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February 15, 1968

Speakers at a four-day symposium on “The New Morality,” sponsored by the Dean’s Program and discussing “personal, social, and religious aspects of morality” included physician and sex education advocate Dr. Mary Steichen Calderone ’25, poet and activist Alan Ginsberg, neo-orthodox theologian and social activist William Stringfellow and Vassar Chaplain Frederic C. Wood.

A founder in 1964 and the executive director of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), “We argue about sex,” Dr. Calderone told her audience, “as we would argue about whether a car we’ve never seen, never driven and don’t know the mechanics of could win the Gran Prix. If we are to create a valid morality about sexuality, we’ll have to know about man’s sexuality…. Man’s sexuality needs to be studied, researched and treated with a little more respect and dignity.”

“If rules must be posed,” wrote Alison Luchs ’70 in The Miscellany News, “Dr. Calderone demanded that they be honest ones, based on ‘a relationship of mutual respect between the power group and the group over which they have power.’ When we make a rule like ‘no men in girls’ rooms after 9:00 p.m.,’ we have to be clear in our terminology…. If you mean no students are to have intercourse on the grounds of the college, or while they are students at the college, then say so.’ Few students in her audience could argue with her sincere approach. But even fewer could imagine a rule stated that explicitly in the Vassar handbook.”

Writing in The Misc. about Allen Ginsberg’s peripatetic visit to Vassar, its several informal discussions—in the Gold Parlor, in Cushiing Living Room—and it’s culmination on Saturday evening before a capacity crowd in the Chapel, Susan Casteras ’71, said, “Perhaps the most powerful and ironic ability of the man was his capacity to make an audience of either one or 1,000 more than just comfortable in his presence; to make them actually close to him. He had the power to infuse into his audience a gripping sense of this closeness.

“The reading provided a somewhat frightening opportunity to infuse into his audience a man baring his intellect and his consciousness, leaving himself in a state of emotional nakedness. After the poetry reading, he asked…members of the audience how they had reacted to the evening. When someone mentioned that it had been painful to watch a man so self-absorbed in the verbal and emotional stripping of himself, Ginsberg nodded and said he had felt that way.”

Concluding the symposium in his Sunday Chapel sermon,“The New Old Morality,” Vassar Chaplain Frederic C. Wood, Jr., said Christiane Citron ’71, in The Miscellany News, “pointed out that the so-called new morality involves a new ethical attitude, not a new set of literalized rules; the rules are still the Commandments…. He wants the individual to establish the principle of love of God (and neighbor) within himself, and then to be guided in every action by this internal principle.” Enumerating four main aspect to this form of morality, Wood identified the most fundamental aspect, said Citron, was “the priority to be given the spirit over the letter of the law…. It is up to the individual determine the sprit of the law. Therefore the morality is antinomian: one can in specific instance go against the law….

“Secondly, this…morality asserts the internal, rather than the external source of values…. Everyone has to realize the importance in its own right of his decisions…. In addition, he said this ‘new old morality’ draws a distinction between freedom and responsibility in one’s behavior…. Finally, Mr. Wood concluded, implicit in this morality is its religious nature, for without some sort of ultimate commitment, the morality is meaningless…. Mr. Wood added that although this guidance is religious in nature, it is not necessarily religious in form.”

The Years