Herding Cats, Bacon Bats, Mountain Day, and More

I was particularly excited to read “Educate a Girl?? You Might as Well Attempt to Educate a Cat!” — this week’s reading about Smith College’s archives. Besides the ironic title, I enjoyed reading this piece because I got the chance to examine Smith’s archives myself as a part of their History Summer at Smith precollege program almost 4 years ago.  Similar to the glimpses of Bryn Mawr’s archival items that we saw last Tuesday, the archived items at Smith were scrapbooks, photo albums, yearbooks, and miscellaneous items such as dance cards. Another thing that the collections had in common was the snark, wit, and the dialectically serious and care-free attitude of the women attending both colleges in their early years.

Though he was only mentioned briefly in the reading and in relation to encouraging women’s education, I learned while at Smith that President Seelye, like M. Carey Thomas, wasn’t always revered in the Smith community. He often remarked how the women attending the College should behave like proper ladies and didn’t fail to lament them when they were too “rambunctious”. Like Bryn Mawr students, the students at Smith bristled at the thought of following mandatory rules and used their guile to subvert the somewhat oppressive system of higher education at Smith College. In fact, much to President Seelye’s dismay, I’m sure the students at Smith College in the early 20th century would’ve screen-printed “Educate a Girl?? You Might as Well Attempt to Educate a Cat!” onto their clothing if given the technology.

One thing that caught my attention about this reading was how some traditions managed to stand the test of time, such as Mountain Day — a day only known to the President of the College until the day of when the clock tower bell is rung and classes are cancelled, encouraging students to venture out into the surrounding area for a nature retreat. Other traditions however, like Bacon Bat — a time when small groups of students would picnic into nearby rural spots — has disappeared or perhaps evolved into something new, something more modern. Like leaving campus to go to a coffeeshop or diner with friends. I think that our ability to look through archives and to see what things have happened in the past helps to inform us how rapidly or drastically things can change (or not change) within colleges.

Relating Smith’s archives to Bryn Mawr’s, there are still so many unanswered questions about Bryn Mawr’s past history that have yet to be answered or even inquired. I hope that once the College hires an official Bryn Mawr archivist that new things as well as old things will be discovered and added to the public’s knowledge of Bryn Mawr College.

One last thing I want to address is the issue of “herding cats” that Young posed towards the end of the article, talking about the difficulty of obtaining archival materials from alumnae/i due to sentimentality, hopes to make big bucks, and as we talked about in class, individuals thinking that their materials lack importance or significance. Young argued that the internet has helped to remedy this situation in some ways. However, she wonders if digitization and internet resources will be enough to overcome the hardships that archiving is encountering. I pose the same question for Bryn Mawr and its archives.