Given By President Thomas: Legacies of Power in the Library Collection

Bookplate from PR85 .P22 1894

Bookplate, PR85 .P22 1894, Canaday Library, Bryn Mawr College.

My project began while I was making the Bryn Mawr history survey last month. I work at Carpenter Library and (until recently) Canaday, and I spent a lot of time looking at the books in the library collection. As you probably know, we have a lot of older books dating to the college’s founding and before, and many of these books have elaborate bookplates detailing the history of their donation. These books and their bookplates said a lot about the college’s history, and the types of things that have been memorialized.

My interest was especially sparked by the earliest books to enter the Bryn Mawr Collection, from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Given the current campaign to rename Thomas Hall, I thought it was important to address the other ways that M. Carey Thomas is memorialized at Bryn Mawr and the many ways her legacy continues to shape the school. Although we may never open either of the two books I’m showing here (or the hundreds like them), her legacy is absolutely everywhere, from bookplates to the one above, books formerly in the Deanery library, to books like the one below that were procured by Mary Garrett. This school clearly needs to have a conversation about her and the oppression on which Bryn Mawr was built, and I want to make these books a part of that conversation.

Bookplate from PA3952 .S3 V.1 in Canaday

Bookplate, PA3952 .S3 V.1, Carpenter Library, Bryn Mawr College.

These books and bookplates present a lot of complexities about campus memory and public history. They are in a strange place between public and private — closed within books that are exclusively accessible to people within the college community, but also meant to be handled by generations of students.

I wanted to focus on bringing them into the open, not just to show previously hidden aspects of our history but also complicate our relationships with objects that we take for granted.

As was obvious from last class, I care a lot about the materiality of objects and their historical importance, and I think these books have a lot of value because they reveal something about the way that power structures and painful histories (including M. Carey Thomas’s legacy of white supremacy) shape the types objects that we interact with everyday. None of this presents a solution, or even addresses what my project would be. Really I just want a space to have these types of conversations, and realize the ways that money and power impact things like book buying policies.

A few years ago Haverford did an exhibit about the early library collection (link) and I’m thinking along those lines, but I want something that will more directly address Thomas’s legacy and the founding of the college as it relates to books and the library.

Bryn Mawr’s Legacy in Primary Education

For years, I have been fascinated by the connection Bryn Mawr has as a college with its neighboring primary/secondary schools. Both the Baldwin School and the Shipley School were started with the promise of preparing and sending their graduates to Bryn Mawr College for an education of a lifetime. There are traditions and academic philosophies of Bryn Mawr that both preparatory schools adopted in the hopes of not only mimicking Bryn Mawr, but embodying it. These practices not only shaped these schools in many ways, they also managed to stick in ways that they didn’t at Bryn Mawr or conversely fall to the wayside in ways that haven’t occurred at Bryn Mawr.

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Baldwin School Marching-In Dinner Blazer, 2015

Bryn Mawr College Blazer #2

Vintage Bryn Mawr College Blazer

I am proposing a project that explores the links and ties that Bryn Mawr has historically had to Baldwin and Shipley, displaying the history between the three institutions as well as the significance of Bryn Mawr’s influence on these schools that still display aspects of Bryn Mawr’s history that Bryn Mawr itself has lost. I would like to do this by highlighting the traditions of Baldwin’s Ring Day (where 10th graders receive their class rings), the Marching-In Dinner (where 11th graders receive their class blazers in colors that mirror Bryn Mawr’s class colors), the 12th graders ringing of the school’s bell/gong upon graduation, Banner Day (where the 9th graders come up with a banner to represent their class year), the creation of class songs during students’ time at Baldwin, and the donning of white dresses by students during special occasions including graduation. Additionally, I would like to examine the traditions that Baldwin has developed in its own time as a school and determine whether or not those traditions were influenced by the school’s decision to become a day school. In the case of Shipley, there is hardly any evidence in its public presentation that it was ever a girls boarding school, much less a feeder school to Bryn Mawr. Keeping this in mind, I would like to explore the history of the Shipley School, its original philosophy and mission, and determine the impact that the school’s decision to become a coed non-boarding college preparatory school has had on its mission statement, persona, and acknowledgment (or lack thereof) as a former all-girls school with traditions. From there, Shipley and Baldwin can be compared and contrasted in their decisions to go coed and stay single sex respectively, and how those decisions have impacted their ties to Bryn Mawr physically and philosophically.

Ringing the Bell Baldwin

Commencement Reception & Bell Ringing at Baldwin School, 2015

In terms of implementation, I am envisioning  a physical exhibit at Bryn Mawr that displays the history between the three schools. Due to Baldwin and Shipley’s close proximity yet younger environment age-wise, I would like to put on smaller-scale exhibits in each school that would be mainly for members of those schools’ communities as opposed to the general public. It would be great if they had a hands-on, interactive quality to them. Ideally, I would like to establish a walking tour that goes to historically significant spaces on each school’s campus in regards to traditions, such as the Cloisters and Taylor Bell on Bryn Mawr’s campus, and crafts a narrative between the schools. If there was time and resources, I would work with Bryn Mawr Special Collections and the historians at Shipley and Baldwin to craft an online exhibit, similar to Black at Bryn Mawr, and an archival collection that could be used to compile facts and photos of relevant articles from the three schools. Also, I would interview Provost Osirim, an alum and Board of Trustees member at Baldwin, for an anecdotal look into Baldwin and her opinion on how it compares to Bryn Mawr. I would contact the Shipley School to see if they have anyone currently working there or any alumni who attended Bryn Mawr as well who could speak to their experience at both schools.




From the Classifieds: Bryn Mawr through the War Years (1939 to 1945)

My project is directed at those who are interested in understand who BMC is understood by people who have never gone here, historically. By looking at those who placed ads in the college news, we can see how perceptions of BMC students changed as WW2 progressed:

  • If I could design any way to create this project I would make it a mixed art and history show piece, because I believe there is an inescapable connect between ads and art.
  • This would be a showcase the people who are entered in WWII, Bryn Mawr, Newspapers, Art, or just generally curious could come and enjoy this.

Continue reading

The Flower Petal Project

Below is a photo that I took of one of my favorite hobbies- drying flowers. I have always collected and dried/pressed flowers when a significant event in my life has taken place. These flowers are a physical representation to me of my memories, good or bad. By creating an activist project that focuses on claiming physical space in order to become visible with experiences of harm, I hope to draw on my own personal feelings on the importance of physicality with memory, erasure, forgetting, and healing.
Angela Motte

I am a firm believer in the importance of bringing to light erasure in history, especially if the group of people who are being silenced are oppressed by the mainstream culture. Tying together activism and history is a large part of why I plan to pursue history in other forms of higher education. I am a believer in restorative justice, and closure through group organization. One of the projects I am working on at Bryn Mawr is a new organization on campus- Students Against Sexual Harm (S.A.S.H.). Although this group is new, I have found that students have a deep connection to this topic. Whether students were themselves sexually harmed, or if someone knows of a student who has experienced harm, it is a difficult topic to navigate because of the content. I feel that because of this, students have not been given the space to bring to light experiences that they have had. As Bryn Mawr is a historically women’s college, our undergraduate experiences with sexual harm tend to be overlooked because it is assumed that ‘girls won’t do that,’ or that ‘those things only happen at co-educational schools.’ I want to combine a public history project with a healing experience for students who feel that they need a space of memory on campus. I feel that the public history project brings about real and significant change if it creates a voice for an underrepresented subject that is intrinsically influential to our student body.

This project relates to public history because it deals with memories of the community. My intended participants is the students of Bryn Mawr College, although the viewers would be the public at large. This project would trace the history of sexual harm on Bryn Mawr’s campus, dating back to The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (Clery Act), or earlier, depending on the cases. It would also address the history of sexual harm on campus, and the legislature that followed to protect students. I would additionally trace the specific actions that Bryn Mawr has taken to combat sexual harm. Continue reading

Proposal for Interpretive Labelling for Every Object in Canaday

As Monica mentioned in class, my project has had a slightly different trajectory than most. I came into this class in January with an idea of what I wanted to propose, something that was born from my senior thesis and the protests at various universities (including our own) that occurred this past November.

The specific impetus of my idea was the removal of the bust of Woodrow Wilson that previously sat (stood? was stationed?) on the first floor of Canaday Library. It had disappeared with no explanation sometime in late November or early December, and while I could only assume its removal had something to do with the protests regarding Wilson’s legacy at Princeton, it took me until mid-January to get an explanation of the specific situation that led to its removal.

I was frustrated by the bust’s removal because I felt, particularly in opposition with the laudatory sign about Wilson that stands behind Denbigh, that this bust would have offered us a chance to challenge Wilson’s legacy, rather than avoiding or denying it, by labelling the bust with details about Wilson’s life and the problematic agenda he advanced. As the petition to rename Thomas Hall began to circulate, I started to wonder whether a plaque of some sort could also be attached to M. Carey Thomas’s bust on the third floor of Canaday to a similar purpose of problematizing her legacy. Wandering around Canaday also made me realize that any number of the items on display– busts, artwork, you name it– is unlabelled, leaving students with no understanding of who these people or what these artifacts are, and why they matter to the College.

So, in a paragraph, the proposal I submitted to Canaday was: “This proposal recommends that the Bryn Mawr College Library & Information Technology Services provides interpretive labelling for all artifacts currently or recently on display in Canaday Library. It provides a survey of what Canaday’s current layout is and contrasts it with the labelling system used in Carpenter Library. Furthermore, it offers two examples with suggested label texts: one bust currently on display and one that was recently removed, with research done on the people they depict and the history of the artifacts. The proposal argues that such an undertaking would offer members of the Bryn Mawr community—staff, students, and faculty alike—a chance to more fully engage with the history of the College.”

For my sample labels, I drafted descriptions that could go next to the M. Carey Thomas bust and where the Woodrow Wilson bust once was. I submitted the proposal two weeks ago, and have a plan to meet with the library about it at the end of the month. Also included in the proposal were photographs of various unlabelled artifacts around Canaday, including one of the shelf on the Canaday A floor that used to host President Wilson. There are still scratch marks on that bookshelf, because the bust is quite heavy and there was some trouble moving it. This is the image I chose to represent my project, because it speaks to the absence of historical explanation, and to the fact that while we may not want to acknowledge it, traces of history remain all over campus.

WW Remnants