“The Best Thing in a Girl’s Life”: Early Women’s Colleges in Fiction and Fact

College Girl Fiction

As soon as women's colleges began to spring up in numbers in the late nineteenth century, the "college girl" became the subject of popular fiction. Novels were soon followed by short stories, including stories written by college girls and alumnae, collected in books like Bryn Mawr Stories. Series books were selling well, and in 1904 Betty Wales, Freshman: A Story for Girls appeared, setting the stage for numerous series that followed their protagonists year by year through collegiate trials and triumphs. Some series continued after college ended; Betty Wales stretched out to eight novels, a play, and a novelette. These books were published and re-published as long as there was a market for them. The best were competently written with reasonably believable and consistent characters. The worst of them are the purest hack work, cranked out by ghost writers to supply the voracious market. But, good or bad, they were greeted enthusiastically by teenage girls who learned much of what they knew about college from the stories.

Bibliography
Paths & Plots

Bryn Mawr College Library