Posted on April 23 2018 by Evan McGonagill

Seven Sisters Colleges Launch Updated & Expanded Portal

1912's Freshman Tree Day at Wellesley: three students dancing in Greek costume, including two with pipes
"1912's Freshman Tree Day" - Wellesley College.

The colleges once known as the Seven Sisters announce the completion of a two year grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. College Women: Documenting the History of Women in Higher Education funded the digitization of a wealth of student letters, diaries, scrapbooks and photographs, which are now publicly accessible through the online portal The seven partner institutions are Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Smith, Vassar and Wellesley Colleges, and the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University. As a result of the project, the institutions digitized more than 75,000 pages of documents from over 100 collections of student writings from the middle of the nineteenth century to World War II.

The seven partner institutions, historically regarded as the equivalent of the Ivy League before those schools admitted women, have long stood at the forefront of women’s higher education in the United States, educating many of the most ambitious, socially conscious, and intellectually curious women in the country. Going to college offered women new academic and social experiences, which many of them chronicled in extensive letter writing, diary-keeping, scrapbooking, and photography that preserved their impressions, experiences, and ambitions during those first years of independence from home. A treasure trove of these letters, diaries, scrapbooks and photographs have been preserved in the libraries of the seven schools, where they serve as a rich resource for understanding a wide range of issues in women's history and beyond. College Women makes these collections available online, searchable together for the first time, making it possible for researchers to consider these materials in the larger context of movements for women’s education and expanded opportunities for women in general, and critical concerns experienced by young women growing into maturity in a changing world.

Among the women whose writings are found in College Women are Bryn Mawr suffrage activist Mary Whitall Worthington; Barnard student Dorothy Oak, whose scrapbook contains a range of ephemera and correspondence about the college experience in the midst of the first World War as she participated in war relief efforts and programs like the Farmerettes; Mt. Holyoke student Lucy Goodale, whose letters and scientific notebooks that give detailed accounts of chemistry classes with the school’s founder, Mary Lyon; and Vassar student Fannie Aaron, whose letters home describe her experiences as one of the few Jewish students on campus.

The College Women site also includes a blog with entries discussing interesting collections found through the project, guides to the use of the site, and ways in which the site can be used for teaching.  The project team welcomes blog posts from anyone who finds the site useful.



This project began in the spring of 2014 with a Foundations Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support the development of an online portal capable of searching the institutions’ digital collections of student letters, diaries, scrapbooks and photographs.  A $260,000 implementation grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in the spring of 2016 allowed the partners to digitize and create metadata for thousands of documents, and those documents are now accessible through the site.

Interactive Mechanics LLC of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has been responsible for site design and development. The project was advised by leading scholars in the fields of women’s history, history of education, women’s archives, and the digital humanities--Ellen Gruber Garvey (New Jersey City University), Helen Horowitz (Smith College), Mary Kelley (University of Michigan), Laura Mandell (Texas A&M University), Monica Mercado (Colgate University), Katherine Rowe (Smith College – and the incoming President of the College of William and Mary), Susan N. Tucker (Tulane University), and Nancy Woloch (Barnard College).


The project “College Women: Documenting the Student Experience at the Seven Sisters Colleges” is being supported by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Celebrating 50 Years of Excellence.   Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.”



Eric Pumroy, Seymour Adelman Director of Special Collections, Bryn Mawr College, 101 N. Merion Avenue, Bryn Mawr, PA  19010. Tel: 610-526-5272;

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