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Residing in the Past: Space, Identity, and Dorm Culture at Bryn Mawr College

Building Bryn Mawr: Adapting Tradition

Pembroke Hall Exterior

For all the inspiration that Oxford and Cambridge provided, Thomas decidedly did not desire to imitate them wholly. She set out to innovate. In a memorial speech, she heralds the work of the architects, Walter Cope and John Stewardson:

We cannot, I think, honour too greatly the genius that creates for us a new form of art. The collegiate Gothic of Denbigh and Pembroke and of Mr. Cope's later collegiate buildings is surely not a copy of any Oxford or Cambridge building, or group of buildings; it is rather the spirit of any Oxford or Cambridge architecture reproduced in a new form by a wonderfully sympathetic understanding of  changed architectural conditions...that our Bryn Mawr buildings are truly original in their adaptation of Jacobean Gothic, and possessed of more romance and charm than any of the except for the very most beautiful of the older college of Oxford and Cambridge...


The emphasis on the buildings as “truly original in their adaptation” posits Bryn Mawr as the inheritor of scholarly tradition as well as its adaptor. Thomas speaks of the buildings of Bryn Mawr in very much the same rhetoric that she used to discuss her aspirations for the transformation that will occur inside their walls: the creation of a new order of a woman scholar.