A New Model for Education and Architectural Expression in Women’s Colleges

A New Model for Education and Architectural Expression in Women’s Colleges

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The 1885 opening of Bryn Mawr College, represented the beginning of the end for traditional pedagogy and campus design for women’s colleges. Although its original scheme drew on Smith College’s design principles, the boundaries imposed in Northampton were cast off in the development of the new college. Molded by a woman experienced with Cornell, Johns Hopkins, and German universities, Bryn Mawr provided its students with a distinctive blend of university and women’s college. In this way, it separated from the architectural and governance practices that had typified the higher education of women and adopted for women the academic environment, scholarship, and behaviors of men. Specifically, Bryn Mawr dissolved the characteristic architectural tradition of the women’s colleges, with its goals of protection, control, and subjugation—not long after its conception, its more egalitarian quadrangles were claimed in the designs of the other members of the Seven Sisters campuses. These educational and design innovations would not have been possible without the efforts of Martha Carey Thomas, Bryn Mawr’s first dean and later president.
In 1877, Joseph Wright Taylor and a number of his colleagues on the Haverford College board decided to found a Quaker college for women, “for the advanced education and care of young women and girls of the higher and more refined classes of Society.” Located on a thirty-two-acre tract neighboring the Pennsylvania Railroad and five miles from Haverford, the Bryn Mawr campus was in its early stages designed by Addison Hutton (fig. 1). A Quaker architect who had just designed Barclay Hall at Haverford, Hutton was instructed to build in a way to tone down any excesses or fanciness.
Bryn Mawr’s founder and ...

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...ings to the 1930s. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984. 105-34.
Langdon, Emily A. “Women’s Colleges Then and Now: Access Then, Equity Now.” Peabody Journal of Education 76, no. 1 (2001): 5-30.
Merriam, Ruth Levy. “The Remodeling of the Deanery.” In A History of the Deanery, Bryn Mawr College. Bryn Mawr: Bryn Mawr College, 1965. 1-24.
McPherson, Mary Patterson. "A Century of Building at Bryn Mawr." Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 142, no. 3 (1998): 399-415.
Vickery, Margaret Birney. “The Little Band of Pioneers: Girton College.” In Buildings for Bluestockings. Cranbury: Associated University Press, 1999. 1-40.
Wein, Roberta. “Women’s Colleges and Domesticity, 1875-1918.” History of Education Quarterly 14, no. 1 (1974): 31-47.
Welch, William H. “Contribution of Bryn Mawr College to the Higher Education of Women.” Science 56, no. 1436 (1922): 1-8.

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