Hell Week at the Mawr

Hell Week* at the Mawr

And Hell Week begins…/ H. Novak

Last week, Bryn Mawrtyrs celebrated the school’s (arguably) most precious tradition. That Tuesday, one of my friends from Swarthmore asked me what exactly was Hell Week. I’m not sure my answer was adequate, because explaining Hell Week is difficult. It is so many wonderful things all bundled together—laughing with friends, dancing in front of professors, running across campus late at night on scavenger hunts, waking up early for the duck pond run, listening to bedtime stories read by the seniors . . . and the list goes on.

The Denbigh Nook transformed by K-pop/ H. Novak

When I visited Bryn Mawr as a senior in high school, I was surprised by the amount of traditions it had. From Parade Night to Lantern Night and May Day, the celebrations seemed thrilling and mysterious. At the time, I asked my tour guide what her favorite tradition was, and I remember how she replied without hesitation “Hell Week!” Now I know why.

Wednesday Sundown/ H. Novak

Hell Week started at 5:37 on the dot. You could tell just from the excited screams across campus.

Scavenger Hunt/ H. Novak

From then on, a whirlwind of activities and crazy behavior takes over. Each freshman has already chosen her “Hellers,” usually one or two upperclassmen she has grown close to. Last year, my two wonderful Hellers devised a Hell Schedule for me full of Hell Tasks. The Hell Tasks are usually a combination of creative and silly. I had to hand out chocolate kisses while asking people about their first loves, danced in Pem Arch with friends, and made omelet deliveries to my Hell Moms. (Of course, all the activities are optional, and there is no pressure. Hellees who don’t feel comfortable with an activity in their Hell schedule can opt out of it.)

Claire’s Schedule/ H. Novak

Claire loves her tea/ H. Novak



This year I was so lucky to have my own lovely Hellee, Claire, who also had one other Heller, M. M and I concocted a schedule and chortled while envisioning Hell Tasks. Each Hell Schedule is unique, based on the tastes of the Hellee.




Claire is a bubbly K-pop enthusiast with a zeal for life. Her schedule involved a multitude of silly K-pop-related activities: teach a professor a K-pop dance move; dress up like a K-pop star. She also wrote a poem to one Hell Grandmother and decorated the door of another.

Grandma’s Door/ H. Novak

No one gets much sleep during Hell Week. Throughout the week there are performances in Thomas Great Hall and Goodhart Theater. Any freshman can get up and dance with a group of friends in front of hundreds of onlookers to raucous applause and ear-splitting music.

Bryn Mawr students take their traditions seriously and always have. I think the reason Hell Week is so loved stems from the enthusiasm and affection Mawrtyrs have for their traditions. Hell Week is a final welcome gesture to the freshmen class, but the upperclassmen play a vital role as well, enforcing the sense of community and love that we all share for the Mawr.

Festivities at TGH/ H. Novak




Of course, there is more to Hell Week than I have written here. For those prospective students reading, you’ll just have to become a Mawrtyr to find out!

Bedtime Stories/ H. Novak


“Your body makes you human, your mind makes you a scholar, but the duck pond run makes you a Mawrtyr.”

Choom Boom/ H. Novak



* Last year the name was changed to “Welcome the First-Year’s Week,” with Hellers changed to “Roses” and Hellees becoming “Buds.” But it is difficult to eradicate a name beloved by Mawrtyrs that has stuck for decades.



6 thoughts on “Hell Week at the Mawr

  1. Great post! I love to see that Hell Week lives. Would you mind changing the quote to an updated, “your body makes you human, your mind makes you a scholar?” to reflect that your body doesn’t predetermine gender? Thanks!

  2. I am a high school senior and am applying to Bryn Mawr. I know someone who goes there now, met with a Bryn Mawr coach, and an alum. I asked all of them as well as our tour guide what their favorite campus tradition was and many of them said Hell Week. When I asked if they could explain what it was they all said something along the lines of “Sorry we’re not really allowed to say. You just have to become a Mawter.” I guess it must be part of the tradition. At first, it drove me kind of mad because I wanted to know so badly but now I realize it is almost a representation of how close the community is.

    • Hi Cait,
      Thanks for this note! Absolutely, the Bryn Mawr traditions define our community and are among the principle reasons many of us love BMC! However, it makes it difficult when we want to convey our love yet keep certain aspects of the traditions a secret! Best of luck with the admissions process and have a wonderful senior year! Feel free to ask me any other questions you might have~

  3. Thank you for the blog! In my day (late 1970s), hell week was actually sort of hellish but more than ok! I cannot explain that (see above); suffice to say that it has to be experienced and is unforgettable in the best possible way. I look back on that week and that entire first year with such fondness and a real pride for having been part of it. Hell Week surely welcomed the first year students, weaving us into that lovely fabric that was the BMC community.

    • Hi Becky,
      Thank you sharing your memories of Hell Week! Hell Week was so special to me that I know I will look back on it with fondness and pride too!

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