The Bryn Mawr Bookstore – continuing a legacy of volunteerism, scholarship fundraising, and community support

One and a half million dollars for Bryn Mawr scholarships and still counting! The Bryn Mawr Bookstore in Cambridge, Massachusetts sells used and rare books at very affordable prices. Organized and staffed by a dedicated group of amazing volunteers, it is also very much apart of its Cambridge neighborhood.

Founding and early History

In 1959 Betty Butterfield, class of ’35, moved to Cambridge from Princeton where she had participated in the successful Book Sale. She convinced the Bryn Mawr Club of Boston to hold a Sale in our area, and she and classmate Joan Shurcliff ’35 co-founded the three-day Annual Sale at the First Church in Cambridge. Twelve years later, the Sale moved to Memorial Hall, then in 1970 to its present location at 373 Huron Avenue. In 1971, the Bookstore was incorporated as a non-profit organization. Fearing the rented location might be sold, Betty Butterfield and Betsy Jackson ’33, Vice-President of the Bookstore Board and longtime volunteer and enthusiast, bought the building. In 1978 the College purchased the building from the two alumnae and the operation, now known as the Bryn Mawr Bookstore, has remained and thrived on its Huron Avenue corner ever since. When you visit the Bookstore today, you can see the pictures from the earliest Sale with customers lined up outside of First Church, heads bent down scouring rows and rows of books spread out on tables.

Early Volunteers

Nan Harris ’51, a former President of the Bookstore Board, was one of the Sale’s early organizers. In 1965 she noted that 73 Massachusetts alumnae were involved with book collection and Sale. Mary Louise ‘Jill’ Reichenbach ’51 and Joy Hurd ’30 were also long-time supporters and volunteers at the Bookstore. (In fact, Joy’s daughter sends the Bookstore flowers on Valentine’s Day each year as a token of thanks and well-wishes to the Store which gave Joy much happiness just to visit.) Susan Miller Jackson ’40, sister of Book Sale founder Betsy Jackson, also devoted much time to the Bookstore. (She was later awarded the Bryn Mawr Club of Boston’s 2004 Volunteer Service Award for her continued dedication and involvement with both the Club and the Bookstore.)

Current Long-time Volunteers

You may meet a number of notable long-time volunteers at any given time. Libby Atkins ’46, current President of the Bookstore Board and also a former recipient of the Club’s 2005 Volunteer Service Award, had volunteered at the New Haven Bookstore. She moved to Boston in 1986, and is currently in charge of the history section, also assisting in other sections to sort and replenish their shelves. As President, Libby oversees the pricing of the books, maintenance of the building, and runs the Bookstore Board meetings. Jessica Shoher ’75 who received her Masters in Library Sciences at Simmons College, has been volunteering now for an outstanding 25 years. Jess oversees sections on poetry, Judaica, oceanography, and cookbooks. She also sets up the book exhibits and signs for advertising, and runs to the bank or to purchase treats for both customers and volunteers. Cecelia Parks ’50, Treasurer of the Bookstore Board, has been a volunteer for 15 years and does the sports and sciences sections including physics, chemistry, and math. Carol Cerf ’48, a volunteer for 10 years and counting, is in charge of biography, politics, and children’s books.

Other long time volunteers who have given the Bookstore much of their time include Clare Nunes ’56, Pat Griffith ’56, a former Treasurer on the Bookstore Board, Mary Woll ’54, and Helen Thompson ’56 who recently moved to N.H. Clare, a former English teacher, manages sections on literary criticism, literary bios, essays and Black Studies. Mary, who also received the Club’s 2006 Volunteer Service Award, assists at the Store during the half-price sales.

The Book Sale and Bookstore were originally all-volunteer operations; nowadays the Bookstore also has a paid store manager, Larry McCargar, who has been with the Bookstore for 7 years. He has been a great help in organizing the store, making connections with book distributors and the community, and serving customers who sometimes stop by just to chat. What brings Larry and the volunteers together at the Bookstore is their love for books and raising money for scholarships – a simple concept whose broad impact is to provide educational opportunities for students, and enable the tradition of the Sale and Bookstore to continue.

Current volunteers include non-Mawrtyrs. Nancy Haslett is in charge of French and Italian literature, and her son Tim also helps out at the Store. Ellen Lewis ’58 oversees books on theatre. The psychology section is kept in order by Ann Crompton, who also arranges the front window displays, and Pam Rajpal manages the art books. Margaret Lourie administers and updates the Bookstore website, and Roo Dane ’61 created and maintains the online catalogue for the fine and rare books, which range anywhere from $40 up to $700. Anne Aubrey, who opens the Bookstore on many days, is in charge of the fiction and often times checks the donated boxes of books when they first arrive, assessing for both quality and content.

Awards

The Bookstore’s success as a source of scholarship funding and as a quality used and rare bookstore has been acknowledged by numerous awards and included in reviews. In 1981, the College and Alumnae Association presented the Bookstore with the Helen Taft Manning Award. This award is named after an alumna who served as professor, dean and acting president of the College during the early 20th century, and it is Bryn Mawr’s highest award for extraordinary service to the College. In July 2007, the Improper Bostonian featured the Bookstore in its “Boston’s Best” edition as the “Best Used Bookstore in Boston,” crediting it with used books in excellent condition at a great price, and a most helpful and knowledgeable staff. In the fall of 2007, Shmap Boston Guide also included and reviewed the Bookstore in its listings, adding that the “relaxing, unassuming atmosphere and helpful staff make this a great place to spend an afternoon browsing at some of the great works of our time.” This sentiment regarding the books and staff can be read in every review of the Store and heard when speaking to its clientele.

Community and literary vignette appearances

As a testament to its presence in the community, the Bookstore has been mentioned in novels by local writers. Jane Langton included the Bryn Mawr Bookstore in her mystery The Escher Twist: A Homer Kelly Mystery (Viking Penguin, 2002), a mystery in a series staring the eccentric Harvard professor Homer Kelly and his wife Mary. The adventure first starts at an exhibit of Escher on Huron Ave. and remains very much in Cambridge, traversing and incorporating its streets, businesses, and the Mount Auburn Cemetery. Although the author notes that many of the businesses and some of the streets are fictional, Ms. Langton does include the Bryn Mawr Bookstore in the story as it is obviously a well-known landmark in the neighborhood. Just like many of the Bookstore’s donors, one of the main characters, Frieda, tells her Cousin Kitty, “It’s just that I’ve got too much stuff. I’m selling all these books to the Bryn Mawr bookstore – you know, around the corner on Huron Ave.” (Of course, she meant to say “donating”!)

The Bookstore is given an even larger role in Susan Conant’s Animal Appetite, (Doubleday, April 1997), #7 of the series “A Dog Lover’s Mystery” where Ms. Conant combines her affection for dogs and crime. What is endearing about Ms. Conant’s inclusion of the Bookstore in her novel is that the main character and sleuth Holly Winter, a Dog’s Life columnist, explains how the Book Sale was renamed Bookstore, although for herself and others Cantabrigians, for “at least the next decade [it] will still be known throughout Cambridge by its original name, the Bryn Mawr Book Sale.” The heroine describes how she brings in bags of books, receives her slip noting her tax-deductible contribution and then immediately buys an equal number of books. Read the book to enjoy the Bookstore neighborhood.

TV appearances

You may have also seen the Bryn Mawr Bookstore on TV in the WGBH-Channel 2 special “The Brass Sisters: Queens of Comfort Food,” aired twice in February 2008. Marilynn and Sheila Brass wrote the James Beard Foundation-nominated cookbook Heirloom Baking with the Brass Sisters and also Heirloom Cooking. The Brass sisters stop at the Bookstore, chat with Larry, and promptly purchase a cookbook entitled Rose Recipes to prepare a Moroccan rosewater punch for their dinner. In a community that supports its neighbors, you can see the Brass Sister’s cookbook on display in the Bookstore window.

Other customers display their appreciation

One customer from Allston on yelp.com wrote, “I’ve spent hours here browsing. The staff is extremely helpful and friendly, I can’t stress that benefit enough… they have the best regular prices I’ve seen and some awesome sales as well. It’s also nice to know your money is going to a good place.” Such is the response of many of the Bookstore’s customers – great staff, great prices, great finds, and all for a good cause. Another regular customer has even hosted two parties at the Bookstore. Two years ago, the client made a donation for use of the Store’s space and provided refreshments to have her birthday party at the Bookstore. In addition, she included Bookstore gift certificates in the invitations to her 20 guests! She also held a Valentine’s Party in February 2008, and again gave Bookstore gift certificates to her friends. The Bookstore staff and volunteers are more than happy to host such parties: it is a great way to bring in new customers, generates money for scholarship funds, and also provides for a fun evening to spend with friends.

Surviving Bryn Mawr Book Sales and Shops

Besides the Cambridge store, The Lantern is in business in Washington D.C. as is the Bryn Mawr Book Shop in New Haven, CT. The Bryn Mawr Club of Princeton is still running their Annual Sale and is celebrating its 77th year of the Sale in association with Wellesley College in March 2008. Our customers and Bryn Mawr College students receiving scholarships are fortunate to have title to the Cambridge store, thanks to the astuteness of its founders. Sadly two other bookstores, which also began as annual sales, have closed within the past few years. The Book Shop in New York, which began with annual sales during the 1950s and full-time operation since 1968, closed in 2000 due to the demise of the building. (A virtual online version was in place for a few years afterwards.) The Bryn Mawr-Vassar Bookstore in Pittsburgh, PA ceased its operation in October 2005 after 33 years of 50-50 profit sharing.

Come to the Bryn Mawr Bookstore to select just the right book for your mood or need among the wide selection of books. You can also check out the fine and rare books catalogue on the Bookstore website. Think about volunteering! Times are flexible, the work is fun, and your presence would be very much appreciated both by other volunteers and the customers – and it is fun!

Like most used bookstores, space in which to display the books is in short supply. As a result, another way in which you can help the Bookstore is if you know of any distributors who are looking for books or of anyone who needs books for projects such as in theatre productions. Or if you have marketing and advertising experience, the Bookstore is always looking for new ideas in which to get the word out about its sales, volunteer opportunities and its mission.

Scholarship funding is needed now more than ever, and the Bryn Mawr Bookstore has proven to be an effective way in which to raise much-needed money. Please support education for Bryn Mawr students; please support the Bookstore.

Alumnae Regional Scholarship Recipients

The Bookstores have been instrumental in ensuring that the Alumnae Regional Scholarship program continued to be able to help Bryn Mawr students find (and fund) their dreams. A sampling of recent Alumnae Regional Scholars’ experiences illustrate how the program has enabled hundreds and hundreds of students over the years to try something different, to reach inside themselves to discover just what they were capable of and learn how they could light the lamp in the world at large to make a difference.

Alumnae Regional Scholar Sara McCullough ’06, a computer science major, signed on to write software for a radar project as an intern at a tropical rain forest station in Australia. She had expected to be challenged intellectually – she did not expect that during her nine-week stay she would learn to capture pythons in pillow cases, raise orphaned flying foxes on her porch, and feed fully grown adult flying foxes, which have wing-spans of up to three meters. And did we mention the cassowaries? 6 foot tall flightless birds that can get aggressive? All this awaited Sara at the Cape Tribulation station (the name might have been her first clue), which is the only independent research facility in the tropical rain forests of Australia’s coastal lowlands.

Alice Oh ’07 worked a summer at the Philadelphia Public Health Center #3, one of 8 public health centers in Philadelphia that offers primary health care and other public health services (e.g., social work) to all residents of the city. Her main focus was a project to revive the Health Information and Resource Center, a public health initiative by The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, to implement chronic disease prevention. Because diabetes, obesity and asthma are “growing” diseases and prevalent in Philadelphia, it was important to compile accurate health information and local resources in order to improve the understanding and “health literacy” of the population being served by the Clinic. Since so many of these clients did not have their own computers, it was Alice’s job to make the information available to everyone who came into the Clinic by helping them find accurate, relevant information on the website, reading it with them, explaining it as necessary, and printing out copies for them to take home. Alice noted that working in the Clinic and having personal interaction with nearly all the clients who used it, gave her invaluable insight into the fissures and flaws of our health care system, while at the same time reinforcing her desire to go to medical school. Alice believes this internship has helped her to be better equipped to be the kind of doctor we need in the 21st century.

Emily McGlynn ’08 is a Biology major with an Economics minor, looking to do a combined JD/MA in Environmental Science and Policy. Her ARS grant was used to fund her work in a project that combined all of her interests. She worked during the summer on a feasibility study for the use of natural gas garbage trucks in the City of Philadelphia. During the project, she participated in discussions with state and municipal policy planners about the possibilities for this green initiative, crunched numbers, analyzed scientific data and prepared documents to demonstrate how these trucks could be energy-efficient and therefore, economically feasible for the City.

Amanda Young ’06 spent eight weeks at the Frick Collection in Manhattan, working on digitizing and archival projects, which sharpened her vision to subtle differences within an artist’s oeuvre and between different periods and schools. She also assisted the curator of the Collection in preparing for an upcoming exhibition of late Goya works. “The experience cemented my desire to spend her life working with and around art, artists, and art historians,” Young said and she was planning to return to the Frick after graduation.

Dean Karen Tidmarsh ’71 was also a New England Regional Scholarship recipient and fondly recalls that it was the personal touches during the scholarship process and connections with alumnae that convinced her to chose Bryn Mawr when deciding between her two final college selections. At that time, the scholarship candidates were invited to tea with the scholarship panel. “It was my first formal tea, I was very nervous and my tea cup was shaking. I was honored to be selected as a scholarship candidate.” She vividly remembers that she liked all of the women at the tea, and discovered that Alice Rider Pope’s mother (Alice, class of ’32, was Chair of the New England Regional Scholarship Committee) had known Dean Tidmarsh’s grandmother. After the tea, Alice wrote a touching note to both Dean Tidmarsh and her mother about how much she liked Karen and also about their mothers’ friendship. “Both my mother and I felt included in application process, which my mother greatly appreciated, and that Bryn Mawr cared about each individual.” Later when Dean Tidmarsh was attending Bryn Mawr, Alice visited her in the dorm to see how she was adapting to life at the Mawr. Again, the personal attention and interest in Bryn Mawr students were and are endearing and important characteristics of Byrn Mawr College. Awarded with the Helen Taft Manning Award for her incredible service to the College, Dean Tidmarsh has been at Bryn Mawr since 1979. The College and many students have been very lucky to have her there as she continues to guide students through their college years, lead curricular reforms and strive to improve the quality of life for students at Bryn Mawr.

This article could not have been written without the help of Larry McCargar, Libby Atkins ’46, Cornelia Robart ’61, Barbara Schieffelin Powell ’62, Jane Lifton ’76, Margaret Hoag ’86, Eileen Kavanagh ’75, and the Alumnae Association.

Sharon Gershman ’00 February 2008