A Connecticut Yankee at Bryn Mawr College

Article excerpt

In October 1890, my sister, Ethel Walker, and I found ourselves entering Bryn Mawr College. But we were staying at the old Bryn Mawr Hotel, waiting to be assigned to our college rooms in the new Denbigh Hall, which gave no promise of being habitable before the Christmas holidays. Meanwhile, we unfortunates were missing many of the social and student events on the campus.

In the dining room at the same table with my sister and me were Mr. and Mrs. Clemens of Hartford and their daughter, Susie to them, and to us always Olivia, a frail, attractive, charming young girl. As the Clemens were not willing to leave Olivia alone in a hotel, even though there were chaperones, we had the pleasure of their company for several weeks.

The long tables in the dining room seated about a dozen or more people. Seated opposite us was a Norwegian woman. Miss Wergeland had come as a fellow in history. However, she spoke no English, and when Mr. Clemens discovered her difficulty ordering meals, he very quietly removed himself from our group to the other side of the table, introduced himself to her, and began speaking German fluently to help her order. This he did three times a day for at least two weeks. Finally, Mr. Clemens convinced the college authorities that, much as he would like to spend Olivia's freshman year with her, he was obliged to get back to work, but added that he would not leave her in a hotel. So, suddenly, Olivia was given a room in Radnor Hall and, owing to Mr. Clemens's good offices, we two Walker sisters found ourselves happily settled in a suite in Merion Hall. How we blessed Mr. Clemens! At the time it seemed to us very natural that Olivia, like ourselves, should be coming to college. But later I realized how strong was the tie between her and her father, how much they minded being separated, and also how eager Mrs. Clemens was that Olivia should be happy in a new environment, leading an independent life of her own. Olivia was very emotional, high-strung, temperamental, and all of us were afraid she might be homesick. But fortunately she had an exquisite soprano voice, and liked to sing and act. So we almost immediately decided to give the opera "Iolanthe," with lovely Olivia as Phyllis. Olivia was in her element. Mrs. Clemens would come down occasionally for a short stay, I think in order to keep Mr. Clemens from coming - she told me he would make any excuse, even bringing down Olivia's laundry! As time came near for the production of the opera, Mrs. Clemens was established in the then-empty infirmary on the top floor of Merion Hall, where she helped us cut out and fit fairy costumes, told us stories of her travels, and won our hearts. She stayed for the opera, which was very successful. But in those days men were not invited to our student productions, so Mr. Clemens was not with us! Meanwhile, it occurred to us that it would be very interesting to have Mr. …