The First 300

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.

“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.
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.