October 13, 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.”