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February 26, 1884

On a fact-finding tour of women’s colleges in anticipation of the opening, in 1885, of Bryn Mawr, its dean—and future president—M. Carey Thomas wrote a complicated and decidedly mixed evaluation to her close friend Mary Elizabeth Garrett. The very presence of a “Lady Principal” seemed inappropriate, and she found the Vassar example, Abby Goodsell ’69, “not agreeable, little souled, not literary or scholarly, too fond of rules and system.” The teachers, women, were superior to the men, who were professors, prompting a conclusion: “Perhaps men cannot teach women easily.” Professor Maria Mitchell, however, was exceptional: “It was a sensation to sit opposite Maria Mitchell at table, or to be in her study and see her lying on the couch at full length speaking sarcastic, rather bitter, wholly loyal things. I felt, little as personal enthusiasm is in my line, that I would do anything to show my reverence for her and I think I shall be guilty of keeping the tiny bunch of flowers she gave with what she says is her customary remark, ‘a bunch from my garden, Miss Thomas, my whole garden.’”

“On the whole,” writes Thomas’s biographer Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, “despite Vassar’s ‘intolerable rules,’ she liked the collegiate tradition. ‘Vassar seemed to me monastic and charming. I can’t express how it impressed me, but unlike anything else I had ever seen.’”

Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, The Power and the Passion of M. Carey Thomas

The Years