By Caitlyn Maltese
Elm Staff Writer
Washington College’s Miller Library café was recently re-named Sophie’s Café in honor of Sophie Kerr, one of WC’s most notable benefactors. The change was made at the suggestion of two alumni members of the Board of Visitors and Governors: Debbie Turner, Class of 1977, and Thomas Crouse, Class of 1959. It adds a more literary flavor to the café, which is housed in the same building as the Sophie Kerr Room.
Ceramic mugs featuring a portrait of Kerr are on sale for $5 and stainless-steel travel cups are available for $10. When buying a refill of regular coffee, it only costs 99 cents for students with one of these products. The mugs can be refilled at the Miller Library location or at Java George in Hodson Hall.
Not only are the mugs cost friendly, they are environmentally friendly as well. On the door, there is a poster that says, “Did you bring your own mug? Not only is it convenient but it reduces waste” It displays an image of George Washington exclaiming, “I brought my own!”
“All of us are pretty guilty of wasting a lot of paper day in and day out,” said Associate Vice President of College Relations and Marketing Mike O’Connor. “This is an opportunity for folks like myself to make sure I’m throwing out a little bit less. As well, it’s a nice little keepsake; they are very good mugs.”
The College started out with approximately 75 stainless-steel travel cups and 100 ceramic mugs. According to O’Connor, the entire project, including the decals, cost between $1,200 and $1,300 for startup.
“The program itself is self-sustaining. The proceeds from this go to buy the next round of mugs when we have exhausted the sales. So this way there are no costs to the college. It was an extremely low cost project,” said O’Connor.
In the spirit of recycling, the cafe decided to adopt a logo that Director of Visual Arts James Arnold designed for last year’s Sophie Kerr Prize pamphlet. According to O’Connor, they chose the design because they like what he had done with her profile.
“If you look at the pictures of Sophie Kerr, you get two pictures,” he says. “You’ve got this shot that was taken from her—she was a debutant when she was around 16. It’s kind of like this profile shot. It was very nice and kind of airy. Then the rest of them are her in her 50s. As a writer in New York, she is always smoking and she has this large, black cat…that really is monstrously large, but we just couldn’t figure out anything to do with the cat.”
The process of adapting this new identity proved fairly easy. “It didn’t really have any existing branding to begin with so it was a great opportunity,” said O’Connor. “I think it’s fair to say that most students, outside of English and those who are interested in the writing stuff know the name Sophie Kerr, but they don’t actually know who she was.”
“You show up to get your coffee, you spend a few seconds to throw in your fixings and what not, and then you can spend a little while reading about what her gift, almost 40 years ago, has actually done for the campus,” he said.
According to the WC website, Kerr was “a prolific and popular American writer of the early 20th century, has left an indelible literary mark at Washington College, where the gift she bequeathed 40 years ago enabled the College to bring to campus a succession of the nation’s top writers, editors and scholars.”
According to an email sent out to students regarding the café, “At her death in 1965, she left the bulk of her estate to Washington College, stipulating that half its annual earnings be awarded to a graduating senior who demonstrates the most literary promise—the famous Sophie Kerr Prize. The other half provides scholarships and the Sophie Kerr Lecture Series, which brings some of the nation’s most accomplished writers to campus for readings, lectures, and meetings with students. As the text on one wall of the café sums up, ‘The result is a wonderfully vibrant intellectual culture where the literary arts thrive.’”
“It gives us the opportunity to reinforce the idea that there are real people connected to this program and real giving that has created this opportunity,” said O’Connor.