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October 24, 1971

The Associate Alumnae/i of Vassar College (AAVC) held a five-day celebration of its 100th anniversary. The programming centered around 39 distinguished alumnae who returned to campus to take part in lectures, discussions, classroom sessions and informal gatherings. The celebrants heard presentations by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Elizabeth Bishop ’34, artist Nancy Graves ’61 and mezzo-soprano Sandra Browne ’68, and they attended several symposia.

“The Artist as Social Critic,” a discussion in the Chapel on October 26 that included filmmaker Roberta Hodes ’46 and poet Muriel Rukeyser ’34, drew particular attention because its chair, novelist and critic Mary McCarthy ’33, was back on the campus for the first time in 20 years. “Ms. McCarthy,” Dale Mezzacappa ’72 noted in The Miscellany News, “did not relish the special attention. She wanted to be able to do what the Centennial committee had invited her and the other 38 women to do—participate in symposia and interact with students and faculty in the classroom.”

In light of her cool assessment of the college in “The Vassar Girl,” an essay written after her visit to the college in 1951, McCarthy was asked for her impressions of the college two decades later. “‘The New Vassar,’ she replied, ‘is more like the Old Vassar of the Thirties, when I was here, than it is like the Middle Vassar of the Fifties.’ She continued to say that professors here in the Thirites were notable for opening students’ minds and for challenging them with concepts that they were not prepared for.” McCarthy’s example was a freshman class she visited, whose teacher, medievalist Icelandic scholar Julia McGrew, was teaching Soul on Ice (1968), the prison memoir of Black Panther leader and self-confessed rapist Eldridge Cleaver, currently under a murder indictmant and living in exile in Algeria. “Someone like that,” McCarthy said of Professor McGrew, “is ‘characteristic’ of Vassar’s educational tradition.”

The Miscellany News.

The Years