History of the Latin Department

by Eleanor Dickey A.B./M.A. '89

[Web Editor's note: Eleanor Dickey wrote this sketch more than two decades ago as a student at Bryn Mawr, where she completed in four years a double undergraduate major in Latin and Greek and a M.A. concentration in Latin. After her graduation in 1989, she went on to receive the degrees of M.Phil. (1991) and D.Phil. (1994) from Oxford University. She is currently an assistant professor at Columbia University and is the author of Greek Forms of Address (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996). Material in brackets is by TCB]

The Bryn Mawr Latin Department was founded with the College in 1885. The original faculty consisted of a single professor, Paul Shorey, who also taught Greek. Shorey, who received his A.B. from Harvard in 1878 and his Ph.D. from Munich in 1884, remained at Bryn Mawr until 1893, when he moved to the University of Chicago. His commentary on Horace's Odes and Epodes is dedicated to the Bryn Mawr alumnae of 1889-1895 and is still used each year in Latin 102.

The Bryn Mawr catalogues for the early years of the College stated, "The courses in ancient and modern languages will be of equal difficulty, and will be placed on a footing of equality. The traditional separation between ancient and modern languages has been disregarded, because, although strictly classical students may always be inclined to combine Greek and Latin, there is, nevertheless, no modern literature, of which the study may not fitly be preceded, or supplemented, by the study of Latin or Greek." Nevertheless, Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit were listed first among the courses in the catalogue until 1930, when the College's departments began to be listed in alphabetical order.

The curriculum in 1885 did not include elementary Latin, which was not taught until 1952, and consisted of two years of literature courses, with Livy, Horace, Cicero, Curtius Rufus, Pliny the Younger, Juvenal, Latin lyric, and prose composition in the first year, and Tacitus, Cicero, Lucretius, Plautus, and Terence in the second year. Extensive private reading, with examinations in the material read, was required of all students, and the catalogues state: " is especially hoped that students of Greek and Latin will by this means accustom themselves to read these languages, and without assistance."

Latin had a very high position in the early days of Bryn Mawr. The catalogue for 1886 stated, "No student will be graduated who does not at the time of graduation possess a reading knowledge of Latin," but by 1889 it had been changed to "No student will be graduated who does not at the time of graduation possess...some acquaintance with Latin." A similar decline in the privileged position allotted to Latin can be seen in the Bryn Mawr entrance examinations. For the first fifty years or so of the College's history, applicants were required to pass examinations in three languages, one of which had to be Latin and the other two of which could be chosen from French, German, or Greek.

In 1885, the Latin examination consisted of Cicero, Caesar, Vergil, sight translation from Latin into English, and translation from English into Latin. In 1886 the same examination was listed, with the addition of a footnote: "As many schools are introducing the 'natural method' as a substitution for thorough grammatical training, attention is called to the fact that special stress will be laid on accurate and ready knowledge of grammatical forms. A knowledge of paradigms and parts of irregular verbs will be insisted upon." This note remained in the catalogue until Bryn Mawr stopped giving its own entrance examinations, but in 1889 the examination itself was changed from "translation at sight of passages of average difficulty" to "translation at sight of easy passages with due allowance for unusual words." In 1895 the examination was further simplified, but the Latin requirement for admission was not dropped until 1948.

The Latin faculty was often shared with Greek during the early years of the College. In addition to Paul Shorey, Herbert Weir Smyth taught both languages from 1889 until 1893, when he became exclusively Greek, and during that time he served as chairman of the Latin department. Smyth, who received his A.B. from Swarthmore in 1876 and his Ph.D. from Göttingen in 1884, was a professor at Harvard after he left Bryn Mawr. He is especially well known as the author of an English-language Greek grammar that is still standard.
Despite the decline in entrance and graduation requirements observable in the first decades of the College, the Latin Department grew steadily. In 1888 the first advanced (300-level) Latin courses were offered, and in 1890 graduate seminars were introduced. Latin was a popular subject: out of the 116 undergraduates at the College in 1889, 38 were taking Latin as one of their major subjects. Of the 21 graduate students at Bryn Mawr in 1890, two were in Latin and one was in Greek and Latin. In 1893 a prestigious Latin graduate fellowship, which still exists, was added to the existing fellowship in Greek

In 1894 the College was given the library of Dr. Hermann Sauppe, professor of Classical Philology at Zurich, Weimar, and Göttingen. This bequest, which comprised approximately 9000 bound volumes and 7000 unbound works, gave Bryn Mawr one of the best classical libraries in the country, and it forms a significant part of the present collection. To many students, however, these books are a mixed blessing, for everything in them which is not in Latin or Greek is in German.

The early decades of the Latin department saw a heavy emphasis on grammar and composition at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. Courses were offered in "The Noun", "The Verb", and "The Subordinate Sentence." The first three Latin dissertations written at Bryn Mawr all discussed grammatical points: "The historical present in early Latin" (1897), "The expression of customary action of state in early Latin : A study in tense functions" (1904), and "A study of conditional and temporal clauses in Pliny the Younger" (1902). [See further on this website for a complete list of Bryn Mawr dissertations in Greek, Latin, and Archaeology.]
During this period the number and variety of advanced and graduate courses increased, although the difficulty of the introductory courses tended to decrease. Many new faculty members also joined the department. Gonzalez Lodge arrived in 1889 and remained until 1900. Arthur Leslie Wheeler (Yale A.B. 1893, Ph.D. 1896), taught at Bryn Mawr from 1900 to 1925 and was head of the Latin department. After leaving Bryn Mawr he became a professor at Princeton. Tenney Frank (Kansas A.B. 1898, Chicago Ph.D. 1903), to whom the present Classics Study Room in Canaday Library is dedicated, came to Bryn Mawr in 1904 and stayed until 1919, when he went to Johns Hopkins. While at Bryn Mawr he wrote his influential book Roman Imperialism (1914). In 1912 Mary Hamilton Swindler received her Ph.D. in Greek from Bryn Mawr and joined the faculty as a Reader in Latin. Thereafter she taught both Latin and Archaeology until 1931, when she turned entirely to archaeology, in which field she was one of Bryn Mawr's most distinguished professors.
In 1926 and 1927 Marion Edwards Park was head of the Latin department-as well as President of the College. Park received her Ph.D. in Latin and Greek from Bryn Mawr in 1918 and was President of Bryn Mawr from 1922 to 1942. In this period the "Golden Age" of the Latin department began with the arrival of Lily Ross Taylor in 1927 and Thomas Robert Shannon Broughton in 1928.

Lily Ross Taylor was probably the greatest professor in the history of Bryn Mawr Latin. She was born in 1886 in Alabama, received her A.B. from the University of Wisconsin in 1906, and came to Bryn Mawr as a graduate student in the same year. She wrote her dissertation with Tenney Frank and received her Ph.D. in 1912. While working as a graduate student she taught a few courses at Bryn Mawr, but after obtaining her doctorate she taught at Vassar until 1927, when she returned to Bryn Mawr to become head of the Latin department. Miss Taylor taught here until her retirement in 1952 and returned as a visiting professor in 1957 and 1960. She was also Dean of the Graduate School from 1942 to 1952, Professor in Charge of the Classical School of the American Academy in Rome from 1952 to 1955, and has a list of honors long enough to fill this entire history. [This website offers a short biography and full bibliography.] She also worked for the Red Cross during World War I and the Office of Strategic Services in World War II. She published six books (including the classic Party Politics in the Age of Caesar), 70 articles, and 57 reviews, and was revered as a great scholar and outstanding teacher. During her time at Bryn Mawr she changed the Latin curriculum greatly, introducing many of the courses that inform those of today.

T.R.S. Broughton, a native of Canada and graduate of the University of Toronto, wrote his dissertation with Tenney Frank at Johns Hopkins and received his Ph.D. in 1928. He was a member of the Bryn Mawr Latin faculty (although he also taught ancient history) from 1928 to 1965, and his wife Annie Leigh Hobson (A.B. Bryn Mawr 1930), was the director of admissions and also taught Latin intermittently from 1937 to 1942. He too has a list of honors far too long for this history and wrote a number of important books, including his famous Magistrates of the Roman Republic. [The third volume of that work appeared in 1986 when Broughton was 86 years old. He then went on to publish Candidates Defeated in Roman Elections at age 91; Broughton died in 1993.]

Two other important professors from this period were Berthe Marie Marti and Louise Adams Holland. Berthe Marti, a graduate of the University of Lausanne, came to Bryn Mawr as a graduate student in 1925, wrote her dissertation with Lily Ross Taylor, and received her Ph.D. in 1934. She began teaching in 1930 and remained at Bryn Mawr until 1963. Although most famous as a medievalist, she also taught classical Latin and sometimes French. Louise Holland, a graduate of Barnard who received her Ph.D. from Bryn Mawr in 1920, was not a member of the regular faculty, but frequently substituted for professors on leave between 1929 and 1956. She was an exciting and charismatic teacher and careful scholar, her best-known book being Janus and the Bridge.

By 1930 most of the present 200- and 300-level courses were in place: Vergil's Aeneid, Cicero and Caesar, Medieval Latin, Roman Comedy, Latin Prose Style, and Livy, in addition to others now eliminated. By 1941 the course which is now 101-102 was essentially established, and the addition of a Lucretius class made the undergraduate curriculum not far removed from the present one.

Agnes Kirsopp Lake Michels, one of Bryn Mawr's greatest Latin professors, came to the College as a freshman in 1926 and remained until 1975. She received her A.B. in 1930, stayed on as a graduate student, wrote her dissertation with Lily Ross Taylor, received her Ph.D. in 1934, and taught Latin here from 1934 to 1975. In addition to Latin, she offered a course on the Literary History of the Bible each year from 1938 to 1975. She was an extraordinarily gifted and charismatic teacher and was beloved by students both inside and outside the department. She was also widely respected as a scholar, especially for her lucid 1967 book The Calendar of the Roman Republic.

In 1937 Latin ceased to be required of all candidates for graduate degrees, and in 1948 the Latin requirement for undergraduate admission was also dropped. The result was that, in 1952, Bryn Mawr began teaching elementary Latin. The introductory course was supplemented in 1958 by an intermediate Latin course (the present 003-004), for students who had had some Latin, but not enough to be able to take 101. The elementary course has remained constant over the years, but the intermediate course has been dropped and revived in relation to students' needs. With the addition of intermediate Latin, the undergraduate curriculum assumed its present form with the exception of Senior Conference, which was not added until 1967.

With the retirement of Lily Ross Taylor the department took the form of one medievalist, one Roman historian, and one specialist in classical literature. Myra Uhlfelder (Bryn Mawr Ph.D. 1952) succeeded Berthe Marti in 1963 and taught classical and medieval Latin. Russell Scott (Ph.D. Yale University 1964) replaced T.R.S. Broughton in 1966. And in 1975 Julia Haig Gaisser (Ph.D. Edinburgh University 1966) succeeded Agnes Michels.

[The Department of 1990-1999 consisted of two-and-a-half members. In 1991, T. Corey Brennan (Harvard Ph.D. 1990) took up a joint appointment in the Departments of Latin and Greek on the occasion of the retirements of Myra Uhlfelder and Greek professor Mabel Lang. The Greek and Latin Departments then merged to form a single administrative unit for academic year 1999/2000 (and beyond).]

The Latin Department has had a long history of close contact with the American Academy in Rome. Lily Ross Taylor, Agnes Michels, and Berthe Marti [followed by Russell Scott and later Corey Brennan] were all Fellows there at one time or another, and Tenney Frank, Lily Ross Taylor, T.R.S. Broughton, and Russell Scott have served as Professors-in Charge of the Classical School. This caused the tendency of Lily Ross Taylor and her successors to stress the importance of the physical and political aspects of ancient Rome in the interpretation of literary texts.

The Department also has a history of leadership in the American Philological Association. Lily Ross Taylor, T.R.S. Broughton and Agnes Michels were all Presidents of the APA, and Berthe Marti and Julia Gaisser served as Directors. Each of the those three Presidents from Bryn Mawr also won the APA's Goodwin Award of Merit for an outstanding book, making Bryn Mawr the first department in the country with three winners of this prize. [Another Bryn Mawr triumvirate: the first three Americans elected Honorary Member of Britain's Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies were Tenney Frank, Lily Ross Taylor and T.R.S. Broughton. And Julia Gaisser was elected President of the APA for the year 2000.]

The Bryn Mawr Latin Department has always been small, and throughout its history it has had to struggle with the continual decline of Latin in the schools. Nevertheless, it has consistently maintained extremely high standards of instruction, and the faculty has included an extraordinary number of great scholars and teachers who deservedly won the undying affection and admiration of their students.
Sources: Professors Agnes Michels, Julia Gaisser, Russell Scott, and Mabel Lang; Bryn Mawr course catalogues; entries in Barbara Sicherman and Carol Hurd Green (edd.), Notable American Women: The Modern Period (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1980) and Who Was Who in America I: 1884-1942 (Chicago: A.N. Marquis Co., 1942).

[Now see further in W.W. Briggs and W.M. Calder III (edd.), Classical Scholarship: A Biographical Encyclopedia (New York and London 1990) on Paul Shorey, Tenney Frank, and L.R. Taylor; and in Ward W. Briggs, Jr. (ed.) Biographical Dictionary of North American Classicists (Greenwood Press: Westport, CT and London, 1994) on Paul Shorey, Herbert Weir Smyth, Gonzalez Lodge, Arthur Leslie Wheeler, Tenney Frank, Lily Ross Taylor, Louise Adams Holland, and T.Robert S. Broughton. J. Linderski in American National Biography (New York 1999) treats Tenney Frank (VIII pp. 367-368) and L.R. Taylor (XXI 390-391). On Broughton, see also George W. Houston in J. Linderski (ed.), Imperium Sine Fine: T. Robert S. Broughton and the Roman Republic (1996) pp. 1-30, 35-42; on Agnes Michels, see J. Linderski, Classical Journal 92.4 (1997) 323-345.]