Lifting the Lantern High
By Louisa Wilson
Whenever alumnae/i gather and speak about Bryn Mawr, the word “gratitude” is likely to come up—gratitude for the exposure to new ideas, opportunities to grow as individuals, being among so many smart women and incredible faculty, and for simply being able to attend.
“I was so excited to get my acceptance letter,” says Denise Hurley ’82. “But I couldn’t commit until I knew what the financial aid would be. I was the first person in my family to go to college, and it was only because of scholarships that I was able to go.”Hurley continues, “I’m also grateful for how I grew as a person. I gained confidence, perseverance, and resourcefulness.”
“Feeling valued was a big deal,” echoes Catherine Allegra ’84. “All around me were people who cared— professors, coaches, Dean Tidmarsh, President McPherson. Bryn Mawr felt like home because it was a place where I was seen and heard and valued.”
“Bryn Mawr gave me so much,” says Ruth Kaiser Nelson ’58. “It’s a place where real friendships can be made and kept. I received incredible intellectual gifts, too. Dr. Milton Nahm was an inspiration to me, and I majored in philosophy because of him. He didn’t just lecture. He engaged you in conversation to help you think through ideas.”
“I started volunteering because I felt I owed Bryn Mawr for the experiences I had there,” continues Nelson, “experiences I wouldn’t have had in my hometown. I want to give other young women the same chance.”
Says Betsy Watkins ’61, “The friendships I made and the leadership opportunities I had top the list of what I took away from my Bryn Mawr years, and none of it would have been possible without the scholarship I received. I’ve always wanted to give back.”
Close to 30 years ago, Watkins got the chance to give back to the College as chair of The Campaign for Bryn Mawr, which ran from 1989 to 1993. In 2000, Nelson stepped up to lead the Challenging Women campaign, with Hurley and Allegra serving alongside her as vice chairs.
And today, Hurley is getting her shot at paying it forward as chair of the Defy Expectation campaign, a minimum $250 million campaign to support Bryn Mawr’s students, faculty, and campus. Defy Expectation launched publicly in September with a campus-wide celebration that highlighted the College’s vital role in providing generations of students with opportunities to fulfill their intellectual and professional potentials.
“Our trailblazing institution has defied expectation at every turn, in every generation, and at every opportunity,” said Hurley during her remarks at the campaign’s gala dinner.
“From [Bryn Mawr’s] inception,” she continued, “it has held forth that women must be educated, equipped, and encouraged to fill any position the world offers. This campaign is an opportunity for all of us in the Bryn Mawr community to show our support for and to give back to the institution that was integral in our development as strong, smart, and successful alumnae/i.”
Our Work Is Not Yet Done
For Hurley, Nelson, Watkins, and Allegra, their love and gratitude for Bryn Mawr keeps them connected to the College as volunteers and leaders. They’re aware of the big picture too, that Bryn Mawr must continue to be a force for the advancement of women everywhere.
Women have made significant gains over the years, but still face barriers to following their dreams and fulfilling their ambitions. Says Allegra, “Women make up 51 percent of the U.S. population, but that’s not reflected in the number of women in government, in corporate leadership, and in other areas of life. Access is still an issue for women, and Bryn Mawr has a role to play in growing that access.”
Underscoring her point, Allegra says, “I work in technology and finance, both male-dominated industries. I’m often the only woman in the room. Having been at Bryn Mawr was a strengthening foundation for working in that atmosphere, but not every woman has that gift. As a Bryn Mawr trustee, I’m on a board that consistently has more than 75 percent women as voting members. It shouldn’t be the only place in my life where that happens, but it is.”
“Just turn on the news,” says Hurley. “Listen to the conversations happening around equal pay for equal work, regarding new fronts for civil rights, or about the cost of child care. The work for equality and access is not yet done. Bryn Mawr is a part of this work. The Defy Expectation campaign is a part of this work.”
The Path to Leadership Begins at Home
For these alumnae, their lifelong service to Bryn Mawr is rooted in the deep bonds they formed during their college years and the lasting impact Bryn Mawr made in their lives.
“My mother saved a letter I wrote her early in my freshman year,” recalls Watkins. “It read, ‘I feel as if I’ve always felt at home here.’ Connections are what made Bryn Mawr feel like home. I was involved in everything—I was in choral groups, on athletic teams, I was president of the undergrads, and I got to know President McBride—at Bryn Mawr it’s possible to do all that if you want it.”
“I fell in love with Bryn Mawr the first time I visited campus,” remembers Hurley. “It felt like the place where I was meant to be and where I could say, ‘Yes, I can do that’ to any number of opportunities. I loved that, at Bryn Mawr, my thoughts and the exercise of scholarship were important.”
This abiding sense of Bryn Mawr as home inspired these alumnae leaders to become volunteers for Bryn Mawr from the outset.
Says Nelson, “I was a volunteer right from the beginning. I led my region’s alumnae/i activities, raising funds for our regional scholar, and hosting alumnae/i conferences. Because of my volunteer work, I was invited to the Board of Trustees and the major gifts committee. I had a lot of experience before chairing the Challenging Women campaign.”
Watkins started volunteering with the Annual Fund, now known as The Bryn Mawr Fund. She then became the executive director of the Alumnae Association before chairing The Campaign for Bryn Mawr and joining the Board. “I loved being a class volunteer and then working
for the College,” remembers Watkins. “I got to know alumnae/i across the country and of all ages. Those connections were invaluable
when I stepped into the role of campaign chair.”
Both Allegra and Hurley were active in the New York City club after graduation, and once they started volunteering, they kept going, eventually becoming trustees. Says Hurley, “Becoming the chair of Defy Expectation was an organic step for me. I had volunteered for years and worked on every campaign since I graduated. I had fundraised for my class and become a trustee, so it was a natural fit.”
All These Amazing Alumnae/i
The success of Bryn Mawr’s campaigns has always depended on alumnae/i leaders like these four women but also on the entire alumnae/i community.
Allegra describes working on the Challenging Women campaign: “I worked alongside and in the footsteps of all these amazing women. Barbara Trimble, Marty Price, Sue Speers, Betsy Watkins, Ruth Nelson, and so many others. They’re so smart and committed, and they never stop working for the College and for each other. That’s what Mawrters do.”
The alumnae/i community as a whole has no shortage of incredible women. “I’ve met with alumnae/i across the country and around the world,” says Nelson. “Bryn Mawr alumnae/i are so interesting and bright. They’re really fun!”
And their participation in campaigns has always been critical. Even one of the first College campaigns, launched in 1896, relied on alumnae/i traveling up and down the East Coast asking classmates for support.
“During The Campaign for Bryn Mawr, the work wasn’t on the shoulders of just a few people,” remembers Watkins, “but on a network of volunteers that mobilized alumnae/i around the country and valuable assistance from the Resources office. It was energizing to work with so many people who supported the cause of making the College stronger.”
Now, during Defy Expectation, alumnae/i involvement is just as important because, as Nelson simply states, “If alumnae/i don’t support the College, who will?”
Hurley expands, “Campaigns are personal, especially at a place like Bryn Mawr, with its close-knit community.”
Alumnae/i Want Bryn Mawr to Be Excellent
“Alumnae/i want Bryn Mawr to be excellent,” says Hurley. “Sustaining that excellence is the purpose of Defy Expectation.”
“When I talk to other alumnae/i,” says Allegra, “what I hear about most is excellence—keeping Bryn Mawr at the top. I also hear about access and the importance of scholarships. Alumnae/i care about everyone being able to afford a Bryn Mawr education.”
The priorities of Defy Expectation reflect what has always mattered to the Bryn Mawr community—taking care of the needs of an active intellectual community by growing financial aid, giving faculty the tools to develop the next “big thing,” and maintaining
“Campaigns have always kept Bryn Mawr at the forefront,” says Nelson. “Equipment becomes obsolete and needs to be replaced. Buildings need
to be constructed or renovated. And of course, scholarships will always be vital.”
Adds Watkins, “Bryn Mawr has never had a campaign that didn’t focus on financial aid, faculty support, the endowment, and The Bryn Mawr Fund. They are the legs on which the College was founded, and we have to keep building on these.”
The Next Generation
For Hurley, Nelson, Watkins, and Allegra, Defy Expectation is part of a long history of connections that are rooted in loyalty to and deep affection for Bryn Mawr and a desire to preserve the incredible experiences for which the College is renowned. It’s about keeping the Bryn Mawr of today as extraordinary as it’s ever been and securing Bryn Mawr for
The quiet phase of Defy Expectation began in 2011 and by its public launch this fall had raised more than half of its minimum $250 million goal.
Says Hurley, “We don’t have to wait years to start putting the campaign funds into action. A growing endowment, a new dorm, the creation of LILAC [the Leadership, Innovation, and Liberal Arts Center], new scholarships—we’re already accomplishing our goals. It’s important to celebrate the great things happening now, even as we have to keep closing in on our goal.”
For Hurley, it comes down to this, “Bryn Mawr College changes lives for the better—it transformed mine—and all of us want that power to be available to a new generation of Mawrters.”
Campaign Executive Committee Members
Denise Lee Hurley ’82, Campaign Chair
Ruth Kaiser Nelson ’58, Campaign Chair Emeritus
Justine D. Jentes ’88
Ann Logan ’76, Chair, Board of Trustees
Nanar Tabrizi Yoseloff ’97
Kimberly Cassidy, President
Campaign Steering Committee Members
Catherine M. Allegra ’84
Stephanie L. Brown’75
Arlene Gibson ’65
Kierstin M. Gray ’01
Cheryl R. Holland ’80
Eileen P. Kavanagh ’75
Karen E. Kerr ’89
Alexandra Kaufmann Kosslyn ’04
Randolph M. Nelson
Dana Niblack ’93
Jennifer Rusk ’05
Susan Savage Speers ’51
Saskia Subramanian ’88, M.A. ’89
Chiemi Suzuki ’00
Severa E. von Wentzel ’95
Elizabeth Vogel Warren ’72
Betsy Havens Watkins ’61
Caroline C. Willis ’66