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Bryn Mawr College songbook collection

Identifier: BMC-Songbook

Scope and Contents

The Songbook Collection houses the student songbooks published by Bryn Mawr College. This collection, which dates from 1889 to 2017, consists of printed booklets, published bound books, printed sheets, and handwritten sheets with annotations and music notations, evidencing the tradition of oral songs and singing in Bryn Mawr College undergraduate student life. The collection is not a full run of songbooks from every year, but contains a sampling of songbooks from every decade with large gaps in the 1880s and 1890s and a gap from 1998-2011. The majority of the songbooks contain only song lyrics, but a select few contain full sheet music and many also have loose sheet music that was added by the original owner/user. The Songbook Collection displays the creative spirit and community oriented nature of Bryn Mawr College undergraduate students across the history of the college. This collection only has one series, which contains the entire collection of songbooks. Researchers interested in Bryn Mawr College's undergraduate traditions, the traditions of women's colleges, the history of the Seven Sisters, products of student self governance, and undergraduate student life may find this collection to be a valuable resource. Many of the songbooks include handwritten sheets of lyrics, music, and staging information related to the Freshman Show tradition. Many songs included in late 20th century and 21st century songbooks can be traced back through decades of songbooks, which allow for a more complex understanding of the context of contemporary traditional songs. The lineage revealed in this collection confirms that previous Bryn Mawr students wrote many songs popularly chosen to be included in 21st century songbooks, as well.


  • Creation: 1889 - 2017


Biographical / Historical

Traditions at Bryn Mawr College have existed in many forms since the founding of the school (1885). Songs have always been integral to these traditions. Each freshman class has either written (classes prior to 1980) or chosen a song to represent their class spirit; these are known as class songs. Songs also may be associated with specific traditions (such as "Sophias" and "Pallas Athena," which are only sung on Lantern Night) or other occasions (such as the "Anass," which is sung only in moments of celebration). There are also songs that are only sung at Step Sings. All of these songs have been recorded in Songbooks, printed annually and given to students.

Step Sings are special events that occur after the four major Bryn Mawr traditions. These traditions, in order, are: Parade Night, Lantern Night, Hell Week, and May Day. At around 8pm after each tradition (except for Hell Week, which lasts four days and does not have a regular Step Sing), students gather with their lanterns around the Senior Steps of Taylor Hall (the exterior staircase directly under the clock tower) and sit according to class year. The senior class sits on the Senior Steps. The sophomore class is directly across from them on the walkway of Thomas Hall. The freshmen sit on the road next to Taylor Hall closer to Senior Row and the Juniors sit on the road next to Taylor Hall closer to Pembroke Arch. The songsmistresses stand at the axis of this arrangement to lead the Step Sing and lead the classes through the songs for the evening. Candles are handed out for lanterns and songbooks are handed out to students. Typically, each class sings their class song, popular songs are sung, (such as "A Colossal Pain a Thesis" and "Build me Up Buttercup") and the senior class sings "Bread and Roses."

Parade Night is the first major tradition of the school year, taking place on the Friday of the first week of fall semester classes with the purpose of welcoming new students to the Bryn Mawr community. At the Parade Night Step Sing, the freshmen class chooses a song in secret in order to surprise the other students. The freshmen class also sings a Parade Night Song, which is a parody created by the freshmen songsmistress changing the lyrics of a popular contemporary song to be about Bryn Mawr College. The sophomore class then sings a parody of the freshmen class Parade Night Song, using the same song, but with humorous lyrics changed to gently poke fun at the "baby" freshmen.

Lantern Night is the second major tradition of the school year, during which new students receive their lanters. The ceremony is said to represent students passing along "the light of knowledge." Taking place on a Sunday evening in late October or early November in the Cloisters of Thomas Hall, juniors and seniors sing "Pallas Athena" while sophomores bring lanterns to the new students standing in lines. Once every new student receives a lantern, they sing "Sophias" once through themselves before processing out of the Cloisters, accompanied by the juniors' and seniors' rendition of "Sophias."

The third major tradition of the school year is Hell Week, which takes place on the second or third week of February, beginning on Wednesday at sundown and concluding on Saturday morning. This tradition is meant to be a way for new students and upperclassmen to become better acquainted through dedicated time and space to bond with each other. While Hell Week does not have a Step Sing event, music remains an integral aspect of the tradition. Hell Week originated with a musical production generated by the freshmen class each year, known as the Freshmen Show. In the early years of the college, the class years were small enough that the entire class would participate in the Show. The Show and its music, written entirely by the students, gave the freshmen class the space to establish their personality within the college. By the late 20th century and early 21st century, Hell Week no longer included a Freshman Show, but the origins of the tradition remain. New students are invited to do a one minute performance before the undergraduate student community in Thomas Great Hall on the Thursday evening of Hell Week, as well as a three minute performance before the undergraduate student community in Goodhart Auditorium. While these performances don't typically include singing, they do usually incorporate songs popular within the college community.

The academic year's major traditions conclude with May Day, which takes place on the first Sunday after spring classes have ended. This fourth and final major tradition presents a celebration for the completion of the academic year, especially congratulating the seniors who will graduate. May Day Step Sing honors the seniors with their final official moment as members of the Bryn Mawr student community. With this emphasis, seniors sing most of the songs, including their class song, their original Parade Night Song, "Bread and Roses," and others. May Day Step Sing concludes with the junior class rushing the Senior Steps, gathering as a large group to run up to the steps chanting. This moment denotes when the junior class becomes the new senior class. Privileges that come with being seniors include standing on the Senior Steps, initiating the "Anass," and walking down Senior Row.


3.75 linear ft.

Language of Materials


Processing Information

This finding aid was published as part of the Museum Studies Field Work Seminar course, spring 2017.


Bryn Mawr College songbook collection
Cassandra Paul (BMC 2018)
2017 March 28
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Find It at the Library

Most of the materials in this catalog are not digitized and can only be accessed in person. Please see our website for more information about visiting or requesting repoductions from Bryn Mawr College Library

Bryn Mawr College Library
101 N. Merion Avenue
Bryn Mawr 19010 USA US