Direct democracy runs through the very core of Bryn Mawr College, in the northern reaches of Philadelphia. Founded by a Quaker businessman upset over his daughter’s lack of educational opportunities, its mission was to “specifically provide women all the advantages of a college education which are so freely offered to young men.” The mission was extended somewhat to include all women, not just Quaker ones, but that was just a warm-up to the biggest change of all.
On this day, February 23, in 1892, Bryn Mawr College became the first institute ever to give its students responsibility over their own conduct. Both the creation and enforcement of the rules would be the sole domain of the self-government associations.
The student self-government concept is still a rare thing, but in Bryn Mawr it seems to work. Students determine everything from campus alcohol policies to which professors they want to teach. Their only restriction is a student honor code which compels them to “respect the rights of those around them and to work together to find solutions to problems” and to accept “full responsibility for the integrity of their academic work.”