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Pratt House, a residence for the warden given by Charles M. Pratt, trustee of the college from 1896 until 1920, was completed, York & Sawyer, architects.

The gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jesse H. Metcalf, parents of Cornelia Metcalf Bontecue ’14, Metcalf House, physicians’ residence and convalescent home for students, was completed, York & Sawyer, architects. 

Vassar president-elect Henry Noble MacCracken and his brother John Henry MacCracken, the recently inaugurated president of Lafayette College, received, respectively, Doctor of Laws and Doctor of Humane Letters degrees from their alma mater, New York University. Their father, Henry Mitchell MacCracken, was chancellor of the university from 1891 until 1910.

Henry Noble MacCracken, Chaucer scholar, a graduate of New York University with the doctoral degree from Harvard University, assumed the presidency of Vassar College. MacCracken, who taught English at Yale University and Smith College, was the first Vassar president who was not a Baptist minister.

Following the junior promenade, students were permitted to have male guests on campus on Sunday for the first time since the founding of the college.

Vassar students helped the Poughkeepsie committee of the Commission for Relief in Belgium gather 3,000 pounds of food-stuffs to be sent overseas. With the 1914 German invasion of Belgium, the American business man and engineer living in London, Herbert Hoover, organized the commission to facilitate the return to America of tens of thousands of American citizens and to channel food to the Belgians.

Members of the Vassar home team burst into congratulatory applause as visiting debaters from Wellesley, arguing the negative side, won a debate on the question, “Resolved, That the Average American City Should Adopt the Commission Form of Government, According to the Des Moines Plan.”

Speaking to alumnae in Philadelphia, President MacCracken announced a campaign for a $1million endowment fund, to be raised by October 1916 as a 50th birthday present to the college. Outlining “hopes” for an alumnae house, laboratories for physics, psychology and zoology and “better accommodations for the music department,” he said this campaign would be for educational endowment—“teachers of mature experience and eminent in their branches of study”—and endowment for the library and lecture system. MacCracken declared, “Smith and Wellesley have each raised $1,000,000 in the recent past. It is now eleven years since Vassar raised any money for this object.”

The New York Times

American architect Ralph Adams Cram, proponent of the Collegiate Gothic style and supervising architect at Princeton, lectured on “The Culmination of Gothic Architecture in the Thirteenth Century.”

The Founder’s Day program included the opening and presentation of the Taylor Art Building and Gateway, Allen & Collens, architects. Mr. and Mrs. Charles M. Pratt gave the building in honor of James Monroe Taylor, president from1886 until 1914. The new building provided new quarters for the art gallery and the art department, lecture and reception facilities and a new gateway into the college grounds.

Previewing the complex in April, The New York Times noted that James Renwick’s “little old brick lodge through which thousands of students have entered” was torn down to make way for the new gateway. “The next logical step,” the newspaper suggested, “will be to take down the red brick main hall…and put in its place something to correspond with the new lodge. Nor would the destruction of the old main hall call forth much regret.”

Mr. Pratt, a trustee and a close associate of President Taylor, previously funded the construction of Sunset Lake and the Warden’s House. In 1915, he paid for the development of the Out-of-Door Theatre, and in 1917 he presented a collection of Italian paintings selected by the Swedish art historian and biographer of Leonard DaVinci, Oswald Siren.

Beyond Vassar

RMS Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat off the Irish coast. Of the 1,959 people aboard, 1,198 died, among them 128 Americans.  Within three weeks, the Italians joined the Allies in the war.

By special request of Vassar students, the Broadway hit, Daddy Long Legs, adapted from her book by Jean Webster ’01, was presented at the Collingwood Opera House in Poughkeepsie. The production, starring Mabel Burt as “Judy,” was concluding a run of 264 performances at the Gaiety Theatre in New York, and it subsequently toured throughout the country.

Beyond Vassar

Italy entered the war, joining the Allies.

The General Education Board, a philanthropy established in 1902 by John D. Rockefeller and his business and philanthropic advisor, Rev. Frederick Gates, appropriated $200,000 for Vassar’s endowment campaign.

President MacCracken was among the first college and university presidents, all members of the American League to Limit Armaments, to sign a joint message to President Wilson, pledging to stand by him in whatever course he might find necessary in light of “the German complications.” The signers also expressed their belief that Wilson would be able to resolve the conflict by peaceful means.

President MacCracken received the honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Smith College. A graduate of New York University with advanced degrees from Harvard University, MacCracken taught at Harvard and Yale before becoming professor of English at Smith in 1913. Presenting MacCracken for the honor, Smith Professor of Philosophy Harry Norman Gardiner described him as “one who, till lately our colleague, was lost to us by the very qualities which bound him to us, but is now henceforth, by virtue of this title, to be forever claimed and attached, while uniting, in his representative capacity, two kindred institutions of learning in comity of academic fellowship.”

[Marion LeRoy Burton], Annual Report of the President of Smith College

President MacCracken received an honorary LL.D. degree from Brown University at the annual conferring of degrees.

Beyond Vassar

The Allied victory against the German army in the Battle of the Marne stopped Germany’s month-long march into France and established the Western Front, where a devastating battle of attrition continued for nearly two years.

Student resistance to compulsory chapel continued to grow. Writing in the Miscellany, one student invoked Wordsworth’s lines from “The Prelude”:

“…Was ever known

The witless shepherd who persists to drive

A flock that thirsts not to a pool disliked?”

Over a decade later and after long study by the faculty and trustees, a new, completely voluntary plan went into effect on Monday, November 15, 1926.

More than twenty trustees, faculty and student committees, planning over two years, prepared the four-day program for the 50th anniversary of Vassar’s opening. Over 1,500 alumnae and more than 2,000 other guests attended, including leaders and student delegates from dozens of colleges and universities in the United States and abroad. The celebration drew on prominent alumnae and on distinguished guests, and—reflecting the new president’s concerns—it included an intercollegiate student conference among its events, which concluded with Henry Noble MacCracken’s inauguration.

Inspired by the alumnae parade on the evening of Saturday, October 9th, sophomore Dorothy Danforth ’17 wrote to her family, “It’s almost midnight but I’m so thrilled I must tell you—I’ve had more college spirit tonight than ever before. The alumnae all paraded tonight. There were tons of them…. The students all joined hands and flew along at the sides. We serenaded old Prexy Taylor and the Pres. MacCracken. It made me proud to be one of such a splendid body of people.”

On the first day of the college’s 50th anniversary celebration, a Sunday, Poughkeepsie churches commemorated the founding of the college, and in the afternoon Brown University President William H. P. Faunce gave the opening sermon in the Chapel. Faunce pointed to the importance of colleges and universities in furthering international cooperation: “The gift most needed today from all the colleges is in the realm of international relations.…  If the roots of war are ideal, the remedy for war is in the ideal realm also, in the renovated sprit of man,” a transformation he believed occurred in places like Vassar.  “If we can through the American college convey some such gift to the world we shall fulfill the most ardent hopes of those who laid their foundations in sacrificial toil and undying faith.”

—Constance Mayfield Rourke, ed., The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Opening of Vassar College: October 10 to13, 1915

Later, student delegates were welcomed by Vassar student representative in the Circle, and in the evening the Chapel was filled to overflowing for a recital by British organist T. Tertius Noble of Saint Thomas’s Church in New York City.

Delegates to the 50th anniversary heard from three alumnae: Smith College English Professor Mary Augusta Jordan ’76, University of Chicago anthropogeographer Ellen Churchill Semple ’82 and Julia Lathrop ’80, head of the Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Commerce and Labor. In “Spacious Days at Vassar College,” Jordan reflected on entering college in Vassar’s first decade, “a thing quite by itself, an experience to be reckoned with—something like Platonic love, or getting religion…. But, obviously, the first duty of the pioneer institution was to live and to grow, and at the same time to give temporary satisfaction to the irrational and immature critics who made up its public….

“ By 1870 the wise compromise had done its costly work. Vassar did not stand, even in the funny papers, any longer for prigs, freaks, social rebels, or eloquent and earnest fanatics. What did it stand for? Freedom from any obligation upon the students to concern themselves with that question was one of the factors of the spaciousness that prevailed for ten years….”

In “Geographical Research as a Field for Women,” Ellen Churchill Semple invited Vassar women to take part in the new and as yet “uncrowded” academic field. “Mine own people,—mine in the common ideals which Vassar has bequeathed to her children; mine in the common training for life, no matter what its tasks may have proved to be; mine in the common purposes and hopes born of that good heritage and training: I should like take you all into my arms, but unable to do that, I want to take you into the heart of my work.” Semple pointed to “feminine tastes and feminine order of mind” which women might bring to her sort of work: power of observation, capacity for detailed work, patient perseverance in the collection of material, intellectual humility and imagination. “Such is the field of activity,” she concluded, “such is the reward to which I would invite you all–because I love you.”

In “The Highest Education for Women,” Julia Lathrop criticized the lack of scientific inquiry and theory around child rearing and conducting a household, the “one great avocation constantly requiring the unsparing service of millions of women.” This most “universal and essential of employments,” she explained, “remains the most neglected by science, a neglect long hidden behind tradition and sentimentality.”

Concurrently, 54 student delegates from 28 colleges and universities were welcomed by student association president Irmarita Kellers ’16 to the Intercollegiate Student Conference. The conference first discussed “non-academic activities”—student self-government, student dramatics and publications, religious organizations, political clubs—that opening speaker Eleanor B. Taylor ’16 said were “an absolute necessity for a full and complete rounding-out of our student life.” A conference of this sort was “an important one,” and she added, “also a hopeful one, for the attitude of both students and faculties is one of increasing recognition of [this] importance.” One of the visitors, reluctant at first about joining the conference, said he would now urge his parents to send his younger sisters to college, although that had previously been “very far from the family plans.”

After lunch, at the business meeting of the Associate Alumnae, President MacCracken spoke on “The Anniversary Endowment,” saying that the college had raised $686,000, of which nearly $500,000 would go toward the goal of $1,000,000 for an endowment fund. The other gifts were designated for funding an alumnae house, a quarterly magazine and other college needs.

At 3 PM the delegates and invited guests gathered in the new Out-of-Door Theatre for “The Pageant of Athena,” composed and presented by Vassar students and directed by Hazel MacKaye, the director of pageantry and drama for the New York City YWCA. The pageant’s tableaux presented eight famous women through the ages, including Marie de France—the first woman to write poetry in France, in the 12th century—portrayed by Edna St. Vincent Millay ’17. At the pageant’s end, Athena called forth the whole company of illustrious women and their attendants—Sappho and her maidens; Hortensia and the Roman crowd; Hilda of Whitby and her nuns; Marie de France and the court of Henry II; Isabella d’Este and the artists, lovers and courtiers of Ferrara; Lady Jane Grey and Roger Ascham; and Elena Lucrezia Cornaro with the scholars and students of Padua. The company made “together…a rich unbroken moving pattern of color, the fabric of the Web of Knowledge.

“…they wind off among the trees, and their Gaudeamus grows faint, but now an echo rises from the top of the hill behind the audience. Athena again lifts her spear compellingly. The echo grows in power, the Gaudeamus again becomes clear, and a great throng of singing girls, bright-clad in the costumes of to-day, stream down the slope and singing pass in a long procession before the goddess, their song changing to the new Alma Mater as they march.”

Constance Mayfield Rourke, ed., The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Opening of Vassar College: October 10–13, 1915

The Poughkeepsie Eagle praised the “Wonderful Spectacle,” and Millay sent home many snapshots.

An evening production in the new Students’ Building of “Vassar Milestones,” written by alumnae and staged by the dramatic committee of the New York alumnae association, rounded out the day.

The third day of the 50th anniversary celebration again featured student sessions concurrent with those for faculty, alumnae and other invited guests. At the “Academic Commemoration” in the Chapel, President Emeritus Taylor spoke on “Vassar’s Contribution to Educational Theory and Practice,” Former Dean and Barnard Associate in History Emily Jane Putnam spoke on “Women and Democracy,” and Lillian D. Wald, founder of New York’s Henry Street Settlement, presented “New Aspects of Old Social Responsibilities.” Taylor urged his auditors to treasure the earlier ideals of the college and to remember “the Ten Commandments and the spirit of Christ were as truly education as the preface of Livy or the charm of Chaucer.” Expressing what The New York Times called “radical feminist views,” Putnam saw modern women as plagued by weak physique, economic inferiority and emotional instability, which should be overcome by “Individual effort and character…the only ways open for a woman to become a free-footed human being, and each woman must finally achieve these for herself.” “Upon the educated woman,” Wald told her audience, “devolves the task of readapting the social interests of her sex to a changed physical and spiritual environment…. The task of organizing human happiness needs the active co-operation of man and woman; it cannot be relegated to one-half the world….”

Concurrently, in the Students’ Building, student delegates turned their attention to “The Function of Non-Academic Activities,” discussing questions of professional and semi-professional coaching, membership criteria for student organizations and academic credit for non-curricular work.

In the afternoon, Harriet Ballintine, Vassar’s director of physical training, gave a “Historical Exhibition of Physical Training at Vassar,” which was followed by a concert for students by the Russian Symphony Orchestra of New York while the other delegates moved among nine college locations, visiting the several college departments. That evening representatives of Vassar’s undergraduate organizations entertained the student delegates in Taylor Hall, while the other participants attended a concert by the Russian Symphony Orchestra.

Constance Mayfield Rourke, ed., The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Opening of Vassar College: October 10 to13, 1915

Seven “divisions” of the academic procession for Henry Noble MacCracken’s inauguration—platform participants; trustees and regents; international academic and American academic delegates; federal, state, county, and town delegates; special guests, alumnae representatives, student aid society officers, former college officers; Vassar officers of government and instruction; intercollegiate student delegates and Vassar undergraduate organization representatives—gathered in the Library, Taylor Hall, and Rockefeller Hall at 9:15 for the procession, which moved at 9:45 to the Chapel. At 10 the inauguration ceremony began with an invocation by Henry Mitchell MacCracken, chancellor emeritus of New York University and father of the incoming president.

There followed addresses by John H. Finley, president of the University of the State of New York and commissioner of education, George Lyman Kittredge, professor of English at Harvard, and Henry Noble MacCracken. Recalling the “objective mysteries” pondered by Homer, Virgil, Maeterlinck and “Henri Fabre, who died day before yesterday in France,” in “The Mystery of the Mind’s Desire,” Finley hoped for MacCracken that “Vassar be as kind to you as Nausicaa was to Ulysses,—she who said to her companions: ‘We must kindly entreat him, for all strangers and beggars (to which category all college presidents belong) are from Zeus.’ You have come to preside in a place where the supreme mystery of life…has expression—the mystery of the mind’s desire.”

A mentor of MacCracken, the Harvard medievalist, Shakespeare critic and editor George Lyman Kittredge, speaking on “The Scholar and the Pedant,” offered a wry defense of the Vassar trustees’ “momentous step of calling to preside over your college a man who has achieved a position as a scholar in the most exact and technical sense of that vaguely misused term.” Arguing that pedantry existed in many forms and in all vocations and obliquely praising his ex-student’s philological essay in a recent festschrift honoring him, Kittredge challenged Vassar in his peroration: “Scholarship, in its most rigorous sense, is a necessary element of culture…. Do not insult it…by confusing it with pedantry. Your new president…is a scholar. Hold up his hands! Cheer up his heart! Help him…to keep the torch alight, and to pass it on, still burning clearly, to whoever shall receive it from him in the sacred race!”

After his formal installation, President MacCracken addressed the gathering “In the Cause of Learning.” Surveying the contemporary experiences of both college students and their teachers, he arrived at his central questions: “What is indeed the real business of a college? What is it that college does to a man or a woman?” His response to the first question was that “college is to our time what Dante was to his. Dante is called… ‘the mediaeval synthesis,’ the bringing together and the summing up of his age…. This is, then, what college has to offer to the student,—the genius of modern life.” And, addressing his second question, he echoed his Harvard mentor: “Upon every side the more direct appeals will press upon us, turning one or another of this band of ours into useful labor for mankind. But the highest and the first cause of all…is the cause of scholarship. To stand where no man has trod, on the margins of life’s view, and to seek out with steady purpose what life has yet to offer!”

Constance Mayfield Rourke, ed., The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Opening of Vassar College: October 10 to13, 1915

Salutations were offered by Mary Emma Woolley, president of Mount Holyoke College, representing the women’s colleges; Dean Virginia Crocheron Gildersleeve, on behalf of the women’s colleges associated with universities and, representing the universities, Yale President Arthur Twining Hadley. Henry Mitchell MacCracken offered the Benediction.

With the adjournment of the inauguration, delegates and invited guests from Poughkeepsie attended a second performance of “The Pageant of Athena” in the Out-of Door Theatre.

The celebration ended with a dinner, in the Students’ Building for delegates, alumnae representatives and officers of the college, and in the residence halls for student delegates and representatives of Vassar student organizations. The topic for prepared remarks at both dinners was “The College and the Community.”

A weary Dorothy Danforoth ’17 spoke perhaps for many of the celebration’s planners and participants in a letter to her family: “I am sure glad it is the last. I’m so weary I can barely support myself.”

With anonymous support from trustee Charles M. Pratt the Out-of-Door Theatre, intended as a temporary venue for the 50th anniversary observances, was completed as a permanent theater, accommodating an audience of 3,000. 

Members of industrialist Henry Ford’s Peace Expedition, seeking among Europe’s neutral nations a “Neutral Conference for Continuous Mediation” that would end the war, sailed from New York City for Oslo aboard the Oscar II. Led by Ford himself, the 150 pacifists included Inez Milholland Boissevain ’09 and Vassar student Katrina Brewster ’16. The college declined to send a formal representative, but President MacCracken proposed, with no success, that his father, the vice-president of the New York Peace Society, be among the delegates.

The students in the delegation embarked for home on January 11, 1916, and the others followed four days later.

Successful talks in Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Holland established the conference, which worked for over a year to achieve its goals, ceasing on February 7, 1917, when Ford, apparently persuaded that his and other efforts had moved President Woodrow Wilson from an isolationist to a active pacifist position on the war, ordered the mission’s end.

A petition signed by 30 members of the Vassar faculty was sent to Washington, DC, urging President Wilson to terminate diplomatic relations with Germany and Austria. Among the signatories were Professor of Political Science Emerson D. Fite, Professor of Philosophy Woodbridge Riley, Professor of Economics Herbert Mills and Professor of French Jean C. Braq.

“President Henry Noble MacCracken did not sign the petition, and said that it did not represent the opinion of Vassar, but the ideas of the individual signers.”

The New York Times

The Years