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While abroad in 1903, Thomas visited Oxford to once again view and photograph her selected model for Bryn Mawr's campus. One of the details photographed was the wood paneling in the dining hall at Wadham College. She later wrote to Cope & Stewardson that she wanted the paneling in the library's reading room to be an exact copy of that at Wadham. The paneling that was installed is identical to the Wadham design in all but one detail: the decorative beading that runs across the top edge was simplified in the Bryn Mawr version, being smooth instead of carved.

Detail of paneling, Dining Hall, Wadham College, Oxford, ca. 1903.
Detail of paneling, M. Carey Thomas Library Great Hall

The library's entry stair was another detail that proved cause for considerable contention. The design appears to have been primarily Thomas's, based on a Cambridge model. There was much debate over the dimensions of the stair's upper landing, with Cope feeling that the screened stairwell should project further into the reading room to allow for a larger landing, and Thomas feeling equally strongly that to do so would destroy the room's effect. The issue came to the fore several years after Cope's death, once construction on the stair was nearly complete, when Jamieson renewed Cope's concerns and raised new ones with regard to aesthetic aspects of the design.

M. Carey Thomas Library entry staircase.The staircase in the Library seems to me far more beautiful than any staircase Cope & Stewardson have introduced into any of our buildings even when John Stewardson and Walter Cope were living and I should like to ask the Building Committee not to form a final judgment before the staircase including the panelling, which is a part of it, is completed and before a few weeks have elapsed so that the teak wood may take on its beautiful tones of color. I should also like to have an opportunity to present to the Committee the photographs and drawings of the beautiful staircase in Clare College after which this staircase is designed. Since the last meeting of the Committee I have looked up these drawings, and I find that the scroll ornament underneath the baluster is put in exactly the same angle in the original staircase as it is in our staircase. This romantic and picturesque method of placing it belongs to the Jacobean style and cannot therefore be criticised as Mr. Jamieson criticised it. His criticism shows to my mind a lack of knowledge of the effect we wish to secure.
                                                                                     M. Carey Thomas to Henry Tatnall
                                                                                     June 12, 1906

Finally, the Building Committee sided with Thomas, following Chairman David Scull's suggestion to take some time to live with the stair and reading room as built before deciding to make any changes. Thomas agreed, saying in an August 11, 1906 letter to Howard Comfort, "In a building built to last several centuries a year does not matter if we can get it right." In the end, aside from some minor adjustments, the staircase remained as it was.

Finishing the Library arrow icon

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  Bryn Mawr College
 Campus Plan - Hutton, Vaux & Olmsted
 Collegiate Gothic - Cope and Stewardson
Details & Interior - De Forest
Paving Tiles - Mercer
Decorative Sculpture - Ashbee & Miller

Bryn Mawr College Library Special Collections. September 21 - December 20, 2001