings may become a quaint anachronism. "Just as our houses of worship are no longer decorated with golden mosaics, so too it may come to be in 300 years that the culture will no longer go to 'houses of art' that we call museums."
In addition, he suggested an eerie irony: If the "decoding" that takes place when a painting is digitized is the same as the decoding of human genetics, then perhaps, "at the deepest level of our genomic existence, we are precisely nothing but zeros and ones, bits of electrochemical information, seratonin, neurotransmitters, off and on switches."
'Staring down the Gorgon'
Alumnae had the opportunity to hear Nancy J. Vickers lecture as "Professor Vickers" on the mythological figure that inspired The Medusa Reader (New York:Routeledge, 2001), which she co-edited with Marjorie Garber, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of English and director of the Humanities Center at Harvard University. An interpretive anthology of images and references depicting the Medusa from Homer to the present, it is intended for both scholars and general readers. As a course book for students, it demonstrates how myth generates and/or absorbs meaning over time.
Vickers related the core narrative, pieced together from variants on the story: "The exquisitely beautiful Medusa was one of the three Gorgons of Greek myth, and the only mortal one. She was said to have dallied with or to have been raped by sea god Poseidon in the temple of Athena. As punishment for this transgression, Athena transformed Medusa into a monster, changing her luxuriant long hair into a tangle of hissing snakes. A spectator gazing at Medusa would henceforth turn to stone. One of the tasks of the hero Perseus was to slay Medusa, which he was able to do with divine advice and magical devices. One of these was a shield so beautifully polished that he could reflect Medusa's image in it-guided by the mirror image, he cut off her head. One of the two children of Medusa and Poseidon that spring to life at the moment of their mother's decapitation was Pegasus, later the winged horse of the Muses, hence persistent associations of Medusa with poetry and the arts. Perseus appropriated the head of Medusa as a device for his own protection, holding it up to petrify his enemies. This begins a long line of the use of the head of Medusa on armorial surfaces such as breastplates or shields."
The figure of Medusa is exceptional in its ubiquity, longevity and ambiguity, Vickers said. "You can see her (with characteristic staring eyes, a protruding tongue and snaky locks) on coins, mosaics, pottery, and over doorways throughout Greece and Turkey as an apotropaic figure, an object that wards off the very effect of evil it produces. There is an intrinsic doubleness built into her figure; she is at once a monster and a beauty.
"You will encounter Medusa across the full Western canon, and at every level of high and low culture. She has become a fashion model, a logo and a figure for the present age. An advertisement for the 'hottest scream machine of 1999,' the Medusa Rollercoaster at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey, calls her 'a millennium in the making.' Gianni Versace adopted a variant of the beautiful Medusa, from the Medusa Rondanini by sculptor Phidias, 440 B.C.E., in Munich's Glyptothek, as a logo for the House of Versace, putting her image on elegant apparel and having his models strike Perseus and Medusa attitudes. Asked in 1995 why he chose Medusa, Versace said, 'She is seduction, a sense of history, classicism ... She is fatal attraction.' "
The Medusa project began some 20 years ago when Garber, a visiting professor at Dartmouth and Vickers, a faculty member there, discovered they both were working on Medusa and William Shakespeare. Garber, a noted cultural critic who spoke at Bryn Mawr this spring on literary Cleopatras, was writing an essay, "Macbeth: The Male Medusa" that later appeared in a volume of her works, Shakespeare's Ghost Writers:Literature as Uncanny Causality (London: Methuen, 1987). Vickers was writing an essay that later appeared as "The blazon of sweet beauty's best: Shakespeare's Lucrece," in Shakespeare and the Question of Theory, Patricia Parker and Geoffrey Hartman, eds., (New York: Methuen, 1985). She had been working on anatomical blazons, poems popular during the Renaissance that describe, in praise or blame, parts of the female body. "Blazon is a heraldic term, a coded language that tells you what the image on a shield looks like," Vickers said. "I became very interested in the relationship of the anatomical register, particularly pertaining to women's bodies, and the heraldic register, and came across an extraordinary mine of material in Shakespeare's narrative poem from the 1590s, The Rape of Lucrece."
In a boasting contest among husbands each describing the beauty and virtue of his wife, Collatine so effectively praises the beauty of his wife, Lucrece, that Tarquin determines he must possess her, searches her out and rapes her. Lucrece calls for revenge and commits public suicide. "Shakespeare warns that in praising, one effectively merchandizes what one praises; the logical conclusion is either sale or theft," Vickers said.
"Throughout the poem, Lucrece is described with heraldic metaphors. "The colors of her face, red and white, the colors of the house of Collatine, do war on the shield that is the construct of her face. The Lucrece-Medusa pair became for me an instance of the relationship of beauty to monstrousness, the one turning into the other at the moment of rape. Thinking about the role of eloquence in relationship to that turn, I found a 14th century commentator who glossed the figure of Medusa itself as eloquence. Eloquence, or the beautiful colors of rhetoric, merges with the colors of heraldry, merges with the colors of Lucrece's face."
See more Medusa images.
An architectural mystery
Dr. Jeffery Cohen wants to solve a mystery. A lecturer in the Growth and Structure of Cities program and director of the Visual Media Center, Cohen has stumbled upon an 1889 photographic collection of 153 seemingly random suburban Philadelphian manors. His slide show and lecture on the collection had audience members itching to solve the mystery as well: Why does the collection exist? And what is it trying to show?
Most of the houses in the collection are enormous and dispersed all over the periphery of the city, but conform to the five main railroad lines at the time. They are identified by the owner, the architect and the name of the house. Though the houses are not next to each other, the photos suggest "a sense of community in that they all want to be part of the same portfolio," Cohen said.
Cohen has been trying to identity where the buildings once were (most of them no longer exist) and more importantly, what recommended them to the collection. In some cases he speculates it was the family's high social status or the house's architectural novelty that prompted the photographer. For example, A. J. Drexel's house, though older and architecturally unremarkable, is included in the collection. Also, two houses by Taylor Hall architect Addison Hutton are included: One, "Midhope," built in 1875 for Quaker chemist James Booth, is restrained and calm, "almost the dia- metric opposite" of Victorian architecture. But another house built by Hutton a few years later on Montgomery Avenue "has no calm in it" and typifies "gesticulating Victorian" architecture.
What is certain is that the collection captures a suburban Philadelphia that no longer exists. Many of the homes were second homes of well-to-do bankers or retailers who prospered during the industrial era. They spent their winters in Center City townhouses, then summered in relative solitude five to 15 miles outside the city, where their closest neighbors might be as far as 100 acres away.
Alumnae panelists representing each decade at Reunion talked about their career expectations and experiences in a discussion moderated by Representative to the Executive Board for Career Network Margaret A. Hoag '86.
Athlete Marion Chester Read '42 played five varsity sports at Bryn Mawr and is a senior champion in several. "Half of our class went to Washington in war jobs," Read said. She majored in history of art, but had enjoyed her geology courses, and at the recommendation of professor Edmund Watson, went to Washington to work as a map maker for the Air Corps. After the war, she went to Harvard's geology department, where a project on Mount McKinley opened up new opportunities in mountain climbing. Read enjoyed her undergraduate sports experience, but acknowledged the enormous improvements for women that have resulted from Title IX.
Susan Webb Hammond '54, professor of political science at American University in Washington, D.C., hoped to get a job with the foreign relations committee of the Senate, but found it "basically did not seem to be hiring women for any kind of professional position. ... I've been back to Hill since and a graduate degree makes a lot of difference, but things have changed dramatically both in terms of being elected to office and being appointed to high levels in government." As for the possibility of women achieving parity in Congress, Hammond pointed out that they still face responsibilities that make it difficult to decide when to run for Congress."Most of the women in Congress have grown children or are unmarried with no children," she said.
Entrepreneur DeAnne S. Rosenberg '61, an expert on management and employment issues, expected after graduation "to find a job where I could make lots of money and be absolutely independent financially of parents and any men as well. But Ifound that I couldn't type. My first job was as a lipstick screwer. So I went into personnel, which was where they dumped you in those days if you had smarts but didn't type. And I quickly learned that in the personnel area, which they now call human resources, your job was to interview people and tell them they didn't qualify for employment. I found that it was a very negative situation. .... Then the war on poverty in late 1960s offered many opportunities for a woman to be creative and to move into that arena. I found that working with people to develop their skills was a very positive situation. So I decided that's what Iwanted to do with my life and on the basis of that, I went into my own business. I have been a management consultant up until this day, and it has been very rewarding."
Kim Masters '76, one of the "five divas of reporting on the entertainment business," said she "stumbled into covering Hollywood" much as she had "stumbled into covering law" for a trade publication in Washington after graduation. Masters found she had a taste and talent for investigative reporting. She worked for The Washington Post for six years and has also written for other metropolitan newspapers, Vanity Fair, Time, Inside.com and Premier. She finally decided to switch from politics to Hollywood because "it was something I cared less about, that didn't tear me up inside."
Masters said that Hollywood is the "ultimate boys' club, more so than the Senate-there's only a handful of major studios, and all of them were and are run by men." She found, however, that "it is a reflection of sexism, for better or for worse, that men in the industry are more willing to go to lunch and chat with a woman, and a smart woman presents an added dimension, a challenge. I have a reputation as being terrifying, so I'm mean and horrible with a little bit of playfulness and fun thrown in."
Women remain particularly underrepresented as directors and writers, Masters said. "We do see more women as studio chairmen, but that job is a lot less exciting and glamorous.And the moguls have become fieldhands in the plantations of these vertically integrated companies, which will ultimately destroy democracy in my belief because they own so many media outlets."
Egyptologist Salima Ikram '86, a professor at American University in Cairo who is an expert on animal mummies, weathered the daunting sexism and racism of "Oxbridge" during her graduate studies in archaeology. In Egypt, where she directs digs in addition to teaching, she finds that both men and women are "nicer to you if you're a woman, and I find I get farther if I am not confrontational. People do, in the end, recognize the value of your work." But Ikram can also bealso be mean and scary. "My students are terrified of me!"
After receiving an MBA from the University of Chicago, Jennifer Wu '91 did small business consulting in Poland. She returned to the States to work in her family business as marketing manager and comptroller, then did management consulting for KPMG Consulting, focusing in the healthcare sector, and recently started as a professional representative with Merck. Frequent career change is good and it is now expected, she emphasized. "I also don't think you should be ashamed to want to work in the corporate world and make a lot of money," she said. "I want to be able to support myself, fund what Iwant to do, and write checks for Bryn Mawr! In the past we have spoken of intellectual and ideological independence. This is the message I'd like to share; that it's OK to want to be financially independent."
Mary Lackritz Gray '51, Richard Gray, Andrew Zweifler and Ruth LaPlace Zweifler '51.
Gigi Chapman '81, Carol Holden '81, Emily McKillip '81 and Alex Baxter, Hfd '81, do a wave.
Jennifer Lotz '96, Jennifer Noon '96 and Harley Jenks '96 light candles. (Step Sing was held in Thomas Great Hall because of rain.)
Karyn Folland '96, Truc Ha '96, Dawn Dow '96 and Tamika Lott '96.
Paola Nogueras-Balasquide Tagliamonte '84 and Rosemarie Straijer-Amador '81.
The Barbara Auchincloss Thacher '40 Award for Greatest Improvement in Participation Among the Ten Most Recent Classes went to The Class of 1991 with 36 percent (up from 26 percent last year).
Return to Fall 2001 highlights