Martha "Carey" Thomas was born to a Quaker family in Baltimore, Maryland. Despite her father's objections, she went to college and graduated from Cornell University in 1877. She did graduate work at Johns Hopkins University and at the University of Leipzig, Germany. However, she was refused a degree at Leipzig because she was a woman. She then applied to the University of Zürich, where she received her Ph.D. summa cum laude in linguistics in 1882. After a year of further work at the Sorbonne in Paris, she returned to the USA. In 1884, she was appointed to help organize the new Bryn Mawr College for women, serving as a professor of English and becoming the first woman in the country to hold the title of dean. She was the college's second president from 1894 to 1922. She established scholarships for European students to study at Bryn Mawr, the first such programs in the USA. Dr. Thomas was also a leader in the women's suffrage movement, playing a key role in the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Her published works include The Higher Education of Women (1900).