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 trustees wanted to create a female Haverford, to promote higher education to young, orthodox Quaker women in an environment that upheld both their sense of propriety and their religious standards. The design of Smith College corresponded with these principles perfectly, and the original board members commissioned their architect to repeat its buildings in “Quaker lady” dress, meaning that the adornments were meant to harmonize with the expression of the building, both intellectual and holy.
Thus, when the earliest students arrived, they were met with a campus that emulated that of Smith closely (fig. 2). The plan was composed of “central academic buildings… devoted to the more distinctive intellectual work of the institution” and surrounding them, “at convenient distances, in grounds laid out as a private park, smaller dwelling houses… as homes for the students.” Each residence hall was designed as a private dwelling and overseen by a cultivated, intelligent woman to guide the social and domestic practices of its habitants.
This design plan, implemented first by President Seelye at Smith, was believed to be not only practical, in terms of flexibility and fire prevention, but also more morally appropriate. According...