I am sorry to say that since Walter Cope's death the firm of Cope & Stewardson is no longer what it used to be and I think that people generally are finding that there is no one in the firm who can be trusted with architectural details and above all with interior carving and decorating as it was possible to trust Mr. Cope.
M. Carey Thomas to Mr. Hartshorne
May 14, 1906
The mounting tension, caused by the growing number of design disagreements between the College and Cope & Stewardson, came to a head over the library carvings. In the spring of 1906, Cope & Stewardson wrote to Thomas asking when they could proceed with drawings for the library's exterior carvings. In her rather curt response, Thomas claimed the usual lack of funds. But instead of leaving it at that, she announced that the College was not sure whether they wanted to do the carvings at all, or if they did, whether they would want Cope & Stewardson to prepare the drawings for them. Her response was not well received by the firm, putting them, according to Thomas, into "an unpleasant frame of mind." It is quite evident that by then Thomas's trust in her architects had faltered. The carving on the library was eventually carried out, but not by Cope & Stewardson, and not until after a lawsuit had effectively ended their relationship with the College.
Thomas alleged that many felt it a serious mistake for Cope & Stewardson to have capped the four towers with such heavy limestone trim. She also claimed that two of the country's leading architects, who had been on campus for the 1906 May Day celebration, had so deeply regretted the use of limestone instead of native stone for the library's front entrance porch that they had inquired as to whether the Trustees would consider raising funds to have it taken down and rebuilt. Left as it was, they felt it would spoil the building that was otherwise an "architectural gem."
. . . I do believe that it would have been more beautiful to make the entrance porch of native stone, and I feel that I ought to have insisted on [Cope & Stewardson's] doing this, as I did in the case of the cloister, which like the porch of the library was at first designed to be of limestone, that is all the arches were to be of limestone. . . .
Our whole Cloister is, I have been assured by a great many people, one of the most beautiful architectural bits in the United States. I am told by friends of mine in New York that Mr. McKim of McKim, Meade & White, the leading architect in the United States at the present time has been talking in most extravagant language of the beauty of our other buildings and especially of the Library. He was one of the two architects who wanted to raise money and change the entrance porch from limestone to native stone.
M. Carey Thomas to Henry Tatnall
June 12, 1906
Of course, the entrance porch remained as it was, but by pointing out what she referred to as the "serious mistakes" made by Cope & Stewardson during the course of building the library, Thomas made it quite clear that for her the relationship was beyond salvage. Hardest of all to accept was what she perceived as the utter refusal by both Emlyn Stewardson and Jamieson to work with the College in saving costs. This was precisely the reason that Thomas turned time and again to the architect and designer, Lockwood de Forest. She had complete faith in his ability to design those elements, which Cope & Stewardson had not managed to design within the financial limits of either the College or its donors-including the reading room ceiling and clock, as well as the cloister fountain.
Despite all the criticisms and the many battles that were waged over individual architectural details, it seems that in the end Thomas was actually quite pleased with the completed library building. She clearly expressed her feelings in a letter to Miss Gould, acknowledging the College's appreciation for the former student's donation of books to the new library.
The library building seems to be one of the few satisfactory things in this world. It has turned out just as I hoped when I selected the Oxford model four years ago before we had any thought of the possibility of realizing it in stone and mortar.
M. Carey Thomas to Alice Bache Gould
October 6 , 1905
Bryn Mawr College Library Special Collections. September 21 - December 20, 2001