Calvert Vaux and Addison Hutton organized a campus that was meant to guard the health of its female students through a carefully controlled and surveilled environment. Concern for the physical well being of students permeated the design of the buildings. The healthful atmosphere and amenities were a major selling point for students and their families.
The health of college women was a hotly debated topic in the late nineteenth century. This conversation was dominated by pseudo-medical theories that proposed demanding intellectual work compromised the ability of women to have children by absorbing too much of the vital energy necessary for effective reproductive development. In response, Bryn Mawr relied on the advice and training of Dr. Dudley Allen Sargent, a pioneer in physical education and the director of Harvard’s Gymnasium. Sargent designed a rigorous curriculum in physical culture that was intended to confer the greatest physical and mental benefit. Physical education at Bryn Mawr was not just an experiment, it was an exhibition.