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November 13, 1960

Competing for the first time in the televised “GE College Bowl,” a Vassar team defeated four-time winner Vanderbilt University. Originally a popular radio program, the College Bowl—“The Varsity Sport of the Mind”—was broadcast between October 1953 and December 1955. Two four-person teams competed in each 30-minute program, answering questions on topics ranging from literature, history and philosophy to science, the arts and religion. Revived for televison in 1959 by the General Electric Company, the games appeared on Saturdays and Sundays through June of 1970. The competition resumed in 1977 under the sponsorship of the Association of College Unions International (ACUI), continuing until 2008.

The college accepted an invitation to participate in the competition in May 1960, and, said The Miscellany News, “under the auspices of the Intra-Mural Committee of the Centennial, has already laid the ground work for securing next fall an outstanding group of students for the team.” After a series of written and oral tests, the four members of the Vassar team, Marina Dorrow ’63, Dana Downing ’63, Perre McFarland ’62 and Joan Oxman ’61, were selected from a field of 16 by a student-faculty committee chaired by Associate Professor of Biology Anita Zorzoli, who served as their coach.

The careful preparation for the contest was upset when, in anticipation of a strike by the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), the event was filmed on November 13, a week before the live contest was originally to be aired. An anonymous account of the day by one or more of the team members appeared, under the headline “Vassar Versus Vanderbilt, Venimus,Vidimus, Vicimus,” in The Miscellany News for November 16. “Vanderbilt, victorious in four previous games, determined to take home the silver cup that is presented to five-time winners…. Vassar, competing a week earlier than we’d expected, with only two weeks of intensive practice sessions. Four exceedingly determined young men, who refused to believe that ‘mere girls’ would stand in their way. Four exceedingly worried young women, who doubted their ability to stop such determined opponents.”

After two defeats in practice sessions, the Vassar team won a “dress rehearsal” held an hour before the live competition, filmed by kinescope, began. Behind at half-time, the Vassar team rallied in the second half, only to see their opponents gaining as the clock ran down. “We watched the clock anxiously, wondering whether they could catch up…before time ran out. But the score was still in our favor: Vassar 200, Vanderbilt 155 when the final bell rang…. When the cameras had stopped we stood on the stage and sang ‘Gaudeamus Igitur’; and voices in the audience joined in.”

The following week Vassar lost to Boston University. The team donated their prizes, $ 2,000, to the scholarship fund. Vassar teams competed in three subsequent College Bowl national championship: tied with eight other teams for last place in 1981; finishing in fourth place in 1982; and tied with Princeton for third place in 1984.

The Miscellany News

The Years