“The Best Thing in a Girl’s Life”: Early Women’s Colleges in Fiction and Fact

The World Outside

women at college

war rations article snippet

The world outside the college sometimes intrudes into the lives of the students in the stories, as it does in real life.  Family financial reverses, epidemics, the death of a parent, all appear.  Most of the early series were finished before the First World War began, but in the contemporary series, the war may occupy entire books.  Babs spends some part of her senior year wretchedly unhappy because her high school friends are enlisting, and the frontispiece of the follow-up story Babs at Home shows her among her female friends reading news from the Front.  Molly Brown’s College Friends (a post-graduation book) features war work, women farming, and spies on the campus.  Grace Harlowe’s story begins in high school, goes on to college, and continues in the Overseas series: Grace Harlowe with the Red Cross in France, Grace Harlowe with the Marines at Chateau Thierry, and so on.

At Bryn Mawr too, the Great War affected both the college and its students and alumnae.  On campus, the college adopted food rationing, and a Red Cross workroom provided an outlet for students to assist in the war effort.  During the summers of 1917 and 1918, Bryn Mawr students served as farmers in the Woman's Land Army.  Margaret Hall (1899) was one of many Mawrtyrs, older and younger, who served in support positions in Europe.  Her album, based on her letters home and photographs she collected in France, records her experience as a member of the Red Cross Women’s Relief Corps, in which she served in the canteen at Chalôns-sur-Marne.

quote from a letter

farm girl

Lady in a uniform

Senior Year
Life after College

Bryn Mawr College Library