Founder's Day Relived

What a surprise and/or shock! In turning to the Class Notes of my spring Quarterly, I am suddenly confronted with a picture of my most exciting Vassar memory: an elephant ride around The Circle! In the interest of historical accuracy I feel I must minimally revise your caption. As I recall, the junior class was in charge of Founder’s Day activities. Each year a different “theme” was suggested. It was thus that the class of 1942 was assigned “The Circus.” Founder’s Day traditionally included a parade but a “Circus Parade” was not a fixture.

A little background story might amuse your readers. My father was then the president of Madison Square Garden so naturally I called his redoubtable secretary, a Miss McCay. I explained to her that the class of 1942 required an elephant in April. Undaunted, she replied that she would get back to me. A few days later she called to say that the elephant was available and to ask for delivery instructions. I impressed upon her that the elephant was to be a great surprise. No one was to see him until the start of our Circus Parade. I then launched into complicated directions on just where, off campus, I was to meet him. Miss McCay’s calm reply, was “Well, Frances how will you know him?”

Frances Kilpatrick Field ’42
North Branford, Connecticut

Re: Letters, Spring 2003

Regarding the letter from Bruce Mendelsohn ’90 in the Spring 2003 issue — is the right to protest and disagree worth defending if no one exercises that right? Does it even exist if no one exercises it? In Mr. Mendelsohn’s view we ought to make wars to protect a right that no one should exercise because they would then dishonor those who fought to protect the right. It seems to me that there is a logical fallacy here; leaving aside the further question of how we are to know which of our many military engagements is actually an action in defense of the rights of American citizens.

Patricia L. Arnold ’67
Trout Lake, Washington

Re: Letters, Winter 2002

After a long hiatus during which I failed to keep Vassar informed of my changes of address, I finally received my first Quarterly (Winter 2002), which I enjoyed very much. A letter in the issue mentioned the previous year’s winter issue, 2001, which had an article on Anita Hemmings. While I attended Vassar, everyone was fascinated by Alex Haley’s Roots. Now, 40 years later, white families whose great-grandparents and grandparents passed as white are following his path in searching for their black roots. I have recently discovered that my father’s family also passed as white. I have written an article at the request of some of my children explaining my efforts to fill in the gaps in my own identity. (Visit Extras to read the article.) I welcome any comments or information readers might have.

Virginia Edwards Castro ’64
Blanco, Texas

Main Street, Poughkeepsie

I was glad to read in Corinne Militello’s ’98 sidebar that Main Mall was a thing of the past, but having written my 1980 thesis on Main Mall I wanted to correct Militello’s assertion that the ill-fated pedestrian mall “seemed to knock the wind out of the downtown area.”

By the time the pedestrian mall was completed in 1974, downtown was already in an accelerating decline, having had the commercial life sucked out of it by a ring of new suburban shopping malls on the city’s perimeter. Downtown had also been devastated by massive demolition, courtesy of an “urban renewal” clearance program that took most of lower Main Street in its wake, as well as the blocks behind Main Mall, which were removed to provide suburban-style parking. The misguided closing of Main Street to automobile traffic certainly didn’t help downtown, nor did the construction of the arterial highway, which followed in the late 1970s, but they were not the undoing of Poughkeepsie’s once thriving retail district. Sadly, Poughkeepsie was an ideal place for an urban studies major to examine many of the failed ideas that guided ultimately destructive attempts to save and revive ailing cities across the country.

Eric Marcus ’80
New York, New York

In Memoriam: Dr. Marian Gray Secundy ’60

It is with great sadness that I share the passing of Dr. Marian Gray Secundy ’60. She was a pioneer in the field of bioethics education and was a shining example of a person who dedicated her life to making a difference. We are facing startling advances in areas such as genetics, reproductive assistance, and extension-of-life. Dr. Secundy’s contributions to the development of a bioethics curriculum for medical professionals will have a profound impact on how we address the challenges ahead. Dr. Secundy received an A.B. from Vassar in political science and sociology, an M.S.W. from Bryn Mawr, and a Ph.D. in medical humanities and bioethics from the Union Graduate Institute.

She began her career as director of Washington, DC, housing programs for the American Friends Committee. In 1971, she became professor and director of the Program in Clinical Ethics at Howard University College of Medicine, Department of Community Health and Family Practice, developing a curriculum in bioethics and medical humanities. From 1999 to 2002, she served as director of the Tuskegee University National Center for Bioethics in Research and Health Care, a center that was established following former President Clinton’s apology to the nation for U.S. Public Health Service syphilis experiments using African-American subjects. The Tuskegee Center has a multidisciplinary approach to exploring ethical issues in research and medical treatment of underserved populations.

More recently, Dr. Secundy served as professor emeritus at Howard University College of Medicine, as a visiting professor at Meharry Medical College, and as founder of the Sandkofa Group and EPEC2. Throughout her career, Dr. Secundy made significant contributions to the advancement of bioethics through research, teaching, and participation on boards and advisory committees. She served on the AAVC Board of Directors from 1965 to 1971, was a trustee of the college from 1971 to 1983, and was a founding board member of Triple A VC (African-American Alumnae/i of Vassar College). Dr. Secundy will be greatly missed.

Felicia Smith Gittleman ’83
Seattle, Washington

Re: Securing the Homefront

I was pleased to receive the newest edition of the Quarterly at my new Tucson, AZ, address. “Finally!” I thought, “Media I can identify with.” However, when I opened up to the cover story, I was dismayed at the Quarterly’s glorification of our nation’s brutal “homeland security” tactics along the US-Mexico border. I am saddened to see that the Quarterly so unabashedly glorified the United States' border policy, policy that I am working to help United States citizens understand is part of a greater system of oppression of Mexicans and the Global South in general. The surveillance systems on the border are part of Border Patrol’s euphemistically named operations, “Hold the Line” and “Safeguard.” These are operations that directly force migrants to migrate north in the desert, risking death, dehydration, and serious injury. In fiscal year 2002, 163 bodies were found in the desert. Having traced the path of migration myself, I can tell you that these are people who were forced from their homelands by free trade agreements and falling prices for agricultural products, scorned as they traveled northward in their own country, and then turned out in the desert, perhaps after paying a coyote, or people smuggler, thousands of dollars only to then die on their journey. Essentially, the Border Patrol has not stemmed the flow of migration with its high technology and vigilant surveillance, only shifted the flow into the deadly West Desert.

While Lurita Alexis Doan is no doubt an intelligent woman on the cutting edge of technology, I feel that the Quarterly’s praise of her work was absolutely inappropriate. While our government is playing on our fears of terrorism to justify further militarization of our border, I expect more from the Quarterly.

Holly Hilburn ’02
Tucson, Arizona

When the Spring 2003 issue of the VQ arrived, I was dismayed to read the cover article profiling Lurita Alexis Doan '79 and her "high-technology company."

While I was certainly encouraged by the success that Ms. Doan has had as a minority, female owner of a business, I'm appalled to see the VQ devote so much attention to a business that helps to further our government's increased amount of domestic surveillance. As a quote from the article itself states, "big brother . . . has arrived." Quite frankly, I'm embarrassed to see that a fellow Vassar graduate has helped make this happen.

During a time when our government has attempted to institute a myriad of assaults on our civil liberties in the name of "safety," my resistance to these measures has certainly come in part from the foundation of learning and reading I received at Vassar. I find it a shame that Ms. Doan has uncritically played a part in our government's increasingly restrictive policies, and that the VQ has uncritically publicized her business.

Jason Weinstein ’95
Brooklyn, New York

Growing up in Arlington

I graduated from Vassar in 1947; my husband was born in Poughkeepsie and lived in Arlington until he went to Harvard in the late ‘40s. We were so interested in your excellent article in the spring quarterly ["Revealing Arlington," Spring 2003]. Vassar College buying up property in Arlington is music to our ears. My husband's father came to this country from Greece in his teens and started the Vassar Grill on Raymond Avenue in about 1930. His brother, George Verven, owned the Vassar Barber Shop from the late 1920s until the 1940s. After my father-in-law sold the Vassar Grill, he established the Palm Grill in Arlington, which he operated for 18 years until the early 1950s.The Palm Grill was located at 739 Main Street in Arlington. My daughter, Maria Verven '77, and I have been back to several reunions and wonder when the Vassar Grill ceased to exist. I agree with Robert Raisch when he talks about the relationship between the Arlington area and prospective students choosing Vassar. My husband and I are planning a tour of Eastern colleges with our Minneapolis granddaughter and the safety of the colleges' environs is a very important consideration. I also think that student involvement in the project will result in a dramatic improvement in the relationship between the college and the Poughkeepsie community. In my day, tutoring in a Poughkeepsie elementary school was the only community involvement offered. To us, your article was so exciting. I hope there is some way us old alums can be kept informed as the project progresses.

Carol Verven '47
Falmouth, Massachusetts

Navy Recruit

The letters from Nona Brown ’39 and my classmate Roz Emery Rogers ’43 in the spring issue of the Quarterly prompt me to report that I was one of the students recruited by the Navy for their secret cryptology course in ’42-’43! I enlisted after graduation and spent the war in Naval communications in Washington, DC.

The work my section was engaged in remained secret for many years after the end of the war: it depended upon Allied success in breaking Germany’s Enigma code. We translated intercepted messages from the German submarine fleet in the Atlantic. I left the Navy in 1947 as a Lieutenant Junior Grade.

Cornelia Newlin Borgerhoff ‘43
Princeton, New Jersey

Re: Enlisting Women

Regarding Olivia Mancini's “Learn About Enlisting Women,” in the Winter 2002 Vassar Quarterly, we were interested, as always, to learn about Vassar's history from a well-researched piece. The article did a fine job of honoring the “dozens of alumnae [who] have served their country” in a military capacity, and of teaching us about how Vassar was involved. Regarding your choice to feature this article — which mentions nothing of the horrors of war and engages in a visual “retro” glorification of war propaganda — at a time in which the majority of U.S. media is focused on war in the same light, was somewhat unnerving to us. Surely more than dozens of Vassar's alumnae/i have been involved in peace work over the years (we know many of them ourselves!), and in these bleak-feeling days it would have been refreshing to open the quarterly to find tribute to these individuals, as well. Perhaps a sister article to follow?

Caroline Loomis ‘02, Berkeley, California
Lauren Bouyea ‘02, Green Gulch, California
Jesse Feldman ‘01, San Francisco, California
Laura Anderson ’02, Oakland, California

In Memoriam: Emily Westwood Gardner ‘42

On November 14, 2002, our mother, Emily Westwood Gardner ‘42, died peacefully after battling numerous chronic and progressive diagnoses over the last year of her life. She stayed spunky and outspoken, seeking true answers to her questions. Her spirit stretches far, having touched many people in all walks of life, striving to find equity and fairness in compensation and vocation. Emily spoke with great fondness in her voice when remembering scenes from her childhood and — eventually — as a “Vassarian of ‘42.” She would readily tell of her brief history as a student pilot. She spoke proudly of her great-grandmother, Augusta Lucina Johnson Westwood, probably one of the county’s earliest female A.B.s and reportedly on Vassar’s first faculty. These experiences helped shape her resolve to actively facilitate and uphold equality in our society.

Emily was the conscience of the policies she helped form and later administered, during her 27-year career at the University of Michigan. The formal roles she filled at the university included staff benefits counselor, personnel representative and finally, affirmative action employment representative under the Office of the President. After her retirement in 1984, she stayed busy with leisure traveling — off again across the country to tour Native American lands, another Vassar Reunion, or cruising to Alaska or the Galapagos!! — and, of course, her special brand of “composting for good gardening.” She was an energetic community and development volunteer, whether supporting equity in compensation and education for the Ann Arbor Public Schools, being an active member of Habitat for Humanity or reading to second graders at her neighborhood's school. Folks who had a connection with her and were touched by her life came together at the Michigan League on the University of Michigan campus, on Saturday, February 1, 2003. There, we celebrated the memory of her energy and the special spirit she leaves behind. If you have a memorable scene/interaction involving her special zest for life, we would love to know about it (yael2@comcast.net) — so much to learn, so much still to hear about The Person who was our mother.

Many thanks to the Vassar community and especially the class of ‘42 for adding to our mother’s courage and “good tooling,” helping to form her uncompromising and ethical soul.

With good wishes for health and wisdom,
Emily’s daughter and son,

Yael Goldenberg, Ann Arbor, Michigan
John L. Gardner, Santa Barbara, California

In Memoriam: Elizabeth Malcolm Douvan '46

It is with both sadness and joy that I feel compelled to comment to the Vassar community about the recent passing of Elizabeth Malcolm Douvan ‘46; sadness due to an irreplaceable loss, and joy resulting from having been greatly touched by a veritable mountain of a woman.

A noted historian was once asked to opine about the fascinating life of Winston Churchill in a few sentences, to which he tellingly replied that it's impossible to accurately summarize a man whose astonishing tenure as Prime Minister was but a small entry in his cache of accomplishment. Similarly, Libby peerless, storied contributions to social psychology as a professor emerita at both the University of Michigan, and the Fielding Graduate Institute were merely a backdrop to the number of lives she touched with her warmth, grace, and humor.

I first met Libby’s daughter Kate Douvan ‘82, and Kate’s son Skye (one of Libby's three grandchildren) at reunion in 1997. Shortly thereafter, I moved to Los Angeles and was unceremoniously adopted into Kate’s wonderful family. Sunday night dinners together at Kate’s house became de rigueur, and on several of those occasions Libby, and her husband Victor, were in attendance.

On one such occasion, Libby, Kate, Skye, and I dined out at an Asian restaurant in lieu of Kate’s house. Failing health notwithstanding, the mood was very light indeed, and Libby listened intently and proudly to Skye’s middle-school stories. When the conversation turned to what I had been doing, I spoke of plans I had for an upcoming mountaineering trip to a large volcano in the Cascade Range. Libby asked several questions about the undertaking including my preparations and motivations therefore, and I remember being warmed by what I perceived to be a welcoming, hospitable gesture. Little did I know, that this diminutive woman in her mid-70s, who had lived the lion’s share of her life in Michigan, was quite taken with mountain adventure, and was decidedly well-read regarding the same. In retrospect, I shouldn't have been surprised in the least.

Thereafter, Libby and I struck up an email dialogue, which continued until her health began to deteriorate more rapidly. I remember thinking one day, upon receipt of one of her emails, about how many thousands of students and colleagues alike must have been similarly moved by her boundless compassion and wisdom over the years, not to mention her doting family. I don't think I have ever been more humbled. Libby was, succinctly, the epitome of all the wonderful things that Vassar represents, and more.

Adam J. Epstein ’87
San Francisco, California

WAVES Clarification

I am responding to Nona B. Brown’s ’39 letter (Spring 2003) requesting indirectly further information from Vassar alumnae who served in the military service. I served in the United States Navy with the WAVES in World War II.

In defense of Ms. Mancini’s article ("Enlisting Women," Winter 2002) who was unduly criticized, I would like to add some facts. It is true that the WAVES did start on July 30th, 1942, as the Women’s Reserve of the United States Naval Reserves and Mildred H. McAfee was the director. The concept was to have a pool of women who could replace sailors who were taken from desk jobs to go into combat. It was necessary to have a new unit with its own rules and regulations. The name of the redefined unit was not a flippant nickname but it described what we were and what we did. As women we could not be attached to the Naval Reserves; therefore, a process was needed to place women in non-combatant duty in the United States Navy.

A month later, August 1942, Mildred H. McAfee was named director of the WAVES and given the rank of Lieutenant Commander (first woman Naval officer ever) and hereafter, introduced and known as the director of the WAVES. On September 11th, 1942, women were recruited to become WAVES in the Unites States Navy. As women, we volunteered to serve whereas men enlisted. The women were accepted into service after they passed a qualifying written test and a physical. The men had to pass only a physical. In my case, as a 20 year old, it required a parent’s signature. The men could enlist on their own if they were 18 years old. The women, when they took their oath, volunteered for the duration of the war. The men who enlisted did so for a “hitch,” which is a period of two, four, or six years. There were too many other rules and regulations that differ from the Naval Reserves to list them all. After the WAVES received their boot training and specialized rate education, they received their active duty orders and became United States Naval Personnel in the same manner that a sailor called from the Naval Reserves for combat duty became part of the United States Navy.

On November 13th, 1943, Mildred H. McAfee was advanced to the rank of captain and under her leadership, the WAVES had expanded into specialized jobs replacing more sailors for combat duty. In short, the WAVES existed. We were visible. We were in the public square. We were everywhere. We carried credentials to acknowledge that we were the WAVES, United States Navy and not the Women’s Reserve, United States Naval Reserves.

In conclusion, I find it offensive to refer to the WAVES as a non-existent concept without a proper name expressed in small letters. I think Ms. Brown should apologize to the WAVES, especially to me and those 2,000 selective WAVES who volunteered for overseas duty, sent to the Pacific Theater and served under Admiral Nimitz, United States Navy.

Anna Hemlow-Janis ’54
Louisville, Colorado

Re: Campus Ecology: Studying Sustainable Alternatives

How pleasing it is to see Vassar students learning about practical solutions to environmental problems such as air pollution and global warming. Phasing out gasoline powered cars and converting the Vassar College fleet to hybrids is a great way for the College to take action. If the Vassar College Administration wants to take another action in the fight against global warming, it should commit to purchasing a significant percent of its energy from clean, renewable sources like wind and solar power. Several colleges and universities across the nation have already taken this step, thanks in part to the demand generated by students and grassroots activists. With our leaders in Washington taking a pass on the issue of global warming, it's more important than ever that people take action on the local level to adopt clean energy solutions to the problem.

Gary Skulnik ’91
Silver Spring, Maryland

Lady Cornaro

There’s a whole generation of students who don’t know that Vassar was the world leader 25 years ago in an international movement honoring a major first figure in women’s education, the Venetian laureate Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia who was awarded a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Padua on June 25, 1678. It remains an astonishing achievement for this maidenly celebrity, considered by many to be the most learned woman of her century in Europe. The Lady Cornaro was introduced to the New World as the central character in the 22-foot-high stained-glass window in Frederick Ferris Thompson Memorial Library, where she was portrayed defending her thesis on Aristotle. It was 1905 when she traveled from England by Cunard steamer in the form of hundreds of glass pieces in three huge crates, transported into New York harbor and on by train to Poughkeepsie to be installed in the new Gothic campus building. A Vassar alumna, Ruth Crawford Mitchell, class of 1912, studied beneath this main window, puzzled over its splendid subject and spent over 50 years pursuing the long-lost heroine featured there.

Ruth ignited a modern revival and made the tercentenary an international event. In a brilliant 10-year endeavor beginning in 1969, Ruth established large United States and Italian committees, persuaded foreign governments, recruited ambassadors, cardinals, and presidents and energized teams of volunteers to launch a 300th anniversary year in 1978. With spring concerts, seminars, and symposia, opulent banquets, church services, and extensive library exhibitions, colleges and universities, heads of cultural organizations, civic and religious groups joined the movement. There were 138 commemorations across America and Europe, and thousands participated throughout the year.

One of the earliest was a public, three-day Baroque weekend at Vassar April 28 – 30 with events all over campus honoring the Lady Cornaro. At the time, Secretary of the College Lynn Bartlett described it as “the most important gathering of outstanding scholars in Vassar’s history.” Professor Benjamin G. Kohl succeeded him as Vassar’s Chairman of the Cornaro Committee and assembled major guest speakers in the fields of 17th century social history, education, philosophy, music, art, and architecture for the festivities a quarter of a century ago. Illustrious lecturers and their topics included: Natalie Zemon Davis, professor of history, Princeton University, “Family and Politics. Why Did Women Write History?”; Patricia H. Labalme, assistant to the director at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton and a Vassar mother, “Women’s Roles in Early Modern Venice”; Paul Oskar Kristeller, Frederick J. E. Woodbridge professor emeritus of philosophy, Columbia University, “Learned Women of Early Modern Italy”; and Ann Sutherland Harris, chairman for academic affairs, Metropolitan Museum of Art, “Women artists of the Italian Renaissance.” Opening address was given by Vassar President Virginia B. Smith and Remarks of the Delegates: E. Maxine Bruhns, chairman, U.S. Tercentenary Committee; Giorgio Fedalto, professor of the history of Christianity, University of Padua, and Ruth Mitchell for the class of 1912. Dr. Kohl chaired the morning session and Christine M. Havelock, professor of art, the afternoon series. On Sunday High Mass was celebrated in honor of Lady Cornaro with early music by the Vassar College Chorus. Under the chairmanship of Joan Murphy, reference librarian, a large exhibit of early books and manuscripts: “The Scholarly World of Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia 1646 – 1684 Commemorating the International Tercentenary of the First Doctorate Awarded to a Woman, Elena Cornaro, June 25, 1678,” Vassar College Libraries, March 31 – May 21, 1978.

In Washington, DC, the Italian Cultural Society, the American Italian Bicentennial Commission and Georgetown University, the nation’s first Catholic university, opened Tercentenary Year with a reception for 200 at the Italian ambassador’s residence. Gabrielle Forbush, classmate of Ruth Mitchell, was given a Cornaro medal for her tercentenary work. The April 15 academic program included lectures by the Archbishop of Washington and professors from the universities of Pennsylvania, Virginia, Pittsburgh, and the Goddard Space Center.

In the fall of 1978 the University of Pittsburgh, headquarters of the U.S. Cornaro Tercentenary Committee under the chairmanship of Mrs. Bruhns, combined with Carnegie-Mellon University, Carlow College and Duquesne University for a series of events in its Cornaro Festival. A gala Venetian dinner began two days of lectures by noted scholars and Baroque music in the Henry Clay Frick Fine Arts Cloister. A Cornaro Day was declared by Pittsburgh’s mayor in October.

Numerous other celebrations were held at Columbia University, Kent State, Cornell, Wells College, Oberlin, and Indiana universities and the University of California, which had an overseas program with the University of Padua. Mt. Holyoke College merged a Cornaro Day with its Founder’s Day, honoring Mary Lyons. Swarthmore College’s commemoration heralded Elena Cornaro and Swarthmore alumna Helen Magill, America’s first woman doctorate who received a Ph.D. from Boston University in 1877. Helen Magill was featured on the front of souvenir shirts on the Swarthmore campus that day and Lady Cornaro was perched on the back!

From London, England, Hazel Hunkins-Hallinan, class of 1913, addressed one of many audiences in the laureate’s twin cities, Venice and Padua. They were the settings for receptions and palace and basilica tours, round table discussions, organ recitals and two evening city performances of the “Sacred Cantata” dedicated at the time to Lady Cornaro by Carlo Grossi in this honor-filled week. Representatives from 50 Benedictine Priories in the United States attended. Under the direction of Dr. Maria Tonzig, head of the Italian Cornaro Committee, historians at the University of Padua officially established Elena Cornaro’s primacy in a three-year investigation of all universities of the world in existence in 1678.

On June 25, 1978, in Padua a Mass was celebrated in St. Luke’s Chapel where Lady Elena is buried, dedicating the renovated 14th century building as “Cappella Cornaro.” The gravesite also was restored for the Tercentenary with proceeds from a rare book profile of her. It was the gift from American women.

Ongoing tributes to the Venetian scholar are annual scholarships and Cornaro medals for students and teachers by organizations including the Order Sons of Italy and Kappa Gamma Pi, the national Catholic College Graduate Honor Society.

A recently published biography, The Lady Cornaro, Pride and Prodigy in Venice by Vassar alumna Jane Howard Guernsey ’49, chronicles the life story of the lady in the window and her modern American revival. Jane was promotion chair of the United States Cornaro Tercentenary Committee. Her daughter, Anne, 1978, was the committee’s Vassar student representative.

Jane Howard Guernsey '49
Wilmington, Delaware