Snapshot: The College Years of Photographer Mary Morris Lawrence




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Mary Louise Morris was born on March 27, 1914. After receiving her high school diploma from Mt. Vernon Seminary in Washington, DC in 1932, she entered Sarah Lawrence College. At the time, Sarah Lawrence was a brand new progressive junior college for women offering a two-year diploma and just beginning to offer the four-year BA degree. While Morris went on to become the first woman photographer for the Associated Press and a world-renowned documentary photographer, this exhibit commemorates her time at Sarah Lawrence, her formative years leading up to her magnificent career.

Morris stayed at Sarah Lawrence for 3 years, receiving her diploma after the second year, 1934. The story goes that she wanted to work and decided to leave Sarah Lawrence after the 1934/35 academic year to attend the Clarence White School of Photography in New York City. According to an article about her new photography career in the Sarah Lawrence Alumnae Magazine (January 1939), Morris “liked photography but not the [Clarence White School]. Nor they her. Fresh from her Sarah Lawrence training she baffled her instructors and irritated her fellow students by wanting to know in so many words just what was a good picture. When no one could tell her she began to feel confused and frustrated again.”

Despite her time at Sarah Lawrence being relatively short, Morris was an active student and left her mark, both during her time as a student and after. As a student she was elected president of the Freshmen and then re-elected the following year; member of the Literary Club; chair of Rooming and Weekend Committees; elected to be the first ever City Editor of The Campus (student newspaper); temporary member of Student Council; and business manager of The Campus.

Academically, Morris’ course load looked like the typical Sarah Lawrence student. It included literature, economics, drama, music, labor history, etc. Her professors included, among others, two important figures in sociology: Max Lerner and Helen Merrell Lynd. According to a January 1939 magazine article, “Four years ago, Mary Louise Morris clumped around the Sarah Lawrence campus wearing beautiful tweeds and a puzzled, vaguely unhappy expression. Life was an unwieldy business. She went into contortions trying to answer the complicated questions she asked herself, and the more she learned the further away from a solution she was. Most Sarah Lawrence maidens accept this sad fact with equanimity. But not Morrie. She was a practical girl and wanted the answer.”

After graduating, she was an active alumna serving on the editorial board of the Alumnae Magazine as well as participating in various alumnae functions and activities. In Spring 1936, after being away for a year, Morris came back to campus and photographed the various activities on the campus, creating a view book for the College. Many of these images represent significant pieces of the College’s history in those years.

Thanks to Morris, we have images of these wonderful icons of Sarah Lawrence College history (don conference, studying, dance, etc.). Several of the images appear on the following page in the slideshow.

Sarah Lawrence College 1936 View Book Images by Mary Morris Lawrence