With national attention focused on the area, the college restored study of the history of the Far East to the curriculum, after 6 years’ absence. Cyrus H. Peake, teacher of modern history of the Far East at Columbia, was appointed as a visiting lecturer. His teaching at Vassar focused on the history of the region from the 16th century to the present, with emphasis on the influence of Western civilization and colonization.
As a war measure, the student waitress plan was inaugurated. It continued through 1942/43. In September 1943 the cooperative system was established.
Over 400 students enlisted in the campus civil defense unit established by Keene Richards, consulting engineer and general business manager of the college. The unit was the third element in a three-part Vassar defense program that was drawn up in the fall by a faculty-student emergency committee led by Leila Barber, assistant professor of art. The committee had also directed student attention curriculum resources having to do with national service, democratic civilization and postwar reconstruction, and, secondarily, it had engaged individuals and organizations in reinforcement of self-discipline and citizenship in the college community.
Richards also served as the chief air raid warden for Dutchess County.
Thailand declared war on the United States and Britain, and Japanese troops invaded the Solomon Islands. Landing in Northern Ireland, the first American forces arrived in Europe.
In its first drill, Vassar “blacked-out” in 11 minutes, except for the headlights of a locked car parked in front of Main Building. The practice black-out was part of an elaborate civil defense plan devised by the Vassar College Defense Council in consultation with Keene Richards, the college's general manager and the Dutchess County chief air raid warden. Having suffered imaginary damage to its water system, residents of Strong House were evacuated to Lathrop, where they received orders to spend the night either in Josselyn or North [Jewett]. "Bells in the halls sounded the alarms," reported The Miscellany News. "In case of an actual blackout, the fire whistles will blow. Their use requires army authorization."
In addition to the evacuation committee, the exercise involved the communications committee, the health and sanitation committee and the food and shelter committee. "I consider it a really exceptional performance," Richards said. "The fundamental purpose is to find out the errors—we don't know whether it will be good or bad."
President MacCracken informed the trustees of the gift to the college of prints and sculptures from the wife and children of financier Felix Warburg, in his memory. Warburg, who died in October of 1937, was a lifelong collector of art and amassed an exceptional collection. The gift to Vassar consisted of 167 prints, including 54 by Dürer and 68 by Rembrandt, and 11 sculptures, including a late Greek marble figure and ten late medieval and Renaissance works. Mrs. Warburg made a similar gift of prints to the Metropolitan Museum in New York City.
Speaking to a large audience of students on "The Structural Approach to an Understanding of Form in Modern Verse", the American poet Dr. William Carlos Williams acknowledged being accused of a number of "sins," including a lack of traditional form and even of intellectual content and a proclivity for denouncing academics—the concept and the personnel. "He knew all that," he told the students according to one of his biographers, "but he was still insisting on change, on a revolution in poetry. All the more important it was now...to create new forms if Americans were to live, if they were to 'have anything to return to after the international adventure of war.'" Dr. Williams enjoyed his interchange with the students, but although he found their responses to his talk perhaps more intelligent than most men's might be, he confessed to "'finding it always rather difficult to take the girls seriously enough except on the one topic!'" Paul L. Mariani, William Carlos Williams: a new world naked
President MacCracken announced that Mary Virginia Heinlein ’25, head of the drama program at Sarah Lawrence College, had been appointed to succeed Hallie Flanagan Davis as director of The Vassar Experimental Theatre. Davis became dean at Smith College and director of its new theater.
Bataan, on the Philippine island of Luzon, fell to the Japanese.
Some 75,000 American and Filipino troops were started on the “Death March” to internment camps in the North.
The American historian and writer of historical fiction Esther Forbes lectured on "Fact in History and Fiction." Her biography, Paul Revere and the World He Lived In, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1942.
Winifred Clara Cullis, professor emeritus of physiology at the University of London and head of the Women's Section of the British Information Services in New York City, gave the third of the Helen Kenyon Lectures, "What British Women Are Doing in the War." The lecture was published by the college.
Reveille in Washington (1941), a study of the nation’s capital during the Civil War by Margaret Leech’15, won the Pulitzer Prize in History. A journalist, novelist and biographer, Leech traced her writing career to her first job, with the Condé Nast publishing firm, where for $12 a week she wrote responses in the complaint department. Her five years’ work on the book on Washington, DC, in wartime taught her, she told The New York Times, that “democracy is tough enough to take anything.”
Leech, the widow of Ralph Pulitzer, the son of the founder of the prizes, won a second Pulitzer Prize in History in 1960 for In the Days of McKinley (1959), which also won the prestigious Bancroft Prize.
The Vassar Club of New York sponsored a panel discussion on “The Family in War and After” in The New York Times Hall in New York City. Speakers included the director of the city’s Bureau of Child Guidance, Dr. Caroline B. Zachary, Swedish social welfare expert Alva Myrdal, Belgian child psychologist Dr. Andreé Royon, Dr. Eduard C. Lindeman, professor of social work at Columbia and Dr. Mary Schattuck Fisher ’20, professor of psychology and director of the Vassar Summer Institute.
Dr. Fisher announced that the theme of the summer institute, along with its name, was changed for 1942. The Institute for Family and Child Care Services in Wartime, held at Vassar between June 22 and August 1, trained professionals, volunteers and parents in a special wartime curriculum.
Professor of Latin Elizabeth Hazelton Haight ’94 retired after 40 years on the Vassar faculty. A former president of the Associate Alumnae of Vassar College, she was also on the Council of the American School of Classical Studies in Rome and former president of the American Philological Society. Her publications included The Autobiography of Matthew Vassar (1916), which she edited, and Vassar (1915), which she wrote with James Monroe Taylor, the college’s 4th president.
Reflecting wartime conditions, reunions were cancelled and commencement week for 1942 was shortened to one night and one day.
Destruction of several Japanese ships in the Battle of Midway marked a turning point in the war in the Pacific.
President MacCracken announced alterations in the calendar for the upcoming academic year designed to aid the national effort to conserve transportation and fuel. Christmas vacation was lengthened to save fuel in the period that was coldest and required the most light, and the spring vacation was shortened from 11 to 5 days to discourage travel.
President MacCracken conferred the bachelor’s degree on 258 members of the Class of 1942. Four master’s degrees in the arts were granted and Vassar’s first two master of science degrees were granted.
James T. Cleland, associate professor of religion at Amherst College, delivered the commencement address, telling the class that individualism in the 20th century was “a-will-of-the-wisp.” “Interrelatedness is the fact for us, a nasty fact very often, a disagreeable fact regularly, but a hard, cold fact to be reckoned with. We are not entirely our own…. Our lives are what they are because men and women in all ages have been willing to die for things which they held to be of ultimate importance. The only way that we can repay those to whom we owe so much is to buy the future for those around us and those who will follow us. Some of us will do that in this war for our country.”
Himself a naturalized United States citizen, Cleland posited that he might even love the country more than the native-born, since his citizenship was a choice made in his maturity, not a childhood gift. “One who has lived in Europe,” he concluded, “knows the unspeakable worth of America.” The New York Times
The start of the Manhattan Project marked the beginning of the nuclear age.
107 adults and 94 children were in attendance when the first session of the Vassar College Summer Institute for Family and Child Care Services in Wartime opened on the campus. New York’s Lieutenant Governor Charles Poletti, noting that families left behind had new and terrible concerns in the present war, framed this with an anecdote. “Many months ago,” he said, “before American went to war, I saw a story in a newspaper about children in war-torn Britain. I read that Mickey Mouse gas masks were being made for babies and young children…. That story brought home forcibly to me the fact that this war is different, that we in 1942 are engaged in a type of warfare in which there is no quarter given, not even to helpless children.”
Among the other speakers was motion-picture actor Melvyn Douglas, speaking on behalf of the Federal Office of Civilian Defense. “Civilian defense as organized in America today,” Douglas said, “is a demonstration by the people themselves of their faith in themselves. We must not permit our troops to be drawn back to our shores because of our fear of invasion. The social meaning of total civilian effort is gradually dawning on us.” The New York Times
The college announced extensive changes in the curriculum for the next academic year, many of them wrought by the war. Courses in French, German, Spanish and Russian emphasized translation skills, particularly of technical or other very specific material and were open to members of the surrounding community who possessed the necessary fundamental knowledge of a language. This emphasis prepared students for the civil service translator examinations. A course in modern Greek was also offered, although only to Vassar students, and the Russian department augmented its extraordinary collection of Russian rare editions with dictionaries and lexicons of scientific and technological terminology.
The department of astronomy offered its first course in meteorology, open to juniors and seniors with the proper prerequisites and designed to meet the requirements of the civil service junior grade meteorologist examination, The physics department taught an advanced course in radio and vacuum tube applications, such as radio transmitters and receivers and television. The psychology department offered a graduate course within the new conservation graduate division on the psychology of personality with collateral study to prepare for scientific research of problems of mental health. A second new course in the department was directed at undergraduates preparing for non-academic psychological vocations, in education, social services, industry or government. The New York Times
Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed the second session of the Vassar College Summer Institute for Family and Child Care Services in Wartime, which opened with 152 adults and 103 children enrolled. Her topic was “How Different Kinds of American Families are Meeting the Problems of Total War.” She told of meeting many people on her travels who were struggling to make practical decisions based on the flood of suggestions about conservation, thrift, proper nutrition and the like during wartime. When asked if she thought members of Congress up for reelection were spending more time on their campaigns than on the country’s needs, she replied, “It is very hard to divest yourself of the thought that the people at home are in fault. The people should take the November elections in their hands and tell their Congressmen…what they think of them by their vote. Candidates should be judged by what they have done in Congress in the past, not by what they will say between now and November.”
Mrs. Roosevelt was accompanied to the campus by Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, who was staying at Hyde Park. After the question and answer period, the Queen joined Mrs. Roosevelt and President MacCracken on a visit to Cushing House to meet some of the children attending the summer institute.
Elizabeth MacLeod Culver ’35 was one of the seven women sworn in by Lieutenant Commander W. Pratt Thomas as the first officers of the new Women’s Reserve, United States Naval Reserves, known as the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). On August 3, the president of Wellesley, Mildred McAfee ’20 was inducted as a lieutenant commander to serve as the commander of the Women’s Reserve.
At her induction, she recalled interrupting her time at Vassar to volunteer as a war worker in World War I. “It was my task,” she said, “to paste clippings in scrapbooks. I remember distinctly that I pasted too rapidly to please some of my co-workers. I never did bring myself to be slow enough. The job lasted just one week and I went back to college.”
By the end of the year, eight members of the Class of 1942 had joined the WAVES. The New York Times
The Army Air Forces announced the formation of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS), a group of licensed and experienced women flyers who would be employed in ferrying new aircraft from airplane factories to air bases across the country, thus freeing for other duties airmen currently performing this task. The new squadron was the idea of its commander, Nancy Harkness Love ’35, who flown planes since before she came to Vassar. While in college, she earned extra money taking other students for plane rides in rented aircraft.
Unlike the women serving in the WAVES, the WAFS remained non-commissioned civilians and received pay as civil servants. In 1943, the WAFS merged with another women’s unit to become the Women Airforce Service Pilots, the WASPs, under Mrs. Love’s direction. Over 300 women served as WAFS or WASPs during the war.
In the spring of 1944, 22 students organized the Vassar Flying Club. The group consisted of three already licensed pilots and 19 students learning to fly at the Lime Ridge Airport near Pawling, NY. Their goal was either to gain commercial licenses or to take the training necessary for admission to the WASPs.
As the opening of school approached, the college announced the institution of 10 extracurricular courses intended to supplement the curricular changes already made to accommodate wartime needs. The courses, designed in collaboration with the American Red Cross, the New York State Office of Civilian Defense and the United States Civil Service Commission, were focused on skills such as first aid, home nursing, health aide work, child-care and civil defense work. Courses in structural drawing, drafting and blueprint reading and music in wartime were also available.
All students not enrolled in one of the special curricular courses were expected to register for one of the extracurricular courses in the first week of classes.
Other wartime changes included each student taking responsibility for caring for her own room as well as for contributing seven hours a week to housekeeping and messenger duties. Heat was reduced to 65º during the day and turned off at 9:30 pm. Tablecloths were abandoned, as were lights in the indoor tennis court, and the pool was open only three days a week. The Social Museum and The Vassar Journal of Undergraduate Studies were suspended, and a “vegetable dinner” was served once a week. To further conserve on materials needed for the war effort, the latter restriction was changed, in November to require a “meatless day” once a week.
A student who had transferred to another college wrote: “Vassar is a wonderful place. There is nothing here to compare with it; neither work, nor faculty, nor student body is as stimulating, as difficult, as painful, enjoyable or rewarding as Vassar…something is missing…. I find myself missing even the pain of [Professor Helen Lockwood’s] Contemporary Press.” Trustee Minutes
Speaking before the New York League of Women Voters, Dr. Mabel Newcomer, professor of economics and consultant to the United States Treasury, debated the effect of wartime economic policies on democracy with Dr. Gustav Stolper, an Austrian economist and recently naturalized citizen. To Dr. Stolper’s assertion that rationing and price controls were akin to the Prohibition Amendment “on a Sears Roebuck scale” and constituted “mechanical limitations” and “compulsive, comprehensive slavery,” Newcomer defended both measures, “even if it means policing.” And—admitting it might “lose me my job—to Stolper’s insistence that any progressive spending tax must exempt rents and education, ”Newcomer rejected the exemptions. 'It might turn people from Vassar College to the State universities,' she said. 'Is the quality of Vassar better? I can’t answer that question. I’m not sure it is.'” The New York Times
Attended by a color guard comprised of the presidents of the three upper classes and a freshman representative, the chair of the college war council, Katharine Tryon ’43 raised a service flag on Main Building in honor of the 35 members of the Vassar community, including employees, trustees and teachers, serving in the armed forces.
American composer Aaron Copland spoke on “Contemporary Music.”
The president of the senior class, Mary Sublett ’43, announced that the class had voted not to hold the traditional senior prom in the spring. “The members of the class,” she said, “believe that the expense and travel entailed by the dance would not be justified in wartime. Moreover, they realize that many of the men they would want to invite would be unable to attend because they are now in military service.”
The sophomore class voted not to buy class rings. Instead they bought war bonds, which, class president Dorothy Hardin ’45 observed, might purchase class rings when they were redeemed after the war.
Under the auspices of the Italian Club Italian-American historian and fervent anti-Fascist Dr. Gaetano Salvemini, Lauro de Bosis Lecturer in the History of Italian Civilization at Harvard University, spoke in Taylor Hall on "The Italian Population Problem." Active in Italian politics before his exile in 1925, Salvemini had debated heatedly with Vassar Professor of Italian Bruno Roselli about the policies and consequences of the Mussolini régime in 1926 before some 1,400 members of the Economics Club in New York City.
Admitting the relative density of the Italian population, Salvemini claimed the Mussolini government's arguments that Italy must "expand or explode" were simply excuses for "bullying her neighbors." As to the establishment of African colonies, the historian and former member of the Italian Parliament said the billions of lire needed for the project 'could have transformed Sardinia, Sicily and southern Italy into a garden." He also called on the United State and its allies to encourage imigration for all nations and to prevent imigrant communities from congregating in segrated urban slum communities.
A professor at the Universities of Pisa and Florence before coming to the United States in 1930, Salvemini became an American citizen in 1940. He spoke at Vassar on "Florence in the Time of Dante" in 1933 and on "Italy after Thirteen Years of Dictatorship." The Miscellany News
Vera Micheles Dean, research director of the Foreign Policy Association, gave the fourth series of Helen Kenyon Lectures, "America Looks Abroad" and "The Road to Victory; After Victory - What?" Dean, a trustee of Vassar from 1943 to 1946, was the first woman trustee who was not a Vassar graduate.