Bryn Mawr College Takes Action to Confront the Racism of a Former President

A year ago, Bryn Mawr College, the highly rated liberal arts educational institution for women in suburban Philadelphia, took steps to distance itself from its second president – M. Carey Thomas – due to her racist and anti-Semitic views and statements. A committee of faculty, students, and staff was established to make recommendations on how the college should handle the legacy of Thomas and whether the name of the Thomas Library should be changed.

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.

Now Ann Logan chair of the Bryn Mawr College Board of Trustees has announced that the Thomas name will remain inscribed on the library building. But the university will now refer to the building as “The Old Library” or “The Great Hall.” Awards at the college that had included the Thomas name will now be called the “Bryn Mawr College” prize or award.

Chair Logan explained that “in leaving M. Carey Thomas’ name on the building and not renaming it in another person’s honor, we will continue to value President Thomas’ many remarkable contributions to the College. The inscription also reminds us to confront all aspects of Thomas’ legacy and to tell our full history.”

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