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Athletics and Physical Education at Bryn Mawr College, 1885-1929

The Early Years: M. Carey Thomas

Portrait of M. Carey Thomas

M. Carey Thomas, a visionary for women's higher education, in 1896.


M. Carey Thomas was the first dean and second president of Bryn Mawr College. She envisioned an institution that would provide a world-class education to women students, and to a great extent her ambitions shaped the development of the college1. Thomas was well aware of prevailing views about women's health and higher education. She recalled in a speech delivered in January 1908 that

we did not know when we began whether women’s health could stand the strain of college education. We were haunted in those days by the clanging chains of that gloomy little spectre, Dr. Edward Clarke’s Sex in Education. With trepidation of spirit I made my mother read it, and was much cheered by her remark that as neither she nor any of the women she knew had ever seen girls or women of the kind described in Dr. Clarke’s book, we might as well act as if they didn’t exist. Still, we did not know whether college might not produce a crop of just such invalids. Doctors insisted that it would; we women could not be sure until we had tried the experiment2.


1. Horowitz, Helen Lefkowitz. The Power and the Passion of M. Carey Thomas. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.
2. Thomas, M. Carey. "President Thomas's Address." Reprinted from the Bryn Mawr Alumnae Quarterly, January 1908 in Offerings to Athena: 125 Years at Bryn Mawr College. Ed. Anne L. Bruder. Bryn Mawr, Pa.: Friends of the Bryn Mawr College Library, 2010, pp. 33.