BMC Songbooks

by

Lorett Treese

Among the ephemera collections of the Bryn Mawr College Archives, the songbook collection stands out as one that captures over a century of wit and creativity. The songbooks contain lyrics written by Bryn Mawr students that aptly reflect the joys and fru strations of a Bryn Mawr education.

The earliest songbook in the collection measures 4 x 5 1/4 inches and is only eight pages long. It was published by the Class of 1889 and it begins with the '89 class song "Manus Bryn Mawrensium" written in Latin by Professor Paul Shorey. The last page contains the words to "Thou Gracious Inspiration," which was the college hymn before it was replaced by "Sophias."

By the turn of the century, Bryn Mawr songbooks were becoming bigger and thicker and they included a lot more songs. According to the College News, songbooks were sold to benefit the Students' Building Fund.

The College's most elaborate songbook was published in 1903 by Charles W. Beck, Jr. of Philadelphia with the title Songs of Bryn Mawr College. Elizabeth Shippen Green created the designs that border the songs on each page. A copy in fair conditio n was recently spotted at a rare book dealer's stall at an antiques mall in Chadds Ford; the asking price was $85.00.

Lyrics contained in the songbooks sometimes offer insight into contemporary leisure time habits of the students. For example, the 1908 songbook had lyrics designed to be sung to the tune of "There is a Tavern in the Town:"

There is a tea-room in the town, in the town;
And there the students sit them down, sit them down;
And clear their minds with cake and tea,
And never, never think of me.

Other lyrics refer to the tradition of friendly rivalry between sophomores and freshmen, such as these lyrics from the 1927 songbook meant to be sung to the tune of "Little Alice Blue Gown:"

      When we first saw those girls in light blue
As they wandered the hockey field through,
They looked quite nice and shy
But they turned out right spry,
For each time the ball passed
They hit us in the eye.
Every one seemed to feel it her due
To kill an opponent or two,
But we grin and bear it
Because we don't care; it
Just makes us glad we're not Light Blue.

Back when one of the requirements for a Bryn Mawr degree was a passing grade on the oral language exams, this traumatic experience also inspired a number of songs, like this one from the 1933 songbook:
                                    Bryn Mawr, have you a daughter fair, parlez-vous?
Whose intellect is quite so rare, parlez-vous?
To take her orals she would dare
And foil the Schenck and Prokosch pair?*
Hinkey dinkey, parlez-vous?

The Class of 1940 composed an orals song meant to be sung to the tune of "Bell-bottomed Trousers." Could it perhaps hint that students at that time had something on their minds besides academics?

      I was a debutante as happy as could be,
I spent a year in London and one in gay Paree;
Along came a Marquis, handsome, young and gay,
And he said to me: "My darling, je veux vous espouser!"
But one summer day while we were out to tea,
A long and angry cable came from home for me:
"This dissipation has really gone too far,
The tenth of next month you are going to Bryn Mawr!"
The Marquis said: "Cherie, parting is a wrench,
I'd marry you tomorrow except you don't speak French,
But if you manage le Français for to speak,
And if you pass the Oral, I'll be there within a week."
The future looks gloomy, for I will surely fail:
After tomorrow the ring goes back by mail.
My Marquis I know will never marry me,
I'll spend all my life in good works and charity!


Quite a few Bryn Mawr songs took their music from Broadway shows, such as this oeuvre from the 1974 songbook, meant to be sung to the tune of "Edelweiss," from The Sound of Music:

                                       Egg so white, egg so white
Every morning we greet you,
Small and wet, cold, you bet:
We're so happy to eat you.
Floating along in a pool of grease,
There for our collation,
Egg so white, egg so white,
You're an abomination.

 

Since the 1960s, Bryn Mawr songbooks have included two other Broadway-inspired songs that seem to have become classics. These include "Haverford Harry" (to the tune of "The Girl that I Marry" from Annie Get your Gun) and "Song of the Brainy Female" (to the tune of "You Can't Get a Man with a Gun," from the same show). But Broadway enthusiasts will also recognize the show tune called "Stand Up and March" from Hello Dolly used by the Class of 1973 for this overview of Bryn Mawriana:

       We stand for Haverford and Hepburn
And the quaint old traditions.
Take off your robes, girls,
Skinny-dip off inhibitions.
Dance the Maypole
With the zest of freshman year.
M. Carey Thomas sheds a tear.
If you see us reading paperbacks
Of Shakespeare's Lear,
Stand up and
Sneer, sneer, sneer!

The Class of 1898 cogently expressed the students' pride at graduation and the bittersweet feeling that a unique part of one's life is over, never to be recaptured. The members of the class are gone now but they left a song all Mawrters can relate to. Here's the class song of 1898, to be sung to the tune of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic:"
                                       

Here's to Bryn Mawr College and the Class of Ninety-eight!
Fondly may we cherish her, whatever be our fate!
Loudly now we sing to her as greatest of the great,
Then cheer for Ninety-eight!

Naught our friendship's ties shall sever!
Ninety-eight forget we never!
True to class and college ever,
Then cheer for Ninety-eight!

***

*Eunice Morgan Schenck, Professor of French and Dean of the Graduate School and Eduard Prokosch, Associate Professor of German

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