Writing is always a risk. People say to “write what you know,” which is safe advice to be sure, but fiction will inevitably push these boundaries. For me, the history is what I know, so the history is where I start. But sometimes plot bunnies lead me down dangerous plot burrows.
A few years ago, I was trying to find an American source to describe the entrance into Manila Bay via steamer ship. One of the best I found was written by a traveler named Annabelle Kent:
…we were hardly outside the harbor before it became very rough, the flying spray beat against the saloon windows, and it was necessary for our chairs to be lashed to the rail. I am never sea-sick, but once ensconced in my steamer chair, it seemed best to stay there, and it really was a delight to sit there snugly wrapped up from the flying spray and watch the huge waves thundering around our little boat, which rode them like a bird….Before [landing] I had gone down to the cabin to do the repacking for my sick roommate and myself. This was no joke; with the trunks sliding around with every movement of the ship, I had to dodge the one while I held on to the other and crammed things into it.…
Wow, now that’s evocative writing. Why was Ms. Kent so impervious to seasickness, I wondered? I went back to the beginning of the book to read this: “I would like to show others, as well as my deaf brethren and sisters, how much pleasure and profit one can get through travel not only in Europe, but the Orient. I am not merely hard of hearing, but entirely deaf.”
What is the connection between deafness and intrepid water travel? Apparently, those with a damaged vestibular system are far less likely to be seasick:
The US Navy ran an experiment in the 1960′s where they put a few Deaf men…in a window-less galley of a ship in the middle of a horrendous storm off of Newfoundland. As the ship tossed, the Deaf men sat at a table and played cards. Meanwhile, every Naval scientist became seasick.
There is a nice sort of justice there. As I read more of Ms. Kent’s book, I learned how she circumnavigated the globe—part of the time with friends, but mostly with complete strangers, all without a sign language interpreter. One of the most adventurous women of her era, Ms. Kent was perfect material for a romance heroine!
But, wait. Hold on. What do I know about deafness and Deaf Culture? Watching movies doesn’t count because they are so often written by the hearing. As blogger Charlie Swinbourne wrote about deafness in the movies:
On one hand, it’s exciting to see characters like yourself represented on screen. On the other hand, you get the FEAR.
Fear of what? Well, of the deaf character being hard to understand (especially if they’re being played by an inexperienced signer), or of their presence in the story being insubstantial and throwaway.
Worst of all, you get the fear of their appearance on screen being unrealistic, making it hard to believe in, and enjoy the story.
Swinbourne proceeds to list the top ten errors from real films. Some of the errors are obvious: a person cannot lipread when he or she is turned away from the speaker, or while sitting in the dark, or at night, and so on. And, yet, these things happen in movies all the time. If I have managed to avoid any of these pitfalls (eh…I did okay, but not perfectly), it was because of Mr. Swinbourne’s blog, The Limping Chicken, and other sources. (Also, see his own films here.)
Could a deaf writer have written my character, Della Berget, better than me? Yes, no doubt. Are there better books out there about Deaf Culture? Uh, like every one written by someone hard of hearing. But the story of Hotel Oriente, the opening novella of the Sugar Sun series, was grounded in history, and that is my comparative advantage. I decided to take a risk and write Della as best I could. Of course, this meant research.
I found out some interesting aspects of deaf education at the beginning of the 20th century:
The federally-chartered university for the hard of hearing, Gallaudet, known today for proudly teaching in two languages (American Sign Language and spoken English) was forced by Congress to teach only the “Oral Method” of communication throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. “Oralism” meant lipreading/speechreading paired with speaking. So, if you were wondering why my heroine Della does not use ASL, it is because the “experts” of her age felt it was the duty of those hard of hearing to assimilate to the hearing world, rather than acknowledging the value of their own vibrant culture. An 1880 conference of these “experts” in Milan even tried to ban “manualism,” or sign language! Though that law was not binding, it guided Congress. Even prominent hearing folks like Alexander Graham Bell got involved. (He wanted Gallaudet to stop hiring deaf teachers, whom he felt would emphasize sign language.)
The emphasis on lipreading began with an incredibly patronizing idea: that all Deaf secretly wish to hear. This is not true. Limping Chicken blogger Toby Burton puts it best: “If you were to offer me a pill that would grant me [hearing], I’d be offended. Would you say to a woman,‘Take a pill and become a man, you might have more opportunities’? Of course not.” A story from Annabelle Kent’s 1911 book shows the time-tested nature of this truth: “…there happened to be a young man in the party who was totally blind. I was full of sympathy for him, but he, instead of feeling regret, thought the sympathy should be bestowed on me since I was deaf instead of blind.” You know the adage about making assumptions.
Gallaudet began accepting women in 1887, but they were not treated equally. In fact, the school newspaper describes a harrowing welcome for some of them: “all the [male] students would line up in rows and thus compel them to run a daily gauntlet of masculine curiosity.” Gee, that’s fun. And because women could not attend clubs and society meetings without a chaperone, they could never assume the highest positions of leadership. For example, even though women were influential in starting the school newspaper, the Buff and Blue, a young man would always be chosen for editor-in-chief because he could make the meetings without fail. This inequity is one of the reasons why my heroine, Della, an aspiring journalist, will leave college early to accompany her congressman grandfather to the Philippines: she is hoping to find fresh opportunities on the new American frontier.
And yet Gallaudet may have been more expensive back then. The 1900 tuition was $250, which in terms of 2016 commodity value is $19500—not so far off the current tuition of $19,852 for an undergraduate student, including a health insurance fee. But, when you consider the value of $250 as a proportion of someone’s income in 2016, it is the equivalent of $52,800—more than twice the current fee. (All inflation calculations are courtesy of Measuring Worth.)
Since there are no other deaf people that Della knows in her corner of Manila, there is no real treatment of Deaf Culture and its rewards, nor would I be the best person to translate these ideas to the page. Still, I would consider Hotel Oriente a form of cross-cultural romance, like my other books. ‘Cause that’s my jam.
One of the startling social changes of Gilded Age America was the increasing number of young women who attended colleges and universities. Though the most elite were the “Seven Sisters” established in the Northeast–Smith, Vassar, Wellesley, Mount Holyoke, Bryn Mawr, Barnard, and Radcliffe–dozens women’s colleges sprang up across the United States by the turn-of-the-century with the aim of providing middle-class young women with the necessary education for earning a living. These colleges were aware of the skepticism of higher education for women, as well as the burden of graduating young women who would prove the skepticism wrong, and operated much differently than traditional men’s colleges and even co-ed universities.
The difference between life at girls’ and at men’s colleges is just the difference between girls and young men. It is not the difference in curriculum, or lecture-room, or gymnasium, or team and track athletics. It is a difference in tone, and this tone is the effect of two causes:–
First. The seriousness with which the college girl regards her course.
Second. The thoroughly feminine consideration with which she regards her fellows.
Regarding the former, nine-tenths of the girls at college are there for the purpose of fitting themselves to earn a livelihood. They are aiming to become professors, tutors, lawyers, doctors, litterateurs. They are not, generally, the daughters of wealthy parents. These go to a finishing school, and study the limitations, rather than the possibilities, of society. The female college students are mostly drawn from those medium walks of life wherein ambition is given impetus by necessity. The college girl does not give up four or five years of her life for the purpose of being called “college-bred,” as many of her brothers do; nor to gain admittance to an exclusive university club, or those circles to which a college education is the open sesame; nor “to humor the governor,” at a large cost per annum for indulging his whim. The college girl takes up her course because she loves it, and because it is the means to a much-desired end.
It is this consideration for the feelings of others that gives to the girls’ colleges their distinctly feminine tone.
From the raw, self-conscious days of the sub-freshman to the passing out of the senior, the girl collegian finds cordial greetings and ready sympathy every where.
The “honor system” of self-government is in force at Vassar and several other colleges. According to this system, rules and regulations are abolished, and each girl pledges herself to retire at ten, with three exceptions each month if necessary; to attend chapel every day, and to take at least one hours’ exercise.
In all the large colleges, there are committees appointed to take charge of the new arrivals, each girl meeting her protegée at the railway station, at t e n d in g to the details of her luggage, and not leaving her until she has seen her safely settled in the new quarters. The seniors usually have first choice of rooms, preferring to be located along the senior corridor, into which no lower classman dares venture, unless accompanied by a senior. Rooms are divided into suites of four sizes: fire walls, consisting of four bedrooms and parlor; parlors, consisting of three bedrooms and parlor; doubles, with two bedrooms and parlor, and singles, consisting of one room.
When three or four girls who are congenial occupy a suite, their college association can be made most pleasant. Fitting up her quarters will be regarded by the freshman as the most serious work of the term’s beginning. She will catch glimpses of senior rooms, disclosing revelations on art from the college viewpoint— which has nothing to do with art by any other standard. Her own rooms—the bedroom containing bed, bureau, table and chair, the parlor a “parlor suite”—will look woefully barren; but she soon realizes how little is required to gain the popular effect—a few outré posters, inexpensive etchings and prints in dainty frames, flags of men’s colleges, class colors, field pennants, tennis rackets, riding-whips, foils, orders of dance, college cushions, a tabaret, an India seat, a tea-table, couch, spirit lamp and chafing-dish. All these things may be purchased at a shop in the college town whose proprietor can tell the wants of the freshmen better than they can themselves: or there will be advertisements on the bulletin-board, for sale or exchange.
Often the members of the graduating class leave their room furnishings with “self-help” girls, to be disposed of on commission to incoming freshmen, who are very glad to get bargains. Meanwhile the freshman has chosen her hours for lectures and recitation—usually not more than four out of the eight hours, with two hours more for study. The hardest work of the college course comes in freshman year. Still there is time for relaxations and the forming of friendships. In September, or the early part of October, the sophomores formally welcome the freshman to college social life. The form of this entertainment varies at the different colleges.
At Bryn Mawr the year is opened by a series of informal teas in honor of the freshmen, which give good opportunities for new acquaintances to the girl socially inclined. Next after these comes the “Presentation of Lanterns.” This fête has become a tradition at Bryn Mawr, and is a very pretty one. Each freshman is presented with a lantern to light her on her way through college, and some of the presentation speeches are very clever and full of local wit. Six weeks later the freshmen reciprocate, entertaining the sophomores with return speeches and toasts, and singing their class song, which until this time ‘has been closely guarded. It is on this occasion that the freshmen are mentally and socially engaged by the older fellows, who are looking out for worthy acquisitions to their societies.
Wellesley’s “Floral Sunday” is an eloquent goodwill offering to the freshmen. The first Sunday after her arrival, each freshman finds at her breakfast plate a bunch of fragrant blossoms, tied with ribbons of the sophomore class color, with an accompanying card bearing the inscription, “Love one another, ” or “God is love, ’’ or whatever like theme has been chosen for the chapel address. On this morning the chapel is fragrant with flowers, the decorations being the result of sophomore effort and good will.
Smith’s “Freshman Frolic” is a very pretentious affair. The dance is held in the “gym,” which has been transformed by boughs and blossoms, palms and vines, national flags and college emblems. Each soph constitutes herself a cavalier for the freshman to whom she is assigned. She sends her flowers, calls for her, fills her order of dance, introduces her partners, fetches ices and frappés between dances and takes her to supper. The whole method of procedure is apt to impress the freshman ludicrously at first, except that the soph fulfils her duties with so much dignified seriousness. Nor does the new order of things stop with the close of the dance. Every soph sees her partner home, begs for a flower and changes orders for souvenirs, and if the freshman has taken advantage of the opportunity and made the desired hit, there are dates for future meetings and jollifications, and a good-night over the balusters, as lingering and cordial as any the freshie has left behind her. And if the gallant soph who lives in another hall runs away from her shadow on the way back to her own dormitory, it’s nobody’s business but her own. Her duties in knight-errantry are at an end.
At Vassar the girls go a step farther, those who fill men’s parts at the dances affecting bloomers, sack-coats disclosing a wide expanse of shirt-front, white lawn ties and buttonhole bouquets.
By the time the freshman festivities are over, the upper classmen have judged the new stock, and desirable acquisitions are sought for the societies. These are legion, and they are the most fascinating phase of college life. First, but least exclusive, are the athletic societies; then the debating, literary, Shakespeare, dramatic, musical, historic, Greek letter;and, last but not least, the eating clubs.
These last are the most exclusive societies at the girls’ colleges. They are purely social, and no one is admitted unless thoroughly desirable and unanimously elected. If a new girl is popular, several of these societies will try to get her. Hence there is considerable electioneering at the beginning of the term ; dining-rooms, recitation-rooms and class corridors become stamping-grounds for fair lobbyists, and the more persevering become regular little ward heelers.
At the close of the first term, every one is located, and social life is at full blast. On Sunday evenings the dining-rooms are deserted, and the eating clubs hold sway. Alternately in the rooms of their members, the Nibblers, the Grubbers, the Epicureans, the Swallows, the Gobblers, the Friars, the Munchers, do wonderful things with spirit-lamps and chafing-dishes, accomplishing results delicious, savory, and more or less digestible. These Sunday evenings are dear to all college girls. At Wellesley, Monday is set apart as a holiday; but there is no record to show any connection with the eating clubs.
The curriculum in girls’ colleges is not complete; but the ‘‘higher education” is still in its infancy. Meanwhile the natural womanly instinct asserts itself, and the chafing-dish holds sway over all small entertainments. No book-shelf is complete without a cookbook, and the natural rivalry between hostesses encourages experiment. The cozy dormitory quarters give an added flavor to fudge, rarebits, newburgs and afternoon teas, the last being the most popular.
There is little work during the late afternoon hours. Between four and five-thirty the dormitories hum with gossip, and the tea-kettles make a lively tune. It is the general hour for relaxation, for the college girl arises early. The usual hour for the first bell is six-thirty, with breakfast from seven to eight.
At Mt. Holyoke the girls care for their own rooms, and in several of the dormitories at Smith’s and Wellesley the girls devote an hour each day to this sort of work in part payment for their board. At eight-thirty recitations begin, and the mornings are invariably busy. The day is divided into eight ‘‘hours,” and engagements made for first, second, third hour, et cetera, the time never being mentioned. Luncheon is usually from twelve to onethirty, after which the tension relaxes. During the afternoons the upper classmen find plenty of time for recreation.
All the girls’ colleges have splendid gymnasiums, but they are not popular. Open-air athletics are greatly preferred, and there is no time in the year when some outdoor sport is not available. During the winter there are skating, tobogganing and long tramps, with basket-ball practice necessarily confined to the gymnasium. As soon as the frost is off the ground, however, the basket-ball teams revel in field practice, the rowing-machines are forsaken and the shells launched with a glad hurrah, and running records are broken and made on good turf track. College girls are very enthusiastic athletes. Basket-ball is the universal favorite sport, and there is a general struggle to get on the teams.
There are many other sports, and all have their devotees—tennis, golf, lacrosse, swimming, riding, cycling, vaulting, highjumping and running events. Tramping, too, is a favorite pastime, and in many of the colleges “Mountain Day” is set apart for this purpose. At Mt. Holyoke the girls are great equestrians, and the objective points of their “little jaunts” and “constitutionals” are located eight and ten miles from the college-grounds.
As the Vassar and Smith girls look back to Chapter House dances and “Phil Proms,” so the Mt. Holyoke graduate cherishes tender memories of the Bluffs, the Larches, Titans’ Pier, the Pass of Thermopylae, Paradise, and Bittersweet Lane. “Field Day” at the colleges is the culmination of the year’s athletic work. It is always a gala day, and class spirit runs high. Vassar’s “Field Day,” occurring in May, is the most exciting event of the year. She has always maintained high records in track events, and the record-breakers of “Field Day” are exalted and fêted by their colleagues.
At Bryn Mawr the annual tennis tournament takes first place. It occurs early in the autumn, and lasts a week. The whole college is decked in festive attire. Pennants, class colors and flags float from the windows, the lawns are gay with teaparties; and class calls and the new cries of the freshmen are drowned in the general:
Hooray! Hooray for the gray!
Hooray! Hoorah for Bryn Mawr!
which is the favorite college cry, having been dedicated to President Taylor, who belonged to the Society of Friends.
Besides these annual athletic celebrations, there are regular fête-days observed by every college. At Vassar there are “Founders’ Day” and “‘Philolethian Day,” terminating with formal dances in the evening, and there is the annual trip to Lake Mohonk, a treat provided by “Uncle Fred” Thompson, one of the trustees.
“Float Day” is a fête peculiarly Wellesley’s own. The festivities begin at sunset, with the coming out of the floats decorated and fashioned in quaint design, sometimes suggestive of class jokes, sometimes bearing upon the eccentricities of the faculty, sometimes carrying out a theme in history or drama. Smaller craft follow the floats, until, as twilight deepens, Lake Waban is covered with a gay flotilla, hundreds of colored lights on the boats adding beauty to the scene. On shore, scores of lanterns hung in the trees transform the place to a veritable fairyland. The grounds are filled with guests, refreshments are served, fireworks make things brilliant, and then, in the first lull, the Wellesley college songs break out over the moonlit stillness, and “Wellesley, Our Alma Mater,” floats over the hills, eight hundred voices strong. The “Freshman Banquet” is the event of the year at Wellesley College, the “Junior Promenade” at Smith’s, and “Mountain” is sacred to Mt. Holyoke, when the whole college takes a holiday, the seniors monopolizing one of the mountain inns, where grinds and prophecies are read, old books burnt, toasts drunk over the bonfire in deep flagons of lemonade, and a pair of fiddlers engaged for a dance that lasts until midnight.
After the beginning of the second term, the seniors come into prominence. Preparations for commencement and class day exercises are put under way; farewell entertainments are given by the under classmen; the year’s dramatics, which have been a very popular part of the entertainment— and sometimes dangerously fascinating—are drawn to a close, and the seniors prepare to leave their alma mater. Almost invariably they are sorry to go, for the association of four or five years must result in ties and bonds not easy to break.
The senior supper, which is the last event of college life before the public exercises, is intended for a huge jollification; but it puts lumps in girls’ throats not so easily swallowed as the goodies specified on the menu. Here speeches are made which, despite the bright quips and witty allusions to incidents of college life, strike chords of deep feeling. In some of the colleges it is the rule for engaged girls to “own up” and receive the congratulations of their classmates; in others souvenirs are exchanged which will always remain treasured tokens; and at Bryn Mawr it is the custom of the lower classmen, who refuse to allow the occasion to be steeped in tears, to gather underneath the windows and sing class songs and shout class calls, until the seniors soften and pass out goodies through the windows.
Then come class day and commencement exercises, with their attendant excitement and pleasure—the receiving of degrees, with a justifiable flush of pride and satisfaction; the parting with chums and familiar landmarks, with the inevitable gulp and struggle for self-control; and then Stern reality.
–“A College Girls’ Life” by Lavinia Hart, Cosmopolitan (1901)
The word Bryn Mawr means high hill, and the college was named after the town five miles west in the suburbs of Philadelphia, on the main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Its site is four hundred and twenty feet above sea-level, in the midst of a beautiful rolling country, made easily accessible in every direction by good roads. The college grounds cover fifty-two acres, and include lawns, tennis-courts, a large athletic-field, and a skating-pond.
If first seen on a quietly brooding spring day, when the ground is blue with violets, and the blue and white “fair weather” signal flags are flying from Dalton Hall, the beauty of Bryn Mawr is a thing never to be forgotten. Far off in the distance, over the undulating hills, is a stately white marble residence with red tiled roof; in the middle distance is an attractive group of professors’ houses; somewhat nearer stands out “Low Buildings,” where the members of the faculty have cozy apartments and live a very serene, happy life; directly before one are Merion, Radnor, Denbigh, and Pembroke, the last-named an imposing structure of gray stone, with a central arch through which one views a very pleasant vista of shady green. The newest residence hall is Rockefeller, just completed this spring. It adjoins Pembroke Hall West, and its central tower, known as the Owl Gate, forms, for foot-passengers, the permanent entrance to the college.
Bryn Mawr College was founded by Dr. Joseph W. Taylor, of Burlington, New Jersey, a man who, though a bachelor, had all his life taken a great interest in the education of women. He died January 18, 1880, leaving the greater portion of his estate for the establishment and maintenance of this institution of advanced learning. It was his earnest desire that the college should be pervaded by the principles of Christianity held by Friends, which he believed to be the same in substance as those taught by the early Christians, and an endeavour has accordingly been made to promote this end. In the social life of the college to-day interesting little traces of its Friend origin are discerned; there is never any dancing at Bryn Mawr, for instance. And its chapel has about it nothing that would distinguish the room from an ordinary lecture-hall.
Before actual work was begun at Bryn Mawr, the organization of Vassar, Smith, and Wellesley was carefully studied. To the Johns Hopkins University, however, is due the academic system which was finally adopted, a scheme of major and minor electives in fixed combination, to which Bryn Mawr gave the name of the group system. In the spring of 1885 the first programme was issued, and that same autumn the college regularly opened for instruction. From the start Bryn Mawr has maintained distinctly high rank. No college women in the country are more thoroughly trained and have a more scholarly type of mind than those who take degrees here. Having said which, one may perhaps pass at once to the institution’s social side, even though, in so doing, one does run the risk of not giving a large enough degree of prominence to the thing which, above all others, makes Bryn Mawr what it is, i. e., its really austere academic life.
The only kind of hazing ever indulged in at Bryn Mawr comes early in the year, when the sophomores try to spirit away the new caps and gowns which the proud freshmen have just purchased. The game is for the freshmen to find their precious robes. When, therefore, they are able to come in to chapel dressed in their newly-attained habiliments, they are warmly congratulated by the president “upon having successfully matriculated.” The girls never renew their caps and gowns, a senior being justly proud of a well-worn cap and a rusty gown. Even at Commencement the same old gowns are worn over fresh white duck skirts and white shirt-waists.
A question very commonly addressed to the Bryn Mawr girl by a stranger at the college is, “Why do you have a lantern on your college pin?” Acquaintance with the customs and life of the place makes one concede, however, that the lantern is a singularly appropriate emblem to be so used. For almost the first association an entering student has is with lanterns. And the lantern is likewise linked with her final impressions of her Alma Mater.
One of the oldest and most characteristic customs is the Presentation of the Lanterns. The ex-freshmen then greet the incoming girls with a song, and present each one with a “lantern to light her steps through the unknown ways of college life,” and especially through the mazes of the group system. Sometimes much sage advice is given with the light, and once the unfortunate freshmen won their lanterns only after passing an impromptu oral examination. The form of the affair differs with the character and resources of the class giving it; but as preparations for it are begun in the freshmen year, the offering is usually both clever and original.
The farewell lantern celebration is at the alumnae supper given on Commencement evening. Here a speech of welcome is made to the new alumnae, and at the close of the festivities the lights are turned low, and the lanterns, standing at each place, are lighted from one large lantern that has been burning throughout the evening at the head of the table. Holding the lighted lanterns, the alumnae sing the old college song. Then they slowly go out, leaving their bright lights still burning on the deserted board.
Short as has been the life of Bryn Mawr, there is already connected with it a wealth of interest and tradition. Each class has a seal, a dolphin, a beaver, or some other animal, which every member wears in ring form, and in the use of the lanterns not a little originality and ingenuity have been displayed. The first lantern, pointed out to the visitor of to-day with impressive reverence by the undergraduate, was a plain little candlestick. From then up to the present time, every sort of lantern has been used. All the residence halls — except the newest one — bear the names of Welsh counties, a thing which of itself gives charm and atmosphere to Bryn Mawr. The views from these halls are in every case fine and inspiring.
The students’ rooms in the halls are many of them arranged in double suites, two bedrooms and a common study. In Pembroke the suites are particularly attractive, as are also the parlour and the reception-room. The dining-room at Pembroke is over the imposing central arch, and, finished as it is with dark wood and equipped with handsome high-backed chairs and dainty table fittings, it forcefully impresses one as quite all that such a room in a girls’ college should be. At the end of the room are two fireplaces, one on each side. Over these are carved respectively the legends Ung ie Seruiray and Veritatem Dilexi. The table at Bryn Mawr is uniformly good, dinner being, of course, the meal of the day. This is a social occasion, and all the girls dress for it as carefully as if they were in their own homes. The college gown, which is the regular academic garb, is never worn then.
This year, for the first time, the tuition fee is $200 for undergraduate students. Other expenses bring the price of a year at Bryn Mawr up to not less than $500 for undergraduates and $400 for graduate students. Here, however, as in many other of the leading educational institutions for women, there are ways of helping girls to help themselves. Some of these ways are exceedingly interesting. A lunch room in the gymnasium is conducted by students; there are electrical lieutenants in every building, whose duty it is to regulate the matter of lights; a college book-shop has students for clerks, and a captain of the fire-brigade directs drills for each residence hall.
Chapel, held every day at a quarter before nine, is voluntary, but the students go in large numbers. On Sundays the girls attend such churches in the neighbourhood as they may elect, and every other Wednesday evening there is a sermon at college by some distinguished clergyman, the alternate Wednesdays being given over to a Christian Union service, conducted by the students themselves.
Gymnasium attendance is required at Bryn Mawr, as are also four periods of exercise each week. One hour only of this is class drill, however, the rest of the time being divided between golf, riding, swimming, hockey, or basket-ball, all of which count as exercise.
Undergraduate work at Bryn Mawr is all over by four in the afternoon, so that there is a very fair margin of leisure for the girls to enjoy. This they do in fine weather by means of teas on the lawn, the wardens of the various halls being “at home” on different days to the student body. Singing on the steps of Taylor Hall (which belong to the seniors) is another favourite diversion, a thing not only delightful in itself, but useful, too, as practice for the garden-party occasion, which crowns the senior year, and for the farewell to the halls and the faculty which comes after the seniors’ last lecture.
Into the last week of the college year are crowded many gaieties. The first of these is the senior class supper, a distinctly impressive occasion when everything that has marked the career of the outgoing class is brought up and enjoyed, old jokes repeated, old stories retold, and every endeavour made to mitigate the sadness which must otherwise attend a farewell. At the end, the class, standing, sings its own song and gives its cheer. When the feast is all over, some of the fragments that remain are sent to the honorary members of the class, — those of the faculty who first came to Bryn Mawr the year that class entered college.
At high noon, on the day before Commencement, a breakfast is given to the seniors by the other students. This is held in the gymnasium, decorated with daisies and boughs set off by the yellow and white of the class banners. The toasts are followed by chorus singing of college songs. Then, before college breaks up, the seniors hand over to the lower classes their duties and responsibilities, and make a tour of the buildings, which they serenade in turn. And on Commencement morning, as a last loving attention, the freshmen make for their departing big sisters countless daisy chains, which are used to decorate the chapel and the hallways.
For the Garden Party of Commencement Week, the most ornate festivity of the college year, the girls all have beautiful new gowns. Their friends from outside are invited out in large numbers, the buildings are illuminated, the trees hung with Japanese lanterns, and Bryn Mawr is for the nonce transformed into the gayest of fairy-lands. The evening always ends by singing on Taylor House steps, and the song which forms the last number on the programme is that called ” Our Gracious Inspiration,” written by Caroline Foulke, of the class of ’96.
— The College Girl of America (1905) by Mary Caroline Crawford