Engaging College Histories
Bryn Mawr’s Mission Statement affirms our commitment “to reflect upon and work to build fair, open and welcoming institutional structures, values, and culture.” Excavating and addressing all aspects of the College’s history – its distant past, its recent past, and its present – represents one important way to fulfill this crucial part of our mission.
The bold vision that led to Bryn Mawr’s founding, particularly as articulated by President M. Carey Thomas, embodied both emancipatory potential and deep contradictions characteristic of the late 19th-century Progressive movement—including Thomas’ embrace of eugenics and white supremacy. In spring 2017, President Kim Cassidy announced the formation of a History Working Group convened by Dean of the Undergraduate College Jennifer Walters to examine histories of exclusion and resistance, in the College’s past. The group was charged with making a recommendation about how the College should recognize founding Dean and second President M. Carey Thomas, including in the names of iconic campus spaces, and the impact of this recognition on the campus and in particular on members of the community who would have been excluded under Thomas’ racist policies. After considering the Working Group’s report, the Board of Trustees announced in July 2018 that the College’s original library would be known as Old Library rather than M. Carey Thomas Library.
In 2018-2019, President Kim Cassidy charged two groups of students, faculty, and staff (Telling Histories Working Group and the History Infrastructure Working Group) to further develop recommendations for structures, strategies, and resources to enable further exploration and telling of the College’s histories. These recommendations have led to establishing an ongoing History Advisory Committee; additional support for student research through Praxis coursework and internships; and proposals to develop exhibits and other public markers to share important stories of and from the College’s past (see below).
In response to the recommendations of the Telling Histories Working Group, Bryn Mawr has launched two institutional projects in 2020-2021 to create a more inclusive account of the College’s history. These projects are ongoing.
- With support from the Special Collections department of Library & Information Technology Services and the President’s Office, the College is mounting the pilot of a multi-part exhibit, “Who Built Bryn Mawr?” The exhibit seeks to provide a fuller account of the variety of students, staff, and faculty whose contributions shaped the College, and invites students to participate in future phases of the project through summer research or coursework.
The College is partnering with Monument Lab, a non-profit public art and history studio, on the ARCH project, a multi-year collaboration to design a process and commission a lasting campus public artwork that responds to the legacy of exclusionary practices at the College.
In 2018, the Board of Trustees endorsed the recommendations of the History Working Group and Telling Histories Working Group. The Board is reviewing the work the College has accomplished and has planned in telling its history to gauge what is working and what more might be done to accomplish the goals outlined in the College’s mission.
Additional Past and Current Projects
Since 2013-2014, many students, faculty and staff have pursued research projects supported by the College to understand and share knowledge about the role that racism and other forms of exclusion have played in the College’s history. Major projects undertaken over the past seven years include:
- A Point of Difference: Diversity at Bryn Mawr College. An online exhibit compiled in 2013-14 by Alexis de la Rosa ’15 and Lauren Footman ’14 to reveal and contribute insights into the experiences of Bryn Mawr students, faculty, and staff from Africa and the African Diaspora.
- Black at Bryn Mawr – Past as Legacy and Project: Re-Remembering Black Experiences at Bryn Mawr College. An award-winning 2015 student research project, exhibit, virtual tour, and blog originally created by Emma Kioko ‘15 and Grace Pusey ’15, focusing primarily on the history of Black students and Black staff and laborers at the College.
The Black at Bryn Mawr Tour based on this research has subsequently been sustained and expanded by several student leaders, including Jada Ceasar ’20 and Khari Bowman ’21. The College through the Pensby Center for Community Development and Inclusion provides support and a stipend for the Tour coordinator.
The Tour was made part of required programming for new students, and many academic and administrative departments have participated in the Tour.
- “In Black and White.” This 2015 Alumnae Bulletin essay on the history of the first Black students to study on Bryn Mawr’s campus by former Associate Chief Information Officer and Equal Opportunity Officer Florence Goff.
- We Are/We Have Always Been: A Multi-linear History of LGBT Experiences at Bryn Mawr College, 1970-2000. This research project and online exhibit by Brenna Levitin ‘16 is hosted by The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women's Education.
- Re-Vision: Archiving Black Experiences at Bryn Mawr. This exhibit by Alexis Wiltshire ’17 created a dialogue between ways in which experiences of Black students and those of the African diaspora are represented in the College Archives, and what students wished to represent about themselves.
- The Perry House Oral History Project, funded by the College through a Digital Scholarship Grant from Library and Information Services, seeks to build an oral history of Perry House, the home of the Black Cultural Center and a student residence from 1973-2012. Supported by staff from the Pensby Center for Inclusion and Community Development, Enid Cook ’31 Center, and College Archivist Allison Mills, students have conducted an initial set of 12 oral histories and launched the project website in February 2021.
- For Roses, Too: During 2020-2021, the College provided support to develop an exhibit to celebrate the centennial of the Summer School for Women Workers in Industry, which took place at Bryn Mawr most years between 1921-1938. Beck Morawski ’21 worked with College Archives to research and design the exhibit, which is also shared in the Alumnae Bulletin.
- A timeline of Black and Latinx student activism was published in the Spring 2021 Alumnae Bulletin, which was edited by leaders of Tapestry, an affinity group for alumnae/i of color.
- Who Built Bryn Mawr?, a project that seeks to recognize the wide range of alumnae/i, faculty, and staff who have made important contributions to building Bryn Mawr, was launched in 2020-21. Work is underway to develop annual exhibits.