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Seven Sisters Partners Launch New Archives Project: College Women: Documenting the History of Women in Higher Education

With the support of a one-year Foundations planning grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the seven women’s colleges once known as the “Seven Sisters” launch College Women: Documenting the History of Women in Higher Education (www.collegewomen.org). College Women brings together—for the first time online—digitized letters, diaries, scrapbooks and photographs of women who attended the seven partner institutions: Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Smith, Vassar, Wellesley, and Radcliffe (now the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University).

These seven colleges, 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. As they were exposed to the novel academic and social landscapes of college life, many of these women actively chronicled their student experiences and ambitions through extensive letter writing, diary-keeping, scrapbooking, and photography. Their materials, which document a new era of women’s campus cultures, have been preserved in the libraries of the seven schools and serve as a rich resource for understanding a wide range of issues in women's history and beyond. College Women makes these treasures available online and searchable together for the first time, enabling researchers to consider student materials in a larger context of movements for women’s education and expanded opportunities for women in American society.

College Women is currently available in a beta version, featuring 300 photographs, letters, diaries and scrapbooks from the seven partner institutions. The institutions will be expanding the content in the coming years as more historical documents are digitized and catalogued. This innovative project also demonstrates the potential for creating new research opportunities for students and scholars when institutions collaborate on building digital collections.

The project grew out of discussions among the institutions that began in 2012, led by The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education at Bryn Mawr College (http://greenfield.brynmawr.edu). In the Spring of 2014 the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded a planning grant to Bryn Mawr College on behalf of the group to develop a portal and set common standards for cataloging and indexing their collections. Staff members at the libraries of all seven institutions have worked in teams over the last year to design and test the site and develop standards for its operation.

Design and construction of the site was done by Interactive Mechanics, LLC of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The project also received advice from a team of 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), Katherine Rowe (Smith College), and Susan N. Tucker (Tulane University).

The College Women beta site has been made possible in part 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 Web resource do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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For additional information, contact:

College Women project director
Eric Pumroy, Associate Chief Information Officer and Director of Special Collections Bryn Mawr College | epumroy@brynmawr.edu

Monica Mercado, Director of The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education at Bryn Mawr College | mmercado@brynmawr.edu