October 11, 1915
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.