Minor Traditions

There's a saying that, if it happens twice at Bryn Mawr, it's a tradition. Anyone who has attended the college knows that to be true. There are so many minor traditions that it would be difficult to list them all. I have pics of some, and others that I have yet to scan in, but here is a grouping of some of the more "everyday" kinds of traditions that are practiced at Bryn Mawr.

Click here to see pictures of the various minor traditions.

  • Anassa
    The college cheer can be heard at various times throughout the year. Actually, along with many of the minor traditions, the Anassa can pretty much be heard anytime, anywhere. The text of the cheer can be found in the songbook. As per tradition, only seniors may start the Anassa, but they may start it for any reason, or (most often) for no reason at all! If the cheer is started in praise of an event, an individual, a class, etc., then whatever is being praised is typically added to the end of the cheer itself. The Anassa is most often heard after the major traditions, throughout May Day, and during step sings. The tradition of the Anassa is handed down as a part of the May Day step sing, when the seniors step down and the juniors take the senior steps. This tradition is described in greater depth on the May Day page.
  • Skinny Dipping
    One of the most famous traditions is skinny dipping in the Thomas Cloisters. The fountain is always filled with cold, chlorinated water, assuming that many students will take advantage of the facitilies. The traditon was started by Katherine Hepburn, a fact that has been confirmed by the source. Thanks to Katherine Dixon '87 for sending me word that Ms. Hepburn confirmed this personally in her 1985 graduation address. Apparently she used to do it to stay awake while studying during late nights in Thomas Great Hall.
  • The Drag Ball
    Although the drag ball has only been around a couple of years, it has enjoyed great popularity and I'm sure it will last into the future. Basically, some student groups get together and hire some drag queens to come out to the college and perform, and the whole thing is followed by an amateur contest for college students. The winners of the contest perform with the queens at a show in Philly. If you look at the pics, there is one of me and Erin as the Blues Brothers. We won the '99 drag ball and had a great time in the city with Brittany Lynn and her pals.
  • Senior Bell-Ringing
    After all senior work is complete, each senior goes to the Taylor bell tower and rings the bell the number of her class. Because we were the class of '99, we could ring the bell 99 times. Of course, the administration suggested that we only ring it 9 times, but we didn't listen. As a non-senior, you get used to that infernal bell ringing at all hours of the night when you're trying to complete your finals. As a senior, it is the best feeling in the world to celebrate such an amazing accomplishment. Kudos to the class of 2000, by the way. I was visiting the Mawr for their graduation and was privileged enough to be the counter for their grand bell-ringing session. They managed to ring the bell 2000 straight times. It took a couple of hours and it broke the rope once, but they made it! Congrats, ladies!
  • The Owl in Rock Arch
    In the center of Rockefeller Arch, there is a stone owl who is said to be the protector of the college. In the old days, the traditions mistresses were responsible for "care and feeding" of the owl. They were to take their lanterns at the beginning of the year and walk clockwise around campus to wake the owl, then at the end, they were to walk counter-clockwise to put him back to sleep. I don't think this is done anymore; it certainly wasn't done by us, but the spirit of the protective owl is still a tradition on campus.
  • Athena
    The patron goddess of the college is Athena. In Thomas Great Hall, there is a statue of her (the original statue now resides in Rhys Carpenter Library, but that's another story). Students make offerings to Athena for her gifts of wisdom and strength when taking finals, writing papers, just asking for a little personal help, and innumerable other reasons. The night before May Day, all the traditions mistresses on campus gather to go through a set of "rituals" designed to appease the goddess and insure a sunny May Day. Mary Catherine Roper '87 writes to let me know that she was always told that Athena was particularly fond of pennies.
  • Senior Row
    Through the middle of Bryn Mawr's campus is a double row of trees known as Senior Row. It is the site of the May Day hoop race. At the end of Senior Row is the Moon Bench, which has its own associated traditional value. The rumor is, if you walk all the way down Senior Row in between the rows of trees before you're a senior, you won't graduate. Same goes for...
  • The Senior Steps
    On the west side of Taylor Hall, facing Thomas Great Hall, are the senior steps. The only people allowed on these steps are seniors, and again, the threat is not graduating. It should be noted that, provided Athena has been adequately honored, these superstitions can be avoided in the event that accidental presence on the steps or careless walking down senior row has occurred.
  • Garden Party
    Possibly the largest of the minor traditions, garden party happens on the Saturday of graduation weekend every year. Each senior chooses a non-senior to be her "garden party girl." The garden party girl then chooses a spot on the lawn in front of Wyndham and Erdman and decorates it for the senior's family. BMCDS caters and it's basically a time to schmooze with your teachers and the staff and get them to meet your family.
  • The Moon Bench
    Brought to my attention by a H'Ford alum who is married to the BMC grad he dated in college, I forgot to mention the moon bench. The moon bench is at the end of senior row. Superstition has it that, if sweethearts sit together on this bench, they'll break up. Actually, that has changed since 1989, when James was last at Bryn Mawr. Now it's that you can't kiss someone while sitting on the moon bench. There's also a legend that says if you do kiss your signifigant other in Rock Arch, then the relationship will last. Thanks to James Kline HC '89 for jogging my memory :)
  • Hoop Race
    I kind of covered this one on the May Day page, so if you want to go read in context, please do. There are also hoop race pics on the May Day picture page. Tradition goes: there is a hoop race every May Day that the seniors participate in. I have an email from an alum who writes the following:
    "I would like to add the traditional hooprace down senior row, which is during or around graduation. The contestants are seniors only, and the winner is allegedly the first to be married, and the 2nd place finisher is the first to get her Ph.D.. When I ran it (in 1977) the contest was to place 2nd - no one wanted to be first, and watching people try not to win was a riot. In 1977, we still had the (allegedly, but I doubt it) original hoops, and each senior was supposed to carve their name in the side and pass it down to an underclasswoman. But of course the classes had greatly expanded since the 1880's or whenever the race was first run, and over the years some hoops broke, and to the best of my recollection by 1977 there were only around 30 of us with hoops. Anyway, I heard that shortly thereafter more hoops were purchased." -- Diana Lurie Boersma '77
    Since Diana's race, there have been more hoops purchased. In fact, they are purchased yearly. The older hoops are still passed down, but now seniors have the option of either starting a new hoop to pass along, or taking their hoop with them. There are also special traditions hoops that are passed from traditions mistress to traditions mistress.
  • Lantern Night Teas
    Diana Boersma '77 (along with several others) also reminded me of Lantern Night Tea invitations. Upperclasswomen make invitations to teas, which are tied together and attached to the frosh lanterns before Lantern Night. Typically, the invitations are handmade and elaborate, and they serve as keepsakes for the frosh. I don't know about Diana's time, but now, the teas are all themed so that they have the word "tea" included in the title. For example: "The EighTEAs," "CreativiTEA," "OblaTEA, Obla-da," and the ever-popular "NudiTEA."
  • Lantern Night Candles
    I got a reminder of several details from Alicia Rudie Hovland '88, who was the traditions mistress from '86-'87. One of these details is that on Lantern Night (after any step sing, actually), the first person's candle to go out will be the first to get married.
  • Potato Lectures
    During Hell Week, frosh are assigned a certain number of "potato lectures" that they must attend. Lectures are given by upperclasswomen, often at completely inconvenient times, on a variety of topics involving the potato. Alicia Rudie Hovland '88 sends the following topics: "The Potato as a Foundation for Renaissance Art and Architecture" and "The Tao of Tater Tots." I gave a lecture at 4:13am in the networking closet of my dorm entitled "Networking the Potato: Ethernet and Spuds."
  • Customs Week
    Lynne Mysliwiec '85 sent me a note asking about the continuation of customs week. It still definitely goes on, but it wasn't something I had immediately associated with traditions. But it happens every year, so...when frosh enroll, they are assigned to dorms, and each dorm is divided into a couple of customs groups. These are groups of frosh who spend customs week together throughout the number of activities. Customs groups are led by sophomore "customs people," who live on the same floor as the frosh and are responsible for the general orientation of new students to the college. These groups remain together throughout the school year.
  • May Day Gifts
    Lee Killgore '80 reminds me of May Day gifts. Basically, the night before May Day, seniors choose mementos to pass along to juniors, sophomores, and frosh. Some of these gifts have been passed down for a very long time (I had Silly Putty from the seventies, it was totally gross). The tradition is that, if the gift has been handed down more than once, you must hand it down again when you graduate. Gifts that you receive that have only been handed down once, you may keep.
  • May Day Stuff
    A couple of people wrote to me about May Day details...several said that a "dragon play" was included, which starred a faculty member as the dragon. This play was put on by the residents of Pem East. Also, May Day seems to have been held on the actual May Day date (May 1) as late as 1987.
  • Haverford Songsmistress
    Dave Scocca, HC '90 wrote to ask if there was still a Haverford Songsmistress to participate at step sings. There definitely is, but the contingent of Fords who come over for that stuff is probably much, much smaller than it used to be. There are several songs that involve a Bryn Mawr verse and then a Haverford verse.
  • Brecon Prom
    Got a note from a current Mawrter reminding me of Brecon Prom. It's certainly a newer tradition, held at Brecon annually. Marot Williamson '04 tells me that it's usually held after the last day of classes...I don't know that to be true, I seem to remember it being held at other times. But the basic idea is for everyone to go in crazy outfits and just have a good time. The slogan when I was in school was "Not Your High School Prom." That certainly fits. I have pics from my Brecon proms that I will post shortly. Also received email from Julia Alexander '96, who let me know that the illustrious Bree Horwitz '96 threw the first Brecon Prom as a Lantern Night Tea. Yay for new traditions!
  • Rhoads Halloween Party
    And while we're on the subject of dorm parties, there's also the Rhoads Halloween Party. Don't know when it started, but every year now, the residents of Rhoads use their DDF (dorm discretionary fund) to throw an open party for the campus, complete with DJ.
  • Superstitions
    Mary Catherine Roper '87 writes, "When I was at Bryn Mawr, we took great care not to pass through the tunnel under the Septa train tracks at the Bryn Mawr station while a train was overhead, for fear of flunking our next language exam."
  • Frosh Papers
    All frosh have to take English courses called "College Seminars" during their first year. The courses are notoriously rigorous in their weekly writing requirement. Mary Catherine Roper '87 writes of her experience: "When I was a freshman, everyone who was taking freshman English wrote papers on the same schedule, and the papers got longer as the semester progressed, culminating in the 'Six Weeks Paper,' the first real term paper the frosh were expected to write (I think it was thirty pages).  At any rate, the sections all had their papers due the same day, and of course many many people procrastinated and were up most of the night before.  The juniors would type and the sophomores roamed the halls offering coffee and doughnuts, and there were pastries awaiting those who dropped off their papers at English house the next morning.  I loved that tradition because it was the first time the sophomores showed that they weren't so mean after all." While frosh English classes and the infamous papers still exist, upperclasswomen have forgotten their role in this old tradition.
  • Frosh Hall Plays
    Maya Amis '79 writes that these beginning-of-year hall plays took place through the seventies.
  • Senior Streaking
    How could I forget? Seeing as this particular tradition left its indelible mark of trauma on me for four straight years, you would think I would have put it up at the top of the list. Instead, Catherine Gutman '90 reminds me. In her day, there was streaking down Senior Row after finals are over. In this day, there's streaking just about anywhere, anytime. The ones I remember most distinctly were the group streaks around the computer labs at about 3am during finals.
  • Pem Arch Lions
    Molly Kleinman '01 reminds me of another one I can't believe I forgot. There are stone lion statues outside Pem Arch that get dressed up for each major tradition of the year. The dressing of the lions is handed down as a May Day gift.
  • Other Traditions?
    I know that these few accessory traditions do not encompass the sum total of all the traditions that have been through Bryn Mawr's campus. If you were a Bryn Mawr student and observed traditions that are not noted here, please send me email of the practice. I am hoping to document as much as I can.

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