Enrollment in field work, formerly restricted to the social sciences, was opened to all academic departments.
Fanny Borden ’98, Vassar librarian between 1928 and 1947, died in Vassar Brothers Hospital, Poughkeepsie. After graduation, Miss Borden worked in the Bryn Mawr College and Smith College libraries, returning to Vassar in 1908, serving as assistant, classifier and cataloguer and reference librarian before becoming head librarian.
Under her administration, the Vassar library collections were greatly expanded and modernized. The opening, in 1937, of the Van Ingen Library, was also under her direction.
In 1934 Borden introduced Vassar senior Elizabeth Bishop ’34 to her childhood friend, the poet Marianne Moore, who became an influential friend of Bishop’s.
Journalist, philanthropist and education activist Agnes Ernst Meyer encouraged an audience of Vassar students to resist the pressures of conformism in an address entitled “Freedom is for the Brave.” “Let not the authoritarians frighten you,” she said, “into a submissive conformist attitude of mind. I know that some college students have allowed themselves to be brow-beaten into a neurotic conservatism. But after years of contact with all age groups, I am confident that for the most part the undergraduates of today are more mature, more critical, more independent than any previous generation in recent times….”
Mrs. Meyer—with President Blanding, one of two women appointed in 1946 to President Truman’s Commission on Higher Education—gave the address at Commencement in 1948. Her daughter Katherine, who was in the Class of 1938, transferred to the University of Chicago.
German-American art historian Erwin Panofsky from the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton gave the Phi Beta Kappa lecture on "Leonardo's Historical Position as a Theorist of Art and Anatomist."
The second annual student-chaplain sponsored Conference on Religion brought philosophers and theologians together to address the theme “Doubt, Dilemma and Decision: Personal Faith and Creative Morality.”
Poet Marianne Moore read from and spoke about her current work, a translation of the fables of LaFontaine, accompanied by illustrations by Marc Chagall. Miss Moore spoke of Jean de LaFontaine, noted Jeanne Unger '54 in The Miscellany News, as the lone representative of "independent poetry of his time in departing from the strict rules of French poetic tradition. She discussed structure and content in relation to her translation of the poetry.... Criticizing translators who take liberties of omission and make changes, Miss Moore insisted on the retention of the pattern of rhythm.... Miss Moore claimed she worked on the fables, 'fascinated by their rhymes and harmonies.'" Some of Marc Chagall's engravings and aquatints for the fables had been shown in an exhibit in the Vassar College Art Gallery in January 1954, prompting Sara Breckinridge '54 to observe, in The Vassar Chronicle, that Chagall's work "is successfully coupled with translations...by Marianne Moore. She and La Fontaine deal in the same brand of whimsical humor that Chagall so zestfully paints." The Fables of La Fontaine appeared from Viking Press in 1954.
A frequent visitor to the college, Miss Moore wrote on February 16 to her cousin, Mary Watson Craig, her sadness at the death, on February 1, of her friend since childhood, the Vassar librarian Fanny Borden ’98, whom she often referred to as “Aunt Ann”: “I am sad not to see Miss Borden again. She was for many years good to [Moore’s brother] Warner & me—parting with college text-books to us when we were in college and couldn’t buy many books…. I did write to her during December saying I was coming to Vassar & would be sure to visit her a little while after my talk.” Bonnie Costello, ed. Selected Letters of Marianne Moore
The Vassar Art Gallery purchased Spring (1954) by American artist William Baziotes as a representative example of abstract expressionism.
Richard Rovere, author, social critic and contributor of the "Letter from Washington" for The New Yorker magazine, spoke on "The Status of Truth in America" in Blodgett Auditorium. Offering one of six lectures sponsored by the political science department on the subject, "Reflections on the 20th Century Political Order," the author—with Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.—of The General and the President (1951) said that the era of Americans' belief that "the truth will always prevail in the end" had been usurped in politics by a strategy of "multiple and manifold untruth." Thus, the "currency of discourse" in public life had "been debased."
"Using Senator [Joseph] McCarthy as an example," The Miscellany News reported, "Mr. Rovere said that McCarthy has successfully operated on the idea that if he talks enough we won't know what he is talking about. To rectify his statements would be an impossible undertaking for any one man, since one cannot keep all the elements of falsehood in mind at one time."
Rovere's Affairs of State: The Eisenhower Years appeared in 1956, and Harcourt, Brace published his Senator Joe McCarthy in 1959.
The Vassar College Political Association and the National Committee for a Free Europe sponsored an intercollegiate conference, "Countries behind the Iron Curtain: Soviet Strength and Weakness in the Captive Countries. Is European Federation the Answer?"
The United States Supreme Court, in Brown v. Board of Education, declaring all laws establishing segregated schools to be unconstitutional, called for the desegregation of all schools in the country.
In his address at Commencement, Adlai E. Stevenson, former Governor of Illinois and Democratic presidential candidate in 1952 and again in 1956, warned of the growing pressures of conformity in American society. The “hazard” of conformity, he said, “is a more certain threat to the validity of your education and to your immortal soul than the blandishments of the flesh and the devil….and the wonder is how gladly we pay the price of conformity in order to ‘belong.’”
Alluding to the recent revocation of the security clearance of nuclear energy pioneer J. Robert Oppenheimer, chief advisor to the newly created United States Atomic Energy Commission, Stevenson said, “And now, with the strange things that have been going on in our country we wonder if this generation has read the minutes of freedom’s last meeting…. The Oppenheimer case even suggests the weird new science of ‘security’ would deny us the security of science.”
President Blanding conferred the bachelor’s degree on 269 members of the Class of 1954, and Harriet Taylor Mauck ’25, chair of the board of trustees, announced that gifts and bequests to the college in the past year totaled $863,284. The New York Times
To accommodate increasing numbers of returning alumnae, reunion weekend was scheduled separately from Commencement. Eight hundred seventy graduates from ten classes, starting with 1904, were welcomed back for a three-day reunion. Program topics included modern art, music and literature, and individual class dinners were served.
Two faculty-alumnae panels highlighted the reunion’s second day, and at the meeting of all alumnae on the last day alumnae fund chairman Helen Hendrickson Couch ‘24 announced that alumnae gifts for 1953-54 amounted to $475, 321. The establishment of the William H. Danforth Fund, with a gift of $100,000, was also made public. Dorothy Danforth ’17 was the daughter of Mr. Danforth, the founder of the Ralston Purina Company.
Praising the generosity of the alumnae, President Blanding said, “It is important in these difficult days when fear and suspicion stalk the earth that those who love and believe in liberal education renew affection and affirm again their determination that this kind of education, rooted in higher learning and great teaching, shall remain unmolested, that teachers shall be free to teach and students free to inquire about any subject under the sun so long as the final objective is the ultimate search for truth.” The New York Times
The library in Sanders Chemistry Building was opened. The new facility was named in honor of Mary Landon Sague ’07, who taught in the chemistry department from 1908 until 1952, and who was its chairman between 1924 and 1951.
The Vassar Summer Institute for Family and Community Living welcomed family groups, teachers, specialists, students and volunteer community workers from 21 states and two foreign countries to its annual four-week program. An article in The New York Times for July 4 described the institute, begun in 1926, as “the first experiment of its kind in which those involved were both students and the subjects of their own study under conditions approximating scientific standards.”
For the summer of 1954, the institute’s scope, originally focused on family relations, broadened to include courses for improving community living, with field seminars in “Community Organization and Participation” and “Intergroup Relations in the Community.” Parents and children between the ages of two and ten, living in separate residence halls, enrolled in varying programs. Thirty-five undergraduate students from nine colleges, enrolled in a work-study program in “Child Development and Education,” worked in the children’s school under the supervision of Eveline Omwake, directory of the nursery school at the Yale Child Study Center. The New York Times
The child study department held a series of monthly discussion meetings on the topic of “Problems of Learning and Teaching.” The voluntary series was open to seniors in child study courses and staff of the Poughkeepsie Day School, which was used by the department as a laboratory.
A new course, Christianity and Psychodynamics, was offered in the religion department.
American poet Wallace Stevens gave a reading of his work. The Necessary Angel, Stevens’s influential volume of essays that he called “contributions to the theory of poetry,” appeared in 1951, and his Collected Poems (1954) won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1955.
Pakistani Ambassador Syed Amjad Ali, his wife, Begum Ali, his daughter, Mumliqat and her cousin Niloufer Ali visited Vassar as guests of President Blanding. Two other relatives of the ambassador and two embassy attachés were also in his party. The ambassador, his wife and his sister and cousin stayed at the President’s House, and Mumliqat and Niloufer slept in a residence hall.
The group attended the first hall play, The Boy with the Cards, and the ambassador spoke briefly at the opening of an exhibit of Pakistani arts and crafts in the Library. Lunch with students, a trip to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park and a formal dinner with members of the faculty rounded out the visit.
“The group trekked home Sunday morning—leaving new friends for Pakistan behind them.” The Washington Post
Former psychology instructor Lloyd Barenblatt, who had refused in June to answer certain question before the House Un-American Activities Committee, was one of eight previous witnesses indicted for contempt of Congress. Convicted, he appealed, and his appeal went to the Supreme Court, which, in June 1959, upheld the conviction, five to four. Justices Black and Douglas and Chief Justice Warren filed a dissent, and Justice Brennan filed a separate, brief dissent.
Although Barenblatt’s Vassar four-year contract had expired at the time of his appearance before the committee, President Blanding strongly supported the former faculty member.
An overflow crowd of 500 admirers caused a performance by popular Hungarian émigré pianist George Feyer to be moved from Alumnae House to the Students’ Building. Since the very popular lectures on jazz in 1946 and 1947 by Visiting Professor Sterling Brown from Howard University, students had gathered at Alumnae House on Sunday afternoons for music and milk punch.
Salvador de Madariaga, Spanish statesman and man of letters, the brother of Pilar de Madariaga of the Spanish department, lectured on "Peace and Liberty." He spoke at the college in 1938, rallying support for the Republican loyalist cause in Spain and again in 1947 when, speaking on "The Spirit of Europe," he stressed the postwar importance of the historical, cultural and intellectual links between Europe and the United States in the face of the rise of communism.
A scholarship to the Vassar Summer Institute for Family and Community Living honoring former president Henry Noble MacCracken was announced at a meeting at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel of the board of the Manhattan-Westchester region of the National Conference of Christians and Jews. Given by the regional board, the scholarship was in recognition of MacCracken’s years of service “to the cause of good human relations.”