Baltimore's Miss Hamilton

November 30, 1993|By Jean Marbella

Although Edith Hamilton wasn't born in Baltimore, she adopted the city as her own. She was headmistress of Bryn Mawr, a private girls school still operating today, from 1896 to 1922, a time of remarkable growth in both its own enrollment and the movement to open up educational opportunities previously offered mainly to boys.

"I have lived in Baltimore half my life; I feel myself a Baltimorean, and I have taken pride in the knowledge that Baltimore has

upheld a school such as neither New York nor Boston nor any other great city has yet been willing to uphold," Miss Hamilton declared in a March 31, 1922 newspaper article.

Ironically, Miss Hamilton had resigned from Bryn Mawr earlier that month, allegedly under pressure from school board members who wanted the school to offer a more strictly college preparatory curriculum. Miss Hamilton believed the school, which more recently named its new library after her, should also offer options for girls who chose not to continue their education or pursue a career outside the home.

"A woman's normal and best career is that of wife and mother," she said later in the article.

She insisted on the highest educational standards for the students, befitting her own background. Born in 1867, she initially was educated by her father -- who had her reading Caesar at age 7 -- then sent to Miss Porter's School in Connecticut. She received a bachelor's and master's degree at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania and was awarded a fellowship to study in Europe as her graduating class' most outstanding member. She was the first woman to attend the University of Munich.

Her two sisters and one brother also became academics -- her sister, Alice, in fact, became the first woman on the faculty of Harvard Medical School.

After leaving Bryn Mawr, Miss Hamilton went to New York "to stay with a friend, Doris Fielding Reid," a Feb. 23, 1958 newspaper story said, "and after 36 years, the two women are still together."

The two moved to Washington in 1943, where they lived in a three-story, 10-room house with 2,000 books, a full-time maid and a cat called "Nip," the account continued.

Miss Hamilton was 95 when she died in 1963. Her obituary made note of her siblings, but not of Miss Reid.

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