In Her Own Right

M. Carey Thomas Papers

Date created
Creator M. Carey Thomas (1857-1935)
Abstract The M. Carey Thomas Collection at Bryn Mawr College is comprised of documents from two principal sources: Carey Thomas's personal papers and the official records surviving from her career at Bryn Mawr College. The third series is the Bryn Mawr School Papers. The fourth series is comprised of six photograph albums compiled by Carrie Chapman Catt depicting the history of the women's suffrage movement. M. Carey Thomas's personal papers consist of incoming and outgoing correspondence, family letters, autobiographical papers, business records, memorabilia and other miscellaneous materials. The college archives also includes Trustees' minutes, annual reports of the presidents to the Board of Trustees, faculty and administrative committee minutes, college bulletins and other publications which are not organized as presidential papers and are not included in the microfilm.
Description This collection is particularly rich in documenting Thomas's commitment first and foremost to women's education as the basis for equality and secondarily her participation in the suffrage movement. Never one to mince words, her personality—judgmental and demanding but also indefatigable, funny, and erudite—comes across clearly even in official documents. Materials related to the college document daily goings-on, Thomas's educational philosophy, including the need for women's education in particular, and, perhaps most interestingly, her close involvement in the lives of her students. Copious documentation of her chapel addresses, which she gave several times a week, are especially fascinating. Here, she shared announcements, college business, and disciplinary actions, and she gave lessons in history, scripture, and reform. Interactions with students and ad-libs are also included. Her letters to Anna Howard Shaw and others, addresses to NAWSA conventions, and other documents identify her specific place in the suffrage movement. Firmly on the side of NAWSA in its conflict with the Congressional Union, she considered the newer group as "hopelessly untruthful as the…anti-suffragists." (Later, however, she supported the ERA.) Thomas's arguments in favor of suffrage often revealed a deep conservatism—she related a story of how her mother became a suffragist after she had to hold the reins for her "ignorant negro coachman" so he could vote and often spoke of the necessity of educated women's votes to cancel out those of "foreign," "ignorant," and "criminal" men—but she also emphasized working women's need for the vote. Carrie Chapman Catt albums, while not related to Thomas per se, provide a visual record of the movement.
Research interest This collection will be especially interesting to historians of education, especially women and education; although Thomas was involved in many other issues, even this participation was often connected to education in some way. Many of Thomas's letters, articles, and speeches were about the quality of American education more generally, although she also, of course, took a particular interest in arguing for women's education, the values of single-sex vs. coed education, and refuting the arguments of people such as Edward Clarke. From an institutional perspective, relationships between and among students, faculty, and administration—often contentious—also receive a great deal of coverage.
Size 135 lf
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Contributing institution Bryn Mawr College
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