Black at Bryn Mawr at the American Historical Association 2016 Meeting

via the Greenfield Digital Center:

ahaGoing to AHA 2016? Greenfield Director Monica Mercado will be speaking about recent Bryn Mawr College projects on the panel “Teaching History through Archives.” Her paper, “Archives Praxis: Supporting Independent Study and Experiential Learning in Special Collections,” will detail student work including “Black at Bryn Mawr” and “We Are/We Have Always Been,” initiated by undergraduate student researchers:

How might faculty and archivists encourage students to undertake a sustained engagement with local archives and special collections, beyond the one-time class visit? Monica L. Mercado will detail recent projects centered on the Bryn Mawr College Archives, designed by students, and made possible by the College’s Praxis Program, which gives undergraduates the ability to conduct semester-long fieldwork for credit at a wide variety of research sites. Reflecting student interest in unpacking the historical context for a number of current campus conversations, these projects and their public-facing products have had the added benefit of drawing the attention of the larger campus community to the College Archives and its rich but understudied women’s history collections. Through discussion of three case studies, the paper will consider the role of History faculty, archivists, and librarians as supervisors and collaborators with undergraduate students; the possibilities these projects offer for developing contemporary collecting efforts and digital tools; and the opportunities and constraints of teaching with archives outside of the traditional classroom setting. As experiential learning offerings grow in popularity on our campuses, this paper argues that college and university archives can support undergraduate learning goals in new ways with benefits for multiple constituencies.

For more on the conference, follow the #AHA16 Twitter stream or search the online program.

[Update 1/14/16: Tweets from the Teaching through Archives have been collected on Storify, available here.]


Enid Cook, 1927-1931: Bryn Mawr’s First Black Graduate

Enid Cook, Class of 1931, in her senior yearbook picture.

Enid Cook, Class of 1931, in her senior yearbook picture.

by Grace Pusey

Enid Cook was the first African American woman to obtain her degree from Bryn Mawr College. Prior to matriculating to Bryn Mawr, Cook graduated from Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. (the first academically elite public high school for Black students in the U.S.) and spent one year at Howard University, where she was a straight-A student.1 She transferred to Bryn Mawr in 1927, where she majored in chemistry and biology.2 Six years after she graduated in 1931 she earned a Ph.D. in bacteriology in 1937 from the University of Chicago, where she went on to become a lecturer in the department of medicine from 1937-1944. In 1944 she married Arcadio Rodaniche, a doctor, and moved with him to Panama, where she served as the chief of the Public Health Laboratory for four years, then as a professor of microbiology at the University of Panama from 1954-1974. A highly gifted and pioneering woman in the sciences, Enid Cook published more than fifty articles in the field of arthropod-borne viruses over the course of her career.3

Cook’s exemplary academic record, however, did not preclude her from experiencing obstacles created to her admission to Bryn Mawr or from suffering social isolation and food insecurity stemming from the College’s stipulation that she reside off campus during her undergraduate career.4 She was fully aware of the challenges she would face at an all-white institution when she applied to the College, however, and refused to be deterred by them. Continue reading

  1. Emily T. Douglas to Marion Park, April 3, 1926, Letter, Marion Park Papers 1922-1942, Box 29 IDB3, “Park Students — Negro,” Bryn Mawr College Special Collections, Bryn Mawr, PA. []
  2. Anne L. Bruder, “Enid Cook, Class of 1931.” Offerings to Athena: 125 Years at Bryn Mawr College (Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, PA: Friends of the Bryn Mawr College Library, 2010): p. 107. []
  3. Ibid. []
  4. Acting President of the College to Mrs. Talbot Aldrich, July 18, 1930, Letter, Marion Park Papers 1922-1942, Box 29 IDB3, “Park Students — Negro,” Bryn Mawr College Special Collections, Bryn Mawr, PA. []

Letter from M. Carey Thomas to Marion Park


by Grace Pusey

Emma and I commenced our research on Black history at Bryn Mawr with a file labeled “Park Students – Negro” in a box of papers pertaining to Marion Park’s presidency housed at Bryn Mawr College Special Collections in Canaday Library. Marion Park was President of the College from 1922-1942, and though her administration was not the first to handle the “question” of Black students’ admittance to Bryn Mawr, it was the first to craft admissions policies that set a precedent for the admission of Black students to Bryn Mawr as non-residents.

In response to a compromise proposed by President Park that Black students could attend Bryn Mawr, but only if they lived off campus, M. Carey Thomas (who served as the College’s second President from 1894-1922 and remained an influential College voice after her retirement) wrote a letter to Park dated September 7, 1926 expressing her support. After all, she opined, permitting Black students to live in residence alongside white students would “[…] outrage the social conventions to which [white students] and their families are accustomed,” and such a policy could not be carried out “[…] without arousing deep resentment, and, as a consequence, losing much loyalty, financial support, and very many highly desirable white students from our home state of Pennsylvania, New York, and other Middle Atlantic states, and practically all our Southern students.” Moreover, Thomas insisted that “[…] there seems to be little, if any, appreciable movement toward the admission of negroes into our social life […]. On the contrary, I believe, that the result of the scientific studies of the effects of immigration and of the teachings of heredity now being made are leading us in the other direction.”

In other words, Thomas believed that modeling social reform was less vital to the College’s mission than securing financial backing bequeathed to the institution by white students and families who relied on Bryn Mawr’s reputation to bolster and perpetuate their elite status in white society, especially given that “scientific studies of the effects of immigration and of the teachings of heredity” engendered doubt that social reform would prove necessary or valid at all in the long term. Admitting Black students to Bryn Mawr as non-residents only would appease advocates of social reform, at least temporarily, while minimizing the risk of alienating Bryn Mawr’s key financial constituents.

The non-residency stipulation for Black students’ admission was a noncommittal answer to the question of whether or not Black women should be entitled to the same educational and social opportunities as white women. To the question of social opportunities, Bryn Mawr’s response was a firm “no.” Black students’ exclusion from campus life was designed to prevent them from socializing with white students as much as possible, and preferably not at all. To the question of educational opportunities, Bryn Mawr extended a reluctant “yes” that could be — and in fact, later was — rescinded gradually without reneging on established precedent by manipulating the rules and regulations imposed on students residing off campus. (Emma and I will elaborate on this in forthcoming posts.)

The letter from M. Carey Thomas to Marion Park demonstrates that, even with the implementation of reforms that permitted Black students to earn degrees from Bryn Mawr for the first time in the College’s history, the administration’s prerogative was not progress, but appeasement.

A scanned copy of the letter and a typed transcription after the jump. Continue reading