The "Bryn Mawrs"


Lorett Treese

Among the materials maintained in the Bryn Mawr College Archives, there is a nine-volume set of entrance examinations that had once been housed in the president's office. In her book, What Makes a College, Cornelia Meigs wrote that M. Carey Thomas had a hand in making up these exams, and that she made them as difficult as possible, fully intending to read every one herself before students were admitted.

Meigs wrote, "As the years passed and it became more in order for the College to integrate its method with the whole field of education, rather than to stand further upon individual experiment, it was taken to be wiser to use the College Board Entrance Examinations. Even though the actual examinations seemed less difficult, the selection was just as meticulous." Here are some sample questions from the very first Bryn Mawr entrance examinations used to identify the students that would enter the college in the academic year 1885-1886:

History - In what wars were the following battles fought? Bannockburn, Crecy, Bosworth, Naseby, the Boyne, Plassy, Salamanca?

American History - When and where was the present constitution formed? Why was a new constitution thought needful?

Physics - Name the three states of matter, and give the characteristics of each.

Physical Geography - How are volcanoes and earthquakes explained?

Physiology - Give a brief account of the structure and action of the heart.

Chemistry - How do metals differ from non-metals? And how is iron obtained from its ores?

One researcher told the Bryn Mawr College archivist that these entrance examinations came to be known as "The Bryn Mawrs. " They quickly earned a national reputation for their demanding nature.

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