Bryn Mawr College
Bryn Mawr College (1885) was founded upon an endowment from Dr. Joseph Wright Taylor, a Quaker businessman and physician. Dr. Taylor had observed the frustration of a daughter of a Baltimore friend who was unable to study at the graduate level. That young woman, Martha Carey Thomas, enrolled at the University of Zurich, graduating summa cum laude with a Ph.D. Taylor, a devoted member of the Society of Friends, died in 1880. He bequeathed the bulk of his estate to fund an institution “for the advanced education of females” providing “all the advantages of a College education which are so freely offered to young men.” (Nearby Haverford College, another Quaker institution, had begun in 1833). Bryn Mawr’s first president was Dr. James E. Rhoads, also a Quaker with close ties to Haverford College; the first dean was M. Carey Thomas. After Dr. Rhoads’ resignation, Ms. Thomas began a lengthy tenure (1894-1922). It was she who gave Bryn Mawr its special identity as a college determined to prove that women could successfully complete a curriculum as rigorous as any offered to men in the best universities.
Aerial view of the campus, 1958. The “Collegiate Gothic” buildings were set along the perimeter of a central green space. The grounds were planned by Calvert Vaux, then by Frederick Law Olmsted.
Cornelia Otis Skinner as Queen Elizabeth on May Day 1932.
Taylor Hall, 1884, designed by Addison Hutton, featured the high Victorian Gothic style of the times. The original campus building, it featured an asymmetrical tower, rich silhouetting, original detailing. Hutton chose monochromatic cut grey stone in keeping with the college’s heritage, reminiscent of “a certain style of Quaker lady dress.” It now contains some administrative offices and classrooms.
Wyndham House (c. 1876) is the oldest house on campus. Built in 1796 by Quaker widow, Patience Morgan, who added a handsome stone building to an old farm she inherited. When the family went into debt, it was sold to Thomas Humphreys (Bryn Mawr was first called Humphreysville) in the 1800s for $8,682. Thomas Ely became the owner in 1893. The college purchased it in 1926 for a residence hall. It now provides guest quarters, office space and a dining facility.
Bryn Mawr Yearbook photo, 1928.
Katharine Hepburn (Class of 1928), remembers her Bryn Mawr days in her autobiography, Me: Stories of My Life (Alfred A. Knopf, 1991). She furthered a Connecticut family tradition: her mother, also named Katharine Houghton Hepburn, was a Bryn Mawr graduate…and so were her mother’s sisters. Before college, her aunts also attended the Baldwin school next door.
“My first year, I lived in a suite in Pembroke West…room and bedroom, ground floor, first door on the right. Having not been in school for several years, I really was not at home or at ease with a lot of strange girls. I used to go to bed early. Then I’d get up at four thirty and go down the hall to the bathroom and have solitude in the hot and cold showers in the john. I used to eat fruit and cereal and milk for breakfast, so I could have that alone in my room, and avoid too many girls. I certainly did not consider myself beautiful.
I was just painfully self-conscious. My second year, I’d gotten used to all the girls and I supposed they got used to me. I belonged to a particular group. Easier to function with protection of a few others. These have more or less remained my friends, especially the ones living in New York and Connecticut.
My last three years at Bryn Mawr were nowhere near traumatic. I wasn’t a member of any club but I acted in several plays, which was fun…and fooled around with my pals and laughed a lot. In my last year I played Pandora in
The Woman in the Moon. This was part of a big May Day production.”
Through a friend who lived next door to the campus, Hepburn met a wealthy young man from Strafford named Ludlow Ogden Smith. He courted Katherine and they were married after her graduation in 1928. Hepburn has remained a devoted Bryn Mawr alumna, making return campus visits over the decades.
“They carry the distinguished mark.. the credible vigor, the subtlety of mind, the warmth of spirit, the aspiration, the fidelity to past and present.” – E. B. White
The first class, 1886 photo, and the faculty. M. Carey Thomas was determined to establish a college for women that blended the best of Smith,Vassar and Wellesley with the rigorous scholarship standards of Johns Hopkins. She recruited a young, largely male, faculty newly trained in German universities.She limited their teaching time to encourage study and research.Bryn Mawr became the first women’s college to develop graduate instruction leading to a doctorate for women.
The annual May Day festival started in 1900. It probably grew out of M. Carey Thomas’ love of the theater and the romance of earlier times. It was an Elizabethan extravaganza featuring Maypole dances and elaborately costumed plays, all staged as a way to raise funds. The May Day tradition continues, to the delight of students, parents and the community. The generosity of an alumna’s family later led to Goodhart Hall.
Pembroke Hall West (1894). Early domitory designed by Cope & Stewardson.
Rockefeller Hall (1904). Another early domitory designed by Cope & Stewardson.
Goodhart Hall, 1928, designed by Arthur Meigs, filled the college’s need for an auditorium. It is embellished with ironwork by Samuel Yellin. It is named for Marjorie Walter Goodhart of the Bryn Mawr class of 1912.
Miss Moore at Bryn Mawr.
Marianne Moore (Class of 1909), born in 1887, grew up in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. She never knew her father; her tight family was dominated by a mother who, early on, instilled high ideals and diligent work habits in her. Family friends had gone to Bryn Mawr and this stimulated the Moores’ interest. Soon this spirited young woman was surrounded by a circle of affluent friends with a broad range of interests. Marianne kept up a lively correspondence with her mother, revealing her unhappy and homesick freshman year. Mrs. Moore constantly implored her to persevere through discipline and self-control.
Marianne enjoyed shopping in Philadelphia. She sent home sketches of dresses she couldn’t afford; whereupon mother sewed a wardrobe that matched Marianne’s classmates. It was on a Philadelphia trip that she first saw a black tricorn that eventually became her trademark. Moore now had a circle of interesting friends who now enjoyed parties, plays, concerts, pageants, lectures and sports activities. Marianne ignored a teacher’s advice not to become an English major in her sophmore year and began submitting stories to Bryn Mawr’s literary magazine,
Tipyn O’Bob (Welsh, meaning “a little bit of everyone”). In the next years she submitted both fiction and poetry.
Moore read widely; admired the advanced social attitudes of G. B. Shaw, the feminist themes of Ibsen, the suffragist beliefs of Jane Addams. Now acclimated to Bryn Mawr life, she began her lifelong devotion to both social awareness and artistic excellence.
Long before her death in 1972, Marianne Moore ranked with Emily Dickinson among America’s finest women poets. As editor of
The Dial magazine (1925 to 1929) she played an important part in encouraging young writers and publishing their work. Her Collected Poems won the 1952 Pulitzer Prize for poetry.
[Adapted from Marianne Moore: A Literary Life, Charles Molesworth, Atheneum, New York, 1990]
Louis Kahn, 1972.
“In 1960, architect
Louis I. Kahn and Bryn Mawr College president, Katharine McBride, came together in a mutually inspiring relationship as architect/client to create one of this century’s great buildings, the Erdman Hall dormitory. It was my privilege as a young intern in Kahn’s studio to witness and be involved in the process.
Creation is often a patient search. For over a year, Kahn and his assistants had been struggling to translate the college’s design program of 130 student rooms and public spaces into a scheme. As in earlier works, he let geometry be the organizer…but could not find a comprehensive form. When he finally freed himself from the rigid dictates of geometry, and played with geometry, the final design emerged.
The building became three square buildings, connected at their corners. The outer walls being formed of an interlocking of student rooms around three inner public spaces: the entry hall, dining hall and living hall. These spaces receive light from towering light monitors. And the building fits into the sloping site.
With skillful modeling of materials (concrete, slate, wood, copper, lead) and sensitive scaling of elements, Kahn produced a building which is at once in harmony with the campus tradition and yet a bold statement of its time. It soon achieved international acclaim and remains today one of the great creations of its architect.”
Emma Bailey studies in her dorm room at Denbigh Hall, designed by Walter Cope & John Stewardson in 1891, one of their many buildings on the campus. Her ornate facilities contrast with Eleanor Donnelly Erdman Hall, honoring a 1921 graduate
It was designed by Louis Kahn in 1965. Kahn’s philosophy stated: “A dormitory should not express a nostalgia for home. It is not a permanent place, but an interim place.”
The Thomas Library (1903-1907) was another project by Cope & Stewardson.
The Great Hall (formerly the reading room) was a showpiece: cathedral ceiling painted with geometric Renaissance patterns; tall, lead-paned windows flooding the space with light. Ms. Thomas’ cremated remains are in the courtyard cloister. The Great Hall today remains a grand space for lectures, concerts and other student gatherings.
President M. Carey Thomas.
The Rhys Carpenter Library, named for Bryn Mawr’s late professor of Classical Archaeology, was designed by Henry Myerberg and opened in 1997. This astounding space is attached to the rear of the Thomas Library. The entrance is a four story atrium…a comfortable, sun-filled place. Names of art and archaeology faculty are on the main wall, with a frieze of plaster casts from ancient Halicarnassus. The most inspired plan was to place most stacks, study areas, lecture halls and seminar rooms underground. With a roof concealed by grass, this creative design provides an improved and delightful background for the historic library.