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A Time of Transition

Bryn Mawr's Influence on Women's Colleges



Pembroke Hall, Bryn Mawr College. Courtesy of Special Collections Department, Bryn Mawr College Library.


During the late 19th and 20th century, the prevailing mood of women’s colleges was one of awakening and ambition. Women felt empowered, had a clear image of their identity and were ready to compete with men’s liberal arts colleges for recognition (8). As a result, the Collegiate Gothic style became the popular architectural choice for women’s college campuses in the early 1920s and 30’s, which spoke of a powerful testimonial, connecting them with the oldest focal point of learning in England.

“Under M. Carey Thomas, the first feminist to gain control over a woman’s college, Bryn Mawr became the innovator of curriculum and campus design” (9). She was extremely influential in associating women’s colleges with the tradition of Anglo-Saxon education and its expression in architecture. Her foresight embraced the “new” Collegiate Gothic architecture, including Jacobean design, which had formerly been reserved for co-educational and men’s colleges and universities.

Philadelphia Quaker architects, Walter Cope and John Stewardson shared Thomas’s enthusiasm for just the right architectural designs for the campus and, together, they enjoyed a mutually rewarding working relationship. So close was her collaboration with the architects, Cary Thomas “always guided and, at times, fully outlined the plan.” (10). Cope & Stewardson reached their mature architectural style in their design of the double dormitory, Pembroke East and West on Bryn Mawr’s campus.

By creating this landmark decision at Bryn Mawr College, President Thomas pointed women’s colleges toward the mainstream of collegiate architecture in America, previously associated with men’s colleges. In addition, she was an advocate in determining the character of many college campuses across the country.

Following in Bryn Mawr's footsteps, Mount Holyoke College's ambitious building program was a result of President Mary E. Woolley's foresight. She played a valuable role toward the advancement of designs that would provide the campus with a more Gothic look, similar to that of the all-male Ivy League colleges.

For More Information on Mary Woolley, Click Here

Atlas Home Page

Home Page

The History of Gothic Architecture:
Cambridge and Princeton
About Ralph Cram

A Time of Transition:
Bryn Mawr
Mary E. Woolley
Frederick Olmsted Jr.

The Envisioned Plan:
Program for Campus Development
Designs for the Library and Chapel
Shurtleff and Cram Present Their Ideas

The Implemented Plan:
Meetings and Discussions
Collens' Library Designs(Exterior)
Collens' Library Designs (Interior)
Bertha Blakely's Influence
Abbey Memorial Chapel
Charles Collens Dedication Speech and closing comments

Trivial Pursuit Question




This page was created by Ellie Perrier '07 FP in History 283, Spring 2006