By Amanda Kennedy
Having a copy of “Offerings to Athena: 125 Years at Bryn Mawr College” not only gives anyone the opportunity to hold Bryn Mawr history in his or her hands but also to explore it in amazing detail.
Edited by Council on Library and Information Resources postdoctoral fellow at Bryn Mawr Anne L. Bruder, the tome is like a work of art in itself, with its cover capturing in pristine detail the beautiful intricacy and shadowing of Rockefeller arch, a multitude of photographs from the archives, and comprehensive and interesting writings and cartoons from student publications at Bryn Mawr, as well as from national publications.
The book is divided into six different sections, each spanning thirty to forty years of Bryn Mawr history. Special pages are even devoted to each of the college’s traditions – Lantern Night, May Day, Hell Week and Parade Night.
President Jane McAuliffe explained in the book’s preface that the idea for a book celebrating Bryn Mawr’s history was conceived when she was interviewed toward the end of the search for the college’s next president. Director of Libraries Elliott Shore excitedly suggested a book when the college’s 125thanniversary came up in conversation, she said.
The rest is, well, history.
Bruder and her team of students and faculty who put the book together have a lot to be proud of.
“I think that I’m most pleased with the form itself: An anthology of words and images – roughly 400 of each – allowed me to sample the college’s 125 years in an original way and one that would tell Bryn Mawr’s story through the very voices that have animated the college for all of those years,” she said in an e-mail. “I wanted the alumnae community to hear the voices of its sister mawrtyrs without the imposition – or interruption – of my outsider’s voice.”
Bruder’s vision of a “kind of documentary film in print” resulted in a coffee table-sized book with 400 pages of about 400 pictures and writings, she said. It looks at women in the classroom, women looking off to the side for their yearbook photos, women placing flower crowns on the heads of their classmates for May Day, women playing field hockey and fencing and learning. There is even a picture of two students in an auto-mechanics class bent over a car in saddle shoes and jean capris with rolled-up cuffs, circa 1946.
“Offerings to Athena” is filled with the women who have walked across Merion Green and studied in Taylor long before today’s students have, who have always understood that if men could do it, well gee, they sure could too.
Students in 1895 had a healthy obsession with something Mawrtyrs still hold near and dear to their hearts. “We may be said to be rather addicted to ‘teas’ – ‘teas’ of all sorts, from the social brew at five o’clock or when work is over for the evening; or when you come in chilly from gymnasium or constitution, or from studying in the library, to find the kettle steaming away over the alcohol lamp,” an article from the June 1981 of the “Lantern” said. Students would even partake in “the most formal of ‘teas,’ where salted almonds and other insignia of an advanced civilization take the place of crackers with jam and olives, the Spartan fare.”
“Offerings to Athena” offers rich history, an aesthetically pleasing format of pictures with text and color, and insiders’ perspectives on the college. One thing it does not offer, however, is a reasonable price tag. At $79.99, current students on a budget may not be able to afford a book that is such a part of where they live, walk, study and succeed each day. Bruder did say that “Offerings to Athena” was available to be ordered with a discount that would take the price down to $49.99 from October 2009 until the book was released in October 2010. The purchasing audience seems largely to be alumni. There is no student discount available on the book.
Nevertheless, the price certainly reflects the quality of the book. All of the hard work and dedication that went to the production of this book, its sheer size and its beauty make it a treasured work of art and history.