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November 3, 1952

In an article entitled “God and Woman at Vassar” published in The Freeman, “A Fortnightly for Individualists,” ex-student Nancy Jane Fellers recounted the persistent ideological “tyranny” on the part of Professor of English Helen D. Lockwood ’12 that had forced her to leave Vassar in her senior year and return to Earlham College to receive her bachelor of arts degree. A transfer student to Vassar in 1950, Miss Fellers had received a grade of F in the Contemporary Press course taught by Professor Lockwood, who called her, she claimed, “politically naive,” and who said that “something must be done about my ‘dangerous ideas.’”

The article touched off strong reactions on campus and nationally, inspiring an editorial, “Miss Blanding’s Dream College,” in The Chicago Tribune and an analysis of “Academic Freedom at Vassar,” entered into The Congressional Record. “The furor has not subsided,” Ellen Silver ’56 wrote in The Miscellany News a week later. “Miss…Blanding reports that letters arrive ‘in every mail’ and says, ‘We’ll be hearing about this thing for three months!’ She…identifies the frenzied letters…with the mass hysteria about communism and communist infiltration…. The letters for and against Vassar have been about evenly balanced. Among the latter, there are several unusual ideas revealed. One man was amazed that such an awful thing…could happen in America. Another accused Vassar of harboring fifteen Communist faculty members and threatened to notify the House Committee on Un-American Activities. One person advocated packing Miss Lockwood off to Russia!”

Professor Lockwood responded to Miss Fellers’s article in a letter to the editor of The Freeman, in which she said, “Most of the students who were in the same class…believed in God. Most of them were Republicans. All were good Americans and believed in human dignity. They continued to believe in God, they continued to be Republicans and good Americans and to believe in human dignity at the end of the year. They passed the course, some of them with distinction, and they expressed themselves freely.” Noting that Feller’s work was marked by “inaccuracies of fact, garbled quotations, arguments by inuendo rather than logic and evidence,” Lockwood concluded, “in long hours of patient conferences many of us tried to help her reason. But she couldn’t.”

The Freeman, The Miscellany News

The Years