Partner Helen Thomas, Edith Finch Russell

Queer Places:
Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, PA
1110 Beech Rd, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010

Lucy Martin Donnelly (September 18, 1870 – August 3, 1948) was a teacher of English at Bryn Mawr College. She was head of the English department starting in 1914. She was a good friend of Eva Palmer-Sikelianos.

Born Lucy Martin Donnelly on Sept 18, 1870, in Ithaca, NY, the elder of the two daughters of Henry D. Donnelly, a patent lawyer and veteran of the Civil War, and Abby Ann Martin, a schoolteacher. Her mother's people were of New England; her father's great-grandfather, Peter Donnelly, had come from Ireland in 1740 to New York, settling in Newburgh. Lucy's given middle name was Mack, which she early changed to Martin. She grew up in Ithaca and in Brooklyn, N.Y., to which the family moved during her childhood. Like her father, Lucy was a reticent, studious person, yet also liberal, affectionate, and sympathetic; both were exigently conscientious and self-critical. Their tastes were similar, but where he was a Unitarian, she became an agnostic. From her mother, perhaps, Lucy acquired her wit and sense of fun. The family was materially comfortable, but not happy, for husband and wife were not congenial.

Lucy Donnelly attended Adeiphi Academy in Brooklyn (1888-89) where she followed the "classical course." With her father's encouragement, she then entered the recently founded Bryn Mawr College. She majored in Greek and English, her imagination caught especially by the lectures of Mary Gwinn on nineteenth-century English critics. Almost at once she began a close friendship with her classmate Helen Thomas, the youngest sister of M. Carey Thomas, Bryn Mawr's dean and president-to-be, whom she likewise came to know and appreciate. Intensely alive and impressionable, she responded ardently to the college's emphasis on intellectual distinction. She graduated high in her class in June 1893 and the following autumn went with her sister and a college friend to Oxford to read Greek. There her theoretical love of England and all that was English was confirmed, and she made friends with the Thomases' cousins the Pearsall Smiths, Alys Pearsall Smith (first wife of Bertrand Russell), Mary Pearsall Smith (who married Bernard Berenson), and Logan Pearsall Smith. Logan Pearsall Smith's literary influence upon her was great and, by intensifying her own tendency to literary refinement and her unsureness of her own talent, disastrous. She was influenced also by his brother-in-law Bertrand Russell, whom she regarded as "the greatest modern writer of English prose." After a year at Oxford she went to the University of Leipzig, intending to take a Ph.D. in comparative philology, but she and Helen Thomas, who joined her there, found German scholarship savorless and went on to Paris to follow lectures at the Sorbonne.

In 1896 Donnelly returned to Bryn Mawr, where she and Helen Thomas became readers in the essay work of the English department. They soon started a course of their own in descriptive and narrative writing, which they continued until 1903, when Helen Thomas departed to marry Dr. Simon Plezner. At first Carey Thomas had mistrusted their lack of advanced degrees and it took the threat of resignation to win them a secure place in the academic hierarchy.

Lucy Donnelly served as professor and head of English department, undergraduate and graduate, at Bryn Mawr from 1911 to 1936. Widely known in literary fields in the US and abroad, she traveled throughout the world. As a result of her travels in the Far East, she founded the Chinese Scholarship Committee, to enable more Chinese students to study at Bryn Mawr. She was a member of the Modern Language Association and of the Cosmopolitan Club, of a New York.

Edith Finch Russell shared with Lucy Donnelly a home on Beech Road, Rosemont, Penn, from 1936 to 1948. Donnelly died on Aug 3, 1948, in Pointe-au-Pic, Quebec, Canada, where she was spending the summer holidays.


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