Vassar Today

President's Page: Countdown to the Sesquicentennial

By Catharine Hill
With this issue of the Quarterly, Vassar acknowledges the passing of a milestone. As you may know, it was on January 18, 1861, that the New York State Legislature officially incorporated what was then known as Vassar Female College. That means that, as of this January we began to count down to the college’s 150th birthday, less than one year from now. Over the next few issues, the magazine will feature enlightening and entertaining glances at Vassar’s past as we prepare to celebrate the college’s sesquicentennial, which will also focus on our future.

The history of our college is complex and multifaceted, but the greater part of it is, quite simply, the story of our alumnae and alumni—and that, in turn, is a story of continuing and unexpected connections. This was brought home tome recently, thanks to a few events that I attended within a short time of each other.

I had the privilege of traveling not far from campus to take part in a lively celebration of the 100th birthday of a remarkable alumna— Maisry MacCracken ’31, the daughter of Vassar’s fifth president, Henry Noble MacCracken. I first got to know Maisry soon after coming to Vassar, when we talked about living in the President’s House. After all, she was an expert on the subject; she was not quite six years old when “Prexy” moved his family into the house they would call home for the next 31 years (theirs was the last family to live in the house with children before mine).

Maisry went on to work as a librarian and as a peace activist; she still reads the New York Times regularly, and only recently scaled back her leadership of book-reading circles at her retirement residence from three groups to two. She told me she had been reading the letters from my office to alumnae/i and was delighted by the diversity of the Class of 2013. Maisry also had to cancel her usual exercise class on her 100th birthday so that we all could celebrate with her! In short, having lived through more than two-thirds of Vassar’s nearly 150 years, she herself exemplifies the spirit of our college.

Maisry is, indeed, amazing, as are so many other Vassar graduates. For example, among those joining us for the celebration of Maisry’s centennial was our college historian, Elizabeth Adams Daniels ’41, who is still working at Vassar at age 89, having been a student here, and then having served for many years as a faculty member and dean. Betty has been part of the life of the Vassar campus for all but six of the past 72 years, and, like Maisry, she is a living link with the college’s past, all the while keeping her eye firmly on Vassar’s future. In her current role she, time and again, is the source of the most invaluable information — that “institutional memory” one so often hears discussed but so seldom finds. The author of several books about the college’s history, Betty decided that her most recent project—an encyclopedia including eclectic, often fun, and always useful facts about her alma mater—should be online rather than in print, so that she and her team of student and other assistants can continually add to it. You can look it up for yourself at the encyclopedia’s website (, but I should warn you, reading it can be a bit addictive.

Not long before Betty and I made the trip to Maisry’s 100th birthday party, Freshman Parents’ Weekend took place here on campus, offering the first opportunity for many parents to see how their student daughters and sons were faring in their new home. At one of the several events that weekend, I had the pleasure of meeting Joseph Reed Gaines ’13 from Madison, Wisconsin. Reed was settling into the college like a typical Vassar freshman, but I was particularly struck when he told me that he has no less than eleven connections to the college through his relatives, including his mother and grandmother, a great-aunt, and two uncles, both of whom are Vassar grads and who married Vassar alumnae! Reed’s record may be a difficult one to break, although I’m wondering if any of you has even more Vassar family connections. If so, please write the editor of this magazine at, and we’ll feature your family’s story in an upcoming issue.

Catharine Hill, President

Photo Credit: Joh Abbott

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