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March 27, 2023 3:50 pm

Bryn Mawr College Removing Antisemite’s Name from Building


avatar by Dion J. Pierre

Bryn Mawr College. Photo: Firespeaker/Wikimedia Commons

The Board of Trustees of Bryn Mawr College, a liberal arts institution in Pennsylvania, voted last week to rename a campus library because the former president it honored was an antisemite and eugenicist.

Martha Carey Thomas, a suffragette who served as the college’s second president from 1894 t0 1922, refused to hire Jewish faculty and prevented the admission of black students, the college said in a statement. Additionally, in an “Address at the Opening of the College” in 1916 she promoted eugenics, discussing the “supremacy of the white races.”

“This decision, reached after very careful research and deliberation by the board, is reflective of how our thinking must continue to evolve as we seek to create a campus community that feels inclusive and welcoming to all,” Bryn Mawr College president Kim Cassidy said in an open letter on March 21. “The Old Library inscription with Thomas’ name will be physically removed from the building later this year.”

Bryn Mawr first suspended calling the library “Thomas Library” in 2017 after white supremacists marched through Charlottesville, Virginia, with tiki torches and later formed a “History Working Group” assigned to examine Thomas’ tenure at the college. The building is now called “Old Library.”

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“Reclaiming a building and creating an inclusive vision of the future for that space are efforts we will need to carry over time and these goals and actions ultimately must be owned by the full campus,” Cassidy continued in the letter. “I am proud of the work we are collectively doing to understand our past and simultaneously create new systems that promote equity, inclusion, and belonging for the future.”

Other higher learning institutions have changed their buildings’ names after discovering the antisemitic beliefs of the persons they commemorated.

In 2022, the California State University Board of Trustees voted to rename the Henry Madden Library at Fresno State University after archival research revealed that Dr. Henry Miller, who served as University Librarian for 30 years between 1949 and 1979, was a Nazi sympathizer and held violently antisemitic views throughout his life.

FSU named the library after Madden in 1980, and before his death in 1982, received his papers as a donation with a stipulation that they be sealed for 25 years. In its report, the university said the condition left it “without a full understanding of the man who would be honored.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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