A few months ago, I was chatting with a Bryn Mawr alumna who’d come to visit campus with her daughter. She asked me how I felt about Bryn Mawr “alumna” Betty Draper Francis. Betty Draper Francis, class of 1951, is a Bryn Mawr graduate. She’s also a fictional character whose portrayal on the popular television show Mad Men has sparked controversy and debate among alumnae.
In reality, Bryn Mawr has impressive alumnae, among them a Nobel Peace Prize winner, journalists and authors, the geneticist credited with the discovery of X/Y chromosomes, a Hollywood icon, and the first female president of Harvard University.
The list of fictional Mawrters is imaginative. A popular campus quiz “Which fictional Mawrter are you?” states, Bryn Mawr’s “hallowed halls churn out a disproportionate number of fictional alumnae.” Listen closely and you can hear references to the College everywhere from Gossip Girl to Boardwalk Empire. Let’s take a look at some of our most notable fictional Mawrters:
Betty Draper Francis ’51 (Mad Men): I’ll start with the aforementioned Betty Draper. In season one of Mad Men, Betty was introduced as a former model hailing from Philadelphia’s Main Line. One imagines Betty’s time at Bryn Mawr might have included traditional teas and Ivy League mixers. The truest part of Betty’s origin story refers to her time studying abroad in Italy; study abroad is still a big part of the Bryn Mawr experience. Most avid viewers of Mad Men either love or hate this character. I agree that she’s imperfect but also written within the context of her time.Though Mad Men might not reflect a totally accurate view of the College, a real alumna did appear on the show. Maggie Siff ’96, portrayed recurring character Rachel Menken Katz during the show’s first two seasons.
Edna Krabappel (The Simpsons): In an episode titled “I’m Spelling as Fast as I Can,” Lisa Simpson dreams of attending one of the storied Seven Sister schools. As Lisa ponders her future, she imagines each Sister personified as a Greek goddess. Lisa didn’t have to go far to learn about Bryn Mawr—one of Springfield’s most recognized residents is a graduate. Edna Krabappel, Bart Simpson’s teacher and sometime nemesis, did her graduate study at Bryn Mawr. Though Mrs. Krabappel isn’t known for her sunny disposition (get it, crab apple?), she’s definitely an independent and assertive woman.
Lady Jaye ’81 (G.I. Joe): Lady Jaye holds the unique distinction of being the only Bryn Mawr alumna with her own action figure. She’s also presumably the only Mawrter who knows how to use a crossbow. Introduced in 1985 as part of the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero toy line, Lady Jaye was the G.I. Joe team’s specialist in covert operations.
Liz Lemon ’92 (30 Rock): So, here’s Bryn Mawr’s most well-known fictional Mawrter. Watch reruns of 30 Rock, and you’re sure to see several nods to the College. Last year, there was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shout out to the Owls in the Wool Bowl against Hiram College in Ohio. Liz definitely embodies some true Bryn Mawr characteristics, like quirkiness and a great sense of humor. It would be nice, though, if she encouraged her co-workers to participate in some self governance!
While it’s always fun to debate whether fictional Mawrters demonstrate characteristics of a Bryn Mawr woman, I still think that the best resources are real life alums—check out a recent blog post by a Bryn Mawr grad, who shares her reflections on Reunion Weekend.