Celebrating our First

A conversation with the daughter of Bryn Mawr’s first Latina undergraduate, Carmen Piza.

This year, Mujeres*, a Latinx alliance of multicultural organizations, celebrates 35 years at Bryn Mawr. To recognize this significant milestone, we wanted to honor Carmen Piza ’41, a trailblazer who we understand to have been the first Latina to earn an undergraduate degree at Bryn Mawr.** One of her Bryn Mawr daughters, Josefina Gomez Hillyer ’68, shares her mother’s story with us.

What brought your mother, Carmen Piza, to Bryn Mawr?

In 1936, my mother and her parents went on vacation to Europe. While on the cross-Atlantic journey, she met a Bryn Mawr alumna who spoke joyfully about the College. My mother was so impressed with the alumna and her story that her mind was set to leave her home in Puerto Rico and study at Bryn Mawr. She started her first year at the age of 16!

The journey to Bryn Mawr wasn’t easy in those days. It required a 4–5-day trip on a ship. Her nearest family member, an aunt, lived in Baltimore at the time. My mother’s Bryn Mawr classmates and professors became her extended family. She always talked about Bryn Mawr, even after graduation. Just like the Mawrter she met in 1936, she paid it forward. She did student interviews as an alumna and hosted teas in Puerto Rico. My mother’s tea set is an item I still have and treasure.

We believe that your mother was the first Latina to graduate from BMC. Was your mother aware of that?

I doubt that my mother had the faintest idea. She knew that she was the first from Puerto Rico, but I am not sure that being the first Latina crossed her mind. Even when my sister (Carmen ’64) and I came to Bryn Mawr, there were not many of us. Our mother prepared us by quizzing us on our English and sharing some of the cultural differences to expect—beyond the weather. There weren’t groups like Mujeres* when I was a student—it would have made my life easier.

What do you want BMC alumnae/i to know about your mother?

Her life at Bryn Mawr was very important to her, and she always spoke fondly about her time at the College. After graduation, she married, raised two girls, loved music, traveled, and liked to host a good party. She proudly kept her red lantern displayed at home. She attended Bryn Mawr because she wanted to be exposed to a different world. I think that is why all three of us went to school here. Bryn Mawr gives you the skills to analyze and to think critically and the self-confidence to try something new.


Mujeres* aims to foster a homelike environment and provide a space where Latinx students and allies on campus can have conversations about their cultural identities, celebrate them, and educate the Bryn Mawr community on Latinx issues occurring both inside and outside of campus. Mujeres* strives to increase the prominence of Latinx student voices, bringing awareness to issues concerning academia, legislation, advocacy, and the Latinx community at large.

** Special thanks to Azalia Sprecher ’18 whose senior project led to this recognition.