When I went to Bryn Mawr, over three decades ago, there was only one woman connected with the school who really impressed me, and that was Kate Hepburn.
I was in awe of the greatest American actress of the 20th century, and could not believe that I was following in her footsteps around campus. It wasn’t until my second or third year at the old Ivy-covered homestead that I realized the true heroine of Bryn Mawr College was its founder, M. Carey Thomas.
The “M” stood for Martha, she was born in Baltimore and she was one heck of an iconoclast. To Thomas, it was important to provide women with the same educational opportunities as men, and not simply provide glorified “finishing schools” where they could pass their time learning the domestic arts that would make them suitable brides. She was a fierce suffragette, a feminist of the early part of the last century and a woman who truly cared about educating female minds.
She was also, by some accounts, a racist and an anti-semite. There are comments attributed to her that, seen through a 21st century lens, show that she was not exactly the paragon of virtue I was led to believe in those halcyon days on the Main Line.
Of course, we are now supposed to erase from the corridors of history the footprints of anyone who did not wear a progressive halo. By that I mean, if there is a hint of political incorrectness in your past, you do not make the final cut into the Hall of Socially Approved Fame.
Recently, my alma mater acquiesced in the demands of current students and agreed that it would no longer refer to the most important building on campus, “Thomas Great Hall” as “Thomas Great Hall.” According to a statement from President Kim Cassidy: “While Thomas had a profound impact on opportunities for women in higher education, on the academic development and identity of Bryn Mawr, and on the physical plan of the campus, she also openly and vigorously advanced racism and anti-semitism as part of her vision of the college.”
Cassidy has decided to ban the use of the name “Thomas” from campus, for the foreseeable future. As she noted, “We will make a concerted effort to remove as many references to the name as is possible for this year.”
There are ways to criticize Thomas, and that includes doing exactly what Bryn Mawr has always (at least up until recently) done: Allow for open and respectful debate about an issue of fundamental importance to everyone who has ever walked across that gorgeous campus.
What the school has decided to do is pander to some extremely narrow-minded young women who believe that they now own the soul and spirit of the school, and that there is no place for dissent. In Facebook forums and elsewhere, alumna who have suggested that placing a moratorium on the name of Thomas borders on the ridiculous have been harassed, attacked and treated with incredible disrespect.
I watched over the past year as college students on other campuses became overheated and emotional when they were faced with the prospect of having to listen to a campus speaker who “triggered” in them feelings of anxiety and despair.
Whether you liked Charles Murray, Ann Coulter or Milo, or you simply wanted to shove their heads into a meat grinder, there was no excuse for the infantile way these babies vomited all over the First Amendment. And smugly, I said to myself “this would never happen at Bryn Mawr.”
Well, this hasn’t exactly happened at Bryn Mawr, not yet. But when you have the school acquiescing to some students who think that an imperfect hero is unworthy of recognition, even when they wouldn’t even be getting an education if that hero hadn’t moved heaven and earth to will their (and our) college into existence, you know that it’s time to make other plans for reunion weekend. It’s also time to realize that we have created a generation of victims.
Or as the great Kate would have said “We are taught you must blame your father, your sisters, your brothers, the school, the teachers – but never blame yourself. It’s never your fault. But it’s always your fault, because if you wanted to change you’re the one who has got to change.”
I can’t be the only one who’s happy she’s not around to see this.
Christine M. Flowers
Philadelphia Daily News