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Ratification of the covenant of the League of Nations was endorsed by 901 of the 1,100 students at Vassar.

Eighty-five members of the Vassar faculty joined the Poughkeepsie Trade and Labor Council in sending letters to the New York State Assembly protesting the ouster of five duly elected Socialist members on charges of “disloyalty.” During a period of international anxiety about a “rising tide” of socialism, the ensuing judiciary hearings and the final decision—a four-to-one vote on April 2 expelling the assemblymen—aroused varied comment: a17-year-old Brooklyn girl testified that she’d seen one of the men spit on the American flag, Colonel Theodore Roosevelt vehemently supported the men and New York Board of Aldermen President Fiorello LaGuardia succinctly advised, “seat them or shoot them.”

Beyond Vassar

Ratified on January 16, 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution went into effect, prohibiting the sale, manufacture and transportation of alcohol for consumption.

Owing to the worldwide influenza epidemic, now entering its third year, students were told to remain on campus for the “mid-year” break. While not absolutely forbidden to leave for nearby cities, they were told that permission to travel would be given only in urgent circumstances.

The flu pandemic started in Europe and was first seen in the United States in January 1918. By that fall, at least 3,000 cases had been recorded in Poughkeepsie, and percautions were taken on campus, while campus groups reached out to assist local health agencies. In October 1918, money was raised on campus to aid local organizations, emergency accommodations were set up for ailing staff members, most of them campus residents, and two students with nursing qualifications left college for two weeks to assist with influenza cases at Bellevue Hospital in New York City.

A month after the curtailment of the “mid-year” break Dr. Elizabeth Burr Thelberg ’13, the college physician reported that the number of flu cases on campus had dropped by half from the 113 the year before, and called on “all members of the community” to continue their vigilence.

The Folklore Foundation was established at Vassar by the gift of an anonymous donor. Anthropologist Martha Warren Beckwith, who had studied with Franz Boas at Columbia, joined the faculty as research professor on the Folklore Foundation, the first such post in the country.

Beckwith taught a folklore seminar each semester, and her students often gathered examples of Hudson Valley folklore, some of which President MacCracken used in Blythe Dutchess (1958). In all, the Folklore Foundation issued 14 volumes of research by Beckwith and others, and it sponsored lectures and programs including in 1932 a presentation by girls from Hawaii, one of Beckwith’s primary research areas.

The project’s donor, Beckwith’s childhood friend Annie Alexander, a naturalist and sugar heiress, had promised support for the classes, lectures and publications for as long as Beckwith was associated with Vassar. Despite efforts by Beckwith and President MacCracken to extend it, the foundation’s work ended with her retirement in1938.

American poet Vachel Lindsay read his poems.

“Vachel Lindsay was so exalted by the success of his reading of ‘The Congo’ and other poems that he serenaded the seniors afterwards, as they hung perilously from the corridor windows of Main. He made up his own cheer for Vassar, borrowing an apothegm from Josh Billings, whom he was delighted to find as local hero. He chanted:

Better not to know so many things.

Than to know so much that ain’t so!

Vassar! Vassar! Vassar!

It took hours to get him to bed, for he was intoxicated with a far more heady wine than mere alcohol.”

Henry Noble MacCracken, The Hickory Limb

Lindsay was quoting from the Affurisms: Slips of the Pen (1865) by American humorist Henry Wheeler Shaw, who lived for many years in Poughkeepsie, working as a journalist and auctioneer. His humorous pieces under the pen name “Josh Billings” brought him considerable fame in the later years of the 19th century.

The Mary Augusta Scott Chair of English was established by bequest of Mary Augusta Scott ’76. Dr. Scott, teacher of rhetoric and Anglo-Saxon at Vassar in 1882-1883, was the first woman to hold a fellowship at Yale University and one of the first group of women at Yale to receive the PhD, in 1894. An Elizabethan scholar, Dr. Scott was a professor of English at Smith College from 1902 until her death in 1917. Her most notable scholarly work, Elizabethan Translations from the Italian (1915), was published in the Vassar Semi-Centennial Series, and she spoke on “Spacious Days at Vassar College” at the college’s 50th anniversary observances.

The Scott chair was first held by Laura Johnson Wylie ’77, professor of English from 1895 until 1924.

“A trolley car loaded with Vassar College girls ran away down Main Street hill here today. It was stopped at the wharf at the Hudson River by a concrete bumper. The occupants were badly shaken up and frightened. Slippery rails caused the motorman to lose control of the car.

“Many of the girls tried to jump, but were prevented by the conductor, who would not allow the doors to be opened.”

The New York Times

Dr. Winifred Clara Cullis, formerly at the London School of Medicine for Women and the first female professor of physiology at the University of London, gave a series of lectures on the Ellen H. Richards Fund.

The art department presented an exhibition of paintings by American realist George Bellows.

“So great is the interest in baseball at Vassar College this Spring,” The New York Times reported, “that it is likely that the Athletic Association will make the game a major sport to rank with hockey and basket ball.”

Scenes of its first observance were reenacted for Founder’s Day, and President MacCracken eulogized Matthew Vassar. The junior class won the annual singing contest, and students impersonated figures from Vassar’s history in an evening event.

Led by history professor Louise Fargo Brown, 20 seniors went to Albany to protest the “Lusk bills,” two bills introduced by Senator Clayton Lusk and passed by the State Legislature requiring certification of loyalty to “the institutions and laws” of the country from teachers in public schools and empowering the state board of regents to revoke the accreditation of any private school whose teachings were “detrimental to the public interest.” Primarily aimed at socialist and communist “infiltration,” the laws were called “pernicious” by Brown’s colleague in the history department Lucy Maynard Salmon, “because they put a premium on the concealment of ideas.”

New York Governor Alfred E. Smith vetoed these measures along with four similar bills on May 19, declaring that the teacher certification bill “deprives teachers of their right to freedom of thought. It limits the teaching staff of the public schools to those only who lack courage or the mind to exercise their legal right to just criticism of existing institutions.”

The New York Times

The sophomore class won the 26th annual field day with 44 points to 38 ½, 17 ½ and 16 for the juniors, freshmen and seniors. Rita Fuguet set a new college record of 31 feet, 3/8 inch for the hop, skip and jump.

Irish poet William Butler Yeats spoke and read from his poems in the Students’ Building. After reading “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” Yeats noted the early influences on him of Henry David Thoreau and the natural world. One learned to imagine, he said, from nature, while one learned to “observe” (which he defined as making “unnecessary observations”) from schools and colleges. Five-sixths of the world, he declared, saw apparitions, “only you don’t, when you get to college.”

A writer in The Miscellany News pondered the poetic presence of Ireland’s long social turmoil in light of Yeats’s remarks. “It is the visionary, impractical quality that the Irish possess and their passionate love of tradition that lead them to revolt constantly against England’s authority. A stranger manifestation of this traditional character of their thought is the existing mingling of the ideas of the pagan and Chrisitan Paradise, vividly brought out in the poems ‘The Happy Townland’ and ‘Running to Paradise.’” The Miscellany News

Yeats lectured at Vassar on “The Intellectual Revival in Ireland” in December 1903.

After being reassured at the baccalaureate service the previous day by the Rev. Robert Elliott Speer, secretary of the Presbyterian Board of Missions, that he who “says that times are the worst that have ever been known…betrays an imperfect historical perspective,” the 257 members of the Class of 1920 were addressed at Commencement by President MacCracken, who spoke of “The Castle of Ladies,” a game at mediaeval courts where ladies sat enthroned in a miniature castle and were “assaulted” by rose blossoms. The game symbolized, he said, “that human trait which insists on making sport out of the tragic reality of life. They played in the Middle Ages at a siege…which [in reality] lasted for months and years and killed hundreds.” Then, reminding his audience of the recent bloody sacrifice of young Englishmen at the battle of the Dardanelles, MacCracken noted “the most popular fox trot of the year…’Dardanella,’” asking, “Is it possible for the spirit of play to commit a more grievous sin against the spirit of heroic youth? Have we changed so much after all?”

Gifts to the college of over $600,000 were announced including $110,000 from Harriet Trumbull Williams ’70 for a residence hall for members of the faculty. Three master’s degrees were awarded, and although The New York Times had earlier reported a shortage of daisies, the daisy chain was revived for the occasion.

Beyond Vassar

By a one-vote margin, the Tennessee General Assembly became the 36th state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment to U.S. Constitution, thus enabling women to vote.

The annual fee for tuition and residence was raised to $880. Faculty salaries ranged from $1,200 for beginning instructors to $3,600 for full professors after five years’ service.

A reception welcomed members of the Class of ’24, and the college announced that ten nationalities were represented this year. Vassar students came from Canada, Chile, China, Czechoslovakia, England, Hawaii, Porto Rico, Serbia, Sweden and Russia. The New York Times

Jan Masaryk, Czechoslovakian chargé d’affaires and son of Czech President Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, urged international cooperation in an address in the Chapel. “A family of nations,” he said, “there must absolutely be.”

He was later entertained at the President’s House by five Czech students, members of the Class of 1922 brought to Vassar through President MacCracken’s efforts and those of Masaryk’s sister Alice and Ruth Crawford Mitchell ’12.

A keynote of the college’s observance of the 600th anniversary observance of Dante’s death was an address by Professor of Italian Bruno Roselli at the Nelson House, Poughkeepsie. Led by Professor Roselli, Vassar students took part the following June in a pilgrimage by 120 American students to Dante’s tomb in Ferrara, Italy.

The Salary Endowment Fund was inaugurated with the faculty’s request that the trustees accept $500,000 from the General Education Board—a philanthropic endowment founded in 1902 by John D. Rockefeller and his principal philanthropic advisor, Rev. Frederick P. Gates—on condition that an additional $1,500,000 be raised. Edna W. Brezee ’05 was campaign director for the alumnae.

The General Education Board contributed $200,000 to Vassar’s general endowment campaign in 1915. Rockefeller and Gates were former Vassar trustees.

The policies and platform of the Republican presidential nominee, Ohio Senator Warren Harding—particularly his “America first” rejection of the League of Nations and his repudiation of the progressivism of Theodore Roosevelt—gave rise to calls for Republicans to “bolt” the party. President MacCracken joined the presidents of Oberlin, Smith, Bryn Mawr and Mount Holyoke—all officers of the League to Enforce Peace—in declaring that he would vote “the straight Democratic ticket.”

MacCracken said, “As one who has voted the Republican ticket in years past, I should like to be able to vote for the Republicans…. There is a limit, however, to party allegiance, and the actions of the Republican Party, both as to nominees and platform, have stretched my loyalty to the breaking point. I feel justified, therefore, in asking to be counted on the side of State welfare and national honor.”

The New York Times

In the first election in which women were able to vote, Vassar’s straw poll gave the eventual winner, Warren G. Harding, 594 votes and 301 votes to Democrat James M. Cox.

On the anniversary of the Armistice, the college welcomed the “French tank” to the campus. The 40-ton, camouflaged Saint-Charmond tank had been put out of commission by a German shell in 1918 at the battle of Chateau-Thierry while leading American forces to an Allied victory. A gift from the French government, it commemorated the services of some 150 Vassar women in France during World War I and its aftermath.

In a “christening” celebration, the students marched around the tank carrying French and American flags and singing the “Marseillaise” and “The Star Spangled Banner.” Among the speakers were Margaret Lambie ’07, the leader of the “Vassar Unit” that served near Verdun, J. A. M. de Sanchez, head of the Economic Division of the French Commission in the United States and President MacCracken. Mireille Holland ’22 spoke for the student body, in French.

The tank stood between Jewett and Josselyn halls, a memorial, landmark, hideout and faculty children’s plaything, until it was removed in the summer of 1934.

Having spent the afternoon coaching members of the Speech Class 87 in reading her new one-act play Aria da Capo, Edna St. Vincent Millay ’17 read from her poems in the Students’ Building. “The audience… was so large that it was necessary to adjourn to Students’ Building… Miss Millay read her poems with an informality which captivated the audience at once, and which seemed her especial prerogative as a very recent graduate. Her interpretation of her poetry, simple and unconscious of self, lent it especial charm.”

Vassar Miscellany News

The Years