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Dr. Pitirim Sorokin, formerly professor of sociology at the University of Petrograd, gave a series of five lectures on “The Sociology of Revolution.” President MacCracken had met Sorokin in Czechoslovakia at a dinner given by President Tomáš Masaryk, and he invited the émigré sociologist to, as Sorokin put it, “be a guest of Vassar for a few weeks, to study English there, and to prepare my lectures…. The six weeks I spent at Vassar were indeed happy and full ones. Each day I attended several classes, learned a great deal about the American academic way of life…and fully enjoyed the friendly atmosphere of the college, the President’s family, the professors and the students.” Pitirim A. Sorokin, A Long Journey: the Autobiography of Pitirim A. Sorokin

While at Vassar, on December 31, 1923, Sorokin wrote to The New York Times, excoriating the expectations of Idaho Republican Senator William E. Borah that the Soviet regime in Russia would provide new markets for America. Declaring that Borah’s policies helped “the communistic criminals to ruin further their victims” and claiming that “the name of Senator Borah is one of the most unpopular among the Russian people,” Sorokin predicted that “If Senator Borah does not understand now the real situation in Russia and all the objective harmfulness of his…policy to the Russian people, I am certain that even he and his followers will understand it in two or three years.”

Italian playwright Luigi Pirandello lectured, in Italian, on the underlying themes of his plays and of the modern movement in drama. Contessa Irene di Robilan, head of the Italo-American Society, and Dr. Arthur Livingston, Pirandello’s official translator, interpreted the lecture, entitled “The Italian Theatre, Old and New.” The playwright maintained that the fundamental difference between the old drama and the new was less in form than in subject. “The old theatre,” reported The Miscellany News, “was preoccupied with social and moral problems, and with environment as their cause. This type of drama originated in France and was imitated in Italy. Then came younger writers who wished to treat intellectual and spriitual problems instead of social ones. This theatre of ideas concerns itself with such problems as what reality is and what makes it.” Asked if Bernard Shaw belonged to the old or to the modern theatre, Pirandello, said The Misc, proclaimed Shaw to be “an ultra-modern writer…. The new theatre does not mean only that which deals with new subjects. The modern writer is he who has a novel view and conception of his subject. Hence Shaw is a modern writer.”

Questioned about the degree to which a modern Italian drama can be interpreted by American actors, the Italian pointed out, said the reporter, that the new theatre “because it does not deal with local color, but with human thoughts and passions, may easily become international. Drama of the soul does not depend upon any nationality for interpretation.” The Vassar Experimental Theatre gave the American premières of Pirandello’s Each in His Own Way (Ciascuno a suo modo, 1924) in December 1929 and of his Tonight We Improvise (Questa sera si recita a soggetto, 1929) in December, 1936.

Innovative American anthropogeographer Professor Ellen Churchill Semple ’82 from Clark University gave a series of six lectures on the geographical aspects of the Mediterranean. A seminal theorist of “environmental determinism” and member of the first geography department in the United States—at the University of Chicago—from 1906 until 1921, Semple was among the distinguished alumnae speakers at the college’s semi-centennial in 1915.

Beyond Vassar

At memorial services at St. Paul’s Church, Poughkeepsie, for President Woodrow Wilson, who had died on February 3, President MacCracken said, “Wilson exalted us and it was too much for us to bear. We fell away and reverted to our old selves, for our world is so constituted that it cannot support moral determinists, but the end is not yet. Wilson has passed on, but something of his moral power is left in men’s hearts and stirs them to new power under God.”

Wilson had supported MacCracken in his founding of the American Junior Red Cross, and MacCracken recalled sitting with his wife across the banquet table in 1916 when Wilson endorsed the League to Enforce Peace “the most historic moment of our lives.”

The New York Times, Elizabeth Adams Daniels, Bridges to the World: Henry Noble MacCracken and Vassar College

In a discussion by college presidents in The New York Times, of remarks attributed to Dr. Charles J. Smith, president of Roanoke College, about modern girls’ lack of seriousness and “unconventional attire and habits,” President MacCracken responded that “distrust of youth is ridiculous.”

“The modern girl sees all of life that she can see. She knows a great deal about her father and mother. More, perhaps, than they know about her…. The girls who come here are serious about their work. All of them are doing what they want to do most. They make study a major sport. It is the business of the instructors to see that students like this sport best….

“Faculties take themselves too seriously. The members are apt to be pompous, aloof, inaccessible. I am only an older brother to these students. I am not here to criticize. I’m here to help. And the only way to help is to listen to what they have to say.”

The New York Times

Arguing both positions in a “home and home” debate held at each of six women’s colleges on the question: “Resolved, That the United States should enter the League of Nations,” Vassar, taking the affirmative, defeated Radcliffe at Poughkeepsie and, taking the negative at South Hadley, defeated Mount Holyoke.

The faculty recognized euthenics as a satisfactory field for sequential study (major). A Division of Euthenics was authorized to offer a multidisciplinary program focusing the techniques and disciplines of the arts, sciences and social sciences on the life experiences and relationships of women. Students in euthenics could take courses in horticulture, food chemistry, sociology and statistics, education, child study, economics, economic geography, physiology, hygiene, public health, psychology and domestic architecture and furniture. With the new division came the first major in child study at an American liberal arts college.

Ellen Swallow Richards ’1870 defined euthenics in The Cost of Shelter (1905) as both the “science of better living” and “the art of better living.” The program, stemming from Richards’s work, was primarily the creation of President MacCracken and Julia Lathrop ’70, with the support of Minnie Cumnock Blodgett ’84 and her husband, who donated $550,000 in 1925, primarily for the construction of the Euthenics Building, later called Blodgett Hall. When it opened in 1926 a stone dedication tablet in the entrance archway stated the building’s purpose: “To Encourage the Application of the Arts and Sciences to the Betterment of Human Living.”

President MacCracken subsequenty offered a further definition. “It is an endeavor to answer the criticism that women’s higher education does not have anything to do with her principal occupation, the family. We are not training cooks; we are not training welfare workers. We are giving women a liberal outlook upon the problem of the modern home in society…. ‘Euthenics’ is taken from the Greek, meaning ‘good adjustment of life…. ’ Other educators hailed the idea as a breakthrough in higher education. An article in Pictorial Review called the new program “one of the few modern attempts to differentiate women’s education from that of men without the slightest sacrifice of intellectual interest.”


But critics faulted the new program as a weakening of science and a slide into vocationalism. The influential educator and historian of education, Abraham Flexner—one of the founders of the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study—attacked the program, along with other “ad hoc” innovations like intercollegiate athletics and student governments, in Universities, American, English, German (1930). “Well, what is euthenics? Euthenics is the ‘science of efficient living;’ and the ‘science’ is artificially pieced together of bits of mental hygiene, child guidance, nutrition, speech development and correction, family problems, wealth consumption, food preparation, household technology, and horticulture…. The institute is actually justified in an official publication by the profound question of a girl student who is reported as asking, ‘What is the connection of Shakespeare with having a baby?’ The Vassar Institute of Euthenics bridges this gap!”

Chemistry professor Annie Louise Macleod was appointed director of euthenics in June 1923. She was succeeded by Professor Ruth Wheeler ’99, who served from 1924 to 1944 and Professor Mary Fisher Langmuir ’20, who was director of the program from 1944 until 1951.

The college announced an anonymous $10,000 gift to establish an “international peace scholarship” for foreign students. “Through this method,” the donor wrote, “it is hoped to spread American ideals to other countries and thus aid in the establishment of international peace.”

Sir Bernard Pares, professor of Russian language and literature at the recently established School of Slavonic and East European Studies at University College London, lectured in the Assembly Hall on “The Liberal Movement in Russia” and “Requirements of Russian Reconstruction.” “There are two currents which may be traced,” Sir Bernard said, according to The Miscellany News, “in the reform movement in Russia, namely the Individualistic and the Socialistic, though throughout, is was a Liberal movement.”

“At present,” The Misc. summarized about the conclusion of Sir Bernard’s second lecture, “in Russia there are Communists but no communism. The Bolsheviks, contrary to their purposes, ended in ruralizing an decentralizing Russia and strengthening religion. But in time, thinks Sir Bernard, the results of all these movements will be found in a federated union and a United States of Russia.”

A close associate of liberal Russian reformers, Pares was on the staff of the British Embassy in Petrograd at the time of the 1917 revolution. Made a Knight of the British Empire (KBE) in 1919 for his service in Russia, he was banned from Russia by the communist government until 1935.

Pares’s History of Russia (1919) and its several subsequent versions were key documents in the understanding of Russian history, politics and culture in the first half of the 20th century.

In a debate with Princeton on the question: “Resolved, That a Democratic Administration would be of benefit to the country,” seniors Harriet Kernan ‘24 and Maxine Goldmark ‘24, taking the affirmative, defeated William Webster Hall ’25 and Lawrence Hunt ’26, who, The New York Times noted, “struggled valiantly and went down fighting, but polite.”

Miss Kernan “wore a black gown and a corsage bouquet of orchids. Miss Goldmark was in blue with pink roses. The Princeton men did not attempt floral competition even to the extent of a boutonniere.” Miss Kernan “recalled that during the national campaign of 1920 speakers from Princeton had been sent to Vassar to argue the issues of the election before the students. ‘I am glad to see the world has progressed far enough since then,’ she said, ‘so that we may now come here and return the compliment.’”

As the debate proceeded, the Vassar debaters frequently consulted small card index boxes to “bring out one containing information calculated to knock hostile arguments into a cocked hat.” On the matter of tariffs, Vassar’s Goldmark declared that a “low tariff will, in addition to its other benefits, bring the solution of the farm problem. It will allow Europe to buy here and thus give the farmer a market where he may make his profit and at the same time it will reduce prices here and thus allow him to do his own buying to advantage.” On the same subject, Harriet Kernan drew a laugh from the audience when she observed, of the tariff bill enacted by the Republican Taft administration, that it failed to put on the free list “the ordinary commodities of life that every one wanted, like whisky, sugar and oil, while they did put on the list false teeth, Chinese joss sticks and things like that.”

In addition to winning two points to their opponents’ one, audience polls taken before and after the debate showed that the Vassar team had changed the opinions of a number of people in favor of the Democrats. The New York Times

Vassar debaters had contested against men from Oxford and The University of Pennsylvania, but this was the first coeducational debate for Princeton.

The student self-government board resigned in a body, in order to force a new constitution that would meet the needs of a larger college. The constitution as adopted provided for a legislative assembly and executive council to replace the former mass meetings. A new elected office, chief justice, was created when the charter of Students’ Association was ratified by the student body on May 14, 1924, and approved by the faculty. The duty of the chief justice was “to call and preside at all sessions of the Court, and to perform all other duties pertaining to the office of Chief Justice.”

Referring to himself as an “observer of men and ways” and speaking on the “Trend of Modern Industrialism,” English mathematician, logician, social critic and philosopher Bertrand Russell urged the internationalization of raw materials, means of production and credit. Industrialism in the United States and abroad, Russell claimed, had increased the productivity of labor, leading to a competitive struggle for material goods, and it had intensely organized national and world markets, leading to a crushing loss of regional and personal individuality.

“Unfortunately,” reported The Miscellany News, “the organization resulting from industrialism has been national and not international, because of the entrance of sentiment and national feeling. The only remedy for the situation, said Mr. Russell, is to internationalize the control of raw materials, the other means of production and credit so as to divide them among the countries according to their several needs.”

Born into one of the most prominent aristocratic families in Britain and a founder of the 20th century school of thought known as analytic philosophy, Russell, a staunch socialist, was imprisoned twice during the First World War for pacifist activities.

Bertrand Russell lectured again at the college in 1943.

The Alumnae House opened, Hunt & Hunt, architects. Erected on the “rock lot” at the corner of Raymond and College Avenues and given by Blanche Ferry Hooker ’94 and Queene Ferry Coonley ’96, the house was intended, according to the deed of gift, to “establish a center for the activities of the alumnae of the college….”

Harriet Sawyer ’07, former executive secretary to the alumnae association, was appointed the house’s “educational secretary,” in charge of learning from the alumnae, she told The New York Times, “what courses of study we have here, and in what manner those courses will be given…. There will be round table discussions, lectures on current topics &c. Some will want advanced French, others story-telling and so on.”

Student use of the house was limited to seniors, who were allowed have meals in the dining room. In 1937 Gertrude Garnsey ’26, the executive secretary of the alumnae association, worked with the college warden, Eleanor Dodge ’25 to reinterpret the building’s statement of purpose to include all students, their families and friends of the college.

The trustees authorized the art department to conduct a life class with professional models “to be carried on under the surveillance of Mr. Chatterton.” Painter Clarence K. Chatterton, a contemporary student with Edward Hopper, Rockwell Kent, George Bellows and Guy Pene DuBois at Robert Henri’s New York School of Art, came to Vassar in 1915, intending to teach there only briefly. “Chatty” retired from the college in 1948, having taught some 3,000 students.

Despite concerns about a particularly wet and overcast spring, a late crop of daisies was available for Class Day. The New York Times reported that the “famous daisy chain was carried by the twenty most beautiful sophomores in the Outdoor Theater during the afternoon while the seniors filed between, attired in Summer dresses.”

At their meeting, the trustees elected former Secretary of the Navy and vice presidential nominee Franklin Roosevelt from Hyde Park to the board.

The following day 250 graduates received diplomas, and gifts totaling $407,000 were announced, including $10,000 from an anonymous donor for a Woodrow Wilson Scholarship and $300,000 by the will of Mrs. Frederick Ferris Thompson. Mrs. Thompson, who had given the Frederick Ferris Thompson Memorial Library (1905), its renowned Cornaro Window (1906) and its subsequent wings (1917), died on July 28, 1923.

President MacCracken welcomed the Institute for a Christian Basis of World Relations to Vassar. Over 200 delegates represented the League of Women Voters, the YWCA, the American Association of University Women, the Foreign Policy Association and other organizations. The first women’s gathering to be held for this purpose, the institute was “speechless” by design. No formal addresses were scheduled. Delegates voted instead at the outset for the ”areas of thought” they wished to have discussed.

The topics chosen ranged from “Race Relations in the United States” and “The Immigration Policy of the United States” to “The Outlawry of War as a Way to Peace” and “The Humanitarian Problems of the World.” Instead of lecturers, the delegates, from 19 states and 11 foreign countries, had on hand over a dozen experts on political and cultural conditions in countries around the world, who served as a “human reference library…ready to give advice on knotty problems.” This group included Professor James Shotwell from Columbia—a member of “The Inquiry,” Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policy brain trust who had attended the Paris Peace Conference—Dr. John Hope of Morehouse College—whose knowledge of American racial issues was drawn upon—and two young members of the American YWCA, recently returned from the Near East and Russia. The only college students invited to the institute were Vassar foreign students from Finland, Czechoslovakia, Poland and China, under the “chairmanship” of Caroline Wolfstein ’24.

As the conference went along, participants were reported to be asking that the three daily session, stretching over nearly six hours, be lengthened, and an observer commented that the women “put aside personal opinions. It is facts they crave, irrespective of creed, politics or racial barriers. They are here to open their minds to all sides of every question.” He added, “I came here to remain a day, and I have stayed the whole week.”

The institute culminated with a “town meeting,” the topic for which was “What shall we as individuals do about it?”

The New York Times

The trustees appointed the college’s first general manager, Keene Richards, authorizing him to reorganize its business administration. Aided by Paul Cassat, Vassar’s first comptroller, Richards instituted a centralized purchasing system, putting an end to what was known as the “charge it to Vassar” tradition.

The Student Curriculum Committee, organized in the second semester of 1923–24, conducted its first time-survey. About half of the students kept a record of all time spent on studies, extra-curricular activities and exercise. Similar surveys were also made in 1939 and 1955. 

The Vassar Bank was incorporated and opened in the Wagner Inn. Concerned by the inequity between men students’ ability to hold their college funds in bank accounts while women received allowances that the college held and disbursed, President MacCracken had established early in his presidency a bank for students in Main Building. Open to the Arlington community and a site for much of the college’s financial activity, the new bank was set up so that the college would no longer serve as students’ de facto bank and to enable students to learn more about personal finances.

The bank’s officers included Dr. William Bancroft Hill, professor of religion, Professors of Economics Mabel Newcomer and Herbert E. Mills, President MacCracken and Olive M. Lapham ’17.

The bank stayed afloat during the Great Depression and continued in operation until 1947, when it was consolidated with the First National Bank of Poughkeepsie.

Vassar debated Cambridge on the question “Resolved, that Modern Democracy Is not Compatible with Personal Liberty.” The judges awarded the debate to Cambridge, with Richard Austen Butler and his colleagues upholding the affirmative. The audience voted, however, two to one in favor of the negative. Members of Vassar’s team were Mary Virginia Heinlein ’25, Ruth Driver ’26 and Winifred Comstock ’25.

In 1954, British Chancellor of the Exchequer “Rab” Butler recalled: “We found the earnest, logical Yankees easy to flummox, except for the Vassar girls, who ran circles round us.”


Beyond Vassar

Republican Calvin Coolidge defeated John W. Davis in the presidential election. Vassar’s straw vote gave Coolidge 321 to 180 for Davis. Progressive candidate Robert La Follette polled 86 votes.

In the Chapel, the Vassar College Choir gave the first performance in America of Three Carols (1923): “Tyrley Tyrlow,” Balulalow” and “The Sycamore Tree,” by English composer Peter Warlock (Philip Arnold Heseltine). Arranged for women’s voices by E. Harold Geer, professor of music and the choir’s director, the three carols were, said The Vassar Miscellany News, “stamped with modernity; they called for choir, organ, piano and solo voice; and the combined all into colorful harmonies, syncopated rhythms, chromatic melodies, to give a richness and sophistication.” Soprano Adele Parkhurst sang the solo parts.

Based on old English carols, Three Carols was first performed in London the previous year under the direction of Ralph Vaughan Williams.

The Years