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

The Economy of Space: Silent Contributions

The price of dorms and the cost of books were not the only monetary costs associated with becoming a scholar in the Bryn Mawr community.

Hilda Worthington Smith comments on the stress and anxiety surrounding the contributions to college that were not always visible but deeply felt by those who, like Arnold, had depleted their resources:

Yet in spite of the attainments of our scholarship and loan fund students, I regretted the bitter struggle they had to make for self support, along with their college work. Often these girls broke down physically, seldom however in their college work.

In the letters of freshman Frances Arnold to her mother (known here as "Midge"), Frances recounts financial expectations of a freshman in 1874. She writes in the facing facsimile:

I am forced to make the usual demand for money wh. seems to be part of every letter to you. I am sorry, Midge, but it doesn't seem to me that I have spent my money unnecessarily. There are a great many things to which a freshman is expected to contribute and also to buy...

Arnold goes on in the letter to discuss her expenses, listing her contributions to the student publications as well as personal items for which she had to travel to Philadephia. She goes on to ask for an additional $5 for the coming month and pledges "This is a humilating confession, but I will try to be better."

Arnold's letters illuminate anxiety about her participation in her community and the correlation to her finances. This letter demonstrates Arnold's surprise at how these unanticipated or silent contributions are a means of cultural capital and become identifying spaces within the community. While her mother may have anticipated these extra expenses, what we can ascertain is that being a female scholar came at a higher cost than most anticipated.