Anthropologist Margaret Mead, assistant curator of ethnology at the American Museum of Natural History and visiting lecturer on child study and anthropology at Vassar for the 1940-41 academic year, spoke on personality development in a Vassar Radio Workshop program broadcast from WGNY in Newburgh, NY.

A close colleague Professor Joseph Folsom at Vassar and a student of Columbia University anthropologist Ruth Benedict '09, Dr. Mead was a frequent visitor to the college.  In 1941-42 she was visiting lecturer in economics at Vassar.

President Roosevelt delivered his “Four Freedoms” address in his report to Congress on the state of the union.  He said, in part:

“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

“The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world.

“The second is the freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world.

“The third is freedom from want—which translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.

“The fourth is freedom from fear—which translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.

“That is no vision of a distant millennium.  It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation.  That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.”     Erik Bruun and Jay Crosby, eds., Our Nation’s Archive: the History of the United States in Documents

For the first time the Social Museum in Blodgett Hall mounted an international exhibit, a study of social issues in Latin America.  Students from classes in anthropology, international trade, geography, hygiene and sociology and their professors, aided by the chairman of the Spanish department, Associate Professor of Spanish Margarita de Mayo, examined question of trade between the United States and Latin American countries, major industries, climate, labor and health conditions, social and political structures and their varieties among the individual nations.  “Latin America,” the authors of the exhibit declared, “and the myriad problems involved in the formulation of the ‘good neighbor’ program have been chosen at this time because we believe that the amount of rainfall in Brazil, and what happens to Bolivian tin, are important to Vassar College and the citizens of Dutchess County.”     The New York Times

The Political Association sponsored a conference on "Higher Education and the Defense of Democracy," featuring speakers and panel discussions on curriculum changes in relation to present needs, academic freedom and the relations of colleges to society and the government. 

Lorna Stephenson ’41 was among the three sponsors of a “Youth Petition to Congress” signed by 350 college students and calling for “full American support to the forces fighting nazism.”  “Older people,” the petition said, “can buy a few years of comparative truce by appeasement.  It is our generation that would pay for those years by living an impoverished life in an utterly hostile world….  We are not afraid of the consequences of giving the enemies of nazism everything they need to secure victory.  We are desperately afraid of the consequences of giving too little and too late.”     The New York Times

President Roosevelt signed the Lend Lease Act, giving him unlimited ability to “lend-lease or otherwise dispose of arms” or other military supplies needed by any country whose security was vital to the defense of the United States.

Demonstrating the techniques of the New Criticism, I.A. Richards, Harvard University, lectured on "A Reading of the First Twelve Lines of John Donne's 'An Anatomy of the World.'" 


Having received an anonymous gift of $475,000 during its 75th anniversary year, 1940, the college announced plans for a graduate Division of Conservation.  Faculty from the departments of geology, plant science, psychology and zoology offered courses toward a master’s degree in conservation. The donor was later revealed to be Dr. Helen C. Putnam ’78, a pioneer in physical education and co-founder of the American Child Health Association.  Prior to earning her medical degree, she was the director of physical education at Vassar.  

The Helen Gates Putnam Endowment Fund for Conservation was given in honor of Dr. Putnam’s parents.  The college’s announcement indicated that while specific research projects would play a part in the degree, a central focus would be the general values of conservation in the physical and social development of the country.

The New York Times reported that Vassar students and faculty had, in six weeks’ time, raised $12,000 for war relief, through personal contributions, benefit performances and “Sunday night sandwich sales in college residence houses.”  The proceeds were distributed among a number of agencies.

As a guest of the faculty-student emergency committee, Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke to the Vassar student body.  Acknowledging that the world situation faced women with pressure to do something of immediate usefulness, she asked her audience to remember first their continual contribution, as women in the home, the workplace and the community.  A great nation, she pointed out, functions by little segments, and women are uniquely placed in American society to sustain those segments, so that the overall national fabric remains strong.  “I know,” she said, “that many of you are anxious above everything else for return of peace.  You must prepare for that time.  You must make no compromise with cruelty, or greed, or any of the things you can’t believe in.  You must plan for a kind of peace out of which you can build a world, if you will work, which will not bring us again to where we are today.”     The New York Times

Kathryn Starbuck ’11 was elected chair of the Vassar board of trustees, succeeding Morris Hadley.  Dr. James L. McConaughy, president of Wesleyan University, and Henry Chandler Holt, vice president of Central Hanover Bank and Trust, were elected to fill two vacancies on the board.  Elizabeth Moffatt Drouilhet ’30 was elected warden, succeeding Eleanor C. Dodge ’25 who had served in the post since 1931 and who had recently married.

Ernst Krenek, composer, and Emmet Lavery, author and playwright, presented a laboratory première of their opera, Tarquin, under the auspices of the Experimental Theatre. The work was an attempt to join modern music and modern drama in a form that its creators called “singing theater.”  Scored in the twelve-tone method for a cast of seven—three speaking parts and four singing parts—and an orchestra of six, the opera, while drawing its title from the Etruscan noble, was a satire on Adolf Hitler.  In this production, Mr. Krenek was the pianist and Mr. Lavery, the director; the cast was drawn from The Experimental Theatre and the music department.  

An Austrian émigré, Krenek was a member of the department of music from 1939 until 1942. 

Anne O'Hare McCormick, foreign correspondent and member of the Editorial Council of The New York Times, gave the second Helen Kenyon Lecture, "Ourselves and Europe." The lecture was published by the college. 

Poet Marianne Moore, former editor of the Dial, lectured on "Poetry Today, Some Technical Problems." She returned to the college in 1954 and 1955 to read her poetry. 

The German battleship Bismarck sank the British battle cruiser HMS Hood.  The Bismarck, severely damaged by aircraft from the carrier HMS Ark Royal, sank in the North Atlantic.

Marvin Breckinridge Patterson ’27, foreign correspondent for CBS and recently returned from Germany, spoke at the alumnae luncheon.  A protégé of Edward R. Murrow and the first female news correspondent for the CBS World News Roundup, Breckinridge had famously slipped a barbed assessment of Germany under the Nazis past the severe German censors.  Describing the Nazi newspaper Voelkische Beobachter, she observed, “The motto of this important official paper is Freedom and Bread.  There is still bread.”

Seniors, alumnae, parents and other guests celebrated Class Day for the Class of 1941 at the Outdoor Theater.  The graduating class, dressed in sports dresses, performed a brief skit, in which one of the members, apparently conforming to a statistical profile, revealed her desire to marry a Yale man, have 2.1 children, attend an Episcopal church and vote Republican.

Speaking at the Baccalaureate service for the Class of 1941, Dr. William Allen Neilson, president emeritus of Smith College, recalled hearing, as a student in Edinburgh, a British ambassador to France claim that personal moral principles don’t apply well to relations between nations.  Exploring this notion in the light of the current state of the world, he told the graduating class, “It is apparently tacitly assumed by many speakers and writers that self-defense needs no defense.  It has no limits…. It is not fair to our people to take it for granted in all discussion that self-protection is our only concern.  There are more important things for individuals and nations than safety; we do care more for decency, for mercy, for justice, for other conditions that make it possible to develop the good life.  We have done ourselves an injustice in conducting discussion as if our own safety was our highest concern.”

After the service, a tablet in memory of Dr. Charles William Moulton was unveiled in Sanders Laboratory of Chemistry by his granddaughter, Katherine Moulton, '43.  Dr. Moulton came to Vassar in 1892 as Associate Professor of Chemistry, when chemistry and physics were taught in a single department. He became head of the chemistry department on its creation two years later, a position he retained until his death in 1924.      The New York Times

President MacCracken conferred the bachelor’s degree on 244 members of the Class of 1941, in the Chapel.  In his address to the class he urged them to carry with them always a phrase from a play by Edna St. Vincent Millay ’17, “There is no wall.”  Disparities of age, experience or knowledge, he said, should never appear as barriers between generations, races, languages or nations.

The chairman of the board of trustees, Kathryn Starbuck ’11, announced that gifts to the college in the past year totaled $298,975, of which $97,222 was for current use and $201, 753 was for endowment and annuity.     The New York Times

The government impounded German and Italian assets in the United States.

Katherine Hubbell ’44 won her second straight girls’ intercollegiate tennis singles championship, defeating Lonny Myers ’45 in the finals at the Longwood Cricket Club in Brookline, MA.  She and Barbara Brandt from Smith defeated Miss Myers and Frances Prindle ’42 for the doubles championship.  This was also Miss Hubbell’s second straight doubles championship.

Three Vassar students and a recent graduate accompanied Professor Maxine Sweezy from the department of economics and sociology on a month’s field trip to Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Tennessee, visiting mills, coal fields, manufacturing sites and housing developments and speaking with union leaders, workers, managers, Polish and Czech community leasers and members of local chambers of commerce. They went to an agricultural resettlement project in Arthurdale, WV, and in Tennessee they spent ten days in Norris Park, studying the TVA, visited the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle and looked into the copper mines and concomitant erosion problems in Ducktown.

The object of the expedition, undertaken in a station wagon belonging to one of the students, was to provide on-site experience as an aid to class presentations and discussions in the fall.     The New York Times

Shortly after occupying Lwów, a city of some 380,000 in the Ukraine, German troops murdered 25 professors, their families and guests, beginning an extermination of Jews that would claim some 120,000 lives.

On a ship off the coast of Newfoundland, President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill signed the Atlantic Charter, outlining peacetime goals “after the final destruction of the Nazi tyranny.”  The text included the “four freedoms” outlined by Roosevelt in his State of the Union Address in January.

Vassar trustee Dr. Barbara Stimson ’19 and Dr. Achsa Bean, one of four physicians in the Vassar health service, sailed for England, the first of ten American doctors requested by the British Emergency Medical Service.  Dr. Stimson, a specialist in fractures, was the niece of United States Secretary of War Henry Stimson, and her sister, Julia Stimson ’01, the president of the American Nurses Association, had attained the rank of Major and was decorated by the French government for her service abroad during World War I.

Germany launched the siege of Leningrad, which would last nearly three years.

Following a series of attacks on American vessels by German submarines, President Roosevelt announced that he had ordered the navy to attack German and Italian war ships in “waters which we deem necessary to our defense.”

In her convocation address Professor of Latin Elizabeth Hazelton Haight ’94 declared the readiness and willingness of the Vassar faculty to aid the country: "Many of the faculty are already registered with the government in full dossiers, showing their specialties and avocations, which indicate the lines of work for which they can be called on in case of need. Some of the women on the faculty have already been commandeered or have volunteered for service. Prof. Mabel Newcomer of the Department of Economics is serving on a committee of experts which [United States Treasury] Secretary Morgenthau appointed to do research work for the United States Treasury on a comprehensive survey of federal, state and local revenue systems. Prof. Agnes Rindge of the Department of Art in her leave of absence is serving under the Council of National Defense in the Division of Cultural Relations between the American Republics. She is one of the two Executive Secretaries of the Committee on Art.  Prof. Ruth Wheeler of the Department of Physiology is Chairman of a Committee on Nutrition for Dutchess County which is making a study of the dietary needs of the district with special reference to the malnutrition of children. And Doctor Achsa Bean of Vassar's medical staff, with our trustee, Doctor Barbara Stimson, has volunteered under the Red Cross for a year of service in Great Britain. These are a few examples from our own faculty of the varied lines of service which are open to American women now. Women who are well trained are going to be called upon more and more."

The college published Professor Haight’s remarks under the title, “Education for Service.”

On October 10, President Roosevelt sent a message to Congress, calling German attacks on American shipping intolerable.  Fearing that isolationists would tie up repeal of neutrality legislation passed the previous year, he asked instead for repeal of certain restrictions, so that he could arm merchant vessels.  Claiming that Hitler was trying to drive the American flag from the seas “either by his submarines, his airplanes or his threats,” Roosevelt said, “It is time for this country to stop playing into Hitler’s hands, and to unshackle our own.”

A few days later, 122 members of the Vassar Faculty sent a letter of support to the President:

“We, members of the faculty of Vassar College, in our capacity as citizens, wish to express our agreement with your pronounced policy that the defeat of Hitlerism is necessary for the survival of the freedom of America.

“To this end we pledge our support of the measures you propose in your message to Congress and such others as may be necessary to the defense of our nation against the greatest menace to liberty we have ever had to face.”     The New York Times

11 sailors aboard the destroyer USS Kearney became the first American military casualties of World War II when they died after their ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat near Iceland.

Curt Sachs, professor of music at the graduate school, New York University, lectured on "The Origin of Music." 

Jane Plimpton ’42, Associate Professor of History Charles Griffin and Joseph Lash, general secretary of the International Student Service, welcomed 54 student delegates from 14 colleges, including Harvard, New York University, Mount Holyoke, Radcliffe, Barnard, West Point, Swarthmore and the University of Pennsylvania, to a conference on national morale, sponsored jointly by the student-faculty Vassar Political Association and the International Student Service, a Federal agency for international education.  Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt joined Mr. Lash, Massachusetts Democratic congressman Thomas H. Eliot, Francis J. Brown, consultant to the American Council on Education, Captain G. J. Weitzel from West Point and Private John Dahlberg in the opening conversation.  The discussion moved from the interaction between civilian and military morale to considerations of how both communities might support the inevitable increase of civilians in uniform as the nation prepared for war.  Mr. Brown, according to The New York Times, summarized three major challenges in the present situation: “How to render ‘service without sentimentality’ to the draftees.  How to keep a sense of the continuity of life for both drafted men and the nation, realizing the importance of planning for a world beyond emergency. How to lay the foundation for a permanent peace, not through ‘policing’ but through world brotherhood.”

During the two-day conference the delegates were addressed by several experts on civilian and military morale, including Hungarian journalist and novelist Hans Habe [Janos Békessy] an escapee from a Nazi camp who had immigrated to the United States.  They also attended a special production of The Experimental Theatre, Reveille: 1941, a “living newspaper” play, written by Vassar students, focusing on conditions in the draft camps.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York announced that the Vassar Bank of Arlington had been admitted to membership.

Mary Draper ’42 was one of four young people discussing the desires and methods of American youth in achieving a “democratic moral code” on the radio program “America’s Town Meeting of the Air.”  The other participants were a young woman from Stephens College in Missouri and two young men, one a clerk in a 42nd Street bookshop and the other the president of the Young Men’s Board of Trade.  Miss Draper, differing from her colleague from Missouri, asserted that women’s place was “on a par with men.”  Citing statistics showing that working women managed healthy and happy homes, she said women needed to do things outside the home to help men “build a world that makes more sense.”

During a lively question and answer session with the audience, when asked if she thought a woman could be both President of the United States and a mother, she replied, “You’ve got me there.  If a woman ever got to be President, I think she’d have to concentrate on that.”     The New York Times

Mary Draper Janney was chair of the Vassar board of trustees from 1981 until 1989.

As part of the Rotary Club's observance of "Vassar Week," President MacCracken talked to the Poughkeepsie Club on "How a Poughkeepsie Business Man Founded Vassar College." The speech was later published by the Poughkeepsie Savings Bank. 

Under the direction of Hallie Flanagan Davis the Experimental Theatre presented T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the, Cathedral (1935). The part of the doomed Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket was played by Assistant Professor of Political Science C. Gordon Post, and Assistant Professor of Music Clair Leonard supplied a musical complement to Eliot's choral texts, which he performed on the organ. Writing in The Miscellany News, Nancy Hallinan '42 praised "the chanting in fifths, and the antiphony of voices singing and speaking at the same time" in Leonard's setting. "The overture," she continued, "centered around the three main themes of the body of the play, beginning with the churchly Te Deum theme.... We were fully prepared for the sinuous dance of the First Tempter [physical comfort and safety] by the ingratiating little jazz melody that had all the direct appeal of mild syncopation. The Second Tempter, representing secular power, entered with a motive of pomp and circumstance. Harsh dissonances accompanied the Third Tempter [revolution through conspiracy], and a swell of religious modal music was the background for the [Fourth] Tempter of spiritual power [martydom]."

In Dynamo: The Story of a College Theatre (1943), Hallie Flanagan reflected on the chronology of the play—December 2-29, 1170—and of Vassar's production which opened on December 6, 1941: “Here was a play which emphasized the common man and the part he must play in a great decision.  Every word spoken by the women of Canterbury seemed to have an immediate urgency.  The women desired peace and the ordinary way of life; they were disturbed by the sense of doom in the air; they were concerned not with the dream of empire or the glory of heroes, but with the business of children, of homes, of crops and harvest and apples stored against the winter.   They did not want anything to happen.  Yet there was upon them, as upon all of us in the fall and early winter of 1941, a sense of fate.” 

Pearl Harbor: "Japan Wars on U.S. and Britain; Makes Sudden Attack on Hawaii; Heavy Fighting at Sea Reported."     The New York Times

The House of Representatives, with one opposing vote, and the Senate in unanimity adopted a resolution of war with Japan.

The Vassar faculty adopted a resolution:

“We, the president and members of the faculty of Vassar College, in deep sense of the gravity of the national crisis, reaffirm our loyalty to our country and pledge our united support of the cause declared by the Congress in its declaration of this date, Dec. 8, 1941.  In so far as our skills and our special training may prove useful, we wish to offer them to the service of the nation as a whole.”     The New York Times

Germany and Italy declared war on the United States, and the United States declared war on Germany and Italy.