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.
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.
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
- 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
"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
- 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.
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.
View Minor Traditions Pictures
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