Re: Wanderlust and the Watson Fellowship (Winter 2001)

I read with interest your article in the latest Vassar Quarterly, "Wanderlust and the Watson Fellowship," about the many fine Vassar students who have taken advantage of this splendid program. VQ’s readers might also be interested to know a little of the history of how Vassar and the Watson came together a decade ago, for in arranging that marriage two Vassar alumni played an important role.

Those two alumni are the late Nora Burton Licata ’43, and her son Tim Licata ’86. When one of Nora’s other sons, my friend Steve Licata, became executive director of the Watson Foundation in 1989, he was surprised to learn that a school of Vassar’s quality, character, and reputation was not already part of the Watson Fellowship Program, then more than two decades old. Steve, himself a former Watson Fellow, knew about Vassar not only from visits to campus during my time on the faculty but, more, by growing up in a household that held Vassar in high esteem.

Discovering this oversight, he visited campus to speak with Colton Johnson, Susan Davis, and others, then had no trouble convincing his colleagues at the Watson Foundation that Vassar should be added to the list of elite schools in the program. The rest, as they say, is history — or at least a "marriage" made in heaven!

Steve Licata, now an attorney in Milwaukee, has enjoyed following the fortunes of Vassar’s Watson Fellows, students who, year after year, prove him right about Vassar’s suitability for this program. He will be delighted to read your fine article.

James H. Merrell
Chair, Department of History
Vassar College

Cover Story Revisited

Congratulations on a fine and important story about Anita Hemmings (winter 2001). Other details that may add even more interest: (a) Anita’s brother attended MIT also in the class of 1897 as "colored," (b) Anita preceded her time at Vassar attending the prep school Mt. Herman, (c) Ellen Love, Anita’s daughter, attended Vassar herself and also sent her children to the Horace Mann School in New York City. By coincidence, reporter Brent Staples wrote a piece on the editorial page of the New York Times on Dec. 17, 2001, about the [Sally] Hemings family and "passing" without knowledge of Anita and Vassar. He is working on a book on the extensive issue of "passing."

Frances Levison Low ’41
San Francisco, California

Re: Social Health of the Nation (Winter 2001)

Sociology professor Marque-Luisa Miringoff criticizes newspapers for devoting entire sections to baseball statistics and stock quotes, while giving short shrift to social data. But her analysis ignores that while we can all mostly agree upon what makes a good baseball player or a financially strong company, reaching consensus on what makes the nation socially healthy is far more difficult.

Miringoff and her colleagues rely on 16 social indicators they deem important, while ignoring different indicators others might view as noteworthy, such as the number of children being raised in single-family homes.

Among the statistics they do choose to include are income inequality and health insurance coverage. What their report ignores, however, is that America has seen millions of immigrants in the past decade, who tend to be poor and lack health insurance. Still, those immigrants contribute much to the nation’s cultural diversity and economic strength — yet, under Miringoff’s calculus, they supposedly make America socially poorer. What’s with that?

And is income equality really a good measure of the nation’s social health? Would America really be any better off if Bill Gates earned the national average, instead of being a billionaire? As the New York Times reported on Dec. 15, 2001, many economists have come to see "inequality as a basic feature of the new high-tech economic scene, the natural consequence of an economy that has begun to reward talent, skills, education, and entrepreneurial risk with increasing efficiency."

Derek Rose '94
New York, New York

Quite a Legacy

I read with interest in the recent alumnae/i magazine about Vassie James 1897 (winter 2001). It’s worth mentioning that her granddaughter, Ellen James Ward, graduated with the class of 1949. Quite a VC legacy in that family!

Jane C. Ballard ’49
Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania

Vassar Yesterday (Summer 2001)

Dear Vassar Quarterly,

Thank you for publishing the fine photograph of the protest demonstration from 1968 in your summer 2001 issue (p.28). It is an important moment to remember, as it is part of a significant time in our history.

The caption slightly misquotes the sign held by one woman, which actually used more forceful language: "We demand protection from the police!" ("demand" rather than "need").

Nathan Wise (Yale ’72)
Preston, Connecticut

Reactions to the Redesigned Vassar Quarterly

For many years I was a devoted reader. Curling up with cover-to-cover attention every three months made me feel connected with the college in a nice, warm way. In fact, I was class correspondent for six years and even saw myself in print. But perhaps five issues ago the Quarterly burst into color and left me behind.

This has made me feel very sad. It is almost impossible to read any text printed on colored paper with a thin font that is often interrupted with distracting images. There is no uniformity of style to carry a reader along. Starting about two years ago when each new issue arrived, I would look at the pictures and lay it aside, promising to try again, but my eyes rebelled.

Colored paper reduces the light on a page so that reading and comprehension are impeded. When reading is difficult, the impact of the message is weakened. When each page that is turned produces a new color explosion, the reader loses the pleasure of continuity. Every succeeding item completes with the next one.

I long to be able to read and absorb the articles that appear in the Quarterly. The subjects are full of interest and, I know, well written. But the present cutesy style does not communicate, at least to me and a number of others. Might you consider returning to white paper and a somewhat darker typeface so that all of your audience can enjoy the news so you work so hard to bring us?

Eleanor Stoddard ’42
Chevy Chase, Maryland

Anita Hemmings

I was very pleased to read the winter Quarterly article on Anita Hemmings and to learn that Dr. June Jackson Christmas had come to Vassar in the fall of 1940. Some of us who had worked in 1939-40 to encourage African-American students to come to Vassar had never heard that any had been admitted that early.

I would like to add a little more history. The annual Political Association Conference was held the first weekend of November 1939 on the South whose agricultural, economic, voting, health, education problems were being emphasized by the Roosevelt administration. The conference had several national leaders as speakers or panel participants, including Tennessee Valley power officials, NAACP president Walter White, the poet Sterling Brown and several Vassar graduates working with education projects in the South.

The next issue of the Vassar Miscellany News, November 8, 1939, highlighted a letter from Ruby T. Norris, Economics Department professor, "...it would indeed be a suitable and moving tribute to the effectiveness of this Conference, if as an aftermath, Vassar College would move to admit more Negroes..." She suggested Vassar offer Freshman scholarships to able Negroes. An editorial in the Miscellany News supported Mrs. Norris, followed by several later editorials, and then by an effort to persuade able African-American high school seniors to apply. As I recall three students, including Walter White’s daughter, came to visit the college, but decided to go to Smith or other colleges where there was, as Mrs. Norris said, "a habit of having a Negro group." The Misc. editors who had graduated in June thought we had failed. It is good news to hear the Community Church with Rev. Robinson was successful.

Nancy McInerny Wagner ’40
Accokeek, Maryland

Re: In Memoriam: Evalyn A. Clark (Fall 2001)

During several decades seeking clues about the origin of the these of the Lady Cornaro window, I have been quite curious to know even one name among those young men and women (or their descendants) who received a very special gift over the years from the library donor and her husband, Frederick Ferris Thompson. Mr. Thompson was a Vassar trustee (1885 - 1899) whose family had founded Chase Bank. His widow, Mary Clark Thompson of New York, in his memory gave the library with its great window installed in 1906 and portraying Elena Cornaro's 17th-century graduation scene at the University of Padua. The Thompsons had no children and when he died in 1899, Mrs. Thompson continued her husband's custom of sending four boys and four girls to college every year. Who were they? Finally, I found an answer reading "In Memoriam" in the fall alumnae/i quarterly. One scholarship recipient was our own, much-admired Evalyn A. Clark, Vassar historian and professor from 1933 to 1968. Born in 1903 in Canadaigua, New York, where the Thompsons had a summer home, Miss Clark was "awarded a full scholarship to Vassar by Mrs. Frederick Ferris Thompson...." Miss Clark became associate dean of the college for 10 years, history department chair for six, and the Eloise Ellery Professor of History from 1962 to 1968. A life of great distinction was made possible by those enlightened, 19th-century citizens in the Thompson Memorial Library's history.

Jane Howard Guernsey '49
Wilmington, DE