Booker T. Washington, Principal of Tuskegee Institute, spoke about the origins and aims of the institute. "Mr. Washington," reported The Vassar Miscellany, "announced his purpose in addressing the college as an appeal for his race and for Tuskegee, but primarily as an attempt to eliminate race hatred... The two great problems of the educated negro are to lift himself and his people and to keep peace between the two races. The first is being solved by the negro himself. The basis of the solution of the second lies in the individual relations of the negroes and the whites. This, too, is being worked out, for the negro is the most adaptable of races. The solution of his problem is a long and difficult one, but its cornerstone he has found in service."
Edith Wynne Matthison, the English actress who had played “Everyman” in the Frohman production at Vassar in 1903, gave a reading of Gilbert Murray's translation of the Electra of Euripides. A frequent visitor to the college, she taught with her husband, the Anglo-American playwright Charles Rann Kennedy, at Bennett Junior College in nearby Millbrook, NY. In preparation for her readiing on May 6, Professor of Latin Elizabeth Hazelton Haight '94 lectured on May 2nd on "The Electra of Euripides."
"Practically the entire college," commented The Vassar Miscellany, "heard her read...and we will not soon forget it. Mrs. Kennedy's faultless reading, in a remarkably sympathetic voice, carried her audience into the Greek spirit with a fineness that has given us a lastiing impression of the dignity and humanness of the tragedy."
Highlights at the annual Field Day were the Vassar record-setting 0:09:4.5 time for the 75-yard dash of Stephanie English ’10, the new record in the running high jump, 4 feet, 4 ½ inches, set by Theodora Wheeler ’11, the 29 feet, 6 ½ inches that gave Charlotte Hand ’10 a new school record in the hop, step and jump and the new fence vault record, 5 feet, 3 ¼ inches, set by Almeda Barr ’11. Dorothy McKee ’12, from Brooklyn, threw a baseball 152 feet. The New York Times
The first inter-class song contest was held. "The songs written for it were to be given to the College, and the most successful to receive from the Students' Association a rose and grey banner similar to those given for the athletic championship." Vassar Miscellany
The song contest, later held on Founder's Day, was discontinued in 1929.
In his baccalaureate sermon, President Taylor spoke to the Class of 1910 of a sense of the ideal amidst all the realistic thinking and critical analysis in modern college life. For all they learn about short-comings in politics, business, domestic or social life, he said, the teachers and learners inspire each other to “preserve society and promise the future.”
“We fancy that in our colleges,” he told the class, “we have more of that spirit than exists elsewhere, that they beget loyalty, that their esprit de corps sustains enthusiasm, that the touch of their young and aspiring lives quickens in the elders the longing for the ideal. Few fail to find in college life a deeper vision. Many discover their souls in it. The touch of a colder, near-sighted world may dull them, and for a time depress them, but few leave college halls without seeing the beckoning vision of a higher life, and few have wholly escaped the rapture of communion with the ideal.” The New York Times
Florence Taylor ’12, president of the sophomore class, led the Class of 1910 across the campus to the Chapel for Vassar’s 44th Commencement. 217 members of the class were awarded the bachelor’s degree, and six of the 26 honors graduates read essays. Class president Gertrude C. Lovell ‘10 spoke about “Main Street”; Mary Margaret Shelley ’10 investigated “The Problem of the Tongue’s End”; Sarah Dana Loomis ’10 spoke on “The Passing of the Frontier”; Ruth Evelyn Marceau ’10 described “Vergil the Magician”; Helen Weeks Landon’10 spoke on “A Modern Crusade” and Charlotte Moffatt Gailor '10 offered “Maria Edgeworth, an Appreciation.” Master’s degrees were conferred on Psyche Rebecca Sutton ’09, an assistant in the Observatory, whose thesis was entitled “The Delta Cephei Type of Variables,” and on Fanny Rollison Sweeney ’07, who wrote “A Study of a Few Forms of Public and Private Relief in the City of Poughkeepsie.”
In his remarks, President Taylor confessed “amazement” at the lack of gifts to the college during the year. “Either,” he said, “the college has not as many friends as it should have or the spirit of giving is lacking.” Noting the need for more residential space and faculty, he announced that the trustees had reluctantly decided to extend the enrollment limit of 1,000 students for another year. President Taylor noted with gratitude and regret the retirement of college librarian Frances A. Wood, who had come to the college as a music teacher in 1866 and as librarian since 1880 had quadrupled Vassar’s collection. With the opening of the Frederick Ferris Thompson Memorial Library in 1905 she had established the modern Vassar Library. Miss Wood, who published Earliest Years at Vassar: Personal Recollections in 1909, died at her home in Poughkeepsie on June 17, 1914.
Before chapel services, President Taylor announced that Mrs. Russell Sage had given the college $150,000 for the construction of a new residence hall. The new building was named Olivia Josselyn Hall, after the mother of Mrs. Sage’s father.
In response to what Louis P. Gillespie, Vassar’s general manager and purchasing agent, called “a few small changes to bring about greater efficiency and economy in the kitchens,” four of Vassar’s six chefs abruptly quit. A writer in The New York Times imagined the scene: “When the strikers heard yesterday Supt. Gillespie’s dictum…they threw up their $45 a month jobs without a word. The time was between breakfast and dinner. In the ovens and on the ranges were juicy roasts, succulent stews, and fragrant puddings, but the chefs let them simmer while they hustled into their Sunday togs and whirled off in taxicabs.”
The account concluded with the general manager unruffled. “’I have no criticism to make,’ said Mr. Gillespie. ‘The men who left were old and faithful employees. I’m sorry they have gone and will miss them, but there are others who can do their work, and we will soon have them.’”
In a poll on woman’s suffrage, 57 percent of the seniors were in favor, 29 percent disapproved, 12 percent were undecided and one percent were “ignorant.” Of the freshmen only 27 percent were in favor, and 27 percent admitted to ignorance.
Having decided to meet every other year in New York City, the Associate Alumnae of Vassar College (AAVC) met in Chicago. President Taylor, who had expressed at Commencement his concern at the lack of gifts to the college, announced that gifts since then totaled $216,000. In addition to the $150,000 gift of Mrs. Russell Sage for a new residence hall, the alumnae gave $50,000—$1,000 for each year since the college was chartered in 1861—plus a $1,500 matching challenge for campus improvements and anonymous donors gave $10,000 for a scholarship and $5,000 for improving the college’s lighting system. The New York Times
Vassar's first junior prom, a Junior-Sophomore Dinner Dance, was held in "Room J," the "Raymond Reading Room," the "Students' Room" and the north and south corridors of the second floor of Main Building. Informal dancing at 4 in the afternoon was followed by "regular" dancing at 5 and dinner in the Main Dining Room. A decorative scheme, in green and yellow, was provided by yellow lights shining through grouped smilax and yew trees. The format for a Junior Prom—although not yet the promenade or Grand March—came about in 1914 when the faculty refused to allow separate dances for the sophomore and junior classes, causing the sophomores to withdraw from the annual event. In time, the Junior Prom became the single most important social event in the college year. The Miscellany News
Fire broke out in the upper three floors of a ten-story factory building in New York City, and within half an hour 147 people—almost all of them immigrant women workers for the Triangle Waist Company—were incinerated.
Students assisted the New York State Factory Investigating Commission, established to conduct a broad inquiry into the tragedy. “Often Vassar and Radcliffe College girls volunteered for the work of inspection, and one Vassar girl turned in a report to the effect that when she asked a girl in a factory what kind of fire protection she enjoyed, the girl answered that she didn’t know and didn’t care, since the finest thing that could happen to her, she thought, was for some conflagration to come along and end her miserable, work-a-day existence.” The New York Times
Before firemen arrived, several students braved an early morning fire in the Raymond Avenue home of Professor Abby Leach ’85 to rescue valuable furniture and Leach’s library from the flames. A servant discovered the fire, which apparently started in faulty wiring, and awoke the professor and four student boarders. About $8,000 damage was done to the home. The New York Times
The Sunday evening prayer meeting was devoted to the celebration of the Tercentenary Anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible. Speakers included William Bancroft Hill, professor of Biblical literature, President Taylor, Associate Professor Margaret Hudson of the English department and Dr. Jean C. Bracq, professor of french. A library exhibit focused on the development of the English Bible.
Founder's Day was observed with a special celebration in honor of the 50th anniversary of the granting of Vassar’s charter, on January 18, 1861. The events of the first Founder's Day were portrayed, and a pageant, "Women of Culture in Five Ages," was presented.
Speakers representing the Students' Association, the alumnae and the faculty joined President Taylor in remarks on "The Founder and the College." Alumnae were the only outside guests.
At the annual Field Day Caroline Johnson ’13 set a new college record for the 100-yard hurdles, running the course in 16 1/5 seconds, and freshman Dorothy Smith '14 set a new Vassar record in the running high jump. Smith also threw a baseball for a new women’s world record, 204 feet, 5 inches.
"Amazed” by the feat, a New York Herald reporter covering the event wrote, “Girls do not throw a baseball further than the average boy without some sort of training….” But Smith claimed no special training: “I have always played ball with boys ever since I can remember.” Noting that Smith was “tall and slim and lithe,” the reporter saw her as "the modern type of girl athlete…not marred by overdeveloped muscles, but so well trained that every bit of her strength counts.” Jennifer Ring, Stolen Bases: Why American Girls Don’t Play Baseball
Smith’s record stood until August of 1915, when high school senior Ruth McCabe from Tacoma, WA, threw a baseball 209 feet, 5 inches.
President Taylor conferred the bachelor’s degree on 228 members of the Class of 1911 at Commencement ceremonies in the Chapel. Announcing gifts to the college totaling $220,429, he also reported the trustees’ decision that faculty members not having a previous year of absence would henceforth have each 15th year of absence at full pay.
The faculty appeared for the first time in academic dress.
Electric lighting was installed in the Main Building, replacing gaslights. A student wrote to her parents, “I am reading by the light of a goose-neck—a reading light that you can turn in almost any direction…. We feel real scrumptious. The college gives one to each room.” MS letter
A large number of Vassar students and Poughkeepsie residents heard Inez Milholland '09 declare two reasons for woman suffrage at an equal suffrage meeting in the Collingwood Opera House, Poughkeepsie. Milholland,who had carried a banner in the first suffrage procession in New York City in 1910, "devided her subject into two heads," reported The Vassar Miscellany. "Women want the vote, first, to introduce their point of view into the government and, second, to protect the interests of women. That the government needs exactly the element that women will bring into it—the human point of view, the conservation of life—was one of the main features of Miss Milholland's talk." Milholland, the report added, declared also that "when the government of the state was purely protective, the efficient citizens were the fighters, and then it was only fair that the fighters should be the voters. Now that military defence as the basis of government is out of date, brains instead of brawn are coming to the valuable element in politics."
Professor of English Laura J. Wylie '77, president of the local Equal Suffrage League, was among several members of the Vassar faculty in attendance.
Lady Augusta Gregory, one of the founders of Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, spoke at length on "The Making of a Theatre." Speaking about, as The Vassar Miscellany reported, "the Irish theatre which has recently commanded so much attention," she claimed "to Mr. Yeats, her co-worker, belongs a large share of the idea of a national theatre, which should have as its purpose the production of poetic and romantic Irish plays played by Irish players."
"To illustrate how the fable and the emotion are drawn from folk-lore," said The Miscellany, "and also to show us what kind of play the company uses, Lady Gregory read parts of "McDaragh's Wife," her yet unpublished play.... The principal figure...McDaragh, she had know personally as one of her father's tenants—a red-haired genius of the bag-pipes who had become the 'lightning rod' which attracted many of the myths of the vicinity." McDaragh's Wife (later known as McDonough's Wife) opened at the Abbey Theatre on January 11, 1912.
Former trustee Ellen Swallow Richards ’70, head of the Department of Social Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a pioneer in what she referred to as “sanitary chemistry,” died after a short illness.
Given by alumnae and others in recognition of the service to the college of Ella McCaleb '78, McCaleb House at 71 Raymond Avenue was completed, Allen & Collens, architects. Dean-elect McCaleb, secretary of the college for 28 years, held the post of dean from 1913 until 1923.
Members of the senior class celebrated the conclusion of their course in ethics by serenading their professor, President Taylor, at his house. From Vassar's earliest days, the duties of the president included service as Professor of Moral Philosophy and Professor of Mental Philosophy, a tradition which ended with the inauguration in 1915 of Henry Noble MacCracken.
“The annual ice carnival…was held on Vassar Lake to-night and more than 500 girls took part, all attired in white robes with silver scarfs. Along the shores of the lake great bonfires were built, while over the lake hung scores of Japanese lanterns and colored electric lights. Musicians surrounded by bonfires to keep them warm played as the girls skated.” The New York Times
"From far off, bonfires lighted up the trees around the lake and the crowded paths, and the twinkling lights of the Japanese lanterns shone a welcome ot the mob of girls, hurrying along the paths from the chapel, skates clicking.... After much waiting on the part of the on-lookers, and preliminary skating, the long-anticipated whistle called the participants of the Grand March to the farther end of the lake. The fires, fed with demolished boxes, burned brightly, casting shadows on the ice and a red glow on the trees above; a few late skaters darted across the ice; the band struck up the "Barcarolle" from "Contes d'Hoffman' and from far away, down the lake, between the gleaming lights, came two lines, curving, endless, of white gliding figures. The scarfs, which, held by the skaters bound the long lines together, glittered in the light, not the silver and gold of the leaders, not the yellow, green, and red of the classes, and skates, striking the ice in even succession, sparkled, as the lines parted, came down in fours, met, parted again, formed now one sinuous, moving circle, now a large wheel with white, human spokes. After this figure, the lines broke, scattering skaters over the lake and the Grand March ended. Then followed more skating, dark coats mingling with the white sweaters...more music, until, with the rising of the moon and the anticipation of the ten o'clock bell, the skaters hurried up the path from the lake." The Vassar Miscellany
Social worker and reformer Julia Lathrop ’80, soon to be appointed the first woman to head a federal bureau, was elected as a new trustee, succeeding Florence Cushing '74, one of the first alumnae trustees. Speaking the following June at the alumnae reunion, after her appointment in April by President William Howard Taft as chief of the Children's Bureau in the Department of Commerce and Labor, she praised her predecessor, saying "Miss Cushing by virtue of being Ms. Cushing should be a permanent trustee." Turning to her new responsibilities to the nation's poor children, she called pity "a rebel passion, it does not respect the traditions of society, it does not respect the forces of society, but it is nevertheless the kingdom of God working within us." She urged her fellow alumnae to turn pity as an emotion into pity as a motive, saying it would do a great work. The Vassar Miscellany
Professor Marian P. Whitney and Associate Professor Lilian L. Stroebe of the German department walked across the frozen Hudson River and traveled south to meet the uncle of a Vassar student who, they had heard, collected Goethe material. Through their efforts, Yale University acquired in 1913 the William A. Speck Collection of Goetheana, the largest private Goethe library outside Germany. A German-American pharmacist in Haverstraw, NY, Speck devoted his life to the collection, of which he became curator at Yale, tripling its size before his death in 1928.
Reporting on the inquiry into of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire on March 25, 1911, that killed 146 garment workers, 123 of them women, The New York Times noted the assistance of students from Radcliffe and Vassar as "field inspectors" for the New York State Factory Investigating Commission. "Often," said The Times, "Vassar and Radcliffe Colleg girls volunteered for the work of inspection, and one Vassar girl turned in a report to the effect that when she asked a girl in a factory what kind of fire protection she enjoyed, the girl answered that she didn't know and didn't care, since the finest thing that could happen to her, she thought, was for some conflagration to come along and end her miserable work-a-day existence."
Between 1912 and 1914 13 of the 17 bills based on the commission's recommendations and submitted to the State Legislature became law, making New York State a leader in worker health and safety.
In an article on the groundbreaking for Connecticut College for Women in New London, The New York Times noted the increase in the number of women seeking higher education. “In 1890 there were in the United States 10,761 women enrolled in college. At present there are 84,909—an increase of nearly 800 per cent. …this increase is about three times as great as that of men students in the same length of time.”
The article quoted a recent study by Oliver Gildersleeve, a trustee of the new college, showing that Vassar had 1,100 students, Smith had 1,617, Wellesley had 1,378 and Bryn Mawr had 530. Vassar had a “limit” of 1,000 students and Bryn Mawr’s student body was “limited” to 500.
The schools’ “overflow of applicants” were: Vassar, 500; Smith, 392; Wellesley, 400 and Bryn Mawr, 300. Altogether, the four institutions were rejecting over 1,500 applicants annually.
Responding to an article in The New York Times for April 7 stating, “In Vassar the Socialists claim three members of the faculty, headed by Prof. Mills,” Economist Herbert Mills said “If the Socialists claim me they do so quite without warrant…. I have declined several times to assist in starting a chapter of the Intercollegiate Socialist Society in Vassar on the ground that, if its object is the study of Socialism, the courses given in the department make it unnecessary, and if the object is propagandism, (which is really the case,) I cannot work for that to which I do not assent.”
The Socialist Club, a branch of the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, was formed at Vassar in 1915.
Julia C. Lathrop ’80, a colleague of Jane Addams at Hull House, and “a graduate and trustee of Vassar College was appointed today by President Taft as chief of the Children’s Bureau in the Department of Commerce and Labor. Miss Lathrop is the first woman to be made chief under the government.” The Poughkeepsie News-Press
In an analysis of the Children’s Bureau on September 29, a writer for The New York Times commented: “Miss Lathrop was chosen by President Taft. She is the first woman to be made head of a Federal commission in this country, and she will be paid the highest salary of any woman in Government employ. Hers will be unquestionably the most important position held by any woman in this country.”
With President Taylor’s permission, a mass suffrage meeting was held on campus. The meeting and the subserquent inclusion of a suffrage meeting on the commencement schedule marked a reluctant reversal of the president's long-standing position that the suffrage debaters, on both sides, were "for the most part not teachers, but agitators, not expounders by advocates," and that the debate was thus not part of Vassar's educational discourse.
Four hundred seventy-eight students had signed a petition in April calling for an open discussion of woman suffrage on campus, and 120 members of the graduating class petitioned for a Vassar chapter of the College Equal Suffrage League. In December 1912, 13 faculty members, among them most of the avowed proponents of woman suffrage, drew up a resolution critical of President Taylor, declaring that the faculty should be in charge of decisions about campus and academic affairs. The following February, Taylor, in his 29th year as president of the college, announced his intention to retire in February of 1914.
20,000 women and children and 500 men marched down Fifth Avenue in a Suffrage Parade in New York City. Under the sponsorship of the Women’s Political Union, whose president was Harriot Stanton Blatch ’78, the marchers represented many suffrage organizations. The youngest of them, two-year-old Harriet Blaten DeForrest, rode with the eldest, Rev. Antoinette Brown Blackwell, 87. Many of the women wore academic dress, and although Vassar graduates had yet to adopt caps and gowns, Blatch wore the rose and gray cowl that signified her master's degree from Vassar.
Banners bore slogans: “Never Will Peace and Human Nature Greet ‘Till Free and Equal Man and Woman Meet;” “The Right to Follow Duty Far and Wide, to Live as Nobly as Our Men Have Died” and “All This is the Natural Consequence of Teaching Girls to Read.” Blatch’s “Final Word to Marchers,” issued as the march got under way, blended pragmatism with idealism in its conclusion: “March with head erect. Eyes to the front. Remember, you march for the mightiest reform the world has ever seen. The final word is, obey your Marshall. Remember you march for equality not privilege, for law, for order.” The New York Times
Outdoor electric lights on the Vassar campus were turned on for the first time.
Responding to concern among the faculty for the simplification of extra-curricular activities, the senior class voted to abolish the annual senior boat ride on the Hudson. Instead, at the beginning of the “senior vacation,” during which the underclasses took their examinations, the class picnicked on Sunset Hill, engaged in impromptu dramatics and late in the evening renewed a lapsed tradition, carving their class numerals on a wooden fence by the tennis courts, and then “serenaded the college afterward, going from dormitory to dormitory.” The New York Times
The college revealed the plan prepared by landscape architect Samuel Parsons for the development of a new 15-acre campus to the south and east of Vassar lake, which the trustees had commissioned in 1908. A ten-acre “nature garden” featuring four pools along the Casper Kill separated the new campus, which envisioned nine new buildings, from the existing campus. Raymond Avenue passed through the center of the new campus, widening to a plaza about halfway through.
President Taylor reported the trustees’ enthusiasm for the plan, and students and alumnae appeared also to approve. The “nature garden” drew the most attention, and the president said that work on it would begin shortly. The New York Times
Deploring lawlessness and class strife, President Taylor’s baccalaureate sermon urged the Class of 1912 to use their education to teach restraint and deliberation. “What do we gain,” he asked, “by impatient zeal? Striving for immediate results in education seems to result either in narrower training or in the cramming of children with knowledge which is confusing and a hindrance to normal development. In legislation it seems to result in leading us to trust to laws instead of educating the people in principles of life, and our haste in law-making is revenged upon us by reactions that leave us in worse condition than before.” The New York Times
On Class Day night the seniors handed down their songs to the sophomores. The first Lantern Festival was held at Vassar Lake, for the "even" classes—'12 and '14.
President Taylor conferred the bachelor’s degree on 243 members of the Class of 1912 at Commencement. The largest graduating class in the history of the college, 1912 had also the greatest number of honor graduates.
The president announced more than $200,000 in gifts to Vassar. The alumnae raised $40,000 for the endowment and pledged $1,200 a year for the next five years for campus improvement. The Class of 1887 gave $11,400 for a large iron gate in honor of the president, to be erected on Raymond Avenue, at the entrance to the pine walk.
Mrs. Russell Sage gave an additional $75,000 to complete Olive Josselyn Hall, and an anonymous donor—erroneously believed to be the quixotic heiress Helen Gould—gave $100,000 for a students’ building, for which plans and specifications had already been drawn up. The president reported that contracts for this building, which would stand just east of North Hall, would be let at once. He also announced that it was “desirable and necessary to raise $1,000,000 as an educational endowment.”
The class dinner was held in the evening in North Hall and the calling of the roll took place. This recent custom obliged each member of the class to answer “guilty” if she were engaged and “not guilty” if not. The New York Times
Lucy Maynard Salmon, professor of history at Vassar, received the first Colgate degree to be awarded to a woman, the doctorate of humane letters. A graduate of the University of Michigan, Salmon had come to Vassar after postgraduate study at Bryn Mawr College with the explicit charge to found the college's history department. Earlier in her career, as a teacher at the Indiana State Normal College at Terre Haute, she had taught Elmer Burritt Bryan, who, as president of Colgate, presented her with the honorary degree. Chara Haeussler Bohan, Go to the Sources: Lucy Maynard Salmon and the Teaching of History
Associate Professor Lilian Stroebe of the Vassar German Department conducted a German Summer School in Lakeville, Connecticut, thus originating summer language schools in America. In 1915, she established the Middlebury German Summer School, introducing 41 students to the “total-immersion” system. “One of the chief objects of the courses,” she wrote, “is to enable the students to understand and speak German with ease. This can only be attained by constant practice; for this reason the school must demand a promise from its students to avoid the use of their own language, and to speak German only, outside as well as in the house…. The house will be generously provided with German books, pictures, periodicals and newspapers, and everything possible will be done to create a German atmosphere. There will be one teacher for every six or seven students.”
The success of Stroebe’s method led to the establishment at Middlebury of the French and Spanish summer schools in 1916 and 1917. Stephen A. Freeman, The Middlebury College Foreign Language Schools (1915-1970): The Story of a Unique Idea
A new skating pond was completed, from plans drawn up by landscape architect Loring Underwood for an earth dam behind the Chapel on Casperkill Creek. Originally referred to simply as “the artificial pond,” it became known, briefly, as Pratt Lake, after trustee Charles M. Pratt who had donated the $4,200 necessary for the project. Eventually, because the pond was bounded on the east by Sunset Hill, it became Sunset Lake.
Olivia Josselyn Hall, a residence hall given by Mrs. Russell Sage in honor of her father's mother, was completed, Allen & Collens, architects.
Woodrow Wilson easily defeated President Taft and Theodore Roosevelt in Vassar’s mock election.
Billed as "a modern farce," James Maddison Morton's 1847 one-act play, Box and Cox, was presented at the Goodfellowship Club House. The club members in the cast had rehearsed for four weeks, coached by a student group, and the “final production was extremely successful.” The New York Times
National Home Economics Day commemorated nation-wide the achievements of Ellen Swallow Richards ’68, who died in March. The American Home Economics Association, which she founded in 1908, pledged to raise $100,000 in her memory to be used to forward the development of domestic science. In 1994, the organization became the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences.
Emile Legouis, professor of English at the Sorbonne and Hyde lecturer at Harvard, lectured on December 13 on “Dorothy Wordsworth” and on December 14 on “Ce que la Critique Anglais Pensant de la Poésie Française avant l’entente Cordiale.” On the 13th, the French Club sponsored a reception in honor of Professor Legouis in Senior party, and his lectures on Dorothy Wordsworth and on l'entente cordiale were reviewed in English and French, respectively in The Vassar Miscellany for February 1, 1913.
Professor Legouis returned to Vassar in November of 1922 to speak on "William Wordsworth in the Light of New Documents," focusing on the revelation, through letters of the poet's sister Dorothy, of his affair in 1792 with the young Frenchwoman, Annette Vallon, who subsequently bore his child.
Two choirs performed at the annual Christmas music in the Chapel, a gallery choir singing responsively with the choir below.
For the first time the choir sang Christmas carols from the Library tower. "The students assembled below, replied in chorus, led by Dorothy Smith '14, who from the top of the tower swung a large light for a baton. Stille Nacht, sung from such a high altitude was most effective, and at the end all broke forth in a triumphant Nowell." Poughkeepsie Enterprise
The Music Teachers’ National Association held its 34th annual meeting at Vassar, the first meeting to be held at a women’s college. The business of the conference included an open meeting of the American branch of the International Musical Society, and the attendees were entertained on December 31 by an afternoon organ concert in the Chapel by Wallace Goodrich, the dean of the New England Conservatory of Music, and an evening recital by the prima donna contralto of the Metropolitan Opera, Carrie Bridewell.
Professor of Music George Gow was the association's president for 1912.
Tragedy struck at the new skating pond when five students sledding in the evening on Sunset Hill lost control of the toboggan and slid onto the lake, breaking through the thin ice. One student, Elizabeth Mylod’13, slipped under the ice and drowned, but another of the students, Phebe Briggs ‘16, using a small sled, managed to pull two of the others to safety. When the ice broke under her as she attempted to rescue the last student, Myra Hulst’13, Briggs used the sled to steady them and held Ms. Hulst’s head above the water until help came.
Ms. Briggs was one of 69 people cited on October 30, 1914, by the Carnegie Hero Commission for acts of heroism. In 1904, moved by the heroic rescue of a 16 year-old boy, the only survivor of a mine disaster in 1904 near Pittsburgh, and by the hardship inflicted on the families of those who died, Andrew Carnegie gave $5,000,000 to establish the commission, basing it in Pittsburgh.
Speaking in Cleveland at the annual luncheon of the Associate Alumnae of Vassar College (AAVC) Maria Dickinson McGraw '67, one of the college's four first graduates offered a lively account of the earliest days of the college, beginning with her inquiries in 1863—along with her Detroit classmate Harriet Warner '67—about "the Vassar College of which we occasionally saw newspaper mention. The answer was that the buildings were not erected yet, so we settled down again, and took our school's one-year English course." Admitted to Vassar in 1865, along with Miss Warner, she arrived in Poughkeepsie the day before college was to open. "By this time," she told her fellow graduates, "I was nearly twenty-two years old, and engaged to be married. My fiancé was my escort to Poughkeepsie."
Looking back nearly 50 years, Mrs. McGraw recalled the young couple's first view of the campus—the porter's lodge, the observatory, the steam and gas house and Main Building: "We caught no glimpse of the college until after passing the north boundary of the estate, and then the four buildings were in full view—dark and grim as they faced the high September sun. My companion groaned, "O the prison walls!"—a bit supersensitive—likely due to an enforced and protracted visit to Libby Prison in the city of Richmond—three years earlier. There was no mistaking the place: for, high above th portal, in gleaming letters, on bands of white stone, we read VASSAR FEMALE COLLEGE."
After vivid sketches of President Raymond, the lady principal Hannah Lyman and Professor of Astronomy Maria Mitchell, of the first students—"more than three hundred female persons ranging between fourteen and twenty-four, or more, years of age: they were strangers to each other and to the teachers"—of the first Christmas at college with its sereptitiously acquired Christmas tree and of the students' first, quiet revolt against President Raymond's absolute authority, Mrs. Warner described how the graduating class—at first, a class of one, her friend Harriet Warner—was determined and with the story of the first class's motto, translated from its original Greek as "Let us run well the race that is set before us." "You would doubtless catch the full significance of the Greek, but I give you the English rendering, because I wish to assure you that we chose the motto with no reference whatever to the fact that Vassar campus was formerly and originally the famous Dutchess Country Race-course!" The Vassar Miscellany
Responding to a report in The New York Times for November 13, President James Monroe Taylor objected to the "misleading" statement that the Vassar board of trustees had voted to establish a chair in political science, because Vassar alumnae had begun to endorse the woman suffrage movement. Meeting in New York City the previous day, the trustees had accepted Trustee Mrs. Frederick Thompson’s offer of $75,000 to fund the new chair. The Times stated that the “establishment of a Chair of Political Science had long been contemplated, all that was required was the necessary endowment…. Agitation for a new department was started a few years ago when Vassar graduates began to take active interest in the suffragist movement. Among the well-known graduates who have recently furthered the course of woman suffrage [is] Miss Inez Milholland…and it is said that her influence was used to raise the…endowment fund.”
The object of the new chair, Taylor said in his repost, was “to ground women in the principles of Government, in its history, and in a study of comparative institutions. Its object would be to face principles rather than problems—education, in short, in political philosophy…. Suffrage is incidental, it need hardly be stated, in such a study. Our thought is indeed training for citizenship, whatever the outcome of the current discussion.”
President Taylor had resisted discussion on woman suffrage at Vassar, but a rising number of students, faculty and alumnae had objected to his fierce defense of “education” against those he saw as “for the most part not teachers, but agitators, not expounders but advocates.” A principle irritant to the president's position was Inez Milholland '09, who had organized a suffrage rally at reunion time in her junior year in the cemetary adjoining the campus at which nationally known woman suffrage advocates had spoken and subsequent events on campus, including a forum on the subject in which students and, for the first time, faculty spoke out in favor of votes for women. By spring, the president allowed a suffrage parade in Commencement activities. The New York Times, The Vassar Miscellany
The college announced President Taylor’s retirement, at a date to be determined in the near future. The announcement prompted speculation and rumors, which Rev. Henry M. Sanders, the chairman of the board, sought to allay in a letter to The New York Times ten days later. “Dr. Taylor has indicated to the Trustees his desire to retire as soon as they can find a suitable successor, and definitely not later than February, 1914…. He has been in public life for forty years, during twenty-seven of which he has been President of Vassar College, and he naturally feels…that he is entitled to a respite, and should transfer his burden to other shoulders.
“…The college has never been is a more satisfactory and prosperous condition than it is to-day, and Dr. Taylor thinks…that it is a favorable and opportune time for him to retire from a position which he has filled with such marked distinction and success.”
Responding to an outbreak of diphtheria at Vassar Brothers Hospital, Dr. Elizabeth Thelberg restricted students’ off-campus activities. No movies or similar entertainments were permitted.
A woman suffrage parade in Washington, planned to disturb the innauguration, the following day, of President-elect Woodrow Wilson was led by Inez Milholland '09. The New York Times of the following day, under the headline "1000 Women March, Beset by Crowds," noted "Miss Milholland was an imposing figure in a white broadcloth Cossack suit and long white-kid boots. From her shoulders hung a pale-blue cloak, adorned with a golden maltese cross. She was mounted on Gray Dawn, a white horse..."
Vassar’s graduate fellowships continued to grow in numbers. The college announced that Mary Yost ’09 received the Vassar Students’ Aid Society fellowship to study English at the University of Michigan, that the Mary Richardson and Lydia Pratt Babbott fellowship would allow Angie Kellogg ’03 to complete her Ph.D. thesis on “The Theory of Punishment” at Bryn Mawr and that Winnie E. Waite ’03, the first recipient of the Anna C. Brackett Memorial fellowship—intended particularly for future teachers—would study at the American School at Rome.
The four graduate fellowships established in 1912 by the trustees went to four seniors: Irene Beir ’13, to study physics and mathematics at Columbia; Mary Berkemeier ’13 and Ethel Dietrich ’13, to study history at the University of Wisconsin and Helena Doughty ’13 for work toward bettering the social condition Persian women. The New York Times
“Our Julia Lathrop was here tonight and talked about her ‘job.’ Have I a birth certificate? I bet I haven’t…. We get preached to all the time what we can do in our city gov’t, especially along sanitary lines.” MS letter
Appointed chief of the newly formed U. S. Children’s Bureau by President William Howard Taft in 1912, Lathrop '80 was the first woman to be head of a United State federal department. Having developed her own multidisciplanary program at Vassar in statistics, institutional history, sociology and community organization, she briefly studied law before joining her friend Jane Addams and other social reformers at Hull House in Chicago. Among her many reforms, Lathrop had pressed for a counterpart of the death certificate to register and certify births in the United States.
For the first time, members of the Junior Class were elected to membership in Mu Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. In addition to 24 members of the Class of 1913, six members of '14 joined the academic honor society. Vassar's Mu Chapter, granted in 1898, was the first Phi Beta Kappa chapter at a women's college.
“We are having wonderful lectures in Ec now, on consumption. Professor Mills ridiculed American desire to spend, spend, spend, for the sake of spending. Vulgar shows, waste of energy and life even. He also said that women were now the leisure of the leisure classes since so much of household work was taken away…. He reads copiously from Ruskin, H. G. Wells and Stevenson.” MS letter
The events of commencement week began after chapel on the steps of Rockefeller Hall, where the seniors handed down to the sophomores the class songs accumulated over the years from “odd year” classes, along with some of their own.
At the dedication of the Students’ Building, President Taylor read a letter from the anonymous donor and presented the building to Victoria Searle ’13, the president of the Student Association. The building’s architect, Joseph Herendon Clark, of the firm McKim, Mead and White, patterned the new building after Christ Church in Alexandria, VA, where George Washington worshipped.
The identity of the donor of the Students’ Building was withheld for years, but at the request of the president and the trustees she communicated anonymously with the leaders of the Student Association about their responsibilities for the building, which was intended for the “exclusive needs and interests of student organizations.” The donor, Mary Babbott Ladd ’08, president of the Student Association in her senior year, was among the eight Student Association ex-presidents who participated in the building’s first student convocation on September 27, 1913.
Fine June weather graced Vassar’s 47th Commencement, as President Taylor conferred the bachelor’s degree on 234 members of the Class of 1913. In his remarks, the president reported that the aggregate gifts to the college, excluding a pledge for the new art building to be named for President Taylor, were $144,800 and included Mrs. Frederick Ferris Thompson’s endowment of the chair in political science, $10,000 from Mary Danforth Dodge ’01 for a scholarship and an anonymous gift of $5,000 to be used at the president’s discretion. The New York Times
The first occupant of the new Frederick Ferris Thompson Chair in Political Science—the first chair in political science in a women’s college—was the American historian Emerson David Fite. He remained in the Thompson chair until his retirement in 1944.
The first student convocation was held in the Students' Building. The gift of an anonymous donor, for "exclusive needs and interests of student organizations," the building inaugurated a new era of student and alumnae activity and collaboration.
The donor, Mary Babbott Ladd ’08, was president of the Student Association in her senior year and was present, along with seven other association ex-presidents, at the meeting.
“On Saturday evening, September 27th, the first meeting of the Students’ Association was held. The whole college marched from the chapel to the Students’ Building singing college songs. The hall was crowded with excited girls for it was the first time this year that the new auditorium, shining with white paint and gold hangings, had been used. In a few minutes Margaret Armstrong, president of the Association, Dr. Taylor and eight of the alumnae came out on the stage. Tremendous applause followed the introduction of Dr. Taylor…. He congratulated us upon the possession of this new building. He described it as a symbol of the connection between the student government and the college government, for whatever part the Students’ Association has in the government of the college comes as a gift....
“Miss [Elizabeth Hazelton] Haight ['94]...next spoke on the ‘Larger College and the Proposed Alumnae Council....’ The proposed council offers a new opportunity for further cooperation.... The council will hold meetings at college, possibly open meetings. She said that in order to let the council get the student point of view we must work together and that this work must be done in the name of our great past, our glorious future and of President Taylor, the Second Founder of the college.” The Vassar Miscellany
The Vassar Miscellany reported the abolition of the office of the lady principal, “the chief executive aid of the President in the government of the college, and the immediate head of the college family,” as President Raymond had defined it when the college opened. "There is to be," the Miscellany reported, "a 'warden,' a Vassar graduate, in each dormitory. the responsibility which formerly rested upon the Lady Principal will be divided, as far as possible, among the wardens, thus localizing for each hall the excuse and leave of absence systems. Upon the Head Warden will rest the same responsibility in regard to social matters and discipline which has hitherto devolved upon the Lady Principal."
The first head warden was Mrs. Isabel Nelson Tillinghast '78, a former instructor in the English department and a prominent alumnae leader, who had served as acting lady principal for the previous two years.
"For the past three years President Taylor has asked members of the faculty to outline in lectures for the College at large the recent history of their particular subject, and to define its field. The first of such lectures for the year was given this evening by Prof. Emerson D. Fite on Political Science." The New York Post.
New York City mayor John Purroy Mitchel selected Dr. Katherine Bement Davis ’94, the first woman PhD in Political Science-Economics at the University of Chicago, as the city’s first woman commissioner of correction. From 1918 until 1928, Davis headed the Bureau of Social Hygiene, a private agency funded by John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
Representing the Women’s Political Union and bearing the union’s colors in a bouquet of white lilies of the valley with green leaves and a purple orchid, a group of suffragists, including Inez Milholland ’09 and Harriot Stanton Blatch ’78, visited the newly appointed commissioner of correction, Katherine Bement Davis ’94, in her office on East 20th Street in New York City. Accepting the women’s congratulations, the commissioner admitted, “I haven’t quite got my finger on all the strings yet. There are fifteen or sixteen institutions, 5,000 prisoners, and everything is all over creation.” She said that she hoped over time and wherever possible to move penal institutions out of the city and to remove women prisoners from the workhouse and penitentiary, but, she added, “that would require money, and the budget for the year is made up.”
“’Did you know,’ she said to Mrs. Blatch, as the party rose to leave, ‘that my grandmother lived for many years next door to your mother at Seneca Falls? She was Rhoda Dennison Bement. She was a strong suffragist, and I never knew what it was to be anything but a suffragist.’” The New York Times
President Taylor retired. Presidential duties on the business side were assumed by the executive committee of the board of trustees. Administrative offices carried on routine duties. Matters of discipline were assigned to a committee consisting of chairman of the faculty Professor Herbert E. Mills, the dean and the head warden.
In February of 1913 Dr. Taylor had written the board of trustees asking to be retired at the end of the first semester of the next year. "In his administration of twenty-seven and a half years the college expanded from a small institution inadequately equipped to a college for 1,000 students, all housed on the campus. The material expansion in that time included, besides the erection of six dormitories, the building of a recitation hall, laboratories for biology and chemistry, a library, a chapel, an infirmary, a gymnasium and a students building. The library grew from about l2,000 to 80,000 volumes. Five hundred thousand dollars were added to the general endowment, and the inner growth of the college was far more significant since it involved the abolition of a preparatory department and of the admission of poorly prepared special students in music and art; one epochal revision of the curriculum; the establishment of twelve new chairs in the faculty, including those of history, biology, economics, psychology, Biblical literature and political science. With these factual changes, moreover, there was maintained in the college a high ideal of what a liberal education should signify and an inspiring standard of college life and college work." Elizabeth Hazelton Haight, The Life and Letters of James Monroe Taylor
The first issue of the Vassar Miscellany Weekly, a news supplement, appeared on campus, promising to "answer an old need of the college for a more efficient bulletin of events and for a better means of comment." "In planning to issue the material contained in the back part of the Miscellany in a News Supplement," the editors of the new publication said, "it was hoped not only that the work of the board of literary editors would be lightened, but also that the interest of the college would be quickened to a broader understanding of its problems, and a strong sene of coöperation in working them out....All events of importance to the college at large, it will try to record clearly. It will endeavor to bring events of world interest into closer connection with the college. It will voice any opinion on matters of interest to the colleg world." Topics in the first issue ranged from President Taylor's approaching retirement and changes in the faculty for the current term to campus fire protection and a piece entitled "Why Have Exams?" which argued that "Exam time, to most peopel, resembles one prolonged execution time" and urged "a scheme of monthly writtens, in the place of semester EXAMINATIONS."
After February 9, 1917, the journal was continued as The Miscellany News.
Two new college records were set at the indoor track meet. Elizabeth Hardin ’16 threw the basketball 75 feet, breaking the former record by 15 feet, and Anne Perkins Swann ’17 set a new standing broad jump record, jumping 9 feet ½ inch.
On March 17, 1914, College Hall—the central structure at Wellesley College as Main Building was at Vassar—was destroyed in four hours by a fire that may have begun in a laboratory in the building. The building's loss, along with its entire contents, left students, faculty, administrators and alumnae with a critical decision. Insurance on the $2million building amounted to some $600,000.
"We are facing a great crisis in the history of our college," said Wellesley President Ellen Fitz Pendelton, in an open letter to the college community. "The future of our alma mater is in our hands." A daunting $750,000 challenge grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, with a deadline for raising the remaining funds set at January 1915, caused the college to seek help from all sources. The goal was met largely through the contributions of colleges nationwide. Vassar students mobilized to raise $1,000 to aid Wellesley students who had lost their belongings in the fire.
Having left office in February, James Monroe Taylor spoke briefly at Commencement, noting that the college had received gifts and endowments of nearly $75,000, of which nearly $17,500 was the reunion gift toward the education endowment fund. Two other gifts were $20,000 from Jesse H. Metcalf and $20,000 from the estate of Adolph Sutro.
President Taylor received a farewell ovation from the graduates, the faculty, the alumnae and the parents and friends of the 248 graduates in the Class of 1914.
The seniors graduated in cap and gown for the first time.
Supreme Court Associate Justice Charles Evans Hughes, father of Helen Hughes '14, attended the 1914 Commencement dinner.
The Poughkeepsie Evening Enterprise reported the Vassar faculty’s discussions about the future, while awaiting the announcement of the successor to President James Monroe Taylor, who had retired the previous February after nearly 30 years as president of the college. “Being without a president six months has given the faculty of Vassar College an opportunity to get together and to discuss openly as never before, the needs and policies of the college. From the start Miss Salmon has been the ringleader.”
The talks had several results: the faculty was reorganized under a new and more democratic system; suffrage within the faculty was extended; a committee on conference with the trustees was established; and the faculty’s right to a voice in the educational policies of the college was recognized.
A month after the assassination in Sarajevo on June 28 of the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and the First World War began. Germany declared war on Russia on August 1, on France on August 3 and on Belgium the next day. Great Britain declared war on Germany on August 4, and on August 6 Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia. Through an alliance with Great Britain, Japan declared war on Germany on August 13, and in late October, 1914, Turkey entered the war in support of Germany, provoking declarations of war from Russia, on November 2, and from Great Britain and France on November 5.
At the suggestion of Lucy M. Salmon, professor of history, the first Academic Convocation for the opening of college was held in the new Students' Building, where "a girl's purpose in coming to college" was examined. "For the first time in the history of Vassar," reported The Vassar Miscellany, "its opening has been dignified by the formal assemblage of all its members." After Professor of Economics Herbert Elmer Mills "gave a short address of welcome and explanation," Amy Reed '92 from the English department "spoke on the early history of the college in the hope that we should do our work in the spirit of the best traditions."
The main address, on "Going to College," was from Professor Salmon. Comparing for the entering students the life of "school," which they had left, and of "college," where the "a pupil" becomes the "a student, the playground develops into the campus and play becomes athletics, teachers are now instructors...and instead of preparation for college, he hears much of preparation for life," she said "in all external surroundings and in much of the daily life the college differs widely from the school. The student feels that he has a new and wider outlook on the world even if gained from the vantage point of separation from it and he looks forward with eager anticipation to his college work, feeling that this also must show the same if not greater transformation.
"Yet it is here that the unthinking student is prone to feel disillusion. The subjects in the college curriculum are much the same as those found in school...all these he has already studied.... Even if new authors are read in Latin, he is convinced that Latin is Latin. The test-tube, the blowpipe and the balance are familiar to him. He has perhaps 'finiished' in school Robinson's History of Western Europe, and with Alexander sighs for new worlds to conquer.
"In depression and discouragement the student casts about for an anchorage and he soon thinks he finds it in a new word, or rather a familiar one used in a new sense to him—the word democratic." Quoting the conclusion drawn recently by the chemist and journalist Edwin E. Slossen, that "the two things that every collegian in speaking of his Alma Mater is most apt to boast about are the superlative beauty of its campus and its unique democratic spirit," Salmon proceeded to point out the many ways in which collegiate life, among students and their organizations, among the several elements of the campus society—student groups, college administration and employees, even admission to the student body—confound the ideal of a truly democratic society.
"This," she said, "many college students soon realise, and baffled by disappointment in the failure to find in democracy an explanation of the meaning of college life, they return once more to the question, 'What is it to go to college?'" Her answer compared the question to "the first visit to Lake Mohonk" in the nearby Shawangunk Ridge, which begins on "a familiar road," but which, "doubles and redoubles on itself" as "the view of the plain and of the valley widens and changes with each turn of the road," until "the magnificent view of the valley stretches out below, but on the horizon there are still higher mountain peaks as yet unscaled...."
"Going to college," Professor Salmon concluded, "means that a part of the road the student traverses is a familiar one, but it differs in that he leaves behind him the secondary school frame of mind. As the college road redoubles on itself he comes to understand that Latin is more than Latin, that balances and blowpipes differ, and that not all history is narrated by Robinson. The student realizes that he enters college to learn rather than to be taught. He quickly abandons the notion that in college and only in college is democracy found, and he learns that democratic spirit is not the most permanent asset he takes with him from his four years' college course....
"Going to college means not only an outlook on the past and an understanding of the present—partial even though such outlook and understanding must be—but it also means such a glimpse of the future as will show the unity of all subjects in the college curriculum, and the ultimate unification of all knowledge. But going to college means that survey of the past a glimpse of the future comes only to those who follow the road that leads up the mountain." The Vassar Miscellany
The faculty and the executive committee of the board of trustees, administering the college in the absence of a president, gave permission for a student Women's Suffrage Club.
Meeting in New York City, the Vassar board of trustees unanimously accepted the recommendation of their nominating committee that Henry Noble MacCracken, professor of English at Smith College, be chosen to succeed James Monroe Taylor as president of the college. MacCracken’s brother, John Henry MacCracken, had been elected president of Lafayette College the previous day. The new college presidents were the sons of the emeritus chancellor of New York University, Henry Mitchell MacCracken. The new president’s selection was announced at Vassar in the Chapel.
Pratt House, a residence for the warden given by Charles M. Pratt, trustee of the college from 1896 until 1920, was completed, York & Sawyer, architects.
The gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jesse H. Metcalf, parents of Cornelia Metcalf Bontecue '14, Metcalf House, physicians' residence and convalescent home for students, was completed, York & Sawyer, architects.
With anonymous support from trustee Charles M. Pratt the Out-of-Door Theatre, intended as a temporary venue for the 50th anniversary observances, was completed as a permanent theater, accommodating an audience of 3,000.
Vassar president-elect Henry Noble MacCracken and his brother John Henry MacCracken, the recently inaugurated president of Lafayette College, received, respectively, Doctor of Laws and Doctor of Humane Letters degrees from their alma mater, New York University. Their father, Henry Mitchell MacCracken, was chancellor of the university from 1891 until 1910.
Henry Noble MacCracken, Chaucer scholar, a graduate of New York University with the doctoral degree from Harvard University, assumed the presidency of Vassar College. MacCracken, who taught English at Yale University and Smith College, was the first Vassar president who was not a Baptist minister.
Following the junior promenade, students were permitted to have male guests on campus on Sunday for the first time since the founding of the college.
Vassar students helped the Poughkeepsie committee of the Commission for Relief in Belgium gather 3,000 pounds of food-stuffs to be sent overseas. With the 1914 German invasion of Belgium, the American business man and engineer living in London, Herbert Hoover, organized the commission to facilitate the return to America of tens of thousands of American citizens and to channel food to the Belgians.
Members of the Vassar home team burst into congratulatory applause as visiting debaters from Wellesley, arguing the negative side, won a debate on the question, “Resolved, That the Average American City Should Adopt the Commission Form of Government, According to the Des Moines Plan.”
Speaking to alumnae in Philadelphia, President MacCracken announced a campaign for a $1million endowment fund, to be raised by October 1916 as a 50th birthday present to the college. Outlining "hopes" for an alumnae house, laboratories for physics, psychology and zoology and “better accommodations for the music department,” he said this campaign would be for educational endowment—“teachers of mature experience and eminent in their branches of study”—and endowment for the library and lecture system. MacCracken declared, “Smith and Wellesley have each raised $1,000,000 in the recent past. It is now eleven years since Vassar raised any money for this object.” The New York Times
American architect Ralph Adams Cram, proponent of the Collegiate Gothic style and supervising architect at Princeton, lectured on "The Culmination of Gothic Architecture in the Thirteenth Century."
RMS Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat off the Irish coast. Of the 1,959 people aboard aboard, 1,198 died, among them 128 Americans. Within three weeks, the Italians joined the Allies in the war.
The Founder's Day program included the opening and presentation of the Taylor Art Building and Gateway, Allen & Collens, architects. Mr. and Mrs. Charles M. Pratt gave the building in honor of James Monroe Taylor, president from1886 until 1914. The new building provided new quarters for the art gallery and the art department, lecture and reception facilities and a new gateway into the college grounds.
Previewing the complex in April, The New York Times noted that James Renwick’s “little old brick lodge through which thousands of students have entered” was torn down to make way for the new gateway. “The next logical step,” the newspaper suggested, “will be to take down the red brick main hall…and put in its place something to correspond with the new lodge. Nor would the destruction of the old main hall call forth much regret.”
Mr. Pratt, a trustee and a close associate of President Taylor, previously funded the construction of Sunset Lake and the Warden’s House. In 1915, he paid for the development of the Out-of-Door Theatre, and in 1917 he presented a collection of Italian paintings selected by the Swedish art historian and biographer of Leonard DaVinci, Oswald Siren.
By special request of Vassar students, the Broadway hit, Daddy Long Legs, adapted from her book by Jean Webster '01, was presented at the Collingwood Opera House in Poughkeepsie. The production, starring Mabel Burt as “Judy,” was concluding a run of 264 performances at the Gaiety Theatre in New York, and it subsequently toured throughout the country.
Italy entered the war, joining the Allies.
The General Education Board, a philanthropy established in 1902 by John D. Rockefeller and his business and philanthropic advisor, Rev. Frederick Gates, appropriated $200,000 for Vassar’s endowment campaign.
President MacCracken was among the first college and university presidents, all members of the American League to Limit Armaments, to sign a joint message to President Wilson, pledging to stand by him in whatever course he might find necessary in light of “the German complications.” The signers also expressed their belief that Wilson would be able to resolve the conflict by peaceful means.
President MacCracken received the honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Smith College. A graduate of New York University with advanced degrees from Harvard University, MacCracken taught at Harvard and Yale before becoming professor of English at Smith in 1913. Presenting MacCracken for the honor, Smith Professor of Philosophy Harry Norman Gardiner described him as "one who, till lately our colleague, was lost to us by the very qualities which bound him to us, but is now henceforth, by virtue of this title, to be forever claimed and attached, while uniting, in his representative capacity, two kindred institutions of learning in comity of academic fellowship." [Marion LeRoy Burton], Annual Report of the President of Smith College
President MacCracken received an honorary LL.D. degree from Brown University at the annual conferring of degrees.
The Allied victory against the German army in the Battle of the Marne stopped Germany’s month-long march into France and established the Western Front, where a devastating battle of attrition continued for nearly two years.
Student resistance to compulsory chapel continued to grow. Writing in the Miscellany, one student invoked Wordsworth’s lines from “The Prelude”:
“…Was ever known
The witless shepherd who persists to drive
A flock that thirsts not to a pool disliked?”
Over a decade later and after long study by the faculty and trustees, a new, completely voluntary plan went into effect on Monday, November 15, 1926.
More than twenty trustees, faculty and student committees, planning over two years, prepared the four-day program for the 50th anniversary of Vassar’s opening. Over 1,500 alumnae and more than 2,000 other guests attended, including leaders and student delegates from dozens of colleges and universities in the United States and abroad. The celebration drew on prominent alumnae and on distinguished guests, and—reflecting the new president’s concerns—it included an intercollegiate student conference among its events, which concluded with Henry Noble MacCracken’s inauguration.
Inspired by the alumnae parade on the evening of Saturday, October 9th, sophomore Dorothy Danforth ’17 wrote to her family, “It’s almost midnight but I’m so thrilled I must tell you—I’ve had more college spirit tonight than ever before. The alumnae all paraded tonight. There were tons of them.... The students all joined hands and flew along at the sides. We serenaded old Prexy Taylor and the Pres. MacCracken. It made me proud to be one of such a splendid body of people.”
On the first day of the college's 50th anniversary celebration, a Sunday, Poughkeepsie churches commemorated the founding of the college, and in the afternoon Brown University President William H. P. Faunce gave the opening sermon in the Chapel. Faunce pointed to the importance of colleges and universities in furthering international cooperation: “The gift most needed today from all the colleges is in the realm of international relations.… If the roots of war are ideal, the remedy for war is in the ideal realm also, in the renovated sprit of man,” a transformation he believed occurred in places like Vassar. “If we can through the American college convey some such gift to the world we shall fulfill the most ardent hopes of those who laid their foundations in sacrificial toil and undying faith.” Constance Mayfield Rourke, ed., The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Opening of Vassar College: October 10 to13, 1915
Later, student delegates were welcomed by Vassar student representative in the Circle, and in the evening the Chapel was filled to overflowing for a recital by British organist T. Tertius Noble of Saint Thomas’s Church in New York City.
Delegates to the 50th anniversary heard from three alumnae: Smith College English Professor Mary Augusta Jordan ‘76, University of Chicago anthropogeographer Ellen Churchill Semple ‘82 and Julia Lathrop ’80, head of the Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Commerce and Labor. In “Spacious Days at Vassar College,” Jordan reflected on entering college in Vassar’s first decade, “a thing quite by itself, an experience to be reckoned with—something like Platonic love, or getting religion…. But, obviously, the first duty of the pioneer institution was to live and to grow, and at the same time to give temporary satisfaction to the irrational and immature critics who made up its public….
“ By 1870 the wise compromise had done its costly work. Vassar did not stand, even in the funny papers, any longer for prigs, freaks, social rebels, or eloquent and earnest fanatics. What did it stand for? Freedom from any obligation upon the students to concern themselves with that question was one of the factors of the spaciousness that prevailed for ten years….”
In “Geographical Research as a Field for Women,” Ellen Churchill Semple invited Vassar women to take part in the new and as yet “uncrowded” academic field. “Mine own people,—mine in the common ideals which Vassar has bequeathed to her children; mine in the common training for life, no matter what its tasks may have proved to be; mine in the common purposes and hopes born of that good heritage and training: I should like take you all into my arms, but unable to do that, I want to take you into the heart of my work.” Semple pointed to “feminine tastes and feminine order of mind” which women might bring to her sort of work: power of observation, capacity for detailed work, patient perseverance in the collection of material, intellectual humility and imagination. “Such is the field of activity,” she concluded, “such is the reward to which I would invite you all--because I love you.”
In “The Highest Education for Women,” Julia Lathrop criticized the lack of scientific inquiry and theory around child rearing and conducting a household, the “one great avocation constantly requiring the unsparing service of millions of women.” This most “universal and essential of employments,” she explained, “remains the most neglected by science, a neglect long hidden behind tradition and sentimentality.”
Concurrently, 54 student delegates from 28 colleges and universities were welcomed by student association president Irmarita Kellers ‘16 to the Intercollegiate Student Conference. The conference first discussed “non-academic activities”—student self-government, student dramatics and publications, religious organizations, political clubs—that opening speaker Eleanor B. Taylor ‘16 said were “an absolute necessity for a full and complete rounding-out of our student life.” A conference of this sort was “an important one,” and she added, “also a hopeful one, for the attitude of both students and faculties is one of increasing recognition of [this] importance.” One of the visitors, reluctant at first about joining the conference, said he would now urge his parents to send his younger sisters to college, although that had previously been “very far from the family plans.”
After lunch, at the business meeting of the Associate Alumnae, President MacCracken spoke on “The Anniversary Endowment,” saying that the college had raised $686,000, of which nearly $500,000 would go toward the goal of $1,000,000 for an endowment fund. The other gifts were designated for funding an alumnae house, a quarterly magazine and other college needs.
At 3 PM the delegates and invited guests gathered in the new Out-of-Door Theatre for “The Pageant of Athena,” composed and presented by Vassar students and directed by Hazel MacKaye, the director of pageantry and drama for the New York City YWCA. The pageant’s tableaux presented eight famous women through the ages, including Marie de France—the first woman to write poetry in France, in the 12th century—portrayed by Edna St. Vincent Millay ‘17. At the pageant’s end, Athena called forth the whole company of illustrious women and their attendants—Sappho and her maidens; Hortensia and the Roman crowd; Hilda of Whitby and her nuns; Marie de France and the court of Henry II; Isabella d’Este and the artists, lovers and courtiers of Ferrara; Lady Jane Grey and Roger Ascham; and Elena Lucrezia Cornaro with the scholars and students of Padua. The company made “together…a rich unbroken moving pattern of color, the fabric of the Web of Knowledge.
“…they wind off among the trees, and their Gaudeamus grows faint, but now an echo rises from the top of the hill behind the audience. Athena again lifts her spear compellingly. The echo grows in power, the Gaudeamus again becomes clear, and a great throng of singing girls, bright-clad in the costumes of to-day, stream down the slope and singing pass in a long procession before the goddess, their song changing to the new Alma Mater as they march.” Constance Mayfield Rourke, ed., The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Opening of Vassar College: October 10 to13, 1915
The Poughkeepsie Eagle praised the “Wonderful Spectacle,” and Millay sent home many snapshots.
An evening production in the new Students’ Building of “Vassar Milestones,” written by alumnae and staged by the dramatic committee of the New York alumnae association, rounded out the day.
The third day of the 50th anniversary celebration again featured student sessions concurrent with those for faculty, alumnae and other invited guests. At the “Academic Commemoration” in the Chapel, President Emeritus Taylor spoke on “Vassar’s Contribution to Educational Theory and Practice,” Former Dean and Barnard Associate in History Emily Jane Putnam spoke on “Women and Democracy,” and Lillian D. Wald, founder of New York’s Henry Street Settlement, presented “New Aspects of Old Social Responsibilities.” Taylor urged his auditors to treasure the earlier ideals of the college and to remember “the Ten Commandments and the spirit of Christ were as truly education as the preface of Livy or the charm of Chaucer.” Expressing what The New York Times called “radical feminist views,” Putnam saw modern women as plagued by weak physique, economic inferiority and emotional instability, which should be overcome by “Individual effort and character…the only ways open for a woman to become a free-footed human being, and each woman must finally achieve these for herself.” “Upon the educated woman,” Wald told her audience, “devolves the task of readapting the social interests of her sex to a changed physical and spiritual environment…. The task of organizing human happiness needs the active co-operation of man and woman; it cannot be relegated to one-half the world….”
Concurrently, in the Students’ Building, student delegates turned their attention to “The Function of Non-Academic Activities,” discussing questions of professional and semi-professional coaching, membership criteria for student organizations and academic credit for non-curricular work.
In the afternoon, Harriet Ballintine, Vassar’s director of physical training, gave a “Historical Exhibition of Physical Training at Vassar,” which was followed by a concert for students by the Russian Symphony Orchestra of New York while the other delegates moved among nine college locations, visiting the several college departments. That evening representatives of Vassar’s undergraduate organizations entertained the student delegates in Taylor Hall, while the other participants attended a concert by the Russian Symphony Orchestra. Constance Mayfield Rourke, ed., The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Opening of Vassar College: October 10 to13, 1915
Seven “divisions” of the academic procession for Henry Noble MacCracken’s inauguration—platform participants; trustees and regents; international academic and American academic delegates; federal, state, county, and town delegates; special guests, alumnae representatives, student aid society officers, former college officers; Vassar officers of government and instruction; intercollegiate student delegates and Vassar undergraduate organization representatives—gathered in the Library, Taylor Hall, and Rockefeller Hall at 9:15 for the procession, which moved at 9:45 to the Chapel. At 10 the inauguration ceremony began with an invocation by Henry Mitchell MacCracken, chancellor emeritus of New York University and father of the incoming president.
There followed addresses by John H. Finley, president of the University of the State of New York and commissioner of education, George Lyman Kittredge, professor of English at Harvard, and Henry Noble MacCracken. Recalling the “objective mysteries” pondered by Homer, Virgil, Maeterlinck and “Henri Fabre, who died day before yesterday in France,” in “The Mystery of the Mind’s Desire,” Finley hoped for MacCracken that “Vassar be as kind to you as Nausicaa was to Ulysses,—she who said to her companions: ‘We must kindly entreat him, for all strangers and beggars (to which category all college presidents belong) are from Zeus.’ You have come to preside in a place where the supreme mystery of life…has expression—the mystery of the mind’s desire.”
A mentor of MacCracken, the Harvard medievalist, Shakespeare critic and editor George Lyman Kittredge, speaking on “The Scholar and the Pedant,” offered a wry defense of the Vassar trustees’ “momentous step of calling to preside over your college a man who has achieved a position as a scholar in the most exact and technical sense of that vaguely misused term.” Arguing that pedantry existed in many forms and in all vocations and obliquely praising his ex-student’s philological essay in a recent festschrift honoring him, Kittredge challenged Vassar in his peroration: “Scholarship, in its most rigorous sense, is a necessary element of culture…. Do not insult it…by confusing it with pedantry. Your new president…is a scholar. Hold up his hands! Cheer up his heart! Help him…to keep the torch alight, and to pass it on, still burning clearly, to whoever shall receive it from him in the sacred race!”
After his formal installation, President MacCracken addressed the gathering “In the Cause of Learning.” Surveying the contemporary experiences of both college students and their teachers, he arrived at his central questions: “What is indeed the real business of a college? What is it that college does to a man or a woman?” His response to the first question was that “college is to our time what Dante was to his. Dante is called… ‘the mediaeval synthesis,’ the bringing together and the summing up of his age…. This is, then, what college has to offer to the student,—the genius of modern life.” And, addressing his second question, he echoed his Harvard mentor: “Upon every side the more direct appeals will press upon us, turning one or another of this band of ours into useful labor for mankind. But the highest and the first cause of all…is the cause of scholarship. To stand where no man has trod, on the margins of life’s view, and to seek out with steady purpose what life has yet to offer!” Constance Mayfield Rourke, ed., The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Opening of Vassar College: October 10 to13, 1915
Salutations were offered by Mary Emma Woolley, president of Mount Holyoke College, representing the women’s colleges; Dean Virginia Crocheron Gildersleeve, on behalf of the women’s colleges associated with universities and, representing the universities, Yale President Arthur Twining Hadley. Henry Mitchell MacCracken offered the Benediction.
With the adjournment of the inauguration, delegates and invited guests from Poughkeepsie attended a second performance of “The Pageant of Athena” in the Out-of Door Theatre.
The celebration ended with a dinner, in the Students’ Building for delegates, alumnae representatives and officers of the college, and in the residence halls for student delegates and representatives of Vassar student organizations. The topic for prepared remarks at both dinners was “The College and the Community.”
A weary Dorothy Danforoth ‘17 spoke perhaps for many of the celebration’s planners and participants in a letter to her family: “I am sure glad it is the last. I’m so weary I can barely support myself.”
Members of industrialist Henry Ford’s Peace Expedition, seeking among Europe’s neutral nations a “Neutral Conference for Continuous Mediation” that would end the war, sailed from New York City for Oslo aboard the Oscar II. Led by Ford himself, the 150 pacifists included Inez Milholland Boissevain ’09 and Vassar student Katrina Brewster ’16. The college declined to send a formal representative, but President MacCracken proposed, with no success, that his father, the vice-president of the New York Peace Society, be among the delegates.
The students in the delegation embarked for home on January 11, 1916, and the others followed four days later.
Successful talks in Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Holland established the conference, which worked for over a year to achieve its goals, ceasing on February 7, 1917, when Ford, apparently persuaded that his and other efforts had moved President Woodrow Wilson from an isolationist to a active pacifist position on the war, ordered the mission’s end.
A petition signed by 30 members of the Vassar faculty was sent to Washington, DC, urging President Wilson to terminate diplomatic relations with Germany and Austria. Among the signatories were Professor of Political Science Emerson D. Fite, Professor of Philosophy Woodbridge Riley, Professor of Economics Herbert Mills and Professor of French Jean C. Braq.
“President Henry Noble MacCracken did not sign the petition, and said that it did not represent the opinion of Vassar, but the ideas of the individual signers.” The New York Times
At President MacCracken’s instigation, the Permanent Conference of Four Colleges—Mount Holyoke, Smith, Vassar and Wellesley—was established. MacCracken had proposed the collaboration to the presidents of the other colleges on October 16, 1915, when they attended his inauguration.
The committee on admission was formed with C. Mildred Thompson '03, assistant professor of history, as its head. The established process—admission of new classes through the dean’s office, primarily on priority of date of application—had troubled MacCracken when he was at Smith, and it had been part of the discussion that led to the formation of the four-college conference. Many better-qualified students were being turned down or deferred for uncertain future consideration, and less able students were often admitted on the basis of registration at birth for a place at Vassar.
A new system was gradually introduced. Priority of application was still observed, with close faculty attention to Vassar’s entrance requirements, but a number of “honor students—ten in the class entering in 1916—were admitted from the deferred group based on academic merit alone. The next year, 25 such students were admitted, and by 1928 “the college was fully committed to competition for all places in the student body, and all students were admitted by the same method….
“[MacCracken] thought that the students who were most eager to enter Vassar and were sufficiently equipped mentally to succeed in the competition would undoubtedly constitute a clientele the likes of which the college had not previously known.” Elizabeth A. Daniels, Bridges to the World: Henry Noble MacCracken and Vassar College
In recognition of the notable service of the alumnae, the trustees voted to increase by two—to five—the number of alumnae representatives on the board of trustees.
Pablo Casals, Spanish Catalan cellist, conductor and composer, gave a recital under the auspices of the Students' Association.
John Masefield, British novelist and poet, lectured on "English Poetry." Masefield’s first collection of poetry, The Story of a Round House and Other Poems, published in 1915, was followed the next year by Salt Water Poems and Other Poems and Philip the King and Other Poems.
He lectured at Vassar again in 1918.
Endorsing "force to enforce peace" and praising the Monroe Doctrine as the mainstay of US international relationships, former President William Howard Taft lectured on "World Relationships and Their Effect on National and International Policies." The ex-president's concern, reported The Vassar Miscellany Weekly, was that the "most valuable thing we have," the United States government, was under threat from the natural cupidity of other nations. "Shall we permit this cupidity to be diverted towards our most precious possession? It is our duty to safeguard this possession and remove this constant temptation from them."
Defeated in 1912 in a bid for a second term, Taft and a group of eminent Americans founded the League to Enforce Peace in June of 1915.
At President MacCracken’s instigation, Vassar opened an Occupation Bureau, later the Vocational Bureau and then the Career Development Office.
The Ellen H. Richards Memorial Fund was established through a gift from the Associate Alumnae of Vassar College (AAVC) in memory of Ellen Swallow Richards '70. Dr. Richards, a chemist and leader in the home economics movement, was dedicated to broadening the field of science for women. In 1873—having been admitted as a special student, as a test case—she was the first woman to receive the B.S. degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The founder of the National Home Economics Association, Richards was, at the time of her death in 1912, head of the Department of Social Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The Battle of Verdun began. An attempt, according to the German general at its head, to “bleed the French white,” the inconclusive battle of attrition continued for nine months, costing 430,000 German lives and 540,000 French lives.
Commemorating the tercentenary of Shakespeare’s death, the Shakespeare Garden, suggested by President MacCracken, was laid out along the Fonteyn Kill by Shakespeare classes of Winifred Smith '04 and Emmeline Moore’s classes in botany. The original plantings were seeds of pansies and other flowers from Shakespeare’s gardens in Stratford-on-Avon.
The following fall, based on research by Professor Smith’s students of plants in Shakespeare’s works, “Alumnae who have gardens” were asked “to contribute to the new Shakespeare garden at the college, bulbs, roots, plants or seeds of the kinds herein below mentioned. They will confer a favor on those who have the garden in charge if they will communicate with Miss Emmeline Moore, Vassar College, before sending in their contributions....” A two-page list of Shakespearean plants accompanied the announcement. The Vassar Quarterly
The Shakespeare-Cervantes Tercentenary was celebrated on Founder's Day with readings by the English actress Edith Wynne Mathison of scenes from Don Quixote and an evening production of The Tempest in the Out-of-Door Theatre. "President MacCracken," observed The Vassar Miscellany Weekly, "reminded us that the celebrations were first of all a memorial to the Founder, although our special interest this year centered in Shakespeare and Cervantes."
Edith Conant '18 set a new Vassar record, 0:12 4-10, for the 100-yard dash at the annual Field Day, breaking the record of Fannie James '04. The Class of 1916 won the day with 41 points to 36 for '18, 23 for '19 and 16 for '17.
By vote of the senior class, the entire sophomore class carried the daisy chain on a rainy Class Day. Agitated alumnae argued that the departure from tradition represented a crime against art and an artificial democracy.
In a less controversial innovation, the senior class presented the story of its four years at the college in the Out-of-Door Theatre in the form of a costume pageant with dances, rather than with the traditional recitations.
The college announced that the total for the $1,000,000 alumnae endowment fund stood at $818,000. The Class of 1914 made a reunion gift of $12,500.
By vote of the senior class, the entire sophomore class carried the daisy chain on a rainy Class Day. Agitated alumnae argued that the departure from tradition represented a crime against art and an artificial democracy.
In a less controversial innovation, the senior class presented the story of its four years at the college in the Out-of-Door Theatre in the form of a costume pageant with dances, rather than with the traditional recitations.
The college announced that the total for the $1,000,000 alumnae endowment fund stood at $818,000. The Class of 1914 made a reunion gift of $12,500.
247 graduates received their diplomas at Vassar’s 49th Commencement, in the Chapel. President MacCracken’s commencement address, “Everyman’s Hamlet,” focused on the idea that “humanity” was Vassar’s essential object of study.
In the evening, at the senior class dinner, “one-quarter of the members of the class ‘confessed’ their betrothals.” The New York Times
In the first wedding to be held in the Chapel, Martha Isadore White ’16, daughter of Professor of Mathematics Henry Seeley White, married Erwin Stuart Hubbard.
“Beginning tomorrow morning,” President MacCracken announced in the Chapel, “Vassar College, by vote of the faculty, will have a system of open marks.” Students had agitated since 1885 to know their marks, but until this time they had only been permitted to know their class standing.
Woodrow Wilson was re-elected. In a campus poll students outvoted the faculty and staff to give Republican Charles Evans Hughes a large majority.
Germany conducted its first air raid on London, hoping to turn British air activity toward defense and away from offensive action against German air forces.
As "Our Christmas Gift," The Vassar Miscellany Weekly announced that students had raised over $2,000 for an ambulance overseas and about $4,600 to aid Edith Wharton's tuberculosis hospitals in France. The American author, long resident in France, had declared in a letter to The New York Times in September 1916 her engagement with a "hardworking committee of French and American members," who intended to organize "a formation of American sanatoriums where French soldier affected with tuberculosis will receive the most modern and scientific care," under the direction of "an American specialist on tuberculosis."
"A cable was received this week from Mrs.Wharton in response to our promise to aid," The Miscellany Weekly reported, "thanking us for our interest and help."
The Vassar Dramatic Workshop, a product of Vassar’s first class in playwriting, taught by Professor of English Gertrude Buck, gave its first production, a one-act play adapted from Nobel laureate Selma Lagerlöf's short story, "A Christmas Guest."
Vassar was the first college to offer a course in drama and to use the theater in the English curriculum.
English poet Wilfred Wilson Gibson, who had written about the war from the view of the foot soldier and who was the literary executor of Rupert Brooke, gave a reading from his work. Gibson's appearance was seen, in and unsigned article in The Miscellany News the following week as emblematic of "a new departure in the lecture line at Vassar."
"'Gibson? No, we're all out of Gibson—sold fifty copies today!' This remark, overheard by a beneficiary of Lindmark's booksale the morning after Wilfred Wilson Gibson's reading at the college, drove home the conviction, already latent, that the three readings by contemporary poets that the whole college has enjoyed in the last year [Wilson, John Masefield, Walter De la Mare] have had no small effect in stimulating an interest in contemporary literature.... We have had noted men here of course, but the emphasis heretofore has been upon the critical rather than on the creative."
Lincoln Center, a community center for underprivileged children sponsored by the Christian Association, was opened in downtown Poughkeepsie. The idea for the project originated with Mrs. Henry Noble MacCracken and Miss Mary E. Reid, secretary of the YWCA in Poughkeepsie.
Around 30 children were expected on opening day, but nearly 140 lined up an hour early.
The college announced that it was in a state of “practical readiness” for war, should it come, “with nearly all of its 1,120 girl students signed for war service in the National League for Women’s Services as nurses, wireless telegraphers and clerks. Hospital classes of the American Red Cross are ready to be graduated at once. Sewing and knitting classes have been at work for months.”
Wellesley and Smith reported similar preparations. The New York Times
Ground was broken for two L-shaped wings on the north and south sides of Thompson Memorial Library. The gift of Mrs. Mary Clark Thompson, donor of the original building, the additions were designed by Allen & Collens, the library’s original architects, who retained the English Perpendicular Gothic style. Uneasiness on the campus about the new additions' effect on the Library's character and its beauty proved unnecessary. As Librarian—and later professor of English—Amy Reed '92 observed the following October when the two wings had been erected. Those, she wrote in The Vassar Miscellany, who feared that the additions "might prove merely unsightly excrescences on a beautiful building must have been pleasantly disappointed at their first sight this fall of the exterior now almost completed. To many of us the change seems to supply a lack which we have always felt, though perhaps vaguely, the lack of that variety or irregularity which is one characteristic note of Gothic art." She particularly praised the new courtyard formed by the two wings. "Here," she observed, "in pleasant weather students may sit and read, surrounded somewhat as they are at Oxford or Cambridge by lovely Gothic detail."
In response to the sinking of American vessels, the United States declared war on Germany, thus entering World War I.
At Vassar, 638 students were already enrolled in 12 preparedness courses: first aid, home nursing, surgical dressing, motor repair, wireless, relief work, home economics, shorthand, bookkeeping, typing, cataloguing and filing.
On this day Maria Dickinson McGraw ‘67 presented an American flag to the college, along with a fund of $1,867 to endow it. Her son, Capt. Stanley McGraw, raised the flag.
Economist and social theorist Irving Fisher from Yale University, an early eugenicist, spoke on "Life Extension" under the auspices of the Ellen S. Richards Memorial Fund. In December 1913, Dr. Fisher, along with wealthy businessman Harold Ley, founded the Life Extension Institute, intended to extend healthy human life by the systematic application of modern science. Fisher was the chair of the new philanthropy's hygiene reference board, and its president was E. E. Rittenhouse, conservation commissioner of the Equitable Life Assurance Society, who resigned that position to lead the new venture. The institute's aim, President Rittenhouse told The New York Times, was "to bring about a closer relation between as larga a portion of the public as we can reach and the medical advisors and to spread knowledge to promote health and prevent disease.... In the promotion of health and longevity there are two distinct fields. One is treatment. That is filled by the physicians and the institute will in no wise encroach upon it. The other is prophylaxis. This is our field, and we intend to bring to our work in that field the ripened fruits of sicentific discovery and experience for the preservation of health and the prevention of disease."
Dr. Fisher's talk was published as the first Ellen S. Richards monograph.
Pressed by students, the board of wardens reconsidered the status of students’ fathers. Henceforth they would be permitted to "see rooms unchaperoned and...be considered sufficient chaperons on automobile rides and other parties." In addition, "Upper classmen in parties of three shall be allowed to go down town at night unchaperoned, but if men are in the party a chaperon shall be required." The Vassar Miscellany News
British actor and theater manager Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, speaking at Founder’s Day, admitted to changing his mind about women’s suffrage. “It seems to me that during this war women have risen to the greatness of their responsibilities. If this is a time of heroism for men, it has been no less a time of heroism in women. The war is giving them new activities.
“There can be no doubt about woman’s position after the war. All right-thinking people have made up their minds that women will be the guardians of the world’s peace.” The New York Times
Beginning a distinguished career, Julia C. Stimson '01 sailed for France to serve as chief nurse of Base Hospital #21 of the Washington University Unit in Rouen. In April 1918 she was assigned to the American Red Cross in Paris, where she became chief nurse of the Red Cross Nursing Service. In November she was appointed director of the Nursing Service of the Allied Expeditionary Forces.
For her service in France, Stimson received the United States Distinguished Service Medal; the British Royal Red Cross, 1st Class; the French Médaille de la Reconnaissançe Française and the Médaille d’Honneur de l’Hygiène Publique and the International Red Cross Florence Nightingale Medal.
Coming to Washington in July 1919, she was appointed acting superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps and dean of the Army School of Nursing. On December 30, 1919, Stimson became superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps. The amended Defense Act of June 4, 1920, gave her the relative rank of major, the only woman in the army in that grade at the time.
Major Stimson continued as superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps until 1937. In 1942 she was recalled to active service to recruit nurses for the Army Nurse Corps. She died in St. Francis Hospital, Poughkeepsie, in September 1948.
The Vassar Dramatic Workshop presented “The Princess Marries the Page,” by Edna St. Vincent Millay '17, with the author in the leading role.
Banker and philanthropist Edgar L. Marston, a trustee of Vassar from 1905 until 1923 and chairman of the committee on music, established the Marston Graduate Fellowship in Music. The first recipient was Edith S. Woodruff '09, a member of the Music Department from1914 until 1950.
After consideration in a special meeting of the faculty, Doris Drummer ’17 became the first student to be granted permission to return to the college after marriage and resume her studies. She was engaged to George Ray, a reserve officer in the army who had been called to serve.
The couple married in Hamburg, NY, and Mrs. Ray graduated with her class on June 12.
“After a baccalaureate devoted to war topics and a class day shorn for economy’s sake of its historic daisy chain and resplendent gowns, Vassar College today graduated its 237 seniors with plainest program ever witnessed in its fifty years.”
In his commencement remarks, President MacCracken addressed the calls for press censorship in wartime America. “It will,” he said, “be an ill day for a nation when restraint upon discussion of broad issues, whether of this war or any other part of national policy, is held to be essential to its military strategy.” The New York Times
At the instigation of New York Commissioner of Education John H. Finley, a dozen students, led by Alice Campbell ’17, remained at Vassar after Commencement to form the Vassar Farm Unit, replacing the men usually working on the Vassar farm. They chopped wood, milked cows, ploughed fields and hoed the rows. Nicknamed “farmerettes,” the students worked 45-hour weeks at 17 1/2 cents per hour doing all the farm work except the cleaning of the stables. They paid for their board out of their earnings.
“There they are in the fields, brown, strong and busy. In neat uniforms of middy-blouse, bloomers, and wide-brimmed straw hats, they march to the potato patch, or strawberry patch…and set resolutely to work with hoe and fingers.” The Poughkeepsie Eagle
Because of its novelty, the Vassar Farm Unit was invited to present a "live exhibit" at the first Eastern States Agricultural and Industrial Exposition, a ten-state agricultural fair held in West Springfield, Massachusetts, October 12-20, 1917. Five students were excused from classes for ten days to demonstrate their farming skills before some 138,000 visitors. Noting the group's "demonstrations" at the exposition, The Miscellany News, on October 20, quoted a notice from "a Springfield Paper": "11:30 A. M. Harrowing exhibition by Vassar Farm Unit."
In the summer of 1918, more than 200 students stayed to milk and mow, plant and weed and run the farm machinery. Milking was, explained one farmhand, “just like learning the play to piano.” Marion Bacon, Life at Vassar
New York Governor Charles S. Whitman announced the formation of mobilization bureaus within the State Council of Defense, the heads of which would “deal with war situations as they may arise in the State and act as advisors to the Executive in the determination and carrying out of war policies.” President MacCracken was named chief of the Division of Instruction.
The 1917/18 academic year promised new courses in Far Eastern affairs, the Near East, modern Russia, modern governments, diplomacy and international law. The curriculum also “came home indeed,” as The Vassar Quarterly put it, with courses in horticulture and landscape gardening, food analysis, the family, hygiene of the child, history and principles of education and educational and abnormal psychology.
The college also granted credit for performance courses in music, one of the first liberal arts colleges to do so.
The annual fee for tuition and residence was raised to $550.
The chairman of the American Red Cross War Council announced the formation of a Junior Red Cross, open to all 22,000,000 school children in the country at a membership fee of 25 cents, to be raised by schools, cities or states. Participating schools became auxiliaries of the Red Cross, associated with local Red Cross chapters, and the funds collected were used to buy materials for children to turn into articles useful to the war effort. President MacCracken, who had developed the concept in consultation with teachers and the Red Cross, was named national director of the Junior Membership Bureau of the American Red Cross, a post in which he served until December 1918.
“The work for the Red Cross,” he said when his appointment was announced, “will teach service for others and unselfish giving; it will stimulate interest in our National Government and its policies during the war, and it will afford a useful release for the youthful energy which is stimulated by the violent and morbid aspects of war conditions….” MacCracken cited the pilot program undertaken in some schools in New York State the previous spring as evidence of the new program’s potential. “The vocational classes…last spring made over 40,000 articles during the last few weeks of the school year for the Red Cross. …Mrs. [Anna Hedges] Talbot, director of vocational education for girls in the State, says that in many cases…their work was, if anything, better than that in the adult work.” The New York Times
This new responsibility obliged MacCracken to resign as chief of the Division of Instruction in New York State’s Council of Defense on September 5. One of his final projects as chief of the division, announced September 8, was “Loyalty Week.” Ten teams of speakers were preparing to speak on “Why the Nation Is At War,” “The Military Needs of the Nation” and “The Patriotic Services of the Civilian.” Targeting pacifist objectors and new immigrants, in particular, each team visited ten New York counties during the week of September 17. “It is time,” MacCracken said, “that some great demonstration, like ‘Loyalty Week,’ should prove to the world that the enemies of the Government and of American ideals are the smallest fraction of the population.” The New York Times
As American entry into the world war became more and more likely, anti-German sentiment expressed itself in many ways across the country. Berlin, MI, became Marne, MI, and notable German-Americans ("hyphenated Americans," in Theodore Rossevelt's deprecatory term) were obliged to profess anti-German views, prompting a note in The New York World: “In connection with the opening today of Vassar College, announcement was made that German will not be dropped as a study.”
President MacCracken reported that, at the date set for closing out subscriptions to the million-dollar endowment fund, the amount in hand was $1,019,011.37. Subscriptions to buildings and other delayed gifts were expected to bring the total amount to $1,047,969.67. The New York Times
Five student "farmerettes" from the Vassar Farm Unit who worked the previous summer on the Vassar farm to aid the war effort demonstrated their work at the first Eastern States Agricultural and Industrial Exposition in Springfield, Massachusetts. The students were excused from classes for ten days to demonstrate their farming skills before some 138,000 visitors.
An appreciation of the students' participation in the exposition by its publicity manager, W. A. Parcelle, appeared in The Miscellany News in November. "The project," he wrote, was a tremendous success. Though the show was given in about the worst run of weather any such enterprise ever had to contend with, the girls each day had a large part of the attendance as spectators, both in the field and in the Exhibition Building. Several times I took occasion to spend a few minutes mingling with the crowd, to overhear the comments, and these were of just the character we hoped for."
Noting earlier the group's demonstrations at the exposition, The Miscellany News, on October 20, had quoted a notice from "a Springfield Paper": "11:30 A. M. Harrowing exhibition by Vassar Farm Unit."
The United States having entered the world war in April,a second group of preparedness courses began, offering extra-curricular study for limited credit in Personal Hygiene, Shorthand and Typing and in conversational German, French, Italian and Spanish with particular applicability to wartime work. Devised and overseen by a student-faculty Committee on Preparedness Courses, the courses had varying goals. The personal hygiene course covered "the physiology, sanitation and allied subject prerequisite to the second semester Red Cross Courses; shorthand and typing courses—two "points" and one "point," respectively—offered study not present in the curriculum; and, with the prerequisite of a year's study of the language, the conversational language courses trained students "for work in connection with the supervision of our alien population, in translation and censorship."
A preparedness course in home economics was postponed until after President MacCracken had visited the recently-appointed Federal Food Administrator, Herbert Hoover, in Washington, DC, "to learn more definitely the Food Administrator's ideas on the subject. With this knowledge, the course...given here can then take the form of a more scientific presentation of the plans.... Special training will be given for Canteen Service."
Tentative Preparedness Courses for the spring term included: home nursing, surgical dressing, and first aid; agriculture; and relief, the latter course open only to "seniors who are taking [Professor Mills's] Charities and Corrections and who are willing to give the time the instructor my demand." The Miscellany News
Dr. Preserved Smith lectured on "Luther and the Reformation after Four Hundred Years." The author, in 1911, of The Life and Letters of Martin Luther, Smith, said The Miscellany News, "characterised Luther in such a way that we can well imagine why this was the man to light the fuse that set the religious world, and that was the whole world, of the sixteenth century aflame."
A lecturer in history and specialist in the Reformation at Harvard, Smith was the son of Rev. Henry Preserved Smith—who had famously faulted the inspirational infallibility of parts of the Old Testament—and the brother of Winifred Smith ’04, Vassar professor of English.
Two alumnae furnished the Raymond Room, formerly President Raymond’s library in Main Building, as a place for recreational reading. In 1927 Elizabeth G. Houghton, '73, established the Florence M. Cushing Fund, an endowment fund for the Raymond Room, given in memory of Miss Cushing, a member of the Class of 1874 and a longtime trustee of the college.
The Museum, originally the Calisthenium and Riding Academy, was again remodeled to provide an auditorium, stage and classrooms and renamed the Assembly Hall.
Some 500 alumnae attended the annual meeting of the Associate Alumnae of Vassar College (AAVC) at the Hotel Vanderbilt in New York City. After a visit to the campus on January 17, the group received reports from President MacCracken and trustee Minnie Cumnock Blodgett ‘84 about the college’s war program, which included a summer training camp for nurses intended to draw young women from across the country and planned in cooperation with the American Red Cross. The gathering was also addressed by the French High Commissioner, André Tardieu, and Stephane Lausanne, the editor of Le Matin.
The alumnae voted to send a Vassar Relief Unit to France. Over the next several months the unit was recruited from alumnae, with funds donated by students, faculty, alumnae and friends. The chairman of the Vassar Unit committee, Fanny S. Townsend '02, and the faculty leader, Elizabeth H. Haight '94, worked with the overseas adviser, Major Julia C. Stimson 01, chief of the American Expeditionary Forces Nursing Service.
Under the direction of Margaret Lambie '07, members of the unit served in the eight Red Cross Recreation Huts for convalescent soldiers at the American Base Hospital Center, Savenay, France. After the armistice four members of the unit remained in France when it was transferred to Verdun to work under the French government.
Members of the Vassar unit attended dedication ceremonies for the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery at Romagne-sous-Montfauçon on Memorial Day, 1919. “It was the time of daisies,” Lambie recalled. “The thoughts of the Unit naturally turned toward the College campus and daisy gathering days of Sophomore year. … [We] mounted the slope leading to the cemetery. There we thought we saw another field of daisies but it proved to be a field of white crosses marking the graves of thousands of American dead.” Margaret Lambie, Verdun Experiences
The 18th Amendment to the Constitution, prohibiting the manufacture, sale and transportation of “intoxicating liquors,” was ratified.
Amabel Roberts '13, a nurse attached to the No. 2 Reserve Base Hospital at Étretat, France, died from septicemia, the first resident of her home town, Madison, NJ, and the first in her unit to die in military service in World War I. "'He saves others, himself he cannot save,'" she had written from Étretat to her friend and mentor Professor Elizabeth Hazelton Haight the previous November. "That is to me typical and descriptive of the soldier.... A life without sacrifice is utterly valueless. This is brought home to me more and more every day.... Yet surely it is better to die young, than to live a hundred years to no account.... I am more thankful every day that I took up nursing—even though my bit is so very small indeed. More than half my class at the training school are over here—among them my dearest friends. Am I not fortunate?"
On March 11, 1918, The New York Times reprinted from "Dooins," a weekly paper published by Roberts's unit, an account of her death and funeral. "'At 6:15 P.M.,' the paper says, 'Amabel S. Roberts, R. N., Army Nurse Corp...gave up the life she had devoted to the service of others. Her illness, one of the most deadly of infections, had lasted barely three days. On Thursday evening the unit acknowledged defeat. It was the silence that one noticed most.... The services were to be at the Blanquet, the nurses' quarters, and in a moment the narrow street was choked with troops, who formed in a long double rank on either side of the street leading to the gate. For fifteen minutes the men stood at attention while the simple services were being held inside the Blanquet, and then the leaded casket was brought out and placed on a stretcher carriage covered with flags.... A plain black wooden cross will mark that grave; a cross differing in no wise from the crosses which surround it except in the name painted in white upon its arms. It was suggested that some more elaborate memorial might be fitting, but surely none could fit so well. It is a soldier's cross for one who died like a soldier.'"
The Class of 1913 pledged several scholarships to the Nurses Training Camp planned at Vassar for the summer of 1918, and Professor Haight, Cora J. Beckwith, Roberts's instructor in zoology, and Dean Ella McCaleb presented a Memorial Minute in her memory to the Vassar faculty. "Her name," they said, "will live in our traditions, associated with quiet simplicity, the beauty of steady work and complete devotion to the service of humanity."
On May 8, 1919, President MacCracken, members of the faculty and students planted five trees on the shore of Vassar Lake to commemorate Amabel Roberts and four other members of the college community who had lost their lives in the war. On June 8, 1919, the Associate Alumnae of Vassar College (AAVC) placed a tablet in the Chapel in memory of Roberts and three other alumnae who died in service to the country.
Fire destroyed a large part of the rear wing of Main Building. A defective flue in the kitchen where steaks were being broiled fed the fire upward into the maids’ quarters, where it burst from the walls on the fourth floor and then through the roof. Arriving within ten minutes, the Poughkeepsie Fire Department chopped a hole in the ice covering Sunset Lake to secure a water source. Firemen in the building threw personal effects from student rooms out of windows, and students formed chains from Main to Rockefeller Hall, passing the goods along the lines for safe storage. Student volunteers rescued furniture and records from the offices housed in the building.
A brick firewall separating the rear wing from the main body of the building stopped the fire from spreading, limiting the damage. Most of the students lost very little, and the total damage was estimated at $165,000, $80,000 of which was covered by insurance. Most of the maids, however, lost everything they owned. An emergency fund was set up, and each maid was given $10 cash and a spare set of clothes immediately. Temporary housing for the 75 displaced staff was set up in the Gymnasium.
President MacCracken, who rushed back to campus from New York City—having received a telegram stating that Main Building had been destroyed—praised the Vassar and Poughkeepsie communities for their quick-thinking and teamwork, without which the losses from the fire, he said, would have been much worse.
An anonymous poem in the February 16th issue of the Miscellany News commemorated the students’ efforts:
A filing case of steel it was
Four maidens bore it on
They said with nonchalance, Some load!
And dumped it on the lawn.
Then Prexy called three stalwart men
(He thought 'twould be a cinch)
But when they tried to move it in
It wouldn't budge an inch
And an anonymous student recorded the event in a letter:
“One whole wing is gone. It was a defective flue. The fire was in the east wing, where the assembly hall, dining room, maids’ rooms, etc., were. The maids lost everything. The girls stood in lines and handed things along from Main to Rocky and got a good deal out…. In Davison we got to bed pretty early but heard parts of Main crashing down all through the night.”
A new constitution for the Students' Association was adopted by the faculty and ratified by the students. A more definite statement of the Honor System and provisions for a uniform proctorless system in all halls were important changes.
"If you want students to respond to their opportunities at Vassar, make them responsible. There is no other way." Henry Noble MacCracken, The Hickory Limb
Dr. George Sarton, Carnegie research associate at Harvard University, spoke on "The History of Science." The Belgian mathematician and philosopher immigrated to the United States in 1915, having published the first issue of Isis, the pioneering journal in the history of science. Although Sarton completed only three volumes—tracing science from the Greeks to the 14th century— of his projected nine-volume Introduction to the History of Science at the time of his death in 1956, he is considered the originator of the discipline.
Philosopher, psychologist and educator John Dewey from Columbia University lectured on "The New Social Psychology." Dewey's influential work on progressive education, Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education appeared in 1916, and his Human Nature and Conduct: An Introduction to Social Psychology was published in 1922.
Federal agents took Agathe Wilhelmine Richrath, an instructor in German, into custody after a search of her room at the college revealed evidence incriminating her as an alien sympathizer. President MacCracken, noting that “Miss Richrath has been under observation for some weeks,” said that he had received no complaints “of exhibition of alien sympathies in the college class rooms, although I have heard of some indiscretion in private conversation.”
Miss Richrath, who had lived with her parents in Philadelphia for several years before coming to Vassar, was eventually interned in a camp for enemy aliens. She was the third resident of Poughkeepsie charged by the federal authorities, who sought a week later the cancellation of a prominent local physician’s naturalization papers.
The Thompson Library addition opened to the Vassar community on Founder's Day. During the summer of 1918, all 100,000 books were shifted to allow for expansion space in every section.
The college was host to the first "Township Day." A branch of the Public Health Committee under the chairmanship of Helen Kenyon '05 directed events that included: a community sing; a pageant, "The Opposite End of the World: A masque of the Junior Red Cross"; a track meet for children; a picnic lunch in the Circle; an address by President MacCracken; demonstrations in the Red Cross workroom, in the dairy, and on the farm; and presentation of banners to the fifteen schools enrolled in the Junior Red Cross, of which President MacCracken was national director.
Wartime marked the graduation of 267 seniors at the college’s 52nd Commencement. A symposium on “Vassar Women in the Nation’s Program” took the place of Class Day ceremonies, and five seniors were already married, with husbands in military service. In his commencement address, “The Treasure and the Heart,” President MacCracken called the American college “the most effective training camp of the organized and unanimous spirit of democracy.” In reference to the upcoming summer’s national training camp for nurses, he declared, “Just as the shipyards of Newark are launching the fabricated vessels, so Vassar campus is to launch the most vital of the women’s army, the well-trained pupil nurse.”
Earlier, in his baccalaureate sermon entitled “Fearlessness,” Rev. Robert Elliott Speer DD told the graduates: “It is not only the fearlessness of the boys abroad that will win the war, but also the fearlessness of the parents at home in sacrificing their sons to a cause which they know is right.” The New York Times
Among the $150,950 in aggregated annual gifts to the college was $500 from the Class of 1909 in memory of Inez Milholland Boissevain ’09. The crusader for women’s rights collapsed while addressing a gathering in Los Angeles in 1916 and died a few days later, on November 26, at the age of 30.
When the United States entered the war in 1917, a special trustee committee set out to find a way for the college “to have some definite, necessary and helpful part in its prosecution.” The result, the Training Camp for Nurses at Vassar College, welcomed 435 young women—from 42 states and graduates of 115 colleges and universities—to an intensive summer-long course of study designed to reduce the usual three years of nurses’ training to two. Organized under the auspices of the National Defense Council, supported and partially funded by the American Red Cross and directed by Professor of Economics Herbert Mills, the camp drew its faculty from Columbia, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, NYU, Yale and other institutions.
The recruiting pamphlet set the tone for the program: "We shall assume at the outset that you are not simply a dabbler or a sentimental dreamer, but a serious, practical, patriotic girl or woman sincerely anxious to throw your energies and your abilities into some form of work that is really going to count." Meeting that challenge, 418 of the original enrollees finished the course in September. One of them, Katherine Densford Dreves, summed up the spirit of the program:
“Imagine daily rising at the crack of dawn, followed by corridor setting-up exercises, bed making and before breakfast, damp dusting your room all around and as high as you could reach (my reach was high). Then came eight hours of class and laboratory, with lights out at 10PM. We had military company formation; I was the elected sergeant of Company F, Squad 1.
“Illustrative of group morale—one day Dean Mills announced in chapel that the next day, July 4, was a holiday. Smiles! He then said we should decide whether we would take a holiday or continue with our regular schedule. A group sigh! And then—cheerfully we continued with our regular schedule.” Katharine Densford Dreves, “Vassar Training Camp for Nurses,” American Journal of Nursing, 1975
On a year’s leave from Vassar, Caroline Furness ’91, professor of astronomy and director of the Observatory, embarked for Japan. Appointed as a special member of the educational committee of the National Council of Women, she carried messages to the women of Japan from, among others: the Association of Collegiate Alumnae; the women’s committee of the National Council of Defense; the National Organization of Public Health and Nursing; the bureau of nursing of the American Red Cross; William Howard Taft’s League to Enforce Peace and the National Association of Principals of Secondary Schools.
Furness presented a letter from the National Council of Women to the Women’s Patriotic League of Japan, and she spoke to Japanese audiences about American collective methods of health protection. After her return, Furness wrote about this experience in “Medical Opportunities for Women in Japan,” which appeared in The New York Medical Journal (1919) and in “Impressions of Japanese Women,” in The Vassar Quarterly (1920).
The annual fee for tuition and residence was raised to $650.
Health authorities realized that the deadly strain of influenza seen in increasing numbers in the military since March was spreading widely among the civilian population and that many countries around the world were on the brink of an unparalleled flu epidemic.
In strict quarantine since the opening of college, Vassar students raised $600 for influenza relief work in Arlington, made masks and swabs in the Red Cross workroom at the college, collected clothes and blankets, made layettes and every morning squeezed hundreds of oranges in the basement of Students’ Building.
On September 28 Congress approved a special $1 million fund to enable the Public Health Service to recruit physicians and nurses specifically to battle the epidemic.
On Oct. 6, Philadelphia recorded 289 deaths from the disease in a single day.
On September 20 Vassar trustee Frank Chambers visited President MacCracken, who was confined to his bed by a persistent throat infection. Explaining that he’d hoped to be joined by two other trustees who had been unable to come to Poughkeepsie, Chambers in effect told MacCracken to resign Vassar’s presidency.
“Polite but indirect, the message stated that since MacCracken’s interest in the college seemed not to be as great as his desire to do war work away from the college, he should leave. The trustees had decided they would like to free him for full-time war service. Decoded, MacCracken knew the statement meant that he had too many radical ideas and was not long for Vassar if the trustees had their way.” Elizabeth A. Daniels, Bridges to the World: Henry Noble MacCracken and Vassar College
In the days that followed, MacCracken learned that the demand for his resignation came from seven of the 28-member board of trustees without the knowledge of most of the others. When the cause of his dismissal shifted from his war work to the college’s $400,000 deficit—not possibly his fault, as all financial decisions rested with the Executive Committee, a group which had included his predecessor ex officio but from which he had been explicitly barred—MacCracken declared that, should he accept resignation, he would resign publicly, stating his own reasons for leaving.
The seven trustees countered, offering a year’s leave of absence, at full salary and effective September 1, during which he would find other employment. Replying that his response would come “in some days,” MacCracken retired with his wife Marjorie to Old Point Comfort, Virginia, to organize their thoughts, leaving their two young children in the care Marjorie’s aunt. MacCracken’s leave of absence was accepted when the board met on September 20, the day on which the seven trustees had originally planned to accept his resignation.
As news of seven trustees' request for President MacCracken’s resignation spread among faculty, alumnae and trustees, he received counsel from all sides. Professor Herbert Mills, a faculty leader and a close confidant, at first advised him to accept the trustee group’s mandate, but other powerful members of the faculty, historian Lucy Maynard Salmon prominent among them, urged him to fight back. On October 1 after a resounding faculty vote in his favor, she wrote to him: “This is the beginning, not the end. Do not resign. The fight will be on with president, faculty and alumnae ranged against an antiquated system of academic organization.”
The two other centers of power in the college, the trustees and the alumnae, began asking questions, even about the legality of the trustee group’s actions. Helen Kenyon ’05, chair of the alumnae association, questioned the move from the beginning, and she began a series of interviews with faculty members and trustees on which she reported to the alumnae. “All told, from what she had heard…Kenyon concluded that there was nothing to prevent MacCracken from coming back, that the trustees thought he would come back, and that the September 20 meeting of the board had been illegal….” Elizabeth A. Daniels, Bridges to the World: Henry Noble MacCracken and Vassar College
For his part, MacCracken studied the trustee group’s charges, reviewed the advice and support he’d received and sent a 39-page letter to all of the trustees refuting or correcting the trustee group’s arguments. When the trustees gathered in New York, the full body voted to allow MacCracken to return to his duties as president of Vassar.
"Armistice Signed, End of the War!" The New York Times
“The whole of the Vassar campus arose at 3:30 a. m. on Monday morning when it became known that the Armistice was signed. The night watchman took his cue from the noise of whistles blowing…and immediately he rang the fire alarm and spread the news, a modern Paul Revere. In the evening, the students saw some Douglas Fairbanks movies….” The Poughkeepsie Courier
The Poughkeepsie Eagle reported on President MacCracken’s return to the campus on the evening after the Armistice and on his remarks to the students and faculty. “Of course, he had to make a speech, and although it was short, it was heartfelt. Dr. MacCracken said substantially that he noticed they seemed to be glad about something, and if they were glad for the same reason he was glad, he knew they were not half as glad as he was…. He also referred to the armistice as a cause for greater rejoicing….” Elizabeth A. Daniels, Bridges to the World: Henry Noble MacCracken and Vassar College
The Public Health Service estimated that 300,000 to 350,000 civilians had died from influenza, and the War Department reported another 20,000 dead in the military. When the epidemic had effectively run its course, in late 1919, over 600,000 Americans had died from the disease.
The alumnae association announced that an anonymous donor had agreed to help in their efforts to close the nearly $400,000 debt and deficit disclosed by an audit in July. The problems arose from the recovery from the fire in Main, rising administrative expenses—some of them associated with war efforts—and wartime inflation of costs for necessary permanent improvements to the physical plant.
The donor offered a matching gift if the alumnae raised $150,000 by March 1, 1919. On February 28, the alumnae had completed their task, and the following day President MacCracken announced that the college was free of debt and deficit, owing to the anonymous matching gift and to $120,000 raised through subscriptions and $80,000 dollars from the company insuring Main Building.
By May the alumnae had raised over $450,000.
Tokyo College was adopted as part of a "Vassar-in-Japan" program supported by the Christian Association.
An anonymous donor gave a Metropolitan Opera box to students and faculty. It was available annually until the 1940s.
Mary Morris Pratt ’80 gave the art gallery a notable collection of oriental jades.
The director of the New York Philharmonic Society, Josef Stránsky, gave three boxes at four Saturday evening Philharmonic concerts in New York City for the use of Vassar students.
Ratification of the covenant of the League of Nations was endorsed by 901 of the 1,100 students at Vassar.
The invitation to Vassar from the student debating committee at Princeton to join in a debate was roundly condemned by The Daily Princetonian in a series of rhetorical questions:
“Why not a knitting or sewing tilt with Bryn Mawr? Why not a pingpong match with Barnard, or a spelling-bee with Wellesley, or a tea-pouring contest with Miss So-and-So’s finishing school? Or, even better, why not take on the International Correspondence School for a heated skirmish in penmanship?” The New York Times
Five years later, in its first coeducational debate, Princeton lost to Vassar on April 25, 1924.
At the opening of a new theater in the Assembly Hall, British poet Alfred Noyes lectured on "England and America," with readings from his own work. The event had been scheduled for February 5, but Noyes was seriously ill with influenza at Princeton, where he taught between 1914 and 1923.
The Students' Association voted: "No Vassar student shall smoke while under the jurisdiction of the college, this rule to be enforced under the honor system." The rule was modified in 1925 "to lay responsibility on the individual, permitting her to smoke inconspicuously" but not in dormitories or other college buildings.
The Vassar Relief Unit established “La Goutte de Lait,” a milk station and dispensary providing for babies, the sick, the old and the indigent at Verdun. Financed by the unit through September 1920, the project continued with support from the municipality of Verdun and with the help of Luxembourg and the Netherlands until the invasion of France in World War II.
Elsa Butler Grove '05 was vice director, succeeding Margaret Lambie ‘07.
The New York Philharmonic Society and its director, the Czech conductor and composer Josef Stránsky, gave the first of a series of concerts presented to the college by Edgar L. Marston, a trustee from 1905 until 1923. Maestro Stránsky's program began with Brahm's Symphony No.2 in D major, Op. 73, and continued with the symphonic poem, "The Sorcerer's Apprentics," by Paul Dukas, a "quaint tale" that, said a reviewer in The Vassar Miscellany News, "was funny, in a farcial way—we couldn't refrain from humming "Humpty-umpty diddle dee" to its perpetual, lilting rhythm, and the same rhythm has not ceased ti pursue its jovial ride through our minds, on the backs of those patient bassoons and mammoth double-basses.... There is much disagreement as to whether or not this sort of pictorial fun in music is legitimate. However on may feel about that mooted question there was certainly a charming humor in the Dukas which no even the most conservative of critics could fail to enjoy."
A tone poem,"The Swan of Tuonela," from the Lemminkäinen, Op.22, of Jean Sibelius, supplied "dramatic contrast" to the sorcerer's tale. "There was plenty of rich color, very dark, for the most part, touched with rhythmic swirls and covered with majestic, swaying melody. The theme and variations, the fourth movement of Tchaikovsky's Orchestral Suite No. 3 in G, Op. 55, concluded the regular program with "an exquisite finish. The variations are splendidly contrasted.... The violin solo which is part of the eleventh variation was played with splendid abandon, clear-cut vigor and a clear tone." The orchestra kept to Tchaikovsky with its encore, offering his "Marche Slave."
"It was over so soon," the reviewer said, "but through this magnificent opportunity we have begun on the road to better understanding of what is before us next year and all orchestral music will mean vastly more to us because of the electric effect of this tremendous concert."
In all, the Philharmonic Orchestra of New York City gave seven Marston Concerts at Vassar through 1921.
A meeting, convened at the request of C. Mildred Thompson ‘03, professor of history and chairman of the committee on admission, discussed the college’s policy, if any, about “the acceptance of Negro students.” Two prospective students whom Thompson believed were daughters of Anita Hemmings Love ’97, a graduate of African American lineage who had passed for white while a student, had sent in preliminary “cards of application.” “To my assistant,” Thompson recalled in a note to the file, “I remarked that, knowing what I had heard, I had no right to accept the applications without authorization from the Committee.”
Also present at the meeting were President MacCracken, Dean Ella McCaleb ’78, Warden Jean Palmer ’93, Associate Professor of English Margaret Judson, Associate Professor of Chemistry Annie MacLeod and the committee’s secretary, Vera B. Thompson. “My recollection,” Professor Thompson wrote, “is that in reporting the specific applications I asked if Vassar had any policy in regard to the acceptance of Negro students. According to my memory there was no difference of opinion expressed among the members. All agreed that Vassar had no specific policy as to Negroes, who would be expected to meet the requirements which pertained to all.” The minutes of the meeting conclude: “Secretary was instructed to accept application.”
Ellen Love graduated from Vassar in 1927.
Social worker Ruth Crawford Mitchell '12, national YWCA secretary for international institutes, and two classmates, Mary Hurlbutt ‘12 and Elinor Prudden ‘12, embarked for Prague, at the request of Alice Masaryk, daughter of the president of Czechoslovakia, to conduct a social survey of the city. While subsequently helping Dr. Masaryk establish Czechoslovakia’s first school of social work, the three friends proposed to her and to the college that Czech women entering the field would benefit greatly from study at Vassar.
President MacCracken agreed, funding was found and in 1920 the first five Czech exchange students began their two-year programs at Vassar. The college continued to supply at least one annual scholarship to a Czech student until 1948.
A special Founder’s Day program celebrated the centenary of Walt Whitman’s birth with an address in Students' Building by American poet Edgar Lee Masters. At the close of Masters's remarks, Whitman’s friend, the 82 year-old naturalist John Burroughs—introduced by President MacCracken as "the youngest man in the room"—gave an impromptu appreciation of his friend and told of bringing Whitman to the college in the summer of 1878 to call on Professor Frederick Ritter. A Walt Whitman exhibition was mounted in the Library.
Founder’s Day also included a song contest, a faculty-student baseball game, a pageant and two operas given by the Society of American Singers, an organization of “professional singers of standing and American citizenship” formed in 1915.
The president, followed by the choir, the faculty and students, led a college procession from the Chapel to Vassar Lake. Five trees were planted by the president of the Students' Association and the presidents of the four classes in memory of Alvin Treadwell, son of Professor of Geology Aaron L. Treadwell, and of Ruth Cutler '12, Dorothea Gay '11, Amabel S. Roberts ‘13 and Gertrude Crissey Valentine ’12, all of whom died while serving their country in World War I.
The New York Times, in a survey of trends and developments in U.S. higher education, noted Vassar’s “placing of Italian and Spanish on an equality with French and German, thus giving the student more latitude of choice in modern languages." The article also noted the college's granting of credit toward the bachelor's degree "for work in English speech and in the practice of art and music, provided the time given to practice in these arts is combined with hours spent in study of their theory.”
The Associate Alumnae of Vassar College (AAVC) held a memorial service for Dorothea Gay ’11, Ruth Cutler ’12, Amabel Scharff Roberts ’13 and Gertrude Crissey Valentine ’12, all of whom died in France during World War I. The Rev. Henry Stimson of New York spoke at the service, and a tablet was placed in the Chapel in their honor. Gay and Valentine served as canteen workers in the Vassar YMCA unit; Cutler was a social worker in the Vassar Red Cross unit; Roberts was a trained nurse at U.S. Base Hospital No. 2, attached to General Hospital No.1, American Expeditionary Forces.
"Germans Reach Versailles, Treaty to be Signed Today." The New York Times
Mount Holyoke, Smith, Vassar and Wellesley adopted a new plan of admission, with competitive examinations superseding admission by certificate.
Vassar announced that a larger than expected number of students in the upper classes might require a reduction in the number of freshmen when the college opened on September 20. Enrollment in the previous year had been 1,014, with 317 freshmen.
Fall Convocation inaugurated the academic year. 1,117 students were enrolled, about 300 of them freshmen. We know this year," Professor of Psychology Margaret Floy Washburn '91 told the freshmen in the Class of 1923, "that there is nothing which society so needs in its bewilderment and its disillusionment—nothing which it so needs as accurate, impartial thought, based upon a full and critical weighing of the facts."
A gift to the college was announced: $100,000 from Blanch Ferry Hooker ‘94 and Queene Ferry Coonley ’96 for the erection of an Alumnae House.
John Livingston Lowes, Lowell lecturer at Harvard University, spoke on “'The Fine Frenzy' and 'The Quiet Eye': A Study in Poetic Inspiration." In his book about Vassar, The Hickory Limb, President MacCracken recalled Lowes's visit and his participation as judge in a campus competition: “The ‘doorblocks,’ pads suspended on bedroom doors to receive messages when the occupant was absent or oak-bound, invited scribbles in rhyme, and for a time doorblocks flourished as a type of occasional verse. Some of them were so witty that they were preserved in student albums and memory books. I once offered a prize for the best doorblock, and John Livingston Lowes of Harvard not only was good enough to act as judge, but came to college and delivered his famous essay ‘The Fine Frenzy and the Quiet Eye.’ Much of it later appeared in his great book The Road to Xanadu.”
Professor Lowes lectured at the college in March 1922 on "Convention and Revolt in Poetry" and again in 1932 at the commemoration of the centennial of the death of Goethe.