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Dorothy Foster papers


Held at: Bryn Mawr College [Contact Us]Bryn Mawr College Library, 101 N. Merion Avenue, Bryn Mawr 19010

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Bryn Mawr College. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Dorothy Foster was born in 1883 in Salem, Massachusetts, daughter of Genevieve Stimpson and James M. Foster. She attended Bryn Mawr College from 1900-1904. She majored in English and Philosophy and held the offices of Senior Class President in '04, secretary to the Philosophy Club in '03- '04, and membership in the English Club in '03-'04.

After Bryn Mawr, Foster earned an A. M. in English Literature from Radcliffe in 1908 and did further graduate work at Harvard from 1913-1914. Her field of interest was Restoration and Shakespearean Drama. Foster was a Reader at Mount Holyoke College an English Literature class which led to an assistant professorship. She became a full professor in 1930 and a professor emeritus in 1948. When on leave, Foster spent time doing research in England during and after the First World War.

Dorothy Foster died on January 27th, 1968 in South Hadley, Massachusetts.

The Dorothy Foster papers contain the correspondence of Dorothy Foster, Bryn Mawr College class of 1904. This collection contains approximately 120 letters Dorothy Foster wrote to her mother during her junior and senior years at Bryn Mawr.

The collection consists of one box containing nine folders. The letters are arranged chronologically within the folders, with the exception of the first folder, which contains miscellaneous items, including her academic records and an essay about May Day.

Dorothy wrote her mother on an average of five to six times a month about her daily life in college, her courses, social events, plays, and lectures. The letters cover a variety of subjects and give a good impression of what it was like to be a Bryn Mawr student in the early twentieth century. Subjects include visiting speakers and their lectures, formal dinners, teas, club meetings, exams, hosting prospective students, the formation of the English club, Self-Government meetings, personal forays into early science courses at Bryn Mawr, and trips into Philadelphia. Among the speakers she met was poet W. B. Yeats. Foster was senior class president in 1904 and often writes of meeting with President M. Carey Thomas, about class matters. Foster also wrote in-depth about concerts, plays, and operas she attended in Philadelphia.

Researchers interested in the intellectual and social culture of women's colleges in the early 20th century will find this collection to be of value. Those with a specific interest in English and Philosophy at Bryn Mawr, W.B. Yeats, and Bryn Mawr's traditions would find this collection of exceptional use.

Digitized versions of folders 2-9 in the Dorothy Foster papers can be found on Triptych at

Initial processing completed by Hilary Hafner, December 18, 1987.

Bryn Mawr College
Finding Aid Author
Hilary Hafner Allison Rodgers Rebecca Morawski Cassidy Gruber Baruth
Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research.

Use Restrictions

The Dorothy Foster Papers are the physical property of Bryn Mawr College Special Collections.

Collection Inventory

Archival Resource Key. Letters, Dorothy Foster Letters, Dorothy Foster (Miscellaneous) .
Box 1 Folder 1
Scope and Contents

Scope Note: Folder 1 contains miscellaneous elements of Foster's time at Bryn Mawr College, heavily focusing on her academic records. Records such as her official transcript and a journal of courses taken highlight her keen aptitude for studies of English literature and theater, which would continue later into her career. The impersonal approach of her academic records are contrasted by the enclosed draft of her essay "May Day in Oxford: as I went forth one May morning." The essay provides a lively account of her May Day experiences both at Bryn Mawr and at Oxford, and draws many similarities between events and atmosphere in both locations.

Archival Resource Key. Letters, Dorothy Foster (September -December 1902) .
Box 1 Folder 2
Scope and Contents

Folder 2 of the Dorothy Foster Collection contains letters from September 30th 1902 to December 19th 1902, covering the first semester of Dorothy Foster's junior year at Bryn Mawr. Against the backdrop of rigorous schoolwork and an active social life, Foster remarks in these letters on how much she misses being at home. In her active interest in the goings-on of her family and their wellbeing, she provides the reader with a clear contrast in the paces of everyday life and life at Bryn Mawr; her evenings are busy with visiting students and faculty alongside exploring Philadelphia, and her days are weighed down with worries of oral examinations and lab assessments. Also detailed in these letters is the viewpoint of a student struggling financially at Bryn Mawr, as seen in her hesitance to ask M. Carey Thomas about scholarship opportunities and her insistence that she provide her friends with ample holiday gifts, so long as her finances may permit it. While seemingly mundane, Foster's letters explore the divide between wealthy students and those who come from lower classes. From this perspective, these letters exemplify the tensions of the early days of women's collegiate education as Foster attempts to hide her family's financial status in her day to day activities.

Archival Resource Key. Letters, Dorothy Foster (January - February 1903) .
Box 1 Folder 3
Scope and Contents

Folder 3, which dates from January 18th 1903 through February 27th 1903, consists of letters from Dorothy to her mother during the winter months of her Junior year at Bryn Mawr College. The letters paint a vivid picture of student life at the turn of the century with her descriptions of difficult coursework and extracurricular activities that she participates in. Researchers would likely find interesting her descriptions of changes on campus, such as the proposed proctoring system for exams, the installation of electric lights, and an early form of a vacuum that has been used in Rockefeller Hall. These letters situate the history of women's collegiate education in that of the larger developments and upheavals in the wake of the turn of the century.

Archival Resource Key. Letters, Dorothy Foster (March - May 1903).
Box 1 Folder 4
Scope and Contents

Folder 4 contains letters Dorothy Foster wrote to her mother from March 6th 1903 through the end of the semester, on the topics of both life at Bryn Mawr and her family's financial situation. Many of the letters detail campus life and the changing seasons, alongside an enlightening look into the study of the sciences during the early years of Bryn Mawr College. Researchers may find interesting the discussion of the Junior-Senior Dinner, a tradition that is no longer practiced at Bryn Mawr. These letters provide an interesting point of view to women's education in the early 20th century, especially that in science. Dorothy's unbridled propensity for Biology labs and studying the mice in her room highlight an enthusiasm for Biology and Psychology that seemed distant to women just decades before, while her experiences such as frogging with Miss King, picking and identifying flowers, and holding impromptu teas in the physics lab highlight the compromise between science and perceived domesticity that allowed the institution these types of courses in women's college curriculums.

Archival Resource Key. Letters, Dorothy Foster (September - October 1903) , 1903.
Box 1 Folder 5
Scope and Contents

Folder 5 contains letters from Dorothy Foster to her mother that cover the time from September 30th through October 29th 1903, the first month of Dorothy's senior year. Present are discussions of student life and teas that are held on campus, while academics seem to have taken a backseat in her letter-writing to her mother. Researchers may find interest in the detailed descriptions of dinner party held by M. Carey Thomas at the Deanery, with its many expensive courses and ornate decoration. This frank view of student life on campus lends a new light to the view of college women, allowing female students to be free from parental control and remain in a space where they are able to assert their own agencies in joyous celebrations and impromptu teas. Dorothy Foster's contemporaries seem keen to research this as well, as seen by a visit from an English commission sent to study Bryn Mawr students and present their findings at the St. Louis World Fair (discussed further in Folder 7). The social structure of college life depicted in these letters may be a valuable resource for those researching the history of women during the early 20th century.

Archival Resource Key. Letters, Dorothy Foster (November- December 1903) .
Box 1 Folder 6
Scope and Contents

Folder 6 contains letters from November 1st 1903 to December 20th 1903, written by Dorothy Foster to her mother on life at Bryn Mawr. Dorothy discusses life on campus during her first semester as a Senior, with Bryn Mawr traditions such as Lantern Night and student-run activities such as Halloween masquerades. W. B. Yeats visits campus during this time period, an event that Dorothy writes much about. Dorothy balances both her intellectual extracurricular pursuits and her academic career, with some difficulty, as she attempts to pursue not only what work she must for classes, but also what she enjoys. Dorothy goes into Philadelphia often, both to enjoy art and theater and to spend time with friends, while still trying to balance this against her academics. She speaks of missing home greatly, and her discussions of home life with her mother shine a light onto her motivations in studying English; her mother is just as avid of a reader as Dorothy, with closets packed with books and literary journals. This common passion between Dorothy and her mother adds a new dimension to her home life away from Bryn Mawr and erases the perceived dichotomy of intellect versus domesticity, instead replacing it with the idea that intellectual pursuits do not necessarily end once one exists the classroom or campus.

Archival Resource Key. Letters, Dorothy Foster (January - February 1904) .
Box 1 Folder 7
Scope and Contents

Folder 7 contains letters written by Dorothy Foster to her mother from January 7th 1904 through February 29th 1904, discussing day to day life on campus and her academic pursuits. Dorothy entertains friends, attends theatrical productions, meets with professors and alumni, and studies for exams. Researchers may find interest in Foster's various sketches, that she uses as a means of sharing her experiences on campus with her mother. She sends her mother drawings of various subjects, such as the newly designed college crest, or an illustration from a text that she finds particularly interesting. In this way, Foster is able to meter the world through her own hand, to share her experiences by providing her own unique point of view in its conveyance in a manner that a photograph cannot replicate. However, she seems to take a negative view to her own sketches, as evidenced in letter 68, where she refuses to send her notebooks to be displayed in the St. Louis World Fair--in order to act as an example for the current status of women's education—due to her sketches, which she sees as unprofessional and a poor example to send forth for the brilliant women at Bryn Mawr College. Nonetheless, the history of Dorothy Foster is a history of the true female college student at the turn of the 20th century as she juggles personality and professionalism in the scope of the early years of women's college education, its gaining of notoriety, and its transformation into what it is today.

Archival Resource Key. Letters, Dorothy Foster (March - April 1904) .
Box 1 Folder 8
Scope and Contents

Folder 8 contains letters from March 6th 1904 to April 23rd 1904, written from Dorothy Foster to her mother. Dorothy, in recounting her experiences with plays, operas, and concerts such as that of Strauss and Wagner, shows her true affinity for theater that would lead to her career studying and teaching Reconstruction and Shakespearian Drama. Her descriptions are precise, her criticisms well-articulated in a way that connotes a serious passion and talent for speaking of theater. This talent continues into her discussion of on campus affairs, with her descriptions of plays performed on campus, of the European Fellowship dinner and ensuing skits parodying professors. This series of letters provides an interesting look at theater and its relation to Bryn Mawr students, both as a pastime to attend and an art to perform.

Archival Resource Key. Letters, Dorothy Foster (May 1904).
Box 1 Folder 9
Scope and Contents

Written from May 2nd 1904 to May 19th 1904, the final folder of letters from Dorothy Foster to her mother during her time at Bryn Mawr covers her last months at college, and the traditions they entail, including May Day, the Junior Senior Supper with the passing of the Loving Cup, and Commencement. Especially notable is Dorothy's account of being crowned May Queen on May Day, and the joyous affair that ensues as she and her friends celebrate. In many senses, this folder contains the culmination to the work Dorothy has put in over her time at Bryn Mawr, completing her final exams and receiving recognition for her efforts in both clubs and the class of 1904 as a whole.

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