According to The Miscellany, student attendance at lectures on “The Labor Movement,” “Railroads” and “The Laws of Social Progress” was unusually large and attentive. Students were being advised “not to teach until they look into the opportunities in law, medicine, journalism, business, and college settlements.”
Ground was broken for Frederick Ferris Thompson Memorial Library, the gift of Mary Clark Thompson as a memorial to her husband, a Vassar trustee from 1885 until his death in 1899.
On Shakespeare’s birthday, a Vassar benefit performance of As You Like It was presented at the Victoria Theatre in New York City. Veteran Shakespeareans took the major parts, and Elizabethan music, arranged by American musicologist Edward Krehbiel, was sung by Franklyn Wallace.
In their second meeting, the Vassar debate team again defeated the team from Wellesley, in Poughkeepsie. The question, proposed by Wellesley, was “Resolved, That economically it is not advantageous for the United States to possess territory in the tropics,” and Vassar argued the affirmative. The Vassar team, led by Susannah J. McMurphy ’03, also included Katherine M. Morgan ’03 and Jennette S. Taylor ’04. Each speaker was allowed twelve minutes in debate and four minutes in rebuttal.
After dark, on Sunset Hill, The Philaletheis Society presented an ambitious production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A large audience of students and friends of the players gathered as colored lights illuminated the scenes and the surrounding pines, fairies danced and lovers were confounded. Dances were arranged by athletic director Harriet Ballintine and Violet Kauffman ’03, who played Titania, and a hidden orchestra accompanied the Three Shakespeare Songs of American composer Amy Cheney Beach.
Jeanette Hooker ’03 played Bottom, and Jane Sousa ’03 was Puck. Helen Whitmore ’03 was, according to The New York Times, a “stately Helena,” and Margaret Conger ’04 portrayed Hermia “with feeling.” “The production,” The Times concluded, “was one of the most elaborate the Philalethian Society has ever undertaken, and it has proved the most successful from an artistic point of view.”
On a perfect May day, Vassar’s ninth annual Field Day saw five records set and one equaled. Evelyn Gardner ’04 set two school records with a standing broad jump of 7 feet, 7 inches and a running broad jump of 14 feet 6 ½ inches. Helen Wood ’04 set a record for the running high jump of 4 feet 2 ¼ inches, Agnes Wood ’03 ran the 220-yard run in 0:30 3-5 and the 50-yard dash in 0:06 3-5, both new records. Fanny James ’04 equalled her standing record in the 100-yard dash: 0:13 1-5.
The junior class was the overall winner, with 54 points to the seniors 36 and the sophomores 18.
Summing up the "Great Day for Records," The New York Times proclaimed, "History in American athletics is being made rapidly this year. Saturday was a red letter day in every respect...and little consideration was shown for old records." After noting record performances by athletes from Princeton, Cornell, New York University and Amherst, The Times said, "Mention should be made of the growing interest in athletic contests of all sorts by young ladies.... The Vassar girls held a regular field day on Saturday and in their record-breaking prowess they were fully as successful as their brother athletes."
As he had with the preceding class, President Taylor warned the Class of 1903 in his baccalaureate sermon about the lure of an age of commercialism and pleasure seeking. “We need,” he told the class, “to find an ideal of life which will withstand the commercial spirit of our age…. There is a growth of luxury and idleness, but history shows that the real value of life comes from the growth of the soul. This is the testimony of the rich as well as the poor…. In this age, where idleness is like to follow the acquisition of wealth, the gospel of work should be emphasized. Work makes one better and happier.” The New York Times
Whitelaw Reid, editor of The New York Tribune, gave the Phi Beta Kappa address, “The Thing To Do.” Decrying the materialism and indulgence of the age, he described in detail and with several examples the rapid degradation of the social fabric. “Nothing is more noticeable,” he said, “at the great centres of population and of National activity, or in any large section of what calls itself and is often called our best society, than this disappearance of the old foundation of character and action: this loss of profound, enduring, restful faith in anything.”
Reid turned eventually to “another side to the picture. Admitting all faults and inconsistencies and hysterical alternations of heat and cold, our people are still the freest, most generous, most active and daring, our country is still in our eyes the best the sun shines on.” The role of educated women in the revival and strengthening of these enduring, if endangered, aspects of American society was a pivotal one, Reid asserted. “Outside the immediate and inestimable effect on the family, the conservative power of educated women will naturally show its first and perhaps its chief influence in the next greatest among the forces that guide the world—that of social life. The will surely help to check its degradation. The may make it regain its soothing relaxation, and its benign stimulus for the best in every one. They may even give back to society the inspiration it once had for the leaders of the world’s work…. If the conduct of the so-called inner circles of society has sometimes seemed to justify this brazen uproar at their gates, so much greater the demand for the conservative influence and the real refinement that come from the high training of superior women.” The New York Times
The president of the Class of 1903, Elizabeth Burd Thompson ’03, welcomed fellow students and guests to Class Day exercises. The seniors were escorted by a group of sophomores carrying the chain of daisies made by their class. Crystal Eastman ’03 and Harriet Anderson ’03 gave the class history, again complemented by the seniors, who explained some of the two historians’ remarks by singing original lyrics to snatches of popular songs.
At the class tree, Matthew Vassar’s spade was passed by Mary Starr ’03, who gave the senior charge, to Jeannette Taylor ’04, who offered the junior reply. In the evening, a concert by the Glee Club was followed by the president’s reception.
At their annual luncheon, in the Strong dining room, the alumnae heard remarks from, among others, Yale president Arthur Hadley and Professor Gertrude Buck from the English department.
President Taylor conferred the bachelor’s degree on 154 members of the Class of 1903 at Commencement in the Chapel. 23 seniors received honors at graduation and graduate scholarships were awarded to Alice Chamberlain ’03 in Greek and architecture, Mary Wilson Cross ’03 in Greek and architecture, Angie L. Kellogg ’03 in philosophy and psychology and Mary Elizabeth Mills '03 in Latin and Greek.
In his remarks, President Taylor, announcing that $50,000—all from alumnae—had been raised toward the $200,000 matching challenge given the college by trustee John D. Rockefeller, asserted that, had the offer been to a men’s college, the effort so far expended would have met the whole amount of the challenge. He said he didn’t expect the remaining sum to come solely from alumnae; he directed an appeal to those among the wealthy at large who were friends of the college and of women’s education.
Another modification to the curriculum was introduced, one that would last with only a few changes until the 1930s. After much deliberation the balance between required and freely elected study tilted slightly in the direction of the latter. “It was a decided advance on what had preceded it. Compulsory mathematics was retained by a small majority. Two languages were continued during the first year. A year of science, a year of history, and a year of English were enforced; philosophy, or psychology, and ethics were retained as obligatory….” The new plan was “a system which promised a broad foundation of general study and liberty beyond that, limited by certain concatenations of studies, by permission of professors, and by general faculty oversight.” James Monroe Taylor & Elizabeth Hazelton Haight, Vassar
Margaret Floy Washburn ’91, the country’s first woman PhD in psychology, was appointed assistant professor of philosophy, in charge of psychology. In 1908 she became professor of psychology and the first chair of that department, one of the earliest in women’s colleges. From the first, her students were urged to undertake independent research in experimental psychology, and in addition to her own prolific publication, some 40 papers undertaken with her students appeared as “Studies from the Psychology Laboratory at Vassar College” in The American Journal of Psychology.
A major figure in psychology in the United States in the first quarter of the 20th century, Washburn served as president of the American Psychological Association and was the first woman psychologist and the second woman scientist—after the discoverer of the origin and processes of the lymphatic system, Florence Rena Sabin—to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Washburn died on October 29, 1939, and at a memorial service at Vassar the following April, her accomplishments were praised by Dr. Leonard Carmichael, the president of Tufts University and of the American Psychological Association, and by President MacCracken, who hailed her as “the philosopher in science.”
Several Vassar students were at lunch at Mrs. Brittan’s boarding house on Grand Avenue when their landlady, answering the doorbell, discovered a large, grey, tailless monkey on her veranda. After several attempts by the students failed to chase the monkey away—including, according to The New York Times, a “flying wedge formation”—Mrs. Brittan called the police.
A Poughkeepsie saloon keeper, John Vanderburgh, arrived on the scene to reclaim his pet, which he’d thought was on its way to the country under the care of his father. The monkey, however, was now atop Mrs. Brittan’s chimney. A neighbor, Mrs. Charles Nixon, coaxed the monkey down to an upstairs window with a piece of cake and, seizing its leg, held it until the owner could secure it.
The students were late for their afternoon recitations. The New York Times
After doing all the planning for it, the Philaletheis Society, by a large majority, voted to cancel their annual ball—along with Founder’s Day, one of the two major social events of the year. They voted to apply the $500 thus saved toward the $200,000 needed for the matching endowment challenge of trustee John D. Rockefeller
Near the beginning of his first American lecture tour, Irish poet and playwright William Butler Yeats lectured on "The Intellectual Revival in Ireland." Yeats had arrived in America on November 11, and the lecture, one of four he had prepared for the country-wide tour, was that which he gave at Carnegie Hall on January 3, 1904, before a large Irish-American crowd and which he told his colleague Lady Augusta Gregory, was "my big lecture, the most important of the whole lot."
Yeats visited Vassar again, reading from his poems and speaking about them in May 1920.