Acknowledging an “act of historical erasure,” Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania announced this week that its Thomas Library will now be called “Old Library.” The former namesake of the library held antisemitic and racist views, it stated.
Thomas Library was named in 1935 to honor M. Carey Thomas, the school’s first dean and former president. Considered a leading advocate in women’s education and the suffrage movement, she led the college in various roles from 1884 to 1922, when she retired.
Naming the building after Thomas honored those roles at the time, but it also “functioned as an act of historical erasure,” according to a statement from the school.
“It silenced and erased the experiences of those who had been affected negatively by the racist and antisemitic policies that Thomas promulgated as college president and her active, public embrace of eugenics,” it added.
The women’s college stated that Thomas “acted on her views in ways that shaped the policies, values and even the physical structures of the institution,” as well as “impacted prospective students of color and Jewish students who were excluded from the college.”
The “legacy” of Thomas’s decisions even impacted minorities who were later admitted into the college, the school stated. “At odds with the values of inclusion to which the college currently aspires, her actions created harm for the entire campus community,” it said.
“Bryn Mawr now seeks to provide the college community with opportunities for engagement, reflection and healing and to contribute to efforts to address systemic issues of racial bias on campus,” the college continued. “The acknowledgment of acts of erasure and Thomas’s history are key steps in a larger process of articulating and embracing a fuller sense of the college’s past.”