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.