Reconnecting with the Bryn Mawr Deanery

The Bryn Mawr College Deanery has been the focus of my research this summer as a graduate intern in Special Collections. The Deanery was demolished in 1968 for the construction of Canaday Library–more recent generations of students have never heard of it, let alone seen it. However, a small piece of the Deanery does remain on campus–its garden, The Blanca Noel Taft Memorial Garden (’39). Despite the fact that it is no longer standing, the Deanery was a beautiful example of late-nineteenth-century American design and an important landmark in the history of Bryn Mawr College.

arieal view of deanery

Aerial View of the Deanery, ca. 1960’s (PAB_Deanery_008)


The Deanery was the campus residence of the first Dean and second President of the College, Martha Carey Thomas. From 1885 to 1922, the Deanery became a focal point on campus for students, faculty, and visitors, who attended events, teas, and meetings within its walls. When Thomas retired, she gave the building to the College and it was used as the Alumnae House until its demolition in 1968. Over the 83 years that the Deanery stood on campus it came to be a symbol of Bryn Mawr College itself.

In addition to its important role in the history of Bryn Mawr, the Deanery was an unusual example of late-nineteenth-century American décor. Thomas and her partner, Mary E. Garrett, greatly expanded the Deanery and lavishly decorated it with eclectic pieces of American, European, and Asian design. Several famous contemporary American artisans were involved in the project, including artists Lockwood de Forest and Louis Comfort Tiffany, and landscape designer John Charles Olmsted. Thomas and Garrett also traveled extensively and brought back objects they had purchased to the Deanery.

tiffany light

Stenciling and Light Fixture on Ceiling of M. Carey’s Study (the Blue Room) by Lockwood de Forest and Louis Comfort Tiffany


Japanese Fu-Dog Figurine, late 19th century, bronze with traces of gold leaf
Purchased by M. Carey Thomas for the Deanery (W.314)


Part of my work in Special Collections this summer has been to make more information about the importance and beauty of the Deanery accessible to a wider audience through two large projects: the completion of a Wikipedia article on the Deanery; and the creation of wall text and labels for objects from the Deanery now displayed in Wyndham.


If you have kept up with the Special Collections Blog, you know that Bryn Mawr College has been increasing its presence on Wikipedia, so my completion of the article begun by Rachel Starry and Joelle Collins about the Deanery was part of this larger project. Writing a Wikipedia article was a new experience for me. I have never written anything for such a broad audience so it was exciting to think that the interesting and important information I learned could be shared on such a large scale. {Wikipedia Article on the Deanery}


After the Deanery was demolished in 1968, Wyndham became the new alumnae house and the new home for a large number of pieces from the Deanery. Special Collections was interested in creating labels for many of these pieces, as well as several other objects of interest in Wyndham. It is my hope that students, alumnae, and visitors will have a greater appreciation for the amazing pieces that surround us every day on Bryn Mawr’s campus. It is a truly unusual atmosphere for any American college, whether large or small, single-sex or coed, private or public, to have such quality and quantity of wonderful pieces on display around campus.

temple vase

Chinese Cloisonné Vase, 19th century, metal and enamel
From the Deanery. Now on Display in Wyndham. (W.719)


Octagonal Tabouret (Side Table), 19th century, possibly fabricated by Ahmedebad Furniture Workshop (India), wood with inlaid bone/ivory
From the Deanery. Now on Display in Wyndham. (Deanery.405)












While the Deanery is long gone, the history surrounding it and the art that filled it remain. It is my hope that through endeavors such as the Wikipedia page, labels in Wyndham, and perhaps even a future exhibition on the Deanery, new generations of Bryn Mawr students will hold it as dear as their predecessors.


Emily Moore

Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology


4 thoughts on “Reconnecting with the Bryn Mawr Deanery

  1. Thank goodness it was still there in “my time” – it was such a special event to be invited to tea at the Deanery. Those photographs bring back sweet memories.

  2. Pingback: “We are the Seven Sisters. And you can attend any one of us!” | Higher Education for Women: Bryn Mawr and Beyond

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