NEH Grant for Digitization Projects at Seven Sisters Colleges

March 28, 2016

The following is a press release from the Bryn Mawr College Library, about a grant in which the Barnard Library, Archives & Special Collections are included. Barnard College Archivist Shannon O'Neill serves on the project steering committee and Digital Archivist Martha Tenney serves on the project technical committee. Barnard's contribution to the project is digitizing Barnard student scrapbooks and letters created between the college's founding and WWII. The digitized materials go into the shared College Women portal, as well as our own Digital Collections.


March 22, 2016


The National Endowment for the Humanities awards grant for digitizing the historical letters, diaries and scrapbooks of students at the Seven Sisters Colleges.  


The National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded a $260,000 grant to Bryn Mawr College for support of the project College Women: Documenting the Student Experience at the Seven Sisters Colleges.    The project will result in the digitization of a large number of student letters, diaries, scrapbooks and photographs created by women who attended these institutions from the time of their foundings in the nineteenth century to World War II.  In addition to Bryn Mawr, the project participants include Barnard College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, Vassar College, Wellesley College, and the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University.  


The digitization project builds upon an earlier planning project by the partner institutions, also supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities. That project, College Women: Documenting the History of Women in Higher Education resulted in the creation of an online site for searching and viewing student writings,  The site is currently in a pilot phase with about 300 documents in it.  The new project will expand the content by thousands of documents, making it a rich and essential site for new research and teaching in women’s history.     


The “Seven Sisters” colleges were once regarded as the equivalent of the Ivy League before most of those institutions admitted women in the second half of the twentieth century.  In addition to being the country’s leading educational institutions for women, these colleges created social and intellectual networks of women that were critical in bringing about social, economic, political, and cultural change to the country during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  At a moment when the sense of urgency for women’s education around the globe remains high, the opportunity to study the emergence of the Seven Sisters colleges in the nineteenth century, and the experiences these women’s institutions fostered, has particular explanatory value – illuminating what has changed and what persists in debates about gender equality and access to higher education.


The participating institutions possess extensive holdings of young women’s personal writings, an unparalleled and only partially tapped resource for the study of U.S. women’s and gender history.  As they are digitized and made accessible through, these documents will illuminate the lives of ambitious young women during a critical half-century for the evolution of women’s roles in American society—roles that often extended far beyond the walls of the elite institutions that educated them.  At present, effective use of the collections by potential researchers is impeded by their dispersal across seven geographically disparate campuses and by the difficulty of locating comparable sets of writings across institutions The research value of these sources will be greatly increased by the ability to consider a wide range of student materials in conversation with each other, as part of a larger phenomenon in the history of women in America, rather than as isolated fragments that document only the history of the individual colleges.


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 ( 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.  The group worked with Interactive Mechanics, LLC of Philadelphia, which designed and constructed the site,, which launched in June 2015.


Celebrating its 50th anniversary as an independent federal agency in 2015-16, the National Endowment for the Humanities brings the best in humanities research, public programs, education, and preservation projects to the American people. To date, NEH has awarded $5 billion in grants to build the nation’s cultural capital – at museums, libraries, colleges and universities, archives, and historical societies – and advance our understanding and appreciation of history, literature, philosophy, and language.

For additional information, contact:


College Women project director

Eric Pumroy, Associate Chief Information Officer and Director of Special Collections Bryn Mawr College |     610-526-5272


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