History of Special Collections at Bryn Mawr College

From the earliest years of Bryn Mawr College, M. Carey Thomas, as Dean and President, and her friend, Mary Garrett, began assembling objects to be used as educational and decorative resources for the College. They collected fine furniture, paintings, prints, and objects belonging to diverse world cultures for the president’s house, known as the Deanery. Thomas and Garrett also provided documentary photographs, prints, and plaster casts, which were used in the curriculum and displayed in Taylor Hall and Old Library. 

These items were supplemented by an assemblage of Greek, Roman, and Egyptian antiquities collected in the early 20th century by the first faculty members of the Department of Art and Archaeology. By the 1940s, major gifts of prints, drawings, and paintings had been received from Prof. Emeritus Howard L. Gray, Roy R. Neuberger, and various other faculty and alumnae. The Ella Riegel Memorial Collection for Mediterranean Archaeology was established circa 1940, and the ethnographic collections were established by Frederica de Laguna in the 1950s. These collections of art and artifacts became formalized as the College Collections Department within the Library in 1980. Additional gifts to the collection have come from alumnae and reflect their interests. 

The Rare Book Collection was formally established in 1940, and included the classical library of Professor Hermann Sauppe purchased by Mary Garrett in 1894. Additional rare book and manuscript collections were built through donations from the College’s graduates and other friends over the years, including Ethelinda Schaeffer Castle (Class of 1908), Howard Goodhart and his daughter Phyllis Goodhart Gordan (Class of 1935), and Philadelphia book collector Seymour Adelman. Adelman also endowed a fund for the purchase of rare books and manuscript materials. This endowment permits us to continue to add to the collections.  

The College Archives was established in 1980. The college’s historical records were transferred from administrative offices to the Archives after that date.  Most collections of alumnae/i papers were acquired after that date as well. 

The Art & Artifacts Collection was united administratively with the Rare Book & Manuscript Collection as the Special Collections Department in 1999 but only physically brought together in 2011 when the staff and most of the collections were consolidated in the Eva Jane Romaine Coombe ’52 Special Collections Suite in Mariam Coffin Canaday Library. 

Bryn Mawr College Special Collections includes over 50,000 art and artifact objects, over 60,000 rare books, the College archives, graphic collections, and numerous significant manuscript collections. The collections reflect the range of interests of their donors, and thus support teaching, advanced research, and exhibitions across numerous fields. 

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