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.