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A Victory for Academic Freedom

An all-girls school in Baltimore decides to let a historian's account of their history see daylight.

12:00 AM, May 23, 2002 • By BETH HENARY
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A TWO-YEAR stalemate between the Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore and a battery of academics over a yet-to-be-published book about the girls' school ended Monday. In a letter to scholar Andrea Hamilton, who wrote a history of the school as her dissertation in 1997, the Bryn Mawr trustees told Hamilton that she was welcome to publish her history.

The letter, signed by trustee president David Funk, laid down one stipulation: Hamilton must include a disclaimer saying the book is not an official or sanctioned history. The trustees added that the manuscript does not cover numerous facets of the school's present or past, including the perspectives of the four living headmistresses or the accomplishments of alumnae.

"In not objecting to the publication of your manuscript, the School reaffirms the reservations conveyed previously to you about your work," Funk wrote.

In withdrawing their objections, the trustees were responding to pressure from Baltimore journalists and academics nationwide that the school leave its history open to interpretation. On May 13, 140 historians and university archivists signed a petition urging the school to allow the book to go to press. (Bryn Mawr had cooperated with Hamilton in her dissertation research during the late 1990s, then in 2000 invoked an agreement she'd signed to prevent her from publishing with a mainstream press.)

Hamilton told The Daily Standard that she would not have objected to such a disclaimer in the first place.

"This was never intended to be an official or sanctioned history. If it would have been, this would have never been an academic dissertation."

Though Hamilton feels she is basically starting over with the publishing process, she is fortunate that one of the presses she formerly had contact with still wants to publish her book. The book is entitled "A Vision for Girls: A Story of Gender, Education and The Bryn Mawr School."

In a May 20 letter to the Baltimore Sun, Johns Hopkins press director Jim Jordan wrote, "On the basis of external reviews and approval by our faculty editorial board, the Johns Hopkins University Press decided to publish this book. We wanted to publish it. We still do. We sympathize with our author, for whom we know this situation has caused considerable difficulty and distress."

Beth Henary is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard.