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Deanery turnaround.
Photographer unknown.Following Frederick Law Olmsted's death in 1903, the firm had become fairly inactive on campus. But then in April of 1908, Thomas anxiously wrote John Olmsted that campus changes necessitated a new planting map and further advice. Thus, he began work on an updated general plan that same year.

During the development of the revised plan, Thomas expressed serious concern over the turnaround for carriages and "motors." The only one shown on the plan was directly in front of the Deanery door. This location, she claimed in her letter of May 5, 1913,

. . . would make it quite impossible for me to work in my working room as the puffing of motors would so disturb me. It is extraordinary the number of people that visit the college grounds in motors. It has become one of the regular show places of the main line as this part of the country is called.


Drawing of Deanery Garden

In 1908, John C. Olmsted designed a private garden for Thomas adjoining the Deanery. This garden-still in existence today, although modified and renamed the Blanca Noel Taft Memorial Garden-took several years to complete. It was designed as a small, serene enclosure with two wall fountains, one with a small basin and the other with a sunken reflecting pool, another smaller reflecting pool, as well as statuary based on designs Thomas and Garrett had seen in Italy and decorative wall tiles they purchased from Syria. In her November 4, 1908 letter to the Olmsted firm, Thomas remarked, "The Deanery garden has worked out beautifully. We have tried to follow your directions in the minutest detail, and we are delighted with the result. The walls are built and one fountain put in. The rest is in grass awaiting further advice." Referring to the garden again in June of 1911, she pronounced it "a brilliant success."

. . . I remember his saying that in spite of the difficulty which many people had in getting along with Miss Thomas, for some reason or other his method of approach seemed to get by reasonably well and she had expressed herself more than once as greatly pleased with the garden he worked out for her; simple in the extreme, it happened to be just what she wanted.

When Edward Whiting of the Olmsted firm wrote to Thomas Sears, the Philadelphia landscape architect who took over the Bryn Mawr campus planting supervision in 1934, he described John C. Olmsted's remarkable ability to get along with Thomas. Her reputation for having a meticulous and controlling nature, a result of her penchant for involving herself in every detail of the planning and execution of all campus design work, led in large part to the deterioration of her relationship with architects Cope & Stewardson, ultimately ending in a lawsuit. With the Olmsted firm, however, her relationship remained amicable to the end.

Rendering of Bryn Mawr College Open-air Theater, 1913Writing to John Olmsted on May 5, 1913, Thomas announced that the first graduating class of 1889 was planning to donate the necessary funds for an open-air theater, suggested some years earlier by one of the Olmsteds. The theater was to be located in the Midsummer Nights' Dream Hollow, named for the Bryn Mawr tradition of enacting that particular play in the hollow still evident today to the north of Canaday Library and above the current athletic fields. The desire was to have the theater ready for the following year's May Day festivities, but this project was never realized. It was a disappointment for Thomas, indeed, but as she explained in her September 15, 1913 letter to Olmsted, "Alumnae gifts are subject to these vicissitudes."

Performance in Bryn Mawr College Midsummer Nights' Dream Hollow, 1910.
Photographer unknown.The benefactors requested that the stage design be based on that of Villa Gori-Palazzina in Sienna and the theatre at Epidaurus in Greece. Like these, Bryn Mawr's theater was to have what Thomas described in her May 1913 letter to Olmsted as "a small open circle in the centre which could be used for the chorus in Greek plays, and clipped hedges which can be used as flies." In an earlier letter of April 3, 1913, she asked Olmsted if prior to finalizing the plan he could look at Triggs' Gardening, which she said "contains the views and plans of the private out-of-doors theatre in Sienna which I have heard is so beautiful."

Early in 1915, Thomas once again called upon the Olmsted firm for assistance. This time her concern was with the condition of the grass in the cloister, which she claimed had become so unsatisfactory that College workers had been forced to plough it. On January 30th, she wrote:

We should be very grateful to you if you would tell us what to do with it so as to get the finest kind of English turf it is possible to secure in the United States. We should like to know first, the kind of manure to put on it and how much per square yard; second, the kind of grass seed to sow;Cloister garden, ca. 1915.
Photographer unknown. third, the treatment in the early spring, whether it is proper to put more manure on it or not. You may remember that some fifteen years ago you told us what to do with the grass between Taylor Hall and Pembroke. We followed your orders exactly and ever since then have had most beautiful turf in this part of the grounds.

This was the kind of issue requiring the Olmsted firm's attention for the remainder of their relationship with the College. Difficult to assign a precise date to the relationship's end, it would be more accurate to say that a convergence of several factors caused it to slowly wane instead. Primary among these were the death of John C. Olmsted in 1920 and Thomas's retirement in 1922.

The Collegiate Gothic - Cope and Stewardson 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