Black at Bryn Mawr: The Digital Tour

Cast of maids' and porters' play, ca. 1939 | Bryn Mawr College Special Collections, Bryn Mawr, PA

Cast of maids’ and porters’ play, ca. 1939 | Bryn Mawr College Special Collections, Bryn Mawr, PA

by Grace Pusey

The Black at Bryn Mawr digital tour is now live and can be viewed online here! The digital tour is not designed to replace the walking tour experience, but instead supplements it by enriching each location with archived photographs, digital materials, and links to other digitally accessible resources. The digital tour also includes information about sites too distant to include on the walking tour. Please note that the digital tour is still a work in progress and that the site is in beta mode, so the program may be a little buggy. I plan to update the map with new information, photographs, and resources throughout the summer, so stay tuned!

Emma’s Reflections: Speaking, Questioning, Moving Forward

by Emma Kioko

Now that our Black at Bryn Mawr research project is finishing for this semester, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on my experiences leading six public walking tours in April and May and a handful of private tours. (Grace and I were even given the opportunity to present an abridged version of the tour to President Cassidy and Provost Osirim!)


Emma Kioko ’15 and Grace Pusey ’15 introduce the Black at Bryn Mawr tour in Thomas Great Hall (May 6, 2015). Photograph courtesy of the Office of College Communications.

When I originally proposed the idea of the walking tour last summer, and then again in the Fall of 2014, I overlooked the amount of anxiety speaking and presenting in front of large groups of people usually causes me. As Grace and I researched for the tour, none of my nerves kicked in–with the amount of research we had to cover, reaching the walking tour stage of our project always seemed so far away. It wasn’t until the morning of our first tour that I started to panic. There are so many stories of black experiences on campus that our semester-long research period was unable to uncover, so many more angles of research that we were both interested in exploring. I felt a little bit unprepared. The night before the first tour, in fact, when Grace and I met to run through a quick overview of the tour, a Spanish professor stopped to tell us a story about Black student Enid Cook (Class of 1931) outraging students and the administration when she was let into Rockefeller dorm by another student. As interesting as the story was, it was just another reminder for me of just how many stories still sat undiscovered, despite how much information we had uncovered during our time in Special Collections.

Emma speaks to Professor Beard's Black Bards class (April 21, 2015). Photograph by Monica Mercado.

Emma speaks to Professor Beard’s Black Bards class (April 21, 2015). Photograph by Monica Mercado.

On the day of the first tour, I was grateful that our fieldwork advisor, Monica Mercado, suggested holding “test run” tours. The friendly faces in Professor Linda-Susan Beard’s Black Bards class really helped me get over my nerves and the initial awkwardness of testing out the precarious boundary between presenting academic research and presenting a walking tour. One of the greatest challenges leading up to the tour, for me, was challenging myself to break out of my academic voice. While preparing for the tour, Grace and I even had to scrap a huge document that detailed everything we wanted to discuss, because when we practiced for the tour and read from the paper we had written, it came out dry and incredibly academic. Negotiating the difference between the language I would use for a paper and the language I ended up using on the walking tour was not an easy process. Continue reading

Grace’s Reflections on Black at Bryn Mawr

by Grace Pusey

Grace Pusey and Emma Kioko give a Black at Bryn Mawr tour to Professor Linda-Susan Beard's Tuesday morning class. (Credit: Monica Mercado)

Standing in front of Taylor Hall, Grace Pusey and Emma Kioko give a Black at Bryn Mawr tour to Professor Linda-Susan Beard’s Tuesday morning class. (Credit: Monica Mercado)

To date, Emma Kioko and I have given five tours to more than sixty students, staff, faculty, alumnae, trustees, and members of the local community. There are three more public tours scheduled for the semester; happily, two of these are tours we had to add to accommodate the overwhelming volume of interest in the project. I will also be offering a presentation on my digital walking tour at the Greenfield Center‘s “Women’s History in the Digital World” conference at Bryn Mawr College on May 21. The groundswell of support for Black at Bryn Mawr, I argue, is a testament to its necessity to the College community, and the positive feedback we’ve received on this blog (with its readership of 1,300+ strong) speaks to its value as a replicable model for similar public history projects. Overall, my experience with Black at Bryn Mawr has been incredible.

The project’s multidimensional approach to engaging the College community in understanding experiences of Black students, staff, and faculty throughout its history has deepened my awareness of Black history at Bryn Mawr and unsettled many of my assumptions about the spaces I move through and inhabit on campus. For example, I was unaware that servant tunnels even existed at Bryn Mawr prior to collaborating with Emma on a place-based approach to the College’s Black history, and had no idea that there was a cemetery behind English House, let alone one that belonged to a slaveholding Quaker family. I was not cognizant of the massive amount of unnamed, unseen, and now largely forgotten Black labor that went into building the College and curating its reputation as an aesthetically appropriate environment in which white women could socialize and study. I was unaware of M. Carey Thomas’ racist rhetoric and white supremacist beliefs and did not know that she envisioned Bryn Mawr not only as a place where women would be trained to become social, political, and cultural leaders, but as a place where white women would be groomed to inherit co-ownership of a role that had long belonged exclusively to white men: dominating over men and women of color. I feel like I have begun to grasp the gravitas of the fact that I walk daily through hallways and sit in classrooms designed to enrich the lives of women who look like me at the expense of Black women and other women of color.

As I draft the forthcoming digital tour (which will debut in May), this realization hits me even more viscerally in ways that force me to stop and think. For example, I have encountered photographs of a student’s room with Uncle Tom and pickaninny caricatures painted on the walls, and know from archival research that Black maids would have vacuumed and changed the sheets in that room every day while living in abysmal conditions themselves. It reminds me that College housekeeping and dining services staff, of whom many, if not most, are Black, are much less able to take an hour out of their day for the walking tour, spare the time to read this blog, or see the digital tour. I am overjoyed by the unanimously positive responses to the walking tour we’ve received so far, but if I could rewind time and restrategize our outreach to these groups, I would.

Student's dorm room, Merion Hall ca. 1902-1905 | Bryn Mawr College Special Collections, Bryn Mawr, PA

Student’s dorm room, Merion Hall ca. 1902-1905 | Bryn Mawr College Special Collections, Bryn Mawr, PA

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A Note on Method: Researching “Black Labor at Bryn Mawr”

by Grace Pusey

Two laborers working on Merion Hall ca. 1903. | Bryn Mawr College Special Collections, Bryn Mawr, PA.

Two laborers working on Merion Hall ca. 1903. | Bryn Mawr College Special Collections, Bryn Mawr, PA.

During my Historical Methods seminar on Monday, Professor Sharon Ullman requested that I write a post discussing the methodology I used for “Black Labor at Bryn Mawr: A Story Imagined Through Census Records, 1880-1940.” Conspicuously absent from my essay, she noted, was any mention of a group of College employees who migrated from a small town in Tennessee to Bryn Mawr over the course of several generations to work as maids. I was aware of the story of these maids when I conducted research for my post, but I did not write about them because I was unable to corroborate the story using the sources available to me. Because of this omission, Professor Ullman felt my essay made the history of Black labor at Bryn Mawr seem like a closed narrative. I did not draw enough attention to gaps in historical understanding and knowledge that exist due to a dearth of information available on the topic. Instead, I glossed over these gaps or omitted them from my narrative entirely. My goal here is to offer a corrective to my original narrative by providing a brief overview of my research methodology.

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