Skip to content Skip to navigation
Skip to global navigation Menu

Recently returned from a semester’s sabbatical in Europe, President MacCracken voiced concern about the threat to education of a growing spirit of blind nationalism. “If education is to be, in the future, what it has been in the past,” he told the annual luncheon of the Vassar Club of New York, “all the great educational institutions must unite to stand for a broader definition of education and refuse to bow the knee to those who would twist it from its proper purpose.”

When asked in Belgium, MacCracken told the gathering, for Vassar’s flag for a ceremony honoring institutions that had contributed to the rebuilding of the library at the Catholic University of Louvain, he had to admit that the college had none. Whereupon the women of Louvain designed and wove a flag of rose and gray bearing the college’s original seal which was placed with the others in the Louvain library. MacCracken introduced to the alumnae a replica of the flag, given him by the weavers, as the new flag of Vassar College.

The Board of Residents replaced the Board of Wardens, formally inviting the faculty into residential aspects of college life. Under the new plan three or more teaching staff or members of the academic administration lived in each hall, sharing with student officers “responsibility for maintaining the residential college as an indispensable part of the academic policy.”

New York publisher Mitchell Kennerley gave the Vassar Art Gallery four busts by American sculptor Jo Davidson: “Head of a Woman—Emily Grigsby,” “Head of a Man,” “Head of a Young Boy—Morley Kennerley” and “Bust of Diana Norman.”

German choreographer and dancer Mary Wigman, a pioneer in German expressionist dance, gave a recital financed by the Ellen H. Richards Fund.

“Seldom has a Vassar audience been aroused to such a demonstration…the hall reverberated with shouts and stamps of frenzied appreciation. Students’ Building was crowded to capacity and approximately 250 people were turned away.”

The Vassar Quarterly.

Arthur Garfield Hays, the general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, lectured on “Martyrs of Injustice.” Hays participated for the defense in both the Scopes evolution trial in Tennessee and the Sacco and Vanzetti anarchist murder trials in Massachusetts, and he soon would join the in the defense of the “Scottsboro Boys,” nine young black men accused of rape in Alabama in March 1931.

The college announced the appointment of Charles Butler Nicolson, former editor of The Detroit Free Press, as director of publicity, succeeding Cornelia Raymond ’83. Miss Raymond, the youngest child of John H. Raymond, Vassar’s second president, came to Vassar at the age of three, and she returned in 1913 as associate warden. She became director of publicity in 1926 and retired in 1931.

Mr. Nicolson was the father of Majorie Hope Nicolson, the dean of Smith College.

Eleanor C. Dodge ’25 was elected warden of the college, succeeding Jean C. Palmer ’93, who died in July 1929.

The Experimental Theatre produced Can You Hear Their Voices? by Hallie Flanagan and Margaret Clifford,’29. Focusing on the effects of a devastating Arkansas drought on the lives of ordinary people, the play anticipated the documentary movement of the 1930s and the literature of social protest. Its experimental technique foreshadowed the Living Newspapers developed by Flanagan and her colleagues later in the decade for the Federal Theatre Project.

Writing in The New York Times, Poughkeepsie lawyer—and later, Flanagan’s associate in the FTP—Emmett Lavery found the play’s origins in “what Professor Hallie Flanagan saw the Russian propaganda theatres do about similar tragedies…. Out of the front page news of the past few months…Flanagan and her students have fashioned in seven scenes the narrative of the dirt farmers who starved while Congress dilly-dallied on the dole.

“Strictly speaking, this was not the Vassar Female College of Matthew Vassar presenting an all-female cast in a political charade, but a hard-hitting play of a modern college theatre with college and town men providing the masculine menace. It has made the faculty think and some of the alumnae gasp. Well, they ought to.”

The New York committee on foreign study and travel, charged with disbursing eight privately sponsored scholarships for junior year study abroad awarded the scholarship for study in Spain to Elizabeth Brereton ’33. Miss Brereton and the alternate, also a Vassar student, Violet Fletcher ’33, were two of only three women among the 13 awardees and alternates.

Speaking at Alumnae House in April 1933 about her study abroad in a “Vassar Abroad” program, part of the annual spring conference of the Alumnae Council, Miss Brereton described, according to The Miscellany News, “the life of a Vassar girl in Madrid in the ‘very safe haven’ of the Residencia of Señoritas under the auspices of the Smith group…. She was taught Arabic by a priest and metaphysics by a man well-known in political circles.”

The gift of members of the Vassar Training Camp for Nurses, Mills Gate, at the corner of Raymond and Collegeview Avenues, was dedicated in honor of Herbert E. Mills, dean of the Vassar Training Camp for Nurses and professor of economics from 1890 until his retirement in 1931. Mills came to Vassar when economics became part of the curriculum, and he was chair of the faculty between the tenures of James Monroe Taylor and Henry Noble MacCracken.

The Rev. Dr. Robert Russell Wicks, dean of the chapel at Princeton, delivered a stinging analysis of complacency in American life in his baccalaureate sermon to the Class of 1931. Declaring that neither radicalism nor racketeering was to be feared as much as “bourgeois, white middle class” complacency, he added that this passivity had become entrenched behind religious respectability. Wicks told the class “your generation, which helped give respectability a beating, should now become apostles of [a] finer sense of life which must take its place, or we are lost…. We are having it pounded into us that life on this planet is not a solitaire game but team play…. Each of us is not paddling his own canoe. We are all in the same boat.”

The New York Times

Although he had feared he might have to cancel his appearance to meet his ailing mother’s ship when it arrived in New York City, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Governor of New York State and a trustee of the college, spoke at the 1931 Commencement exercises. Hailing the 284 graduates as “fellow students” and admitting he wished he “might live another hundred years to study,” the Governor declared, “Study implies not what we are doing today, but what we are to do in days to come…. You, who are going out today, will find out why people need help. Many facts today have startled us out of our complacence. We are faced with the problems of planning for the future and preventing the recurrence of these same conditions. We must do our own study, arrive at our own opinions.”

The New York Times

Gifts to the college for the year totaled $399,290: $51,911 for various purposes; $149,077 subject to annuities, $125,580 for a new gymnasium; current gifts for scholarships and other purposes, $72,722.

The annual fee for tuition and residence was raised to $1,200.

Professor of Italian Bruno Roselli received a gold medal from the Italian Ministry of Education, the first ever to an American, for “spreading knowledge of the Italian language, literature and ideals in the United States.”

The New York Times

Vassar, Princeton and Clark University were the United States colleges awarded the World Peace Medal from the Fédération Interallié des Anciens Combattants (FIDAC). The international organization awarded medals for service “in promoting world peace and understanding” to colleges in each of the ten countries represented in its membership of over 9,000,000 World War I veterans.

Speaking at Fall Convocation, Professor of English Winifred Smith ’04 said, “There are still many people who are afraid of letting girls go out into the world alone, afraid of their earning a living, of their getting ideas, of their being highbrows, of their looking or acting like thinking, grown-up individuals. It is your task to convince such people that experiments sincerely made, and new ideas actively held, do not hurt girls any more than they hurt boys, but on the contrary strengthen them; that you are human beings first and well brought up young women second….”

Because of a polio epidemic that had swept the region since July, Vassar opened two weeks late, in strict quarantine.

Dr. Marie Baum, lecturer in the Institute of Political and Social Science at the University of Heidelberg and, according to The Miscellany News, “one of the best-known women in modern Germany,” visited the college as a guest of the euthenics department. Her week-long stay included two lectures on October 16 and October 19 on “The Family and the Social Structure” and a lecture in German on universities past and present.

One of the first German women to attain a university degree, Baum received her doctorate in chemistry in Zurich in 1899. Turning to social welfare work within a few years, she was director of the Society for Infant Care in Düsseldorf between 1907 and 1916 and subsequently served as divisional head of welfare services in the Ministry of Labor in Karlsruhe before joining the Heidelberg faculty. The rise of the National Socialists (Nazis) in 1933 ended her academic career, but she subsequently served briefly as one of very few women in the Reichstag representing the liberal left-wing Deutsche Demokratische Partei (DDP).

Constance M. Rourke, ’07 lectured on “What Is Humor? An Anglo-American Contrast” and “Humor of Our Soil.” She compared, according to The Miscellany News, “the young American humor which is more apt to find expression in folk channels, in monologues and the less formal mediums…to the Mississippi River, full of snags and sawyers, or to the Missouri River, in it varying course and character. The wise, old, sophisticated, quiet humor of England could be compared to a well-rounded English oak. English people, who might be considered more civilized than the American nation…are apt to express their humor in the more established forms of essays and dramas.”

Rourke, who taught English at Vassar between 1910 and 1915, compiled and edited The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Opening of Vassar College (1916), an account of the college’s semicentennial. Her writings on aspects of and prominent figures in American culture, particularly American Humour: A Study of National Character (1931), laid the foundation for subsequent studies of American culture and humor.

Arthur H. Compton, professor of physics at the University of Chicago, and winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics (1927), lectured on “Are Men’s Actions Determined by Physical Laws,” “What Are Things Made of?” and “What Is Light?”

The college celebrated the opening of the Belle Skinner Hall of Music. Presented to the college by William Skinner in memory of his sister, a member of the Class of 1887, the French Gothic style building was designed by Charles Collens. Belle Skinner restored the severly damaged French town of Hattonchatel after World War I, and her memorial hall was modeled after the chateau at Hattonchatel. Professor George C. Gow presided at the opening ceremony, and a choir of 140 students sang “Praise Ye the Lord.” William Skinner spoke of his sister’s lifelong love of music, and Mrs. Charles Storrs ’87 spoke about her Vassar classmate.

Music librarian George Sherman Dickinson was largely responsible for the extraordinary completeness of the new building’s design, which included recital halls, offices, practice facilities, a 7,500-volume library and a museum. Reporting on the building’s dedication The New York Times called Skinner Hall “one of the finest of [Vassar’s] college buildings and one of the finest and most completely equipped of any college musical buildings.”

The Yale Dramatic Association and Vassar’s Philaletheis produced four one-act plays in the Yale Theatre, the first dramatic presentations by student associations from men’s and women’s colleges. The plays, “Long Christmas Dinner,” “The Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden,” “Such Things Happen Only in Books” and “Love and How to Cure It” were the first plays by Thornton Wilder—to this time a writer of fiction—to be produced.

Wilder (Yale ’20) had published the plays earlier in November and, hoping to attract New York producers and commercial production, he convinced the Yale “Dramat” to break with its custom of using men for women’s roles. The plays’ director, Yale faculty member Alexander Dean, travelled between New Haven and Poughkeepsie for rehearsals, only working with the entire cast in final rehearsals.

Programs for the productions, which bore the inscription “This Programme Can Be Read In The Dark,” glowed in the dark.

The Experimental Theatre and the Greek department, with the cooperation of the departments of music and art, presented the Hippolytus of Euripides in Greek. Directed by Hallie Flanagan and Philip Davis, professor of Greek, the performance was thought to be the first presentation in modern times of the play as it was first heard 2,300 years earlier.

Flanagan described the rehearsals as among the most exciting she ever witnessed: “…these students chanting Greek choruses as if they’d been brought up on Greek; President MacCracken as Theseus working on the stage with a cool intensity which communicates itself to everyone; [Instructor in Music Theory] Gertrude Brown’s music filling the theatre.”

Hallie Flanagan, Dynamo

Speaking with a student in 2006, Maisry MacCracken ’31 had another recollection of her father in this role. “He just loved the theater. I know one story he used to tell about when he was acting in a play in Greek under Hallie Flanagan. He was supposed to be some leader and he had had his secretary get him a pair of sandals. When he was rehearsing he would forget his lines in Greek and he’d turn up his toes in the sandals, trying to remember. Then, Hallie Flanagan would shout, ‘Prexy! Put your toes down!’ This would make him forget his lines again and in trying to remember, the toes would turn up again. Finally, Hallie said, ‘You’ve got to wear shoes to the performance.’”


“She Goes to Vassar,” a film produced and directed by [Mary] Marvin Breckinridge ’27, was shown to the Vassar Club of Washington at the gymnasium of the Potomac School. Funded by the college and the Alumnae Association, the film featured three students chosen in consultation with Philaletheis and was shown to alumnae groups and parents of prospective students “to keep the alumnae in touch with the college, and to show parents…what their daughters will do at the school.”

The Washington Post

The Forgotten Frontier (1930), Breckinridge’s silent film about a nurse and midwifery health service in the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky, was highly acclaimed. Later, through an association with Edward R. Murrow that began when she was in college, Breckinridge became the first female news correspondent for the CBS radio network. Broadcasting from seven European countries prior to World War II, she famously slipped a barbed assessment of Germany under the Nazis past the German censors. Describing the Nazi newspaper Voelkische Beobachter, she observed, “The motto of this important official paper is Freedom and Bread. There is still bread.”

Speaking to the student delegates to the seventh annual conference of the National Student Federation, meeting in Toledo, President MacCracken called for analysis of the “economic and political disabilities of students,” so that these impediments could be addressed and removed. In particular, he urged that the “medieval tradition” of town-and-gown hostility be replaced with a “sounder American spirit.”

Praising the rise of independent work in colleges, he proposed “as the fundamental axiom of the university that the student’s chief motive for university life is study in association with his teachers and students of like interest.”

The conference adopted a resolution favoring immediate United States entrance into the League of Nations and the World Court and voted 100 to 22 against compulsory military education in American colleges.

The New York Times

The Years