Update on Old Library’s Inscription
The below message was sent by the Board of Trustees to the Bryn Mawr community on Tuesday, March 21, 2023.
Dear Bryn Mawr Community Members,
We are writing to you in keeping with the Board of Trustees’ primary responsibility to advance Bryn Mawr’s mission, values and long-term health. We deeply value Bryn Mawr’s commitment to bringing together the brightest and most able students in the world to thrive in a vibrant, diverse and inclusive academic community.
During the last several years we have listened to and learned from the many people in our community who are working to build fair, open and welcoming institutional structures, values and culture. We have researched the progress made following the 2018 renaming of Old Library, and the effects of retaining the inscription added to its façade in 1935 in honor of M. Carey Thomas, Bryn Mawr’s first Dean and second College President. This letter is an update on our work.
We have concluded that the fraught legacy of M. Carey Thomas continues to impede our progress in becoming the community we aspire to be. Even as M. Carey Thomas was steadfast in her drive to build a first-rate academic institution for the education of women, the limitation of her vision to the education of wealthy white women, her embrace of eugenics, and her outspoken racist and antisemitic beliefs have caused pain for generations of students, staff and faculty. We believe that Thomas’ social beliefs are irreconcilably in conflict with Bryn Mawr’s mission, values and aspirations today. The inscription over the Old Library entrance, initially intended to honor Thomas’ contributions, now sends an unwelcoming message too powerfully placed to be offset or clarified by countering narratives elsewhere. Accordingly, we have approved the removal of the inscription and its preservation in the Bryn Mawr archives. Removal of the inscription will reinstate Old Library as it was originally built in 1907.
We acknowledge the harm and hurt Thomas’ legacy of exclusion, racism, and antisemitism has caused for so many, and understand that the removal of an inscription does not alone redress that pain. We do believe that the removal of the inscription will open a door to healing and encourage the continuing work we do together to make Bryn Mawr a community of welcome and belonging.
We also note that The Cloisters contain the ashes of four individuals from the College’s early history, including those of M. Carey Thomas. We honor the sanctity of human remains and will preserve them as they exist today.
To live our values our spaces must reflect those values. We are looking forward to supporting the campus community in the work of reclaiming Old Library as a central part of our campus, and to re-enlivening it as a space of belonging for all. Ideally, in the future we will be able to see the building both as situated in its particular history and also as a beautiful work of architecture to be enjoyed by our community.
We have closely followed the multi-faceted work the College community has done toward creating an inclusive community. We are proud of the progress that has been made, and grateful for the changes we have seen unfold both in our campus community and in our Board. Most importantly, we have confidence in the deep and shared commitment to this work that ensures our community will continue to learn and grow.
We encourage the College to continue its strong support of telling our complex history and making these stories accessible to present and future members of the Bryn Mawr community. We believe M. Carey Thomas has a clear place in our ever-deepening understanding of Bryn Mawr’s history, alongside the many others who have made important contributions to the College.
We would like to acknowledge and thank:
- Our students, faculty and staff who have continued to shine light on the need to address the effects of Thomas’s exclusionary founding vision for the College.
- The many members of our community who are researching and illuminating untold Bryn Mawr stories, developing programs to advance community dialogue, fostering inclusive pedagogy and curricular development, and pursuing innumerable other initiatives that are strengthening Bryn Mawr. Community members have shared with us a common perspective that the removal of the Old Library inscription is most meaningful within the context of this expansive work to create the Bryn Mawr community and culture envisioned in our mission.
- Campus staff and faculty for the dedicated work that has underpinned all realms of campus life through challenges none of us anticipated in 2018.
- And finally, President Cassidy for her unceasing dedication to leading and supporting Bryn Mawr’s ongoing work to diversify our community and offer a sense of belonging to all its members.
We all have a part to play in building a welcoming, inclusive Bryn Mawr. We must treat each other with the same regard that we expect for ourselves and respect our principles of shared governance and the Honor Code as foundational to our community.
We are honored and grateful to work with this remarkable community to reach the aspirations we all share for Bryn Mawr today, knowing it will be our collective gift to the Bryn Mawr communities of the future.
Hazara Akthar ’15
Christy A. Allen’90
Cynthia Archer ’75, Chair
Sally Bachofer’ 97
Stephanie L. Brown ’75
Cynthia Chalker MSS/MLSP’98
Mary L. Clark ’87
Cecilia A. Conrad
Rhea Graham ’74
Jing-Yea (Amy) Hsu ’94
Diane Jaffee P’21
Kiki Jamieson ’88
Tuajuanda C. Jordan
Karen Kerr ’89
Gina S. Kim ’92
Jeffrey I. Kohn P’16
Amy T. Loftus ’90
Patrick T. McCarthy PhD ’81
Sara Moreno ’95
Tim Blake Nelson
Lori A. Perine’80
Margaret Sarkela ’74
Thabani Clemens Sinkula ’99
Janet L. Steinmayer ’77
Saskia Subramanian ’88, MA’89
Lorelei A. Vargas ’94
Severa von Wentzel ’95
Teresa Wallace ’79
Elizabeth Vogel Warren ’72
Jennifer Suh Whitfield ’98
Nanar Tabrizi Yoseloff ’97