October 30, 1969
Professor of History Stanley M. Elkins from Smith College gave the first C. Mildred Thompson Lecture of the academic year, "Slavery in the Americas: A Reappraisal." Elkins’s provocative book, Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life (1959), argued that a comparative lack of pragmatism of American abolitionists led to a more violent, prolonged and debilitating struggle over slavery than had been the case in Britain and also that the practices of American slave-holders created and maintained a psychologically infantilizing and intellectually degrading slave culture. As evidence of the latter claim, he contrasted the slave and minority cultures of America with those in Brazil.
"Mr. Elkins discussed," said a writer in The Miscellany News, "the extraordinary rigidity and the interchangeability of the Noth and South American slave systems. He noted the differences and similarities...and compared his findings with those of...another historian who has investigated slave systems extensively. 'The comparative approach in discussing problems of slavery will become more popular in the future,' said Mr. Elkins, 'because it is broader and uses ideology as a base.'" In successive editions of his work—1963, 1969, 1976—Elkins reappraised its original assertions, trying to accommodate much of the original criticism.
The Thompson lectureship, given by an anonymous donor, honored American historian C. Mildred Thompson '03, who taught in the history department from 1910 until 1923, when she became Vassar's dean, a position she held until her retirement in 1948. Dean Thompson died in 1975.