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Bryn Mawr completes $260,000 NEH grant project to digitize letters and diaries of students at the 7 Sisters Colleges

May 9, 2018 - 10:53am
Students in a Bryn Mawr classroom, 1947

Students in a Bryn Mawr classroom, 1947

The Bryn Mawr Special Collections Department has just completed a two-year $260,000 grant project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. College Women: Documenting the History of Women in Higher Education funded the digitization of a wealth of student letters, diaries, scrapbooks and photographs, which are now publicly accessible through the online portal www.collegewomen.org.  In addition to Bryn Mawr, which was the lead institution on the grant, the project included the other schools in the old Seven Sisters group:  Barnard, Mount Holyoke, Smith, Vassar and Wellesley Colleges, and the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University. As a result of the project, the institutions digitized more than 75,000 pages of documents from over 100 collections of student writings from the middle of the nineteenth century to World War II.

Field hockey players at Bryn Mawr, 1919

Field hockey players at Bryn Mawr, 1919

The seven partner institutions, historically regarded as the equivalent of the Ivy League before those schools admitted women, have long stood at the forefront of women’s higher education in the United States, educating many of the most ambitious, socially conscious, and intellectually curious women in the country. Going to college offered women new academic and social experiences, which many of them chronicled in extensive letter writing, diary-keeping, scrapbooking, and photography that preserved their impressions, experiences, and ambitions during those first years of independence from home. A treasure trove of these letters, diaries, scrapbooks and photographs have been preserved in the libraries of the seven schools, where they serve as a rich resource for understanding a wide range of issues in women’s history and beyond. College Women makes these collections available online, searchable together for the first time, making it possible for researchers to consider these materials in the larger context of movements for women’s education and expanded opportunities for women in general, and critical concerns experienced by young women growing into maturity in a changing world.

Students at tea in Wyndham, ca.1945

Students at tea in Wyndham, ca.1945

Among the writings found in College Women are the diaries of Bryn Mawr suffrage activist Mary Whitall Worthington, class of 1920; diaries of pioneer women archaeologists Dorothy Burr Thompson, class of 1923, and Lucy Shoe Merrit, class of 1927; letters of Marie Litzinger, class of 1920, who later taught Mathematics at Mt. Holyoke; and letters of Susan Walker Fitzgerald, class of 1893, who founded the Self-Government Association.

The College Women site also includes a blog with entries discussing interesting collections found through the project, guides to the use of the site, and ways in which the site can be used for teaching.  The project team welcomes blog posts from anyone who finds the site useful.

ABOUT THE PROJECT

This project began in the spring of 2014 with a Foundations Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support the development of an online portal capable of searching the institutions’ digital collections of student letters, diaries, scrapbooks and photographs.  A $260,000 implementation grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in the spring of 2016 allowed the partners to digitize and create metadata for thousands of documents, and those documents are now accessible through the Collegewomen.org site.

Interactive Mechanics LLC of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has been responsible for site design and development. The project was advised by leading scholars in the fields of women’s history, history of education, women’s archives, and the digital humanities–Ellen Gruber Garvey (New Jersey City University), Helen Horowitz (Smith College), Mary Kelley (University of Michigan), Laura Mandell (Texas A&M University), Monica Mercado (Colgate University), Katherine Rowe (Smith College – and the incoming President of the College of William and Mary), Susan N. Tucker (Tulane University), and Nancy Woloch (Barnard College).

The project “College Women: Documenting the Student Experience at the Seven Sisters Colleges” is being supported by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Celebrating 50 Years of Excellence.   Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Eric Pumroy, Seymour Adelman Director of Special Collections, Bryn Mawr College, 101 N. Merion Avenue, Bryn Mawr, PA  19010. Tel: 610-526-5272; epumroy@brynmawr.edu