The trustees approved "The Vassar Plan,” a formula for investment in common stock. The plan was perfected by Ray Morris, chairman of the committee on investments and finance of the board of trustees. Mr. Morris, a founding partner of the private bank Brown Bothers Harriman & Co., served as trustee from 1922 until 1941 and again from 1942 until 1948.
Students who had been living in the cooperative apartment in Blodgett Hall moved to Palmer House, which had been remodeled for use as a cooperative house.
The east wing was added to Palmer House, Faulkner & Kingsbury, architects.
Professor Nikander Strelsky offered a course in comparative Slavonic literature for the first time. Students in the first semester Russian course surveyed that literature from the 13th century epic, the Lay of Igor’s Raid, to the “New Economic Policy” of 1928, with attention to works by Pushkin, Gogol, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Bunin and Gorky. Some reading was included in Soviet realism and the proletarian novel and drama.
Russian history had been taught at Vassar since 1907, and a course in the contemporary history of Southeastern Europe introduced in 1917 had gradually expanded to include the recent history of Poland, Germany and Czechoslovakia, along with Austria, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Rumania, Bulgaria, Albania and Greece.
Professor Strelsky first offered a non-credit Russian language course in 1931, and the course was first given for credit in 1935. Many of the readings in his new comparative literature course, from Polish, Czech, Yugoslav and Bulgarian writers, were read in translation.
Under the direction of Christine Ramsey ‘29 of the English department and George Sherman Dickinson, the chair of the music department, the college broadcast the first Vassar radio program, from an improvised studio in a room in Skinner Hall adjacent to the concert hall. Through an arrangement with Peter Goelet, owner of WGNY, a station near Newburgh, the broadcast, the first in a planned series of 15-minute programs on Tuesdays and Thursdays from12:45 pm until 1, reached most of Dutchess, Orange, Ulster and Sullivan Counties.
The first program, violin and piano music, was presented by music Professor Quincy Porter, pianist John Crouch, an assistant professor—and Porter’s wife—the violinist Lois Brown. Future plans, drawn up by a committee of students and faculty, included concerts from the concert hall by the college choir, the glee club and the orchestra and dramatic sketches, faculty talks and recitals by the verse-speaking choir.
George Coleman Gow, professor emeritus of music, died at the age of 77. Joining the Vassar faculty in 1895, shortly after the discontinuation of the School of Music, Gow was responsible for the development of the modern music department and oversight of the development and construction of the Belle Skinner Hall of Music.
Spanish author, diplomat and historian Salvador de Madariaga offered “A Plea for Aristocratic Government” in an address sponsored by the Political Association. A former ambassador to the United States and France and former representative to the League of Nations, de Madariaga was touring the country denouncing the Fascist régime of Francisco Franco in Spain.
De Madariaga’s sister, Pilar, taught Spanish at Vassar since 1929.
President MacCracken spoke on “The American Youth Congress” on New York City radio station WMCA. The American congress and the American Student Union—by far the largest activist youth groups in America—were hosting the World Youth Congress in New York City and at Vassar in August.
President MacCracken defended modern education from critics on the right and on the left in an address at the annual New York Vassar Club luncheon. Vassar's progressive curriculum had recently drawn fire from intellectuals at, for example, the University of Chicago, where President Robert Maynard Hutchins and philosopher Mortimer Adler had condemned such relatively pragmatic studies as modern languages and social sciences as not classically collegiate. Other conservatives had criticized the college’s political activism, while critics on the radical left were claiming the college was out of touch with the real world. But President MacCracken, sharing the podium at the Waldorf Astoria with Chancellor Harry W. Chase of New York University, told the alumnae that criticism of the college from the right, the center and the extreme left helped to focus the efforts of Vassar students, faculty and trustees.
Of critics on the left he said, The New York Times reported, "While we cannot agree with their point of view, we can respect them for the new life they have brought into the college atmosphere. However, criticism from the left falls to the ground because they fail to apply to others the freedom they demand for themselves." Such criticism, he told over 300 alumnae “only makes us more than ever aware of the responsibility of placing before the students the historical background which justifies our belief in democracy. If there is any unifying principle in the college we will not seek it out in humanism, metaphysics or revolution, but we must seek it in democracy.”
Chancellor Chase agreed, but with a demurral. “Democracies have come to the point at which they have to defend themselves against a resurgence of barbaric ideas not felt for generations,” he said. “More and more it seems to me that colleges are our strongest bulwarks of democracy, but their importance as an agency for civilization has dropped in the background.” The New York Times
Metropolitan Opera singers, Lauritz Melchior, Danish-born operatic tenor, and German dramatic soprano Mme. Dorothée Manski gave the first Barbara Woods Morgan Memorial Concert. The fund supporting the concerts was given by the Class of 1935 in memory of their classmate, Barbara Woods Morgan ‘35, a devoted student of music.
The Anschluss: Austria was occupied and annexed by Germany. Hitler entered Vienna in triumph on March 14.
The bimillennium of Augustus Caesar was commemorated by the department of Latin, with an exhibition of coins, manuscripts and rare bindings in the Library and a festival at which poems and essays on the Augustan age were read. The event’s aim was to recall and revivify the age of peace Romans enjoyed under Augustus.
In his keynote address, “The Art of the Augustan Age,” Karl Lehmann-Hartleben, Professor of Classical Archaeology at New York University discussed a marble relief of a draped woman’s head which he had seen at Vassar on a former visit. Recently completed research, he said, identified it as the work of a master sculptor of the famous Ara Pacis Augustae, the Roman Altar of Peace commissioned by the Roman Senate in 13 BCE to honor Augustus.
The Metropolitan Museum drew from the Vassar collection, along with those at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Pierpont Morgan Library, the American Numismatic Society and several Italian museums, for its commemorative Augustan art exhibition which opened on January 4, 1939.
The division of drama, established under the chairmanship of Professor of English Winifred Smith, '04, offered for the coming year a new major field for students interested in dramatic literature as well as in the theater.
Professor of Music Quincy Porter conducted the New York Philharmonic Society Orchestra’s performance of his Symphony no. 1 at Carnegie Hall. Porter, who came to Vassar in 1932, resigned in June, 1938, to become the dean of the faculty at the New England Conservatory of Music.
Speaking to economics classes at Vassar, Thomas J. Watson, president of the International Business Machines Corporation and of the International Chamber of Commerce, praised the Roosevelt administration’s moves to exert controls over world import and export to avoid the need for military intervention across international borders. He noted, however, that the United States stood to suffer, particularly from the loss of imports.
In a review, The New York Times noted “first-hand evidence as to the variety and vigor of intellectual interests of Vassar College” in the 11th annual volume of The Vassar Journal of Undergraduate Studies. The volume’s 17 essays, in the fields of architecture, sculpture and painting, English literature and Russian aesthetics, astronomy and mathematics, geography, physiology, sociology and economics, ranged from the architectural drawings of Elizabeth Hird ’37 and translations from the Russian by Isabelle Yoffe ’39 and Margaret Hazen ’38 to analyses by Margaret Vanderbilt ’37, Bettina Garthwaite ’37 and Vivan Liebman ’38 of, respectively, Virginia Woolf’s debt to painterly techniques, the comparative physical fitness of athletes and non-athletes as shown by a study of 20 Vassar students and the economics of national socialism. Katherine Gordon ‘38 and Doris Roosen-Raad ’38 collaborated on the summation and correlation of previous astronomical research on the structure and rotation of the galaxy.
Russian constructivist sculptor Naum Gabo spoke on the occasion of an exhibition of his Constructions in Space. Professor of Art Agnes Rindge, the gallery’s director, said, “This is designed to electrify students and startle the alumnae as far as possible…. The whole operation of Taylor Hall and the Art Department is designed to belong to the present day…. We believe that the history of art has continuity right up to 1938, in spite of the fact that the department obliges students to begin acquaintance with the subject nearly four thousand years ago.” Vassar Alumnae Magazine
Poor weather over Southampton, L. I., cancelled most events of the 3rd annual New England Intercollegiate Air Conference and thus the participation of Molly Cook Cummings ’40 in the .360 spot-landing event. Growing up with an aviatrix mother who flew with her small daughter under the George Washington Bridge “because it was so tempting,” Cummings was the only woman in the small, informal meet that included participants representing Yale, Harvard, MIT, Amherst, Pennsylvania and Kenyon.
When the rescheduled event took place, on June 12, a woman from Stanford had joined the conference. Cummings tied with an Amherst flier for 2nd in bomb-dropping and was 3rd in the .360 spot landing. Harvard was the overall winner. The New York Times
Many years later, Cummings recalled her first competition, near New Haven. When her 2nd place finish in the spot-landing event attracted the attention of LIFE magazine, it also unfortunately attracted the attention of Vassar’s dean. “I was told,” she recalled in 2007, “I had no right to represent the college, as flying wasn’t in the curriculum.” Greenwich Magazine
Students organized a Flying Club, independent of the college, in 1944.
The Vassar Brothers Laboratory, the first separate laboratory building at a college for women when it opened in 1880, was razed. More recently housing the departments of psychology and economics, the building was judged too expensive to renovate. The departments of psychology and economics were given quarters in Blodgett Hall.
The Associate Alumnae sent a resolution to President MacCracken “expressing their appreciation to [him] for his devoted service to the college, his tolerance, his humanity, his broad understanding of the needs of youth in the modern world, and his defense of American principles of liberal thought.” Trustee Minutes.
Harriot Stanton Blatch, the president of the Class of ’78, led the parade as some 800 alumnae gathered on campus for Class Day, 1938. President MacCracken spoke to them on the subject of youth. “Youth wants above all,” he said, “to ‘belong.’ It asks to be taken seriously into all phases of life: government, church, school, business. It wants to be trusted, to be given its full share of intelligent responsibility. When that is done, there is no ‘youth problem,’ in the sense of any problem separate from general economic and social problems. The sooner we ask youth to share our own problems, the sooner we shall solve them.”
Dirndls were the dress of choice at the Class of 1938 exercises in the Outdoor Theater. Both the sophomores carrying the daisy chain and the entire graduating class, with the exception of the principle players in the class’s skit, “Senior White and the Twenty-six Daisies”—a satire on Walt Disney’s 1937 film—wore the winsome heroine’s costume. Janice Green ’38 composed “The Song of the Dirndl” and the daisy chain’s song.
Philaletheis performed Peter Pan in the Outdoor Theater in the evening. The New York Times
Led by Dean C. Mildred Thompson ’03, 75 members of the faculty petitioned President Roosevelt to lift the munitions embargo on Spain.
Delivering the baccalaureate sermon for the Class of 1938, Willard L. Sperry, dean of the Harvard Divinity School, took his text from Psalm 137:4 “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” Contrasting the “familiar and sheltered scene” of the college with the “strange land” the world outside was becoming, he said “The margin of uncertainty for untold millions of persons in this world is wider today than ever before,” and, he added, “Nothing is more sure than that the future has in store for all of us journeys into what will be culturally far countries, perhaps even mental exile in alien space.” Therefore, he warned, the old ways “of religion, whether in faith or morals, are not going to suffice our need. We shall need new insights into the nature of truth and duty.” The New York Times
Conferring the bachelor’s degree on 257 members of the Class of 1938, President MacCracken addressed the class on “Ideologies.” Pointing to the dominance of ideology over reason in the regimes of Hitler and Mussolini, he said “reason is put into uniform and marches with the mass.”
Turning to recent efforts to struggles closer to home, MacCracken said, “If, in the last analysis, the destinies of the republic are settled in the classroom, then what goes on there is of infinite importance. And that we all have an inkling of this may be judged by the anxiety of those who have ideologies to market. They want to control academic policy. Fundamentally, they do not want real history, real science or real art, but their own ideological version of it.
“Therefore, as president of Vassar College, an institution in the free and liberal tradition of the higher learning, I ask your support of our present policy, which, so far as we are supported, we shall maintain: objective rather that subjective interpretation of social phenomena, free and untrammeled inquiry into every field of learning, honest and fair comparison of our own work with that of others, admission of our own shortcomings, a courteous hearing of criticism from whatever source, devotion to the religion that sets others before ourselves, inculcation of the spirit and loyalty, not to a fabricated ideology, but to the laws of God and His universe, and action consistent with our attitude; this is the policy to which today we pledge renewed allegiance.”
Helen Kenyon ’05, chairman of the board of trustees, announced that gifts to the college totaled $212,915, of which $117,944 was for the endowment and $94,971 was for current use. The New York Times
After a decade’s discussion of student religious needs and the advisability of having a religious officer in a non-sectarian college, the Rev. C. Victor Brown was appointed lecturer in applied religion and faculty advisor to the Community Church.
The Second World Youth Congress was held at the college. Over 550 representatives from 53 countries attended. Soviet Russia, Germany and Italy were unrepresented and Japan and Santo Domingo seated only observers. In this country, the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America boycotted the congress.
Festivities at the municipal stadium at Randalls Island in New York City greeted the international delegates. Some 23,000 persons heard Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia’s welcome the young participants and his wry encouragement to them: “I don’t know what the conference will accomplish, but I do know that you can’t accomplish less than a disarmament conference. This is the answer of the peace-loving people of the world…to the great manoeuvres that start in Europe today.” Other speakers included the president of the French Chamber of Deputies, the secretary general of the League of Nations, the Czech minister of foreign affairs and President MacCracken, the chairman of the United States sponsoring committee. Spokesmen representing five continents greeted the delegates, and music and dancing from around the world—including a “mass demonstration of the collegiate shag by members of the American Student Union”—entertained them. A Book of International Fellowship containing the signatures of 200,000 American well-wishers was presented to the organization’s English international secretary, Elizabeth Shields-Collins.
No similar welcome greeted the delegates when they reached Poughkeepsie on the afternoon of August 16th. The New York Times reported that Acting Mayor William Duggan said he “had given no orders for a reception because of what he termed the group’s ‘internationalism.’” Instead, a large informal gathering featured a brass band that played the national songs of many of the delegates’ countries. Helen Kenyon ’05, the chairman of Vassar’s board of trustees, greeted the delegates’ steamer when it arrived at the Poughkeepsie dock.
In the evening, after a dinner that included corn on the cob and blueberry pie, the delegates heard more formal welcomes from President MacCracken and Mrs. Franklin Roosevelt.
At the plenary session in the Students’ Building on its first full day, the congress heard reports from representatives of 14 countries on four continents about conditions in their countries and about their notions of how international peace could come about. Australian political apathy, Belgian multi-lingualism and unemployment, Bulgarian wariness about the first world congress’s failure to coalesce and Canadian multicultural turmoil sometimes echoed and other times contrasted with Chinese shock at the Japanese invasion, Colombian yearning for democratic Pan Americanism, Czech determination to democratize its different cultures and Danish pride at Scandinavian solidarity, to give a broad and challenging world picture. A British delegate’s announcement that a pact of friendship uniting British, Canadian, American and French youth groups was being drafted contrasted with the report from Holland that no effective way had yet been discovered to unite elements of its youth movement either internally or in an international sense. An Indian delegate lamented the illiteracy and low life expectancy in his country, blaming both on the British.
Four commissions were established to gather information and lead discussions on the political and economic collaboration for peace, the cultural and economic status of youth, the religious and philosophical bases of peace and the international role of youth.
On August 18, a breakthrough occurred when the American delegation—ranging from young communists and union members to students and members of religious youth movements—was able to agree unanimously on a seven-point program for world peace, which they presented to the congress. The measures included arms reduction, economic reconstruction in the name of equality and abstention from the use of force and from interference in the internal affairs of other nations. Reviewing the seven points, The New York Times observed that they closely paralleled points laid our two days earlier by Secretary of State Cordell Hull.
The following day James G. McDonald, former high commissioner of the League of Nations, spoke about the worldwide refugee situation, noting that among the Americas only the United States had committed to accepting upwards of 27,000 refugees yearly. “Go back to your countries,” he said, “and say to your governments that there is being offered to them an opportunity to enrich themselves with the…intelligence of some of the finest people in the world.” His remarks came after a detailed discussion of the plight of subject peoples was reported on by representatives from Ethiopa, Korea, Czechoslovakia, Puerto Rico and Palestine.
Concurrent with the congress at Vassar, Texas Representative Martin Dies, co-founder of the House Committee Investigating Un-American Activities, had been conducting hearings during which the Youth Congress had been called a communist front and President MacCracken had been identified as a communist. On August 21, Joseph Cadden, the Brown University graduate who chaired the United States delegation, apologized to the foreign delegates for the “rude and stupid” maligning of the Youth Congress and its work. Cadden wrote to Congressman Dies, asking to be invited to his committee to discuss the congress and the international organization with 40,000,000 members that sponsored it.
The previous day, Professor Nikander Strelsky had written to Representative Dies, protesting the characterization before his committee of Professor Hallie Flanagan Davis, on leave from Vassar to direct the Federal Theatre Project, as a communist and of plays she had produced as subversive. Irreproachable critics, he noted, had praised production after production by Davis. “‘The Living Newspaper,’” he wrote, referring to one of her innovative productions, “denounced as subversive and communistic, has been acclaimed by the same critics for its clarity in dealing, in an American way, with problems of American life.”
Strelsky’s defense of Davis was echoed in a letter sent to Dies the same day by Poughkeepsie resident and leading Catholic playwright Emmet Lavery, a director for the Federal Theatre, demanding to be called before the committee and urging the congressman to examine “the complete list of plays” produced by the Federal Theatre and “the vast amount of theatre research” done by the project.
The World Youth Congress concluded on August 23 with the signing, by 47 of the 53 delegations present, of “the Vassar pact,” a declaration of peace and friendship on a basis of collective security. While a majority of the American delegation endorsed the pact’s six articles, a considerable minority—largely socialist, pacifist and religious representatives—denounced it and argued that it had been forced on the congress by the executive leadership. Their main objection was to Article IV:
We agree to bring pressure to bear, whenever the circumstances arise, upon our respective authorities to take the necessary concerted action to prevent aggression and to bring it to an end, to give effective assistance to the victims of treaty violations and aggression and to refrain from participating in any aggression whether in the form of supply of essential war materials or of financial assistance.
President MacCracken praised the delegates and their work, urging them not to refrain from association with “Fascists or Communists, religionists or irreligionists,” if such associations could promote the cause of peace in the world. The New York Times
Experiencing fewer withdrawals than expected, the college opened with 1,240 students, well above the 1,200 student limit set by the trustees. Over 300 of the 350 freshmen registered for English classes, and over 200 were enrolled in history classes and in French classes.
Cooperative housing moved from Blodgett Hall to the remodeled farmhouse on the former Wing Farm, which the college had acquired in 1923. Renamed Palmer House, in honor of Jean Culbert Palmer ’93—warden from 1915 until her death in 1929—the new cooperative house accommodated 23 students.
Announcing that “Our isolationist days are over,” Alumnae House opened the Pub, a soda-fountain and sandwich bar, to encourage students and faculty to keep coming up the hill.
A tropical hurricane inflicted severe damage on colleges up and down the East Coast. At Brown, 100 year-old elms were downed and $25,000 damage was done to buildings. Radcliffe’s director of buildings and grounds was killed while working to remove a tree that had fallen through the administration building. The power plant’s chimney at Connecticut College fell over, shutting off light and water to the campus, and Wesleyan lost over 200 of its 300 large elms and oaks. At Vassar, twelve large trees were uprooted, the Shakespeare Garden was flooded and 200 tons of coal washed out of the “coal pocket,” into Sunset Lake and out through the Fonteyn Kill to the Hudson.
Professor of English Amy Reed ’92 dismissed a cliché, telling students in her convocation address not to think of the four years of college merely as a preparation for the future but also as living for its own sake. “You have come,” she said, “to a college with a self-governing faculty, a self-governing student body and a president who refuses to be a despot…. A sound democracy does not consist of a number of people all named Zero and led by a brilliant leader. It requires, on the other hand, the hearty and persistent cooperation of highly developed personalities who are free from the wish to dominate others.” The New York Times
Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier signed the Munich agreement, allowing German annexation of the Czech Sudetenland.
“Cels”—watercolors on celluloid used in animated films—from Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) went on view in Taylor Hall.
Speaking on "The Meaning of History" at Sunday evening Chapel, Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr, professor of applied Christianity at Union Theological Seminary, claimed that "all notions about simple meanings of history have proved themselves false." A writer for The Miscellany News reported, "Professor Niebuhr said that the old Biblical idea of a meaningful history—a history which is moving toward a climax, 'an ultimate Apocalypse'—is beginning to be accepted again today. This concept was rejected for many centuries and replaced by simple but false philosophies."
Reviewing early Christian, Aristotelian, Platonic and Helgelian concepts of history, Niebuhr claimed the "modern mind is returning to the Biblical interpretation. People are once more realizing that human life has limitless possibilities of both good and evil.... In the discussion which followed in Main parlors, Mr. Niebuhr stated that the only absolute standard of good is to 'love thy neighbor as thyself'; the sole alternative to this is relativism, which will end in nihilism. In Europe today...the powers for good are cowardly, while the forces for destruction are agressive."
This was the sixth of many visits by Reinhold Niebuhr to Vassar.
The Classical Museum was opened in Avery Hall. Gisela M.A. Richter, the curator of classical art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, spoke on "The Adventure of Archaeology in a Museum."
In response to an appeal from 15 Czech alumnae to President MacCracken for aid to Czech refugees, a benefit show was given by Christine Ramsey ‘29 and Alan Porter, from the English department, Clair Leonard from the music department, Professor of Greek Philip Davis and a student sextette.
$850 was raised and sent to the alumnae group.
Kristallnacht, the coordinated attack on Jews in Nazi Germany, resulted in 91 deaths, some 30,000 arrests and incarcerations and the destruction of nearly 300 synagogues.
Meeting for the first time below the Mason-Dixon line, the Associate Alumnae of Vassar College met in Williamsburg, VA. President and Mrs. MacCracken and Dean C. Mildred Thompson ’03 joined the gathering, which heard an address from John Stewart Bryan, president of the College of William and Mary.
Lotte Lehmann, German operatic soprano, gave the Barbara Woods Morgan Memorial Concert.
Professor Erwin Panofsky, Princeton University, lectured on "The NeoPlatonic Movement of the Renaissance and Its Reflection in Michelangelo."
The Experimental Theatre, directed by Esther Porter Power '32, gave the first performance of Vassar's Folly, written by members of the playwriting class of 1937/38 in the graphic style of the living newspaper. The play was later revised and a second part added for presentation at the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the College, June 1940.