The Last Page

Raymond Avenue Recollections

By Janet Linner Townsend '54

In the 1930s and ’40s, the large, comfortable houses on Raymond Avenue were home to a gang of faculty children whose fathers all taught at Vassar. (My father was a newly minted Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Minnesota.) Times were hard, salaries were low. Our mothers were largely the stay-at-home kind who made us lunch when we walked home at noon from the Arlington schools we attended.

They allowed us great freedom to indulge in the many games and group projects that filled our TV-less and largely careless days. No arranged “play dates” for us, no being ferried to lessons and sports in minivans. No air-conditioning to cool those hot, humid Hudson Valley summers, and no vacations to summer or winter resorts. And yet, when I think of those days even without my rose-colored glasses, I feel a sense of comfort and contentment, and a happiness that sometimes approaches bliss.

Our gang—all girls—consisted of Christine Vassar Tall ’47, Carol Howson Irwin ’50, Ednah Geer Illsley ’50, Claudia Post Hannah ’51, Madeleine Miller Harang ’51, Regan Post Leydenfrost, Christine Howson Roth ’53, and me. In many ways we were like sisters. Our yards went one into the next without fences. Doors were mostly unlocked, allowing us to ramble freely into each other’s houses. We played Monopoly, poker, and quadruple solitaire on the Howsons’ screened-in side porch. In the Posts’ yard we held a swapping bee, exchanging stuff we didn’t want for other people’s stuff. Outdoors, we played hide-and-seek. (In bad weather we played one time in the Vassar Library which, of course, annoyed the librarians and resulted in complaints to our parents.) We ranged around the campus searching dormitories for treasures left behind by students. We rode bikes and roller-skated all over campus. (Once, my father allowed us to roller-skate in the basement of the chemistry building, which made a very satisfying clatter.)

Winters brought an added thrill. When storms came, we listened for the honking siren that meant “no school” and, after breakfast, rushed outdoors to build snow forts and go sledding on Alumnae House hill or Sunset Lake hill. And Christmas, of course, was special. All of us practiced carols with E. Harold Geer, Ednah’s father and Vassar’s choir director, who arranged some of them especially for us. Ednah, who had perfect pitch, directed us in our part-singing while we serenaded the neighbors, including Prexy MacCracken and his family. We all remember standing in the snow under the arch of Main Gate, singing to the gateman, Ray Wigg.

We also looked forward to traditional Vassar occasions—like Founder’s Day, when the students played the faculty in softball, and Prexy MacCracken and C. Gordon Post (Claudia and Regan’s father) were the stars. The evening’s entertainment featured the faculty making fools of themselves in productions of Little Women (with an all-male cast), Trial by Jury, and Princess Ida. The latter, Gilbert and Sullivan’s take on education for women, thrilled me at a tender age when my father played King Gama.

Commencement and reunions were, in our eyes, almost as much fun as Founder’s Day. We hung around the class-day festivities in the circle, eating leftover brownies and ice-cream bars from the box lunches and singing all the traditional Vassar songs, which we knew by heart. I remember our fathers, in caps and gowns, marching in the academic processions, and the beautiful sophomores carrying the daisy chain. One year, after it was all over, we girls marched with the abandoned daisy chain along Raymond Avenue to Bible Hill’s house, where we paraded through his study. And, as mascots of the classes of ’38 and ’40, respectively, Christine Howson and I wore children’s versions of our classes’ Lanz dresses and participated in a variety of graduation events.

My memories go on and on—viewing my first eclipse of the moon with my father in Maria Mitchell’s charming old observatory; ringing the old fire bell on the top of Main Building on VJ day in 1945; knowing Miss Cornelia Raymond, a very aged (to me) but lively lady who always had time to chat with us kids (she had, like us, been a faculty child); getting to know Prexy and Mrs. MacCracken through Christine Vassar, who came from England to live with them during the war. But mostly what I remember is how Vassar, from a child’s perspective, seemed simply magical.