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Gender and Sexuality at Bryn Mawr College

Elena Luedy & Cecilia Zhao

Professor Cohen



Gender and Sexuality at Bryn Mawr College

   What we intend on studying for this project is the history of Bryn Mawr College’s LGBTQ+ community, and what the current community is like. We will be conducting interviews, and researching the archives as our main way of answering questions. We both look forward to this project, and look forward to the truths we uncover.

We chose gender and sexuality as our main focus on this project for a variety of reasons. One thing that initially sparked our interest was the fact that M. Carey Thomas had many female lovers of her own, making us wonder if Bryn Mawr College has historically been a college that was supportive of homosexual individuals. What we want to know is whether BMC was always LBGTQ+ friendly, just friendly to lesbians, or if this is a recent friendliness.

Bryn Mawr is a space that many people from different cultures call home. We would like to know how these varied backgrounds play into the current role of Bryn Mawr being a queer-centric space. We believe that it could be a bit of a culture shock for some people that come from areas where homosexual behavior is either illegal or just frowned upon to see so many people open about their relationships.

Another question we have come across is whether BMC has such a strong LGBTQ+ community because it is so accepting of people who identify within the community. I myself did not hear about the strength of the LGBTQ+ community when I first was looking at the school, however I had heard rumors because it was “an all girls school”.

Within any community there is bound to be conflicts that arise, and with a subject as touchy in american culture as LGBTQ+ centric issues we would expect something to have happened with a history as vast as Bryn Mawr. We are not familiar with any issues arising that have arisen, however we would not expect that to be something BMC would advertise.

There are many methods to find answers to our questions: First we can talk to the gender and sexuality professors. Then we can speak to people in rainbow alliance, GenderQuest, the Tri-Co Asexuality Group, Zambi, and Spectra: the gender and sexuality clubs on campus, as well as search for documents in library.

First, when talk to gender and sexuality professors, we can ask about what they think of the current situation of gender and sexuality. Did anyone in the campus, especially Bryn Mawr students, talk to them about their problems in gender and sexuality? How would they solve the problems they’ve met?

Second, talking to students who are lgbtq+ is needed. We can go to the gender and sexuality clubs on campus and interview the students. The questions we will are: Do they feel Bryn Mawr is a lgbtq+ friendly college? Are they facing some problems and conflicts? Are they trying to change people’s opinion on them? If they are, what are their methods? Do their efforts work and somehow influence the opinion of others?

Third, other students’ opinions are also important. We need to know how they think of gender and sexuality difference. Do they have bias on lgbtq+ people or they think lgbtq+ people needs support? Why do they have bias or why they want to support those people? How do they think the community of diverse gender and sexualty?  Do they have some ideas in helping lgbtq+ people to be accepted by more people in the community? How do students of color in particular feel about gender and sexuality? Are their concerns different from those who do not identify as POC?  In order to find out those questions, we may do a survey of the campus.

Fourth, in order to find out more history, we will go to the library and do research. We would like to find out in particular the first transgender student, if any students were married or in civil partnerships with each other, and even how open students were about their homosexual relationships. Were they afraid to mention them or out and proud? Did any students go on to do anything on behalf of the lgbtq+ community?

Within this school is a wide variety of people who come from diverse areas. They all have preconceived notions of what the LGBTQ+ community is, and how the issues faced by the people who identify as LGBTQ+ should be addressed. Within recent years, the United States has become more accepting of LGBTQ+  individuals (for the most part). Were these changes paralleled by the college, or was BMC a historically accepting? We intend on finding the answers to these questions, and presenting them to the class at the end of our search.


jccohen's picture

Lavender_Gooms and ZhaoyrCecilia,

You’ve laid out a rich, interesting investigation of the LGBTQ+ community at Bryn Mawr. You might want to think about how to narrow your project so that you’ll be able to look more deeply at certain aspects.  For example, you talk about Bryn Mawr as a space where people come together from many different cultures and backgrounds; is this an important focus for you, historically and/or currently, and how will you investigate this specifically? 

You’ll want to contact Evan McGonagill, the college archivist and an alum, to get some guidance with the history dimension of your project.  Vanessa Christman or Stephanie Nixon at Pennsby would also be helpful to your pursuits, in terms of both recent history and the present moment.  Also, note that Nov. is LGBTQ+ month, and there will be a number of activities including a keynote speaker next Monday evening.  You should keep track of all this and attend events that look relevant!

jccohen's picture

Two students who you should contact, since they're organizing events for LGTBQ+ month:  Kelsey Weymouth-Little and Meera Jayaraman.  Tell them I sent you:)

jccohen's picture

Here are some comments from Evan MacGonagill, college archivist: 

We will not be able to tell them who the first transgender student was, partially because there isn't a stable definition or cultural understanding of transgenderism that would allow us to read this identity onto students in the past, and certainly we wouldn't be able to find that kind of personal information in the archives. A time period of focus could be helpful here.

There are two recent projects, one by a Pensby Center intern and one by a Tri-Co Digital Humanities intern, which deal with the history of sexuality and gender expression at the College. Emmett Binkowski produced an Omeka exhibit featuring some original research he did, found here: .  Note Emmett’s listing of available resources.  Their project draws on literary sources, newsletters, diaries, etc.  

There is also Brenna Levitin's project We Are/We Have Always Been, which collected some original oral history interviews in addition to compiling research from the Bi-Co News and The College News about the history of the LGBT community at Bryn Mawr: Having a look at both of these previous project might help familiarize the students with the availability (and lack thereof) of relevant materials in the archives.

Brenna and Emmett are both here, might be available for follow up.