Bryn Mawr College of Witchcraft was founded in 1885, the second youngest of the Seven Sisters and the seventh school in the United States to grant witches access to formal higher magical education.
Salem Witches’ Institute was the first women’s school in the American wizarding world, founded in 1710, only to integrate with Boston’s all-male Thorndike Academy in 1832. While Salem Witches’ Institute retains its original title, it is now a co-ed school with male and female students in attendance. It maintains a close relationship with the Seven Sisters, though it is not officially a member and had ceased being a witches’ school prior to the founding of Mount Holyoke. Unlike the Seven Sisters, who are focused on higher magical education, SWI includes a primary school for young witches and wizards ages 11-18, located on the same site in Salem, Massachusetts.
Shortly following the integration of SWI, Mount Holyoke Witches’ Seminary opened its doors in 1837. Founder Mary Lyon was a radical witch of her age and very open about her humble background, coming from a half-blood family of farmers. In great contrast to Salem’s tradition of serving the daughters of wealthy Pureblood New Englanders, many of them descended from the three original wizarding colonies, Lyon insisted that Mount Holyoke be open to students from even the poorest backgrounds.
Most famously, Lyon’s school was the first in the United States to admit Muggleborns, and its founder developed a new system, similar to the one used by European schools, for finding and contacting Muggleborn witches. Until the late 1800s, Mount Holyoke was the only form of American magical education, primary or higher, that allowed Muggleborn witches to attend. As a result, Mount Holyoke maintained a primary school in a nearby mansion with a small enrollment of 15-20 students at a time, most of them of poor to middling Muggle backgrounds. The primary school was disbanded in 1910, when American wizarding primary schools had almost universally abolished bans on Muggleborn students.
Following the founding of Mount Holyoke, the Seven Sisters were created in quick succession, serving the concentrated population of young witches in the New England and Mid-Atlantic region. They included Vassar School of Witchcraft, later named Vassar School of Magic when it opened its doors to wizards; The Wellesley Institute for Witches; Smith Wixen College; The Society for Magical Instruction of Women, later named The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Magical Study and then dissolved; Bryn Mawr College of Witchcraft; Barnard College for Metropolitan Witches.
Bryn Mawr College of Witchcraft was, unlike many of the Seven Sisters, founded by a wizard rather than a witch. Joseph W. Taylor, a wealthy Healer and member of the Magical Society of Friends, was largely responsible for its creation in 1885. Until 1893, Bryn Mawr maintained its affiliation with the Magical Society of Friends, a religious organization of wizards and witches whose beliefs were deeply connected, and often
overlapping, with the Muggle Quakers.
Bryn Mawr is situated outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and its grounds appear to Muggles as a sprawling tree sanctuary. It can be accessed by standing at the entrance to the sanctuary, flanked by two stone lions, and speaking the college’s motto. During the 1970s, the main entrance was frequently sabotaged by ambitious young witches, and any wizards entering the school were greeted not by the warm glow of the torches in Pembroke Arch, but by the stone lions come to life. While there are now extensive charms in place to prevent further tampering with the college’s entrance, wizards from the neighboring Haverford College of Magic have reported that the flora and fauna of campus are particularly hostile towards them, and that visits to witches have been greatly inconvenienced by doors that refused to open, hallways that disappeared, and even an incident involving a flock of stone owls who descended from Rockefeller Hall to angrily peck at a Haverford wizard. When the young wizard attempted to cast the owls away, a passing witch chastised him for attempting to destroy campus property and hexed him bald.
While anyone accessing the college for the first time can only do so from the main entrance, other passages are well-known by the students and used frequently depending upon one’s aim. A favorite entrance is known unofficially as the Booty Hole, as it is accessed by walking straight in between two prominent round bushes, and will bring the student directly outside of the president’s residence.
The tree sanctuary is an appropriate disguise, as Bryn Mawr does take great pride in its campus leafage, and boasts an extensive collection imported from around the world. Most of these trees arrived with resident nymphs, beloved by students and known for nude cavorting on the college grounds following an evening of exorbitant nectar consumption. A Bryn Mawr witch, or Mawrter, not in the library is most likely to be found in the branches of the campus trees, studying intently while a nymph braids her hair. Many of the nymphs on campus are endangered and thus protected by international wizarding law, and though contact between witches and nymphs is prohibited on paper, it is almost impossible to find a student who hasn’t spent an afternoon in the company of a tree spirit. Hammocks have recently been installed on campus, though for how much longer is not clear, as nymphs have taken to gleefully shaking their trees after an unsuspecting witch has settled in for a nap.
Bryn Mawr is one of the rare American wizarding institutions that continues to have strict rules about familiars. As the school’s mascot, owls are still very much a favorite at Bryn Mawr, despite being considered quite out of fashion in the rest of the country. While there are much more efficient ways to send messages home, especially with the recent attempts to integrate Muggleborn lifestyles into the campus setting, owls can be seen perched in many parts of campus, particularly on the roof of the college’s post office. Familiars besides owls may include cats, rodents, and bats, although as far as student legend is concerned, Mawrters have quietly hosted miniature drakes, color-changing rabbits, and even a famous hedgehog named Clive who was said to have urinated beer.
House elves were originally used as servants and cooks at Bryn Mawr, but the practice was abolished in 1927 following the passing of the Protection of Lesser Magical Persons Act. While many other American wizarding institutes kept on their house elves regardless of the law, Bryn Mawr students have for many years been required to clean their own rooms and do their own laundry. Since the charms for such acts are not as easy as they appear, it is often entertaining to the staff to watch Muggleborn Mawrters take easily to the task while their witching world companions struggle to understand the act of washing clothes.
M. Carey Thomas
Bryn Mawr’s most famous president was elected in 1894, following the death of James Rhoads during the dragonpox epidemic of the same year. M. Carey Thomas, daughter of a prominent Baltimore wizarding family, had previously written directly to the trustees of Bryn Mawr, demanding to be made president. While they would not grant her request at that time, Thomas had no difficulty in garnering power. Pureblood, her eccentric but elitist roots would influence her for the duration of her life, and despite her more radical stance on witches’ education and rights, she was far less civil in matters of wixen race and class.
Thomas openly disdained the New American wizarding curriculum and advocated for a return to more traditional witchcraft, based in classical casting and the traditions of ancient Greek and Roman magic. Arithmancy, a subject of little popularity in American institutes, was given great emphasis by Thomas, who also insisted that students be fluent in more than one magical language. Thomas dictated that all new buildings erected during her time as head of the school would be in the Gothic style, an aesthetic popularized by many European schools of wizardry, including Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in Scotland. This move introduced the style of “magical collegiate” architecture to the United States and would be imitated countless times by other American institutions of magic.
Thomas was a prominent figure in the early stages of the American Witches’ Rights Movement, as well as instrumental in the founding of the Bryn Mawr Summer School for Industrious Witches, providing education to witches who were employed in potion factories and lower levels of magical labor. Following her death in 1935, her ashes were scattered in the college’s cloisters, where they were reported to have formed the shape of a stern face in the air before alighting on the wind.
Her portrait in Thomas’ Great Hall has been known to loudly entertain the company of the portraits of Mamie Gwinn and Mary Elizabeth Garrett, and during these periods, the painting is moved to a secluded basement location so as not to disturb and permanently scar the students. A witch in the class of 1958 famously found the portrait in its cellar hiding place during an effort to stash away her own collection of potent potables, and what she witnessed has become both a legend and a tale of caution to keep young witches out of the Thomas basement.
Once a year, the ghost of M. Carey Thomas makes a very showy reappearance in Taft Garden, rising dramatically from the waters of the fountain to be dressed elaborately – and at an almost painfully slow rate – by overtaxed bluebirds. Thomas then roams the campus, chastising passing students and complaining about the acceptance rate until the sun sets, when she turns into a shower of judgmental light.
Another famous phantom is that of Katharine Hepburn. As a student at Bryn Mawr, Hepburn was not a particularly gifted witch, but is still admired for her playful antics. On the night of the full moon, her ghost is welcomed to the cloisters fountain by an audience of excited Mawrters, ready to join her for a midnight skinnydip. Students traditionally bring cigarettes and champagne as offerings, and if Kate takes a swig from your bottle, you’ll pass your finals. If Kate insults you while taking a swig, you’ll have the highest marks in your class.
Magical Locations on Campus
The senior steps are located at Taylor Hall, and theirs is a particularly curious legacy. Legend has it that a professor with the adjacent office grew sick of the incessant slamming of the door and put the original curse on the entrance, barring all but senior witches from using it. To this day, only seniors may enter or exit the building in this manner. The original curse would physically expel the unsuspecting witch from the steps, launching her through the air and landing her on the other side of campus. Due to safety concerns, there was an attempt to remove the curse, but it proved to be incredibly stubborn and as ornery as its caster, and the professors in charge of the task could only slightly lessen its potency. Today’s senior steps are widely avoided by the younger witches, although the first week of classes tends to find a gaggle of freshmen stuck in the nearby trees, swearing they’ve learned their lesson.
Taft Garden is not only famous for its visitations from M. Carey Thomas, but also for its collection of magical flora. During spring, the garden should be avoided by those with allergies to Sniveling Willows and Bliverblooms, as their intense pollen wars will last for a good three to four weeks. Students who choose to use the garden as a spot for frivolities will more than likely find themselves ensnared by the charming fountain spout, who has been reprimanded on more than one occasion for convincing young witches that he is a fertility symbol and should be rubbed for luck. A witch from the class of 1998 famously kept an untamed specimen of the North American freshwater mermaid in the fountain for an entire semester, before the mermaid was removed for biting too many students. At the campus’ insistence, the mermaid was humanely taken to the pond beside Rhoads Hall, where it has only bitten four students since its relocation. The Swamp Pixie, originally a native of southeast marshlands, was imported to the campus and released in Taft in 1924, which led to an enduring campuswide infestation of pixies. Attempts at complete eradication have all failed despite frequent efforts by the staff, and due to the unusually active population in Pembroke East, campus pixies are still known as Eastie Beasties. They are seen as general pests by the residents, particularly when they urinate in the tea pantry supplies, and no one hesitates to swat them if they should crawl across the floor or land on one’s head while casting.
Senior Row is a favorite location on campus, home to some of the campus’ oldest and most beautiful tree nymphs. Only Mawrters in their final year are allowed to walk the row’s entire length, and a witch in the wrong will quickly realize her error, as any undergraduate in the spot finds herself enveloped in leaves and attacked by acorn-wielding nymphs. During the May Day celebration, Senior Row hosts the senior hoop race, when seniors magic various objects to ride down the length of the trees while rolling hoops along the ground. Favorite past broomstick alternatives have included carrel desks, a ping pong table that accommodated five, and a fairly bold student’s choice of the president’s office chair.
One cannot be sure whether or not there is any real magic involved in the friendship poles, though everyone swears that a hex cast long ago is still very much alive and well. To split the friendship poles is to ruin a friendship, and Bryn Mawr witches will be seen doggedly adhering to the rules of the poles, even angrily pulling someone into place to prevent the fated division.
The most popular areas of study at Bryn Mawr are rooted in M. Carey Thomas’ original vision for the college: Classics of Casting, Greek and Latin Spellwork, and Arithmancy. Bryn Mawr witches are required to be proficient in more than one magical language, and an exam involving the translation of spells from one wizard dialect to another is regulation for all students. One department that has become crowded in the last few decades is Spell Craft, which studies both the history of spell creation, spell linguistics, and teaches workshops on the creation of new spells. While Spell Craft is not a new or even unpopular subject at most American wizarding institutions, Bryn Mawr’s approach has been applauded as particularly innovative and visionary, in part because of their dedication to non-Western spell traditions that reject the European standard. A popular class in the current department is ‘Fringe Utterances: A Queered Approach to Spell Craft.’
As with most of the Seven Sisters, traditions are a massive part of the culture at Bryn Mawr. The college is known for being a particularly secretive and cultish community, even in comparison to the other witches’ institutions and their famously shadowy practices.
In keeping with European magical tradition with an American touch, each class year bears a class color, element, and magical creature native to the United States. Red classes are represented by fire the North American phoenix, dark blue classes are represented by water and the Great Lakes sea serpent, light blue classes are represented by air and birch-horned unicorn, and green classes are represented by earth and the Rocky Mountain centaur. While it is rare for such creatures to make appearances on campus, traditions events often feature class members performing visual charms as a way to show one’s spirit, with dark blue classes sometimes giving themselves gills, or light blue glasses growing temporary unicorn horns.
Parade Night takes place on the first day of classes each year, and is meant to welcome first year witches to their new homes. Freshmen race underneath Pembroke Arch, where the other classes greet them with any variation of niceties and not-so-niceties. Seniors wave to the new recruits from the senior steps, where they are more than likely enjoying the fruits of a floating keg. Juniors meet the runners with handfuls of candies that sing and scream when they hit their target, though the kind junior may charm flying flowers in their place. Sophomores traditionally drench the incoming witches with cold water, though more than once has a bucket been spiked with a homemade potion. The frequency of these incidents have left the college’s Healing Center no choice but to provide preventative staff at the event in case of any corrective spellwork. Most famously in the fall of 2007, a sophomore’s shower of long-lasting transmodifying potion turned six witches into cats. It took four days to return the students to their original states, as they chose to climb to the roof of Pembroke East and sunbathe in their feline forms instead of attending class.
Lantern Night has never been witnessed by any outsiders, but it is known that the lanterns carried by the witches of Bryn Mawr can hold any number of magical substances not limited to flames. There are rumors of particularly powerful witches using their alma mater’s lanterns to contain the human souls of their ex-lovers, though most Mawrters are in agreement that they are probably justified in doing so.
Hell Week is a festival of magical depravity, marked by outlandish pranks and various student misbehaviors. Freshmen are encouraged to elect an elder witch to serve as her Heller, and Hellers may enact any number of dares and punishments for the younger. Young witches have switched limbs, grown outlandish amounts of brightly hued body hair, and been willingly hexed with backwards speech spells as part of their crimes, all for the pleasing of their Heller. Professors are generally tolerant of the festivities, though more than one has been the unfortunate victim of a poorly aimed spell or the sudden love target of a freshly Romanticisioned freshman.
May Day is the final tradition of the year. Many of the day’s festivities are shared with European magical schools or have their root in these ancient practices. Students dressed in white ride traditional sprig broomsticks around a may pole, weaving brightly colored ribbons. Charmed flower crowns are worn, and particularly gifted students create crowns that may bloom on command, or play host to delicate fairies and their bell choirs. Noted May Days include the May Day celebration of 1929, when a menagerie of magical creatures was let loose by a sympathetic student, and Denbigh ended up as the temporary home to a pair of very sweet kelpies who were never recovered by the zoo.
Dormitories and Their Spirits
Merion Hall is the oldest dormitory on campus, and also houses the school’s most famous apparition, a somewhat depressive spirit named Lillian Vickers. Lillian spends most of her time in the vicinity of the third floor bathroom where she perished in 1901, and more than one horrified freshman has opened the shower curtain only to find Lillian sitting fully-clothed in the water, refusing to budge. If the freshman is unfortunate enough to have picked the last available stall, it is likely they will have to share the shower with Lillian, who inevitably regales her failed romance with a long-dead professor in morose tones. Merion is extremely fond of Lillian in spite of her generally being a campus-known party pooper, and they have a tradition of sending her tea invitations that she will always turn down, swearing she has an existing obligation in the third floor bathroom. It is believed that a smile from Lillian means an outstanding grade on one’s thesis, and seniors spend all year coming up with terrible puns to try out with the ghost, hoping for even the slightest smirk. So far, the most successful attempt went to a Psychology major in 1982, who succeeded with the use of “What did the buffalo say to his son when he left for college? Bison.”
Pembrokes East and West are popular dormitory for the youngest witches, located directly in front of the school’s main entrance and often host to social activity. The dance studio above Pembroke Arch serves as both a teaching space for the Magical Arts and the weekly Ballroom Floatillion, but is also prone to nighttime transformations dependent on the whims of the student who comes across it. Residents of both Pembroke East and West have been known to stumble upon midnight gatherings of ghosts, sentient furniture, and even a jazz bar populated only by doves. A student looking for a bold choice for parties should look no further than Bryn Mawr’s own Room of Requirement, as a silent wish before opening its doors should elicit the request of the party host, whether it be unlimited rum or buxom table dancers. Themed parties are especially popular in Pem East and West and are often taken to the very magically enhanced extreme.
Rockefeller Hall is home to a large flock of stone owls who are not reserved to their perches in Rock’s famous arch. Though stone owls make frequent attempts at contact with the wooden owls of Rockefeller’s common room, the two are kept strictly off-limits as the possibility of interbreeding would seem to have questionable results. Rockefeller’s famously confusing corridors are known for switching places at whim, and only a Rock witch ever knows where she is going within the dormitory. The glass paned doors of the students’ rooms are often hexed to display beautiful scenes that move and dance at passersbys, although every year there is the one door that subtly transforms to display pornographic visuals. Rockefeller is home to the only nameless ghost on campus, a spirit of nebulous appearance who dwells in the Lost Corridor, frequently sneaking up on non-residents and passing through them in the form of a mist.
Radnor Hall is the dormitory with the most frequently changed password, partially due to the mischievous character of the front doors and partially due to its occupants’ tendency to shout the password when drunk. Radnor’s ghost is a one-eyed Quodpot player lovingly nicknamed Pinky. She enjoys picking fights with Denbigh’s ghost, and hovering on Radnor’s front steps, challenging passing students to a ‘scrap in the grass.’ During an unexpected family visit, Pinky can be counted on to stuff all of your unsavories up her chimney, no questions asked.
Denbigh has its own room similar to Pembroke Arch’s studio, quarters known as the Backsmoker that change appearance depending on the wants and wishes of its occupants. Denbigh’s resident spirit can often be found on its couches, a rugby player named Tiny who occasionally uses her head as a ball, to the simultaneous delight and horror of freshmen. On the night before a match, athletes in Denbigh will leave Tiny offerings outside of their door in the form of beer or cider. Whether Tiny herself is the one who drinks the bottles and cans dry, or if fellow residents are getting there first, remains a Denbigh mystery.
Haffner is the dormitory dedicated to international wizarding languages, and houses a French ghost named Remy who would really rather not be there. Remy appears during gatherings with a large bottle of merlot and talks about how visually unappealing he finds the dorm interior.
The most modern dormitory in terms of its appearance, Erdman’s ghost is the only hostile phantom on campus. Said to be the spirit of a student driven mad by her surroundings, Erdman residents become quickly accustomed to looking twice around corners and remaining in their rooms, as standing out in the hall for social time will only lead to a noisy attack by the screeching ghost. As a result, a venture through Erdman is often silent and eerie, with the rare human encounter marked by shocked glances and an immediate retreat so as to not draw attention.
Rhoads Hall is split into Rhoads North and Rhoads South, each with their own defining characteristics. Residents of Rhoads North are partially responsible for the maintenance of the pond, and are often seen extending a wand out their windows, hexing a curious freshman out of the way of the rabid mermaids. Rhoads South frequently entertains the ghost of Rhoads North, as Lady Tabitha is sister to Lady Annabeth, and they enjoy meeting up in the laundry room for tea. Rhoads Hall is closest to the residence of the president, and thus expeditions to hex the president’s house pink or release a plague of sloths upon her patio are often undertaken from the dormitory.
Located on the furthest end of campus, Brecon is rarely seen by most students but fervently loved by the few who call it home. This includes its ghost, a jolly armored man who was only recently revealed to be the spirit of a deceased LARPer and not in fact a medieval knight.
Brecon’s nearest neighbor is Batten House, a co-op for wixen of whom magical activism is a passion. Batten has its own immense magical garden full of incredible magical herbage, some of which is not legal to be grown in the magical state of Pennsylvania but is kept a quiet secret on campus. Batten’s ghost is a second wave feminist who frequently clashes with its residents, prone to poltergeist-like tantrums of setting zines on fire and replacing the house’s library with Gloria Steinem biographies.
Unlike most college of witchcraft, Mawrters select their own dormitories, as Bryn Mawr believes that self-selection is more indicative of one’s character than sorting by magical object. However, this only applies to students in their second year and above. Incoming freshmen’s applications are placed in a magical basket which shouts the appropriate dormitory of each student, based upon that student’s personality traits and strengths. Whether that student remains in the dormitory the following year is up to the student themselves, and Mawrters often change dormitories each year based upon their interests and growth as a person.
The McBride Program
The Katherine E. McBride Scholars of Witchcraft Program was created for witches over the age of 24 who did not begin or complete their higher magical education following primary wizarding school. The McBrides’ class color is purple, their element the spirit of magical humanity, and their magical creature is the freshwater mermaid. During traditions events, McBrides are known for their elaborate and shiny tails, and sudden bouts of pastel hair, though they are well-aware that the North American freshwater mermaid does not have pastel hair so much as razor sharp teeth and a tendency to mudbathe. There is the odd McBride who will incorporate these elements into her traditions attire, and will end up frightening as many inebriated students as she delights. McBride scholars are some of the few students to opt out of living within the main campus, and many take up home either in the different magical boroughs of Philadelphia or along the Main Line, sometimes in Muggle housing.
Libraries of Bryn Mawr
Bryn Mawr boasts three libraries divided by magical subject, each with their own unique personality and quirks.
Canaday is the library dedicated to the Magical Arts and Humanities, including History of Magic and Spell Craft. While its appearance is not as ornate as its sisters, Canaday’s wealths lie in her endless secret underground floors, some of which only appear on certain days of the week, or will change their location on a whim. Thesising seniors with carrels in Canaday can expect little disturbance from other students, as the upper floors have been charmed to mute undergraduates or bar them entrance altogether. Canaday houses the Special Collections of Magical Objects, and its staff has a full time job of keeping these objects in safe confinement, as many are still extremely powerful and could be dangerous to students. One incident involved a cursed chalice from 1100s France which was removed from its case and immediately disappeared, only to reappear in different parts of the library throughout the year. Never successfully recovered, students are advised that if they return to their carrel to find a full chalice of wine has suddenly manifested, they should avoid it at all costs, blinking repeatedly until it goes away.
Carpenter Library houses the collections of the Ancient Magicks, and features a resident collection of plaster statues and busts that enjoy rollicking games of hide and seek between the stacks. In 2003, controversy arose on campus when a student was caught in a passionate encounter with the Athena Lemnia, only to reveal that the two had been involved in an affair for the past semester. Rules concerning relationships between students and living statues were added to the college’s constitution the following year. Carpenter’s abundance of natural light is provided by its lofty atrium, and students have taken to charming their couches and tables to float throughout the open two story-high area while reading or studying. Mawrters are advised to take care not to fall asleep on an unwatched floating couch, as they may be woken up by an inevitable collision with the ceiling.
Collier Library is hidden away in the labyrinthine center of Mysteries and Magical Technology, directly beside the college’s greenhouses and laboratories for the studies of magical creatures. Inaccessible to nearly everyone but those who are students of the building, the task of finding the library involves a number of riddles and hidden passageways, and, prior to renovation, even required a duel with a Snarklepuss.
** images courtesy of the lovely little archive at bmcbabes. i am working on a section about libraries, don’t get your panties in a twist bc i left out the libraries
Bryn Mawr transforms into Hogwarts for one night! An epic dinner was had in Thomas Great Hall, with pumpkin juice an all!
Professors were invited to dress as Professors from the books, while Bryn Mawr students had fun dressing as witches and wizards. After dinner, students were lead by Hagrid himself to Rhoads Dining Hall for the Yule Ball– and what a ball it was! Besides delicious Harry Potter inspired desserts (chocolate frogs, anyone?), Harry and the Potters played a more than magical “Wizard Rock” set!
I hope everyone had lots of fun and a big thank you to Bryn Mawr College Dining Services who put the event together!
So maybe someone has already gone shot by shot through the How to Get Away with Murder trailer to find all the Bryn Mawr College shots. But in case they haven’t, here’s one using Thomas Great Hall basically as is.
(Yes, my college is still the prettiest.)
And yes, I did just pause my tv and take a photo. I was excited!