Part II of the Story of Bryn Mawr’s Integration

When the Bryn Mawr School Admissions Policy was changed in January of 1962 to accept students “without regard for color,” part of the impetus for change had come from the new Head, Diane Howell, who had stipulated that the policy must be changed before she would accept the job.

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Diane Howell (1962-1973)

In a 1999 interview with an alumna, Howell described what had happened in this way:

Well, the question had begun to come up, of course, about, “Are you going to integrate the school?”  I said flatly to the Selection Committee that was trying to find a Head for the school that I wasn’t going to come unless the school was going to be integrated. I wasn’t trying to bribe them. I was just making it clear how I felt that it had to be done. . .

Bryn Mawr changed the policy, but when Howell arrived, she faced the problem of how to recruit black students. There were no black applicants. Not having come from Baltimore and never having lived in community like it before, she did not know how to approach finding black students to recruit. She explained the problem and its solution in the interview,

When I got there, there were no black students in the school and no prospects of black students in the school, and I didn’t do anything about it . . . for two years or more. I didn’t know how to do anything about it, to tell the truth.  . . .And then along came this woman . . . named Marise Ross . . .  Well, she is responsible, I think, almost single-handedly, for integrating not just the Bryn Mawr School but practically all the other private schools in Baltimore.

Marise Ross had been a local television personality in Baltimore, known as Penny Chase. She had grown up in poverty in Chicago during the Depression, the daughter of an alcoholic mother and an absent father.

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Marise Ross (photo from Life Magazine, Oct. 8, 1965)

After participating in the March on Washington in 1963, Ross approached the Baltimore Urban League with the idea of mentoring promising young black children. She started what would be known at TNT, Training Now for Tomorrow. Ross began taking a group of students from Booker T. Washington Junior High School to concerts, plays, museums and lectures. Her hope was to interest them in college. Then she had the idea to place them in schools that would better prepare them for college. That is when she began approaching the Baltimore private schools, asking them to admit her students. She came to Diane Howell, asking her to accept Erselle Datcher.

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(photo from The Sun, June 9, 1968)

Erselle would be a sophomore entering in the fall of 1965. In the 1999 interview, Howell said that she initially wanted to begin by admitting several black students, but Ross insisted Bryn Mawr begin only with Erselle. Howell ultimately agreed.

Erselle’s experience was positive. She was quoted in a 1968 Baltimore Sun article saying,

At first there was an awkward period . . . I knew the girls were trying to say the ‘right thing,’ but all in friendliness. I was lucky, this has been a good class and the friends I’ve made mean much to me. Bryn Mawr has done a lot for me. But I haven’t lost my identity — and I think I’ve given something to the girls as well.

In the 1999 interview, Diane Howell credited both Erselle and her classmates with the success of the integration. The following year, three more black students entered the school: Michele Eubanks ’69, Clara Fletcher ’69, and Edna Wright ’71.

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Michele Eubanks ’69 and Clara Fletcher ’69

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Edna Wright ’71

By the time Erselle graduated in June of 1968, there were seven black students at Bryn Mawr.  Erselle was elected Athletic Association President her senior year and went on to attend Lake Forest College.

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(photo from The Bryn Mawrtyr 1968)

The Bryn Mawr School continued to welcome and recruit black students. From 1963 to 1976, Marise Ross continued to recommend black students to the school. After awhile, other black students began to apply, as well. The school also began to diversify in other ways. According to Diane Howell, around the time the admissions policy was changed, more Jewish students began to apply to Bryn Mawr.

When in 1979 Bryn Mawr developed its Long Range Plan, one of its primary goals was to diversify the student body. In the 1980s under the leadership of Barbara Chase, the school established its Multicultural Committee and made efforts to build, “geographic, ethnic and economic diversity.” During her tenure, in addition to growth in the numbers of black students, there was a dramatic increase in Asian students.

Erselle Datcher went on to work at the Baltimore Urban League, and she continued her connections with Bryn Mawr, serving as a Board Trustee from 1979 to 1981. Sadly, she passed away in 1991.

As for Marise Ross, after the death of her husband in 1970 and a foreclosure on her home in 1976, she moved to New York City and fell into poverty and ill health. In 1977, her friends in Baltimore organized a fundraiser to help her. She returned to Baltimore and died in 1985.

In 2018, to celebrate both the 50th anniversary of Erselle Datcher’s graduation and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday, a panel of black alumnae shared memories and reflections about their years at Bryn Mawr. Michele Eubanks Abdul Sabur ’69 gave a memorable speech. Click below to read the full text of her remarks.

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway! – Michele Eubanks Abdul Sabur ’69

Also in 2018, Seniors Milan George and India Kutcherman did their Senior Project together in the Bryn Mawr School Archives. They produced Celebrating Fifty Years of Black Alumnae: 1968-2018, a book containing the pictures of the first fifty years of black alumnae of the school.

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Milan George ’18 and India Kutcherman ’18

Click below to take a look at their wonderful creation, dedicated to Erselle Datcher and to “every black Bryn Mawr Girl, past, present and future.”

Celebrating Fifty Years of Black Alumnae: 1968-2018.

Sources:

Abdul Sabur, Michele Eubanks. “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway!” January 12, 2018. The Bryn Mawr Archives.

The Bryn Mawrtyr, The Bryn Mawr School, 1968, 1969 and 1971.

Di Cataldo, Elizabeth. Ex Solo Ad Solem. The Bryn Mawr School, 2011.

George, Milan and India Kutcherman. Celebrating Fifty Years of Black Alumnae: 1968-2018. The Bryn Mawr School, 2018.

Henderson, Randi. “Benefit Planned for a Benefactor.” The Sun, July 21, 1977. Accessed Nov. 1, 2017. ProQuest.

Henry, Helen. “New Horizons Opened for Negro Children.” The Sun, March 28, 1965. Accessed Nov. 1, 2017. ProQuest.

Henry, Helen. “Woman’s ‘TNT’ Project Puts Ghetto Youths in the Know.” The Sun, June 9, 1968. Accessed Nov. 1, 2017. ProQuest. 

Howell, Diane. Interview by Amy Sawers Tanler, BMS Class of ’58. 1999. audio recording. The Bryn Mawr School Archives.

List of Minority Alumnae. 10/29/1992. The Bryn Mawr School Archives.

Mawrtian Minutes, January 2018.

Newsletter of the Bryn Mawr School, March 1985. The Bryn Mawr School Archives.

Stolley, Richard B. “Child Seller.” Life, Oct. 8, 1965. Accessed Nov. 1, 2017. https://books.google.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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