August 2016 Features

Once Upon a Time

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A long-time resident of Wisbech, England, Ellery Yale Wood ’52 worked as an antiquarian bookseller and in her spare time collected books written for children and young adults since the middle of the 18th century. At her death in the spring of 2013, she left this remarkable collection of approximately 12,000 books to Bryn Mawr.

“The beauty and complexity of this collection, and the possibilities it opens up for Bryn Mawr, is beyond description,” says English Professor Bethany Schneider.

With holdings that begin with late 18th-century chapbooks and continue through to late 20th-century children’s and young-adult fantasy literature, “the collection promises to put Bryn Mawr on the map in terms of children’s literary study, a field busting with new ideas right now,” says Schneider.

Especially strong in folk tales, fairy tales, and books written for young women readers in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the collection is a gold mine for students of children’s literature, the history of illustration, and the interdisciplinary connections between humanist and social scientific concerns with childhood and its representation.

At Bryn Mawr, it has the potential to support classes and student projects on a wide range of topics, such as the development of fantasy literature, the changing expectations for young women’s roles in society, the interaction of the women’s rights movement and young women’s literature, and the rediscovery of once-prominent women writers who have now been largely forgotten, such as Maria Edgeworth, Mrs. Molesworth, Charlotte Yonge, Edith Nesbit, Noel Streatfield, and Eleanor Farjeon.

When the gift was first announced, Schneider joined with Eric Pumroy and English Professor Kate Thomas to take a look at the collection in situ. What they encountered read like a scene from a Victorian children’s book.

“We walked into this beautiful Georgian house and it was full—from basement to rafters, and stacked all up the curving staircases—with the most unbelievable collection of children’s literature imaginable,” says Schneider. “Everything from tiny 18th-century anti-slavery pamphlets written for children, to stacks of different editions of Alice in Wonderland, to first editions of Harry Potter and Narnia.”

To manage all those books, Special Collections brought Rayna Andrews ’11 in as project assistant to oversee the day-to-day work and to help set priorities for cataloging. This summer, a team of student workers started on the project of unboxing, cleaning, sorting, and inventorying the collection, all under the direction of Rare Books & Manuscripts Curator Marianne Hansen and Rare Books Cataloguer Patrick Crowley.

“Students will be working on research and a cataloguing the collection for quite a few years to come,” says Eric Pumroy, head of Special Collections at Bryn Mawr. Pumroy adds that some of highlights from the Wood Collection will be on display on the second floor of Canaday at the beginning of September.

Above: The frontispiece of Fanny and Arthur, or Persevere and Prosper, by Jane Winnard (London: Dean & Son, 1862)