December 2015 Articles

Online Exclusive

Art class 2By Pamela Hobart Carter ’82 with a postscript by Laura Bachman ’82

How did you find Bryn Mawr? I don’t remember not knowing about Bryn Mawr. My three siblings and I knew it from the start. None of us had seen it, except in Betty Vermey’s (1958) admissions slide show and our mother’s yearbook, The Lantern, 1949.

I’m youngest of four. My oldest sister went to Mount Holyoke. My brother went to Princeton. My next sister up went to Barnard and Yale. I was my mother’s last hope for a Bryn Mawr child. My parents took my oldest siblings on college tours. At 11, I saw Mount Holyoke and maybe Amherst and U. Mass. What I remember are solid buildings and lots of trees.

The Quebec government of the 1970s tinkered with our schools—lopped off 12th grade, invented CEGEP (Collège d’enseignement general et professionnel (two-year junior college), and shortened university to three years, aiming to keep people in the province. No way would I go through institutions I saw as shaped by Separatist policies, especially because we were landed immigrants. Despite growing up there, I felt less allegiance to Montreal, the Province of Quebec, and Canada, than I did to the U.S. and my family.

Maybe my parents thought I’d seen enough at 11 to hold me through my application process, maybe they were tired by the time their fourth child was wondering where to go, maybe the venomous politics in Montreal had subsumed everything else, or maybe they thought I knew through the family vine of enough good places to apply. Whatever the reason, we went nowhere for me to scope out schools.

From Canadian 11th grade, I applied only to three American schools: a boarding school attended, over the generations, by 16 of my male relatives, including my father and brother, and two colleges—my sister’s, Mount Holyoke, and my mother’s, still unseen, Bryn Mawr College. Feeling unready, I deferred Bryn Mawr, and went to the boarding school for a 12th grade.

I set foot at Bryn Mawr at last. Early on I felt challenged and happy. I’d found the right fit. Choosing my science requirement enhanced the feeling. I’d asked Mom what I should take. “Geology was fun,” she told me so I took Physical Geology with Lucian Platt. On the first day, he handed around cards and said he wanted to know why we were there. “If, for example, your mother, class of 1949, told you geology was fun, write it down.” Mr. Platt and I had a love-hate relationship throughout my years as a geology major. It began that day. No doubt he pegged me as a wiseass.

I imagined my mother in action at Bryn Mawr. My experience bolstered my imaginings. I loved—and love—that I share Bryn Mawr with her, that we walked the same paths, and saw the same trees bloom, and sat in some of the same classrooms. I love that we each have an owl lantern. (A regret about deferring: if I hadn’t, our lanterns would be the same color, red.)

My Geology 101 lab partner and I became friends our first hour together—an hour of farce and laughter. We needed that entire hour to figure out north (which we found very confusing because of the magnetic declination) to construct a topo map of the valley behind Rhoads, our dorm. Now, when Rachel Simon ’81 announces her newest book, I go buy a copy. I followed a Facebook conversation about The Story of Beautiful Girl. Mutual friend, Laura Bachman, asked Rachel her preferred place of purchase. Rachel said, your independent book store, Elliott Bay Book Company. Laura and I thus learned, since Elliott Bay is also my local indie store, we had both lived in Seattle for more than two decades, unaware of the other. We decided to get together. Before the date, we learned both our older children were at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. When we met at the bar, Laura told me that my son and her daughter not only knew each other already but were very friendly. On our walk to Elliott Bay Book Company, we talked of our mothers and unearthed a third overlapping generation. Although not classmates, our mothers were at Bryn Mawr together in the late 1940s.

When Laura posted a documentary film about Bryn Mawr made in 1948 and featuring her mother, I studied it, looking for my mother, Louise Belknap. The movie, “Bryn Mawr College,” has sterling production values. Helen Grayson ’26 wrote and directed. Diseuse, Cornelia Otis Skinner ’21, narrates in her elegant, yet warm, patrician voice. It is an Affiliated Film production, with photography by Lawrence Madison, editing by Aram Boyajian, and assistant producing by Betty Lord. The story arc traces a student from moving into her dorm to graduation. Along the way we witness classes, extracurricular activities—including play productions and a political meeting voting to send aid to Europe, and rituals still practiced at BMC. It’s a trove as historical records go.

When the camera took me into an art history class I paused the film. (Minute: 11:27) Mom was an art history major. And there she was at the end of the row, all the way (screen) left. She is bent over her notebook and then looks up at the slide/camera. I recognize her because she is my mother. I know her face, her hair style, her posture, how she wears a pin—even now on her left lapel. I was thrilled. The moment of film featuring Mom fortified my imaginings with data.

My mother applied to Bryn Mawr after Mrs. Bailey took her to see it. Mrs. Bailey was a friend of my grandparents—and my mother’s friend too. Mom also applied to Smith and got in there. From her class at The Chapin School in New York City as many as 10 girls applied and eight or nine went to Bryn Mawr. My mother was one of the few in that batch to graduate. Her room, of all four years, is on the first floor of Pem East, facing Dalton. She roomed with Andrea Bell, known as Tinker, who during my Montreal childhood was a close neighbor. People used to laugh that Bell and Belknap lived together.

My brother is on Facebook. I shared the movie with him, but we both felt our computer screens were tiny. We wanted a better look. When I was home for my father’s last days in August, my brother hooked up Facebook to a projector in the living room for Mom to see. We arrived at the art history class. My brother jumped up, “That’s Mom! That’s you, Mom.” “It’s not me,” she said. “I’m not wearing my glasses.” I said, “Someone was in there with a movie camera. You took off your glasses.” The image is brief. The light is dim for the art slides. The focus is a little blurred. But my brother and I remain certain.

My brother and I travelled time. We joined our mother when she was the age of her grandchildren and sat in class with her for a breath. We saw our mother before she became our mother. We saw her in the process of becoming an art historian. We saw her in a class that shaped all of us. After Mom graduated from Bryn Mawr, she worked as a cataloguer for the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Arts, where David Carter curated arms and armor. At his death, at 92, in late August 2014, my parents were married 63 years.

Without that art history class at Bryn Mawr College, Mom might never have gotten the job at the Met, might never have encountered our father, would never have moved to Montreal where Dad directed the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and where the educational policies made our birth home most appealing, and I might never have sought Bryn Mawr, or even existed at all. Thanks to this film, my brother and I have witnessed our point of origin.


Postscript from Laura Bachman:

Here is a bit of background about our family and BMC:

My mother’s father came from the MacVeagh family, which has roots all over the east coast but many connections to the Bryn Mawr area. The Church of the Redeemer a couple of blocks down the street from campus has the family plot, with many, many MacVeaghs there, including my grandfather! Many of the women in the MacVeagh family went to BMC too. By the time I got there, I was #14. There is also a MacVeagh’s name engraved in one of the college’s buildings; I can’t remember which one exactly.

My mother’s mother went to Rosemary Hall (traveling all the way from Portland to attend there as a “proper girl” would do in pre-WWI days). In order to graduate from Rosemary Hall, the standard they held was that you had to get into BMC!! She got in, but then her dad said that she had a choice—two years at BMC or two years touring Europe with a chaperone … then she had to come home and take care of her mother (who had MS). She chose the two years in Europe (of course not knowing that it was about to be blown up in the war), and so never went to college. She always regretted not going to BMC!

Then she had two daughters: my mom and her older sister. My aunt had epilepsy and so couldn’t attend normal schools, so college wasn’t an option. So it was up to my mom to be the one to finally attend BMC. Meanwhile my dad, the MacVeagh, got TB and died when my mom was 16. They wanted to bury him there in BMC, so they held onto his ashes for two years and then made the trip by train to both bury him and to start my mom at BMC. (What a weird way to start college!)

My mom LOVED the freedom, the classes, the parties—the whole thing—but then, oops, she came down with TB too. She was there part of freshman year, went home to get well, went back, got sick again, then dropped out entirely and never graduated.

So then there’s my family (I am also the youngest.) Growing up, my mom always hosted the BMC admissions parties. Betty Vermey would come to our house and show the slide show, and I would be asked to serve cookies. (Pam remembers her visiting Montreal for the same reason—and her staying at the Belknap-Carter house and interviewing Pam for BMC in the living room.) So I saw those slides from BMC for years and years, plus Betty became a good friend of my mom’s as a result. Like you, it took until the youngest one to get someone to BMC … Betty wanted all three of us to attend, but my oldest sister wanted theater stuff, so she went to Wesleyan, and my middle sister applied, got in, and decided between BMC and Yale, and at the time wanted art classes, so Yale won out. Soooo, then it came to me. By then I was thinking, There’s no way I will ever attend an all-girls school. I went and visited lots of other schools, and deliberately avoided visiting BMC. That was junior year of high school. By the fall of senior year, I completely changed my mind and realized that BMC was the only school I wanted to attend, so I applied early decision!

Finally after all those years and generations, one of us completed the school. It’s been a long family history!








Comments on “Online Exclusive”

  1. As I wrote above, this film brought back so many memories and even some familiar faces as I was a member of the class of 1953 and living in Pem East.

    I was an English major, and I am sure what I learned then contributed greatly to my winning the Ogle Award (and $1,000!) for my book, The Jade Monk, 40 plus years ago.

    About our requirements — two languages of “different linguistic groups” as I remember — French and German were my choices. The French I have used a great deal — the German? Well, not at all. I do however remember the following which had something to do with “my uncle who went to Chicago 40 years ago”:
    “Er ist shone for 40 yaren nach druben gegangen!”!!! Something like that.

    I wonder if anyone else remembers that!
    Mary Merchant, 1949

  2. Oops — I was the class of 1953 — not 1949. I lived in Pem East.