Getting In: Barnard, Bryn Mawr and Wellesley

Amanda Breen
Professor McCaughey
Making Barnard History
February 23, 2015

Getting in: Barnard, Bryn Mawr, and Wellesley

Between 1889 and 1914, Barnard’s class size grew from a mere 36 to an impressive 684. In 1915, Columbia University President Nicolas Murray Butler reflected on the college’s success: “…the whole University has shared in the repute which Barnard College has won by reason of the quality and spirit of those women who have gone out from under its influence fortified and made ready for new and larger responsibility” (5-6). In thinking about these Barnard graduates “made ready for new and larger responsibility,” it is critical to consider the college-educated women who came before them. Wellesley opened its doors in 1875, and Bryn Mawr welcomed its first class a decade after that. While these institutions laid the groundwork for Barnard’s realization, it is interesting to examine Barnard’s departures, whether intentional or not, from Bryn Mawr’s and Wellesley’s original ideals. Of course, it is the students themselves who embody those ideals. For whom was Barnard intended? In answering that question, it is worthwhile to explore for whom older women’s colleges like Bryn Mawr and Wellesley were intended.

One of the most direct ways to determine for whom these institutions were intended is to consider admission requirements and scholarship opportunities. Admission requirements allowed colleges to select qualified students who they believed would benefit most from higher education. What factors determined eligibility, and how did this eligibility differ among Barnard, Bryn Mawr, and Wellesley? Scholarships enabled colleges to extend offers of admission to qualified students who would have been otherwise unable to afford the tuition. What did scholarships look like in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and how readily available were they? The examination of these questions concerning entrance requirements, targeted applicant pools, and scholarship availability begins to reveal which students were expected to enroll.

The following requirements are outlined in the official Barnard, Bryn Mawr, and Wellesley programs. In order to be eligible for admission to Barnard, applicants were to be at least fifteen years old by the time of matriculation. After that, of course, the number one criterion for admission was a high school diploma. When those conditions were met, applicants were required to take either the Regents examination or the college entrance examination. Before taking the college entrance examination, applicants needed to file an entrance examination application. The top of the form was reserved for the Certificate of Principal Instructor; it was necessary for instructors to approve applicants to sit for the examination (Barnard College 17-19). One form from 1910 states, “Miss Margaret S. Appleton, who has been my pupil during the school years 1893-1900, desires to offer at the forthcoming examinations the subjects indicated on the other side of this sheet. I hereby certify that these subjects are offered with my approval” (Barnard College Archives). On the back of the sheet, the instructor would cross out the subjects not offered by the applicant. The instructor was also expected to vouch for the applicant’s good moral character. In order to pass the college entrance examination, applicants needed to accrue a total of fifteen points across a variety of subjects. All applicants were required to sit for the English, Elementary Latin, and Elementary Mathematics examinations. The Elementary Mathematics portion consisted of Algebra and Plane Geometry. If an applicant passed the three required subjects, she would earn ten of the fifteen points needed to pass the entire examination. The remaining five points were to be accumulated by passing examinations in elected subjects (Barnard College 17-19).

While the admissions requirements of Bryn Mawr and Wellesley were similar to those of Barnard, there are noteworthy differences among all three institutions. In line with Barnard’s policy, Wellesley required applicants to be at least sixteen years old by the time of matriculation (Wellesley College 30). In contrast, Bryn Mawr had no minimum age requirement. So long as an applicant was able to pass the college entrance examinations, she would be eligible to enroll (Bryn Mawr College 43). The rigor of these entrance examinations has been documented by sources that reference Wellesley and Bryn Mawr. In The Story of Wellesley, Florence Converse discusses Wellesley’s academic prowess:

Any intelligent person who turns the pages of the official calendar may easily discover that the standard of admission and the requirements of the degree of Bachelor of Arts place Wellesley in a the first rank among American colleges…But every woman’s college, besides conforming to the general standard, is making its own contribution to the higher education of women (136).


Converse nods to institutions like Barnard and Bryn Mawr, whose similar yet distinct admissions policies and curriculums aligned the institutions with and separated them from each other at the same time. In Collegiate Women, Roberta Frankfort writes, “The Bryn Mawr woman—dubbed Bryn Mawrter by nostalgic graduates—belonged to an aristocracy of wit and brains, for only those with superior intellectual facility could pass the rigorous entrance examinations required of all applicants” (49). Like Barnard, Wellesley and Bryn Mawr required applicants to take English, Elementary Latin, Algebra, and Plane Geometry. Unlike Barnard, Wellesley and Bryn Mawr both required the History examination as well. There is a lack of information to account for this discrepancy between Barnard and the other two colleges; the obvious but incomplete conclusion to be drawn is that the Barnard college entrance examination was less rigorous than Wellesley’s or Bryn Mawr’s. This is not a satisfactory explanation, as the Barnard trustees would have had every reason to align the college in every possible way with other respected institutions of its kind. Yet, in 1895, Barnard Dean Emily James Smith believed that there was in fact a difference in intensity of study between undergraduates at Barnard and those at remote women’s institutions like Bryn Mawr and Wellesley:

And while the identity of our courses and instruction with those at Columbia ensures scholarship, constant comparison of progress at Barnard with progress at Columbia sets a pace by no means so likely to kill as that of the isolated college for women. Girls, being as yet nouveaux riches in learning, are extravagant in it, and I count it one of the great advantages of connection with a college for men that it establishes a more reasonable ideal of attainment than girls by themselves are willing to put up with (7).


In stating that Barnard’s pace was “by no means so likely to kill as that of the isolated college for women,” Smith implicates Barnard as a less intense institution than Wellesley or Bryn Mawr. It is clear that she believed the comparatively slower speed worked to Barnard’s benefit rather than its detriment. Moreover, Smith in no way frames Barnard as a less rigorous college. Rather, she suggests that Barnard’s proximity to Columbia College allowed its students to see how male students approached education, something that students at “isolated” colleges like Wellesley and Bryn Mawr were not able to experience.

As previously mentioned, the alternative to the college entrance examination was the Regents examination. In 1784, the Regents of the University of the State of New York were established. While the Regents originally acted as trustees of Columbia College and other educational institutions in New York, by 1787 the state’s colleges and academies were given their own trustees, and the Regents were expected to supervise New York’s entire educational system. Beginning in 1913, students who took the Regents examinations in high school were eligible for college scholarships (Holts). For potential Barnard applicants, the Regents examinations were another route into the college, allowing them to bypass the college entrance examinations and gain scholarship money in the process. Of course, the Regents examination was only available for New York state high school students. Thus, it was ineffective for public high school students who may have been interested in attending college outside New York, perhaps at institutions like Wellesley or Bryn Mawr.

An analysis of the admissions of these three colleges is incomplete without the consideration of the targeted applicant pool. During the period, colleges and universities depended on preparatory schools to supply them with the majority of their applicants. Converse discusses the Princeton Council’s investment in preparatory schools: “The university has been brought more prominently before preparatory schools. All the colleges are feeling the need of keeping in touch with the preparatory schools, not for the sake of mere numbers, but to secure the best students” (Converse 249). The Graduate Council of Princeton University was established in January of 1905, and it quickly caught the attention of other institutions. Within ten years, twenty-nine colleges had reached out to Council secretary H. G. Murray; the interested institutions wanted to learn more about the Council’s efforts (Converse 244-245). Clearly, by 1905, merely filling classes was no longer the foremost goal. Getting the “best” students became the new priority.

During her presidency, Wellesley’s Alice Freeman Palmer steadily established preparatory schools. These “feeder” schools were allegedly filled with the best and the brightest, the kinds of students with which Palmer wished to fill Wellesley’s classes (Converse 67). According to Converse, “…by the end of her presidency, she had been instrumental in the organization of fifteen other schools in different parts of the country, officered by the most part by Wellesley graduates” (67). Palmer’s commitment to preparatory schools and the instillation of Wellesley graduates in those preparatory schools ensured that Wellesley would continue to attract quality applicants. Moreover, Palmer’s institution of these fifteen schools in various locations throughout the country would have enabled her to build relatively geographically diverse classes.

Similarly, Bryn Mawr’s Martha Carey Thomas desired preparatory school graduates to enroll in the college. In 1885, Thomas was one of five founders of the Bryn Mawr School, a Baltimore-based preparatory school for girls. The two institutions shared the same name, and Thomas expected them to share the same students as well (Bryn Mawr College). According to the Special Collections Department of the Bryn Mawr College Library, “Incorporating the most advanced and rigorous academic and physical education programs, the Bryn Mawr School boasted of its high standards, requiring for graduation the successful completion of Bryn Mawr College’s entrance examinations. ” The fact that graduation from the preparatory school required the successful completion of the college’s entrance examinations demonstrates this expectation that the Bryn Mawr School graduate would eventually become a Bryn Mawr College graduate. It is clear that Thomas had an investment in the preparatory school, yet it is also clear that her influence was not as far-reaching as Palmer’s.

After examining the admissions requirements and applicant pools of these institutions, it is evident that there were variations among the three colleges. Yet, Bryn Mawr’s and Wellesley’s entrance examinations were the same while Barnard’s were not. Moreover, Barnard was not involved in the establishment of preparatory “feeder” schools as Wellesley and Bryn Mawr were. Of course, that is not to say that Barnard did not draw applicants from prestigious New York City preparatory schools. The class of 1910 included graduates from Brearley and Miss Porter’s School. Yet, Barnard’s lack of involvement in the establishment of preparatory schools can also be observed in its 1910 class. The 1910 data set reveals that thirty-eight students came from New York City public high schools, eighteen from New York City private schools, and only seven from private schools outside the city (McCaughey).

Undoubtedly, the availability of scholarships through Regents examinations contributed to this influx of New York City public high school students who otherwise would have been unable to afford Barnard’s tuition. Naturally, these differences in applicant pools would create differences among the student demographics at the three institutions, and Barnard would become a product of its highly urban environment, drawing students from households whose more modest incomes led them to send their children to public high school in lieu of paying for private school or hiring a personal tutor. Of course, the Regents examinations were not the only source of scholarships for New York students interested in attending Barnard, and Wellesley and Bryn Mawr offered their students scholarships as well. While Barnard, Bryn Mawr, and Wellesley all offered many scholarships of varying sizes, the ones described below have been included because they best illustrate which students the colleges desired to enroll.

According to Barnard’s 1905 program, there were 40 scholarships in total, each for the amount of $150, a sum that covered the cost of one year’s tuition. Some of these scholarships were competitive; an applicant’s college entrance examination scores could earn her a nomination from the Committee on Admissions. Others were non-competitive; after a year of college, a student could be nominated by the Committee of the Faculty and confirmed by the Committee of the Trustees on Scholarships. While students who scored well on college entrance examinations were automatically considered for competitive scholarships, those vying for non-competitive scholarships were required to file an application by the first of April (Barnard College 48-49).

At Bryn Mawr, fees totaled $500 for tuition, room, and board. Excluding room and board, it cost $200 to attend. In 1896, the trustees established eight competitive scholarships whose recipients were to be chosen by college entrance examination scores. Four of them were valued at $300, and the rest were worth $200. All of the aforementioned scholarships were to be held for one year only. There were other noteworthy scholarships available as well. Established in 1893, the Girls’ High and Normal School Alumnae Scholarship was given to a graduate of the Philadelphia-based Girls’ High who earned the best score on the college entrance examination. The scholarship was good for all four years of tuition. There were also eight non-resident scholarships valued at $200, and they were to be distributed among promising graduates of the Girls’ High School. A similar scholarship was available for graduates of Lower Merion Township High School; it also covered the cost of tuition and was renewable for four years. There were four $500 scholarships that were renewable for four years as well. Established by the Bryn Mawr School, it was decided that one of these scholarships would go to a graduate of the Bryn Mawr School each year (Bryn Mawr College 67-69).

It cost $400 for tuition, room, and board at Wellesley in 1898. The previously mentioned figures for Barnard and Bryn Mawr were from their 1905 programs. Wellesley’s 1905 program is unavailable, but in Wellesley’s 1914 program the total cost was $500, equaling the cost of Bryn Mawr less than a decade before, so it is reasonable to assume that the two colleges would have been similar in price during 1905. While Wellesley’s 1898 program discusses its Honor Scholarships, awarded to students whose academic performances earned them Durant Scholar or Wellesley College Scholar status, it is less forthcoming about its other scholarships (Wellesley College 99). The 1914 program merely lists them and stipulates that they are to be awarded to students “whose personal means are insufficient for their maintenance in college (165). Yet, the program admits, “The existing funds are not sufficient to meet the wants of deserving applicants…” (174).

In looking at the availability of scholarships across these institutions, it is clear that there were efforts made by all three colleges to extend aid to its applicants. The extents to which they were successful is less clear, especially in the case of Wellesley, as there is a lack of information about these scholarship recipients. Certainly, at Bryn Mawr, the scholarship opportunities for graduates of Philadelphia’s public Girls’ High School demonstrate the college’s willingness to accept non-preparatory school students. The Barnard program focuses solely on merit-based aid; yet, beginning in 1913, the scholarships offered through Regents examinations must be taken into account. The funds offered to high-scoring public school graduates would have more than compensated for the funds Bryn Mawr extended to its potential Girls’ High graduates. Moreover, the fact that one of the Bryn Mawr School’s generous five-part scholarships was to fund one of the school’s own each year demonstrates an enduring connection between the Bryn Mawr School and Bryn Mawr College. While the college may have been slightly broadening its target applicant pool, it was by no means ready to sever ties with preparatory establishments.

After exploring the admission requirements, target applicant pools, and scholarship opportunities of Barnard, Bryn Mawr, and Wellesley, it is clear that there were more intentional similarities among the three institutions than differences. For whom was Barnard intended? The subjects required in its college entrance examination were nearly identical to those required in the examinations of Wellesley and Bryn Mawr, so it is reasonable to assume that Barnard’s trustees wished Barnard to be as academically rigorous as the two colleges that came before it. Therefore, Barnard was intended for the studious, the intellectual. Did the trustees want anyone who could succeed academically to enroll? Initially, they probably did not. Looking to institutions like Bryn Mawr and Wellesley as models, and knowing that there existed prestigious preparatory schools in New York City, Barnard trustees had every reason to expect preparatory applicants. Nevertheless, the introduction of Regents examinations and scholarships added to the college’s applicant pool in ways that it could not have anticipated at its founding. By the end of 1914, Barnard’s student demographic was different from Bryn Mawr’s or Wellesley’s, yet Barnard’s initial admission requirements and available scholarships indicate an expectation for the preparatory-educated candidate, the same type of student that Bryn Mawr and Wellesley were established to admit.



















Works Cited

“Barnard Announcement 1905.” Google Books. Columbia University, n.d. Web.

“Bryn Mawr Program 1905.” Google Books. Bryn Mawr College, n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.

“The Bryn Mawr School.” School Overview. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Feb. 2015.

Butler, Nicholas M. “Barnard College 1889-1914.” Google Books. Princeton University, 8 Dec. 2008. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.

Converse, Florence. The Story of Wellesley. Boston: Little, Brown, 1919. Google Books. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.

Frankfort, Roberta. Collegiate Women: Domesticity and Career in Turn-of-the-century America. New York: New York UP, 1977. Print.

Holts, James D. “History of the University of the State of New York and the State Education Department 1784 – 1996.” History of the State Education Department. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Feb. 2015.

M. Carey Thomas Papers, Special Collections Department, Bryn Mawr College Library.

McCaughey, Robert. “Class of 1910 Data Set.” Making Barnard History. Barnard College, n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.

Smith, Emily J. “Dean’s Annual Report 1895.” Google Books. University of Michigan, 6 Jan. 2009. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.

“Wellesley Calendar 1898.” Google Books. Wellesley College, n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.

“Wellesley Calendar 1914.” Google Books. Wellesley College, n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.









Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.