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March 3, 1935

The New York Times combined a review of the Experimental Theatre’s production of The Question Before the House, a play by Doris Yankauer ’35 and Herbert Mayer—identified in the review as “an unemployed chemical engineer of New York”—with a more general commentary on the college and politics. The play, the article said, “expresses an undergraduate attitude toward the political activity not only of Vassar women but of all students.” Praising the “sympathetic and deftly turned performance” of Caroline Hoysradt ’34 as the president of liberal “Quinley College,” who withdraws college support of an industrial strike, and of Jane Voohees ’35 as the student whose infatuation with one of the strikers provokes her decision, the review revealed the play’s “conclusion”: no individual students “are greater than the institution they attend.”

“Incidentally,” The Times continued, “political activities of college students were defended today by Dr. Henry N. MacCracken, president of Vassar, as a natural consequence of modern teaching.” There followed a summary of recent political activities in which Vassar students had been involved, particularly their mass visit to Albany to protest the Nunan Student Oath Bill and the recent “model senate” in which over 50 students from a number of institutions met at Vassar to debate and “enact” legislation on lynching, unemployment insurance and U.S. membersthip in the League of Nations. The senate project, endorsed by President Roosevelt, had received criticism from some political leaders.

“Dr. MacCracken,” The Times concluded, “when asked today to define the attitude of the faculty toward such activity made this statement: ‘For many years American college students have been censured for being wholly indifferent to the realities of the political world in which they live. They are often today represented in novels and plays as mere children playing at life. The introduction of such studies as political science in the college course has changed the students’ academic reading. It is inevitable that these academic interests should be reflected in non-academic life.’

“‘Every college with well-organized departments of economics, political science and history must expect its students to take a real interest and even to participate in the political movements of their day, just as every college that teaches music must expect to have a glee club that amounts to something in the way of serious music…. Under proper control and guided by teachers fully aware of the risks involved, the possible harm seems to be outweighed by the profit. This, however, is an open question, which only the future can determine.’”

The Years