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September 10, 1918

On September 10 Vassar trustee Frank Chambers visited President MacCracken, who was confined to his bed by a persistent throat infection. Explaining that he’d hoped to be joined by two other trustees who had been unable to come to Poughkeepsie, Chambers in effect told MacCracken to resign Vassar’s presidency.

“Polite but indirect, the message stated that since MacCracken’s interest in the college seemed not to be as great as his desire to do war work away from the college, he should leave. The trustees had decided they would like to free him for full-time war service. Decoded, MacCracken knew the statement meant that he had too many radical ideas and was not long for Vassar if the trustees had their way.”

Elizabeth A. Daniels, Bridges to the World: Henry Noble MacCracken and Vassar College

In the days that followed, MacCracken learned that the demand for his resignation came from seven of the 28-member board of trustees without the knowledge of most of the others. When the cause of his dismissal shifted from his war work to the college’s $400,000 deficit—not possibly his fault, as all financial decisions rested with the Executive Committee, a group which had included his predecessor ex officio but from which he had been explicitly barred—MacCracken declared that, should he accept resignation, he would resign publicly, stating his own reasons for leaving.

The seven trustees countered, offering a year’s leave of absence, at full salary and effective September 1, during which he would find other employment. Replying that his response would come “in some days,” MacCracken retired with his wife Marjorie to Old Point Comfort, Virginia, to organize their thoughts, leaving their two young children in the care Marjorie’s aunt. MacCracken’s leave of absence was accepted when the board met on September 20, the day on which the seven trustees had originally planned to accept his resignation.

Defended by faculty, students and several trustees, among them alumnae, MacCracken returned to the campus and to his leadership of the college on Monday, November 11, in time to attend a celebration in the Chapel of the armistice ending World War I. Three days later, the Miscellany News quoted his remarks to the already joyous assembly: “You seem to be glad about something. If you’re glad about the same thing that I’m glad about, I know that you are not half so glad as I am”

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