Bryn Mawr College Struggles With the Racist Legacy of Its Second President

Bryn Mawr College, the highly rated liberal arts educational institution for women in suburban Philadelphia, has taken steps to distance itself from its second president – M. Carey Thomas – due to her racist and anti-Semitic views and statements.

Dr. Thomas was a graduate of Cornell University and held a Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Zürich. She joined the faculty at Bryn Mawr as chair of the English department in 1884. Later that year, she was elected president and remained in that role until 1922. During her tenure, she worked to keep Black students from attending the college. Addressing the 1916 incoming class, Dr. Thomas said, “If the present intellectual supremacy of the White races is maintained, as I hope that it will be for centuries to come, I believe that it will be because they are the only races that have seriously begun to educate their women.” An excellent biography of Thomas – The Power and Passion of M. Carey Thomas – was written in 1994 by Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, professor emerita at Smith College.

In the wake of recent events at the University of Virginia, Bryn Mawr College said that in printed materials and on its website, it will no longer refer to the Thomas Library or the Thomas Great Hall in the library. A committee of faculty, students, and staff has been established to make recommendations on how the college should handle the legacy of Thomas and whether the name of the library should be changed.

Kim Cassidy, president of Bryn Mawr College, thought action should be taken immediately rather than to wait for the committee to complete its work. She stated that “while Thomas had a profound impact on opportunities for women in higher education, she also openly and vigorously advanced racism.”

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