Re: Enlisting Women

Your recent article on Vassar women in military service [Winter 2002] was especially interesting to me since I am one of those who served. Actually, I was in at the beginning of World War II. As aNew York Times reporter in 1942 I covered the legislation to admit women to all branches of the military and later accepted a direct commission in the Navy to handle initial press inquiries about the new Navy female recruits. I remained a Navy press officer in the Navy Department throughout the war.

I can’t help but wonder what research or archival material was available to Ms. Mancini. Not much, I suspect. It apparently was not clear to her that there never was any distinctive unit of the Navy called WAVES. We were all — officers and enlisted — in the United States Naval Reserves, just like the men we served with. In the planning for this new program, that awkward phrase, “women accepted for volunteer emergency service,” was put into Navy regulations simply to provide a nickname that the planners liked. Of the 91,000 women who served in the Navy, Mildred McAfee often noted that she had command only over her own office staff.

I wonder how many Vassar alums did go into uniform. Perhaps this article will bring out good information for future researchers.

Nona B. Brown ’39
Washington, DC

Regarding Vassar women at war in the ’02 Winter Quarterly: There were secret classes in cryptology on Monday nights in the Students’ Building, given by Navy personnel to students who had an aptitude with words, languages, and math. We would be commissioned in the Navy upon graduation. The year I know about was ’42. For personal reasons, I could not complete the course, but about 30 girls must have. Trying to crack paragraphs in German code was our homework. The subject of the “German paragraphs” was ships and naval combat — as strange to me as the codes. I think I still have an instruction book.

Rowena Emery Rogers ’43
Parker, Colorado

The article about women in the armed services was very interesting; however, I was disappointed there was no mention of my “aunt,” Ruth Brainerd ’18, who served as an assistant to Olveta Culp Hobby and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the WAC. She was an engineer with the Bell Telephone Company who participated in the development of long-distance dialing and one of the first women to hold such a high position. She enlisted in the Army about ’42 or perhaps ’41 and stayed in until ’45. I’m not sure when she died, perhaps in the early ’80s. I believe she had no direct descendants. My mother, who died before Ruth, was her closest friend, hence, my calling her “aunt.” She was the reason I chose to attend Vassar.

Carolyn Shmidheiser Kilbourn ’49
Neavitt, Maryland

On the eve of a possible war with Iraq, Olivia Mancini’s well-parsed article highlights a topic with which many Vassar alumnae/i and students should be familiar. While a Vassar education provides us all with the knowledge and means to understand — and, if it is your choice, criticize our government’s decision to wage war — when war comes (as history and economics prove inevitably it must), Ms. Mancini’s article demonstrates that some Vassar alumnae/i take seriously their commitment to defending the rights and privileges that have made — and continue to make — the United States strong and free.

Campus anti-war protesters sully the service and contributions of women like Admiral Hopper, Captain Galloway, and Colonel Hamblet, as well as the numerous women and men who currently protect students’ right to criticize and protest.

Bruce Mendelsohn ’90
Rockville, Maryland

Vassar Pride

I can’t tell you how much I enjoy receiving my Vassar Quarterly. The writing and articles are superb, and I particularly enjoyed the last edition with the article about studying abroad (I attained my M.B.A. in Great Britain and could relate to and support the observations in this article), and the introduction from the new AAVC president who is very inspiring. Her observations and accomplishments make me proud to be a fellow graduate.

Barbara Melhorn Coward ’88
Timonium, Maryland


The full name of the 2002 recipient of the Time-Out Grant [Fall 2002] is Susan Bainbridge Murphy ’72.

In the “Exploring the Global Campus” article [Winter 2002], the quotation, “I think everyone should be required to leave campus for at least one semester — even if it’s not out of the country,” was misattributed to Mark Drury ’03. Tim Shea ’03 made this statement.

The Alban Vineyards [“Vintage Vassar,” Winter 2002] are located in Santa Ynez Valley, California.