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June 15, 1921

The Fiftieth Anniversary Celebration of the Associate Alumnae of Vassar College (AAVC) was held following commencement. On June 16 a morning “conference on education” at which President MacCracken spoke focused on broadening the curriculum and making it more flexible, and in the afternoon the group discussed student activities. The next day, Dr. Elizabeth B. Thelberg, head resident physician and Jean C. Palmer ’93, head warden, spoke, respectively, on “This Awful Generation” and “The Problem of a Warden.” In her remarks Dr. Thelberg, who came to the college in 1887, said of current students, “These students have been through deep waters. They have been under a hard, nervous strain, and many have suffered from family affliction during the war. They have passed through a national epidemic from which no one entirely escaped…. We here at Vassar could not have asked for better discipline, greater co-operation, loyalty or poise. The girls of this generation are splendid, capable, honest people. I love them.” To the older alumnae she confessed, “I love them even more than I do you.”

Head Warden Palmer concurred. “I firmly believe in this generation,” she declared, “I believe they are much finer than we were at their age. I find them more straightforward, logical, and reasonable, and therefore harder to satisfy.” The alumnae announced that the Class of 1921 gift of $50,000 brought the total raised toward the $3 million salary endowment goal to $1,159, 951.

The New York Times

A highlight of the alumnae gathering was a performance in the Out-of-Door Theatre of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s first verse play, The Lamp and the Bell, dedicated to the Class of 1917 and written for this occasion.

On March 18 Millay ’17 wrote to her sister Norma: “I am slaving now to typewrite & ship off my Vassar play, Snow White & Rose Red [later called The Lamp and the Bell] which I have just finished… It’s written in the first place for Vassar College, in the second place it’s written to be played out of doors, as spectacularly as possible, & in a foreign country & medieval times because in that way you can use more brilliant costumes, in the third place I haven’t had time to work it over at all, in the fourth place it’s full of anachronisms which I haven’t had time to look up & put right, & in the fifth place it’s a frank shameless imitation of the Elizabethan dramas, in style, conversation & everything, & of course does not show up so darn well in comparison.—You’ll think from all this that it’s a bum play. You’re wrong.—I expect the darned thing to make a great hit.”

Allan Ross Macdougall, ed., Letters of Edna St. Vincent Millay.

At her death, in 1950, The New York Times credited The Lamp and the Bell (1921)—along with A Few Figs From Thistles (1920), Second April (1921) and Two Slatterns and a King (1921)—for Millay’s winning the 1922 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

The Years