Vassar Yesterday

15 Minutes of Fame

By Jeff Kosmacher

In January 1961, four Vassar students went on NBC’s Today show to publicize the college’s centennial birthday. While the recording of that day no longer exists, the former students recall their proverbial 15 minutes of television fame in detail: from an early morning limousine ride to a TV host whose facts needed some tweaking.

Anne Youngclaus Stratton ’64. An image of her Today show appearance on screen.

“When the phone rang I was studying frantically for my first college exams and truly frightened that I might flunk out,” recalled Anne Youngclaus Stratton ’64, then a freshman from tiny Elm Grove, WI. She feared school officials were calling to say she had lost her financial aid, but what Stratton, Kate Sides Flather ’63, Meade Bridgers ’62, and Susan B. Anthony ’61 each soon discovered, was that Vassar had chosen them to be interviewed on NBC’s Today show to provide a “window” into their college at an important milestone in its history.

Meade Bridgers remembers the big black limousine that drove up to whisk them to NBC’s New York City studios. Beloved local limo driver Harry Brickman (father of Rita Brickman ’64) was behind the wheel, and that certainly helped calm their nerves. “But it was awfully early,” she recalled.

On the Today set, the four students sat shoulder-to-shoulder by class year and were queried accordingly. Host Dave Garroway was fixated on Susan Anthony’s great-great-great aunt. “He decided he had to introduce me as Susan B. Anthony’s granddaughter,” recalls Anthony. “While I knew that one did not correct a national TV host, I had to do it. My aunts were watching and wouldn’t like the implication that Susan B. Anthony had children, since she never married.”

When Garroway presumed that Kate Flather went to Vassar because her mother did, Flather remembers clarifying, “I went to Vassar because my mother went to Smith.”

Meade Bridgers recalls, “It was a real kick to see the kinescope images afterwards. When they showed the program back on campus, we looked like ducks in a row.”

Though the NBC archive did turn up an index card noting the other Today guests on January 18, 1961—they included Civil War historian Bruce Catton, heavyweight boxing champ Floyd Patterson, and actor Zero Mostel—it did not have the recording on file. Nor did Vassar or the dozens of other archives recently queried. But like a true Vassar student, Anne Stratton “went to the source” and found what may be the only surviving visual of the program: a photo of her family’s TV set. “I made up my mind to tackle the stuffed cupboard that houses my photo albums,” she says. “One of the first I pulled out was one Mom put together for my 40th birthday. I flipped it open, turned a page, and there we were! All four of us outlined by the TV set back
in my living room.”