Conversation Four

..continued from Conversation Three


Matthew Vassar's Death... His Gravesite... Early Physical Education... Early Encouragement of Student Independence.... The Blizzard of '88... Suffragists... Vassar Eccentrics

Elizabeth A. Daniels (EAD) and Colton Johnson (CJ)

CJ: Our community has its share of interesting lore. So I thought maybe today I would just ask you about Vassar moments, myths, legends, lore. And one moment I wanted you to tell me a little bit more about has to do with the founder's death during a board meeting of the College. Is that right?

EAD: That's exactly right. Benson Lossing recorded the details of Matthew Vassar's death after the fact.

Matthew Vassar had made up his mind that he was going to retire from his executive committee of the board of trustees and active participation in the affairs of the College. And so he came to the board meeting in June 1868, which of course was at the time of Commencement…the day before Commencement. And he came prepared to resign from his active life on the board and turn the affairs of the college over to the board.

He started the meeting off, when invited to, by reading the speech that he had prepared. And he was about eight pages into a nine-page speech when he keeled over. They were sitting at a table in Main Building and he keeled over, slumped, and was caught by Benson Lossing, who was one of the trustees, and he was dead. Just like that. I don't know what he died of…probably a heart attack. He'd been off and on in ill health.

CJ: We're talking on the eve of Founder's Dayand you've supplied me very kindly with some materials because I'm going out to the founder's grave. Among that material is a transcript of a student's letter home from Founder's Day in 1868.

EAD: I thought you'd enjoy that.

CJ: The first Founder's Day was in 1867, and the second Founder's Day, the last Founder's Day during Vassar's life, was in '68, and the letter talks about the girl's excitement and the growing popularity of the motto by which they referred to Matthew Vassar: "founder, father, friend." I guess the weather was rather inclement, not as it's going to be tomorrow, so a lot of the activities had to be moved indoors, inside the Main Building. But I was struck by this young woman's clear appreciation of how frail Matthew Vassar was.

EAD: At that last Founder's Day.

CJ: That indeed he was very, very happy to be there but that they had to take him into a room and sort of keep him quiet, and the girls were respectful of that, so that was probably a month or six weeks before…before his death.

EAD: A harbinger. Yes.

Well, this meeting apparently adjourned…for a few minutes. There was respectful silence. And then the meeting was called to order again. And Benson Lossing resumed reading Matthew Vassar's speech. I was always struck by that. I don't know whether we'd do that in this day and age. But I think Matthew Vassar would have been happy to have Lossing continue because what was left in the speech was that Matthew Vassar had one unfulfilled desire and that was to build a large building where the students in an extracurricular fashion could learn about household arts and domestic science. Now we link that up to the Euthenics building and we've squared the circle. But anyhow…

CJ: I think you're right. There's something kind of monumental about this group of trustees having any death in their midst let alone the death of such a pivotal, important person. Well then, after a respectful silence, I suppose other more mundane necessities were attended to…

EAD: …like taking the body out of the room. And then of course the next day they had Commencement, I believe.

You've just mentioned going tomorrow to the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery to pay a visit to the founder's grave, and I thought I might just mention in that connection that Vassar designed his own monuments for his cemetery plot.

The interesting thing about the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery is that Matthew Vassar tried himself to get together a subscription for a rural cemetery about six years before the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery came into being. Poughkeepsie wasn't ready to come together and take part in this subscription, and hence, Matthew Vassar was left with a piece of property that he had purchased thinking that it was going to come to pass. That piece of property was almost, well very closely, across the street…just south of Poughkeepsie from where the rural cemetery was developed under Vassar's leadership a few years later.

But that first piece of property Matthew Vassar kept for himself! The year was 1850, and he turned it into a park and a public place with private aspects. He actually made a summer residence there and moved from his townhouse in the center of Poughkeepsie on what is now called Vassar Street down there for the summertime after it was built and designed. Andrew Jackson Downing was the architect for that.

CJ: He apparently had already moved there in April of '67, that is for the summer, because I noticed that in the material you gave me for the first Founder's Day, the president went out to the founder's home and rode in with him to Vassar, thinking he was coming in from Springside to a dinner with the president, and discovered all the students at the College ready to celebrate his birthday.

EAD: Yes, well just to put the finishing touches on the comments about his cemetery plot, you can see if you look at the right papers in Special Collections his penciled design. He wanted to have a big acorn and some little acorns with the perimeter done in granite and marble. The idea was that he wanted to symbolize the fact that his college had grown into a magnificent enterprise from small beginnings just as the acorns lead to the oak tree. You know he joked about that with the students apparently on some occasion.

CJ: That is also a striking fact to me. I, perhaps we all, conceive of him as this rather dour, practical, even pragmatic person, although he was brought by some of the people he associated with to some quite far-reaching and idealistic stances that in the 1860s or late 50s, you wouldn't think he would have had the whimsy, the rather grim or macabre whimsy, to pencil out his own headstone. I know there was a lot of funerary art in those days but I wouldn't have thought that a captain of industry as Vassar was would also have thought to—or it would have been in his character to—take out a pencil and make this acorn and oak thing as part of his lasting place in the limelight.

EAD: It always has seemed a bit odd. But there you have it: He did it.

CJ: It's a side to him.

EAD: A separate interesting thing is that his nephew, John Guy Vassar, Jr., who was a very wealthy man, a bachelor, made himself—oh well, he didn't design himself but he had made for himself a really monumental tombstone that more or less makes Matthew Vassar, his uncle's, look like small peanuts.

CJ: Small acorns! You know when you go out to the cemetery—and I hadn't gone out until a couple of years ago, at the 200th anniversary of Vassar's birth—those entirely unusual, unique designs are still incomparable, no matter how big the rather more conventional carvings and stones around. Four or five years ago I heard the large acorn had toppled off its moorings.

EAD: When I first became Vassar Historian, which was in 1985, the first phone call I had in my capacity as historian was from a Vassar alumnus who was on the staff of the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery, and he wanted to chastise Vassar College for allowing Matthew Vassar's grave to become derelict. It seems that in a storm, a thunderstorm, a large tree branch fell over on the large acorn, and the College had not had it fixed. I'm not even sure the College knew it was damaged.

CJ: I don't believe that it did.

EAD: But in any case, after considerable effort and calls to insurance companies and so on, the College did make repairs to the acorn.

CJ: It looked splendid the last time I saw it.


CJ: The early days of the College had about them, I'm sure, a kind of sense that everything was the first of its kind and the first occurrence of its kind, and we talked a little bit about the notoriety that the notion of women's education evoked. And I've always wanted to ask whether, as I have heard, it is true that the broad corridors in Main Building were designed as they are running along one lighted side of each floor of the building to emulate the village streets, the byways that it was appropriate for women to exercise in as they walked along it. The little windows on the hallways were to emulate the individual houses that the women came from so that their inhabiting the immense building would not be such a great shock.

EAD: Oh my. That's a story I haven't heard. I mean I have of course heard that Matthew Vassar and Renwick, the architect, decided that the building corridors should be wide, 12 feet wide, so that if the weather were bad, the students could go to the corridors and a given corridor and walk clear to the other end. And if the student did that 12 times, she would have walked a quarter of a mile or some such. Probably more than a quarter of a mile. But the idea was exercise. I hadn't heard the part of it that suggests this is preparing for…

CJ: Well not much preparatory in the fact that it was recognized that exercise was of course necessary.

EAD: Of course. That was primary.

CJ: Indeed it was a question whether a woman's constitution would be strong enough for this kind of education. But I had heard that the question then became what would be appropriate exercise for women, and at the very outset—of course as you know—women's sporting activities came along very early in the College. The first thought was…

EAD: …the most basic one is walking.

CJ: …is walking and chatting with your neighbors. And of course it is quite true you walk along those corridors, there are windows out on the corridor, and then we step in.

Now along the line of exercise and first thing, it is true, is it not, that the first women's baseball team was organized at Vassar in the early days?

EAD: Yes, it was an informal club. There were several informal clubs, and the students picked up on baseball. I suppose that during the 1860s, right at the end of the Civil War as we've seen in Ken Burns' movie, baseball was the sport of the soldiers. And so I suppose the people at home were taking it up as a national pastime. There were three clubs at Vassar at first, and then intermittently as the rest of the century went on there were from time to time other clubs. It wasn't one of the more important sports as it turned out.

But I'd like to go back just a minute. I think it's important to establish what Matthew Vassar was really trying to do with physical education. As you said, he was trying to counteract the Victorian ideas that women's place was inside the house and not being too active and not having too much experience and that all these things would be harmful to their constitution.

But there already existed in Lexington, Mass. a spa for women's exercise run by a physical education specialist named Dio Lewis. I had never heard of him before I started thinking about Vassar history. But I discovered that this was a very popular spa, many people went there and trained, future physical education teachers. In fact, our first physical education teacher who lasted longer than two months, namely the second physical education teacher whose name was Powell, was trained at Dio Lewis's establishment.

Matthew Vassar had heard about Dio Lewis when he was planning the college, and he sent emissaries there to find out about it. Dio Lewis had a system of gymnastics called "the new gymnastics." It was officially called "calisthenics." You've seen pictures probably of our first gymnasium, the Calisthenium, and you see the women students wielding dumbbells. Dumbbells were part of the equipment. They had "horses" for leaping over.

CJ: I remember seeing some rings hanging from the ceiling.

EAD: They had rings…I was just going to say rings that they hung from.

CJ: It looked like a pretty grisly business actually.

EAD: They had rhythmic dancing. I mean all sorts of exercises were developed under this name.

CJ: These were all exercises appropriate to women.

EAD: Part of it too was that the women were supposed to alternate between this kind of exercise and going out and walking. And then they were supposed to take cold baths at the end of a couple of hours of exercise. Well, the-couple-of-hours part was theory in the beginning, but actually as it came to pass, exercise in the Calesthenium became a standard part of the work for all students, but nowhere near as long as 2 1/2 hours at a time. They calmed down on that subject. So that about three times a week… And in the evenings, believe it or not—I found that surprising, too—the students would make a trip over to the Calisthenium and have their periods of exercise.

CJ: That is amazing. I would have often thought that the days would end when the sunlight would end.

EAD: Well by and large they did. I mean they were not given much leeway after dark going out of the building, as we know from all the fuss that happened when Maria Mitchell wanted to get them over in the Observatory to look at stars.

CJ: Was that a fuss? Tell me about that.

EAD: Well, the lady principal, who was Miss Hannah Lyman, believed that the students should be very regulated and proper in their behavior, and that included not going abroad, into the outdoor air and into the night shadows and so on, without escorts and rarely even then. And Maria Mitchell, who was absolutely to the contrary in her view of life, often wanted to invite the students to go over to the Observatory, and they might have to be waked up in the middle of the night unless they went over there and slept, because unfortunately the stars and the comets didn't wait for Miss Lyman's regulations.

So they had an open warfare on the subject of whether it was good for the students to get up in the middle of the night and go do their observation or not. This idea of experience and cloistering was a major stress—you might say tension, apparently. And President MacCracken often pointed to it in things he had to say about the 19th century. I guess I really took my cue from him, but I find it extremely interesting.

MacCracken's basic intention in developing all these new ideas about education was that women should have experience. They should mine their own desires with opportunities to put them into play against the background of real knowledge about things. But Taylor would have said, "Let them wait until after they've finished college to put their ideas into play."

CJ: But before him Maria Mitchell would have said, "Bring the women over, where we're going to learn by doing."

EAD: "I'm going to take them to Burlington, Iowa," said she in 1867 for a field trip.

CJ: That was my next question. If there was a little difficulty with the lady principal, getting the women to go between Main Building and the Observatory, how on earth would we get them to Burlington, Iowa?

EAD: I don't think Miss Lyman was even consulted.

CJ: Oh, was that during term or was that in the summer?

EAD: It was in the summer, and there were seven people who went on that first trip.

CJ: This was to see an eclipse.

EAD: Yep, to see an eclipse in Burlington, Iowa. A total eclipse of the sun. And I imagine at least three of the students who went had graduated that previous June.

Nevertheless the idea was the same. And the second trip, which I think was in 1876, to Denver, Colorado, definitely had some Vassar students as well as alumnae. And of course the Geology department made a trip to Mauch Chunk in Pennsylvania to observe the natural rocks and structures.

CJ: I've always been struck by the fact that in more modern times we are almost unique among our peer schools in offering credit towards our degree for field work and have done so for at least 40-45 years. I suppose those early field experiences were more necessary in women's education because of the relatively limited scope of women's travel and experience or maybe this was just something which was happening say at a Yale or at a Williams at the same time. Do you have any idea whether there was a particular emphasis on field things because of the roots of the college?

EAD: No, I don't think field work was a pursuit at the men's colleges. I don't have that impression.

CJ: Let's move along in time and let me ask you…I know that the Blizzard of '88 was a great event in the College's life. I know there's a lot of interesting documentation of how the College coped with that. Any good stories from the Blizzard? People were really cut off, weren't they, one from another?

EAD: Well, I just don't really know much about the Blizzard of '88 on campus but I've always tried to find out more. It's probably there in some of the student letters that I haven't read. But the facts are that the College was snowed in for three days. They mostly had to stay in Main Building while plows were plowing out. It didn't make too much difference, you know, whether they had to stay in Main Building for three days.

CJ: Strong would have been built by then?

EAD: No. Strong was built in '93, so the students were all living in Main Building. And their Chapel services were in Main Building. They were eating in Main Building. They could exercise in the halls if they couldn't get over to the gym.

It does strike me as strange that there aren't more pictures. I've never seen a photo in Special Collections of the Blizzard of 1888, although Special Collections has hundreds of photos. I've always wondered why we don't have more material about that. I imagine the answer, for myself, is that if I read through many more of the probably 10,000 or so letters that are available through the 1880s—Special Collections has a marvelous collection of correspondence—I probably would find more details.


CJ: Let me move along to some Vassar eccentrics that you might be able to tell me a little bit more about. I remember once when I was on a panel of faculty and students for some occasion or another, I asked the panel if they could say anything that they thought particularly exemplified a little-known truth, a little-known fact about Vassar College. And Tom McHugh from the Education department with his wonderful wit came up with the notion that you could always tell Vassar seniors who were on the point of graduation because they so often got about them what he called an "informed orneriness" and began to give evidence that their education at this level was beginning to draw to a close. I thought of that because I was going to ask you to about the famous graveyard meeting that was held against the president's wishes by Inez Mulholland.

EAD: That gives me a chance just to say a little bit about the tensions on campus before MacCracken came in on the matter of suffrage. We've mentioned it before but we didn't go into it really.

His predecessor, James Monroe Taylor, decreed that suffrage activities could not take place on campus. And the students and faculty too were very inventive in thinking of other ways to get together on the issues of suffrage. You may not know it, but we're talking about the days before the Alumnae House, of course, which wasn't built until 1924.

There preceded the Alumnae House an inn on Raymond Avenue, on the other corner of Raymond Avenue opposite the HSBC Bank. Where the Vassar Bank used to be there was a whole building along that block, from where the Vassar Bank used to be to where the Juliet Theater is now. That whole block was an inn, and the inn and remnants of the inn are still standing inside the brick fronts. And that was called The Wagner Inn.

It was started by a Vassar student (1901-03) who didn't graduate. Instead of graduating, after a while she became the proprietor of the inn. I don't know who financed the building of the inn.

CJ: What period of time would that have been?

EAD: We're talking about the period around 1904, when families of students coming to visit or parents bringing their daughters to college or boyfriends coming to visit if they could afford it or townspeople wanting to go out to dinner or students wanting to go out to dinner or faculty members made use of this inn, The Wagner Inn. It was a very hospitable place.

Miss Wagner was a suffragist, and so she invited all the frustrated suffrage people to come over from campus and hold their meetings there. There are many records of meetings. Well, Inez Mulholland graduated from the College in 1909, and she had been trying to get around President Taylor through the various shenanigans. So, after she graduated, she invited about 30 prominent women—maybe men too, but I'm remembering women—in suffrage circles to come and gather at the time of graduation in 1910 in the Polish graveyard. She invited the New York Sun, a newspaper in New York, to come and send a photographer and take pictures of this event.

CJ: …the object being to embarrass the president and his other colleagues.

EAD: In order to embarrass the president and to have a good, rousing suffrage meeting, which she did.

CJ: Did Taylor respond in any way?

EAD: I'm sure he did. (laughter) I discovered as I was looking into that incident and others about suffrage that the proprietor of the local newspaper, whatever the name of it was at that point—I think it was the Poughkeepsie Daily Eagle—anyhow, it was the Hinckley family, which also ran the trolley cars and the transportation. Mrs. Hinckley was a great suffragist. I interviewed one of her daughters when I was trying to find out about all this, and the daughter told me that her mother took delight in coming to these meetings and also filling the columns of the Poughkeepsie paper with the suffrage activities. Anyway, Taylor had his comeuppance from Vassar suffragists in various ways.

CJ: Well, let me jump ahead in time a ways to another eccentric and famous and much-honored person. Tell me a little bit about the turmoil surrounding the Commencement from college of Edna St. Vincent Millay.

EAD: Oh yes. I knew you were working up to that.

CJ: She was an eccentric throughout her time at the College, I gather.

EAD: She was.

CJ: But a kind of loved one. Or at least a respected one.

EAD: Respected. Extremely bright. Very much loved. Extremely talented. Very creative. Giving of herself to all of the activities of her class and the college. She came to Vassar, I discovered, after having spent one semester at Barnard, which I never knew before, since she could not come directly to Vassar because she wasn't sufficiently prepared. There were subjects lacking in her summaries, and she couldn't get into Vassar until she was able to pass her classical history exam and various other things. She had gone to school in Maine, but she had not been allowed to finish high school because she was too frustrating to the teachers in the high school system. So, she came to Vassar. She was 26 years old when she graduated from the College, and so I think she was 23 when she came. And obviously she was going to fret against the rules and regulations. She was eccentric to begin with and didn't like rules and regulations.

MacCracken taught her in a Shakespeare class, and he allowed her a great deal of license because he could see what she was up to.

CJ: My sense is that Vassar has really accommodated truly bright eccentrics all along.

EAD: The particular incidents that caused her graduation to be threatened were as follows, as I understand it. She went across the River, over towards the Ashokan Dam with a classmate whose father was a minister, and they browsed around and they had afternoon tea in some tea room over there and then were persuaded to stay for dinner. They signed the guest book. Millay forgot that she should have signed out before she left Vassar as to where she was going and that she had to be home by ten o'clock at night and that that required her to take a ferry across the River. By the time she woke up to any of this, there was no ferry, so she had to spend the night in this hotel, or whatever it was, together with her friend and her friend's father, the minister. But some snooper connected with the powers that be, the authorities of the College, probably—well it was too late for the lady principal but some successor.

CJ: …some warden or other.

EAD: Perhaps the warden (Jean Palmer at that time). It came to pass that somebody saw her name in that guest book, and it was reported to the authorities. And so…

CJ: The discovery happened as Commencement was coming along.

EAD: And it happened that she was already rather on probation because she had gone to New York City to the opera. Some friend of the College had given her tickets to hear Caruso. This was a couple of months before that. And she was so excited about the possibility of going to hear Caruso that she forgot to tell her patron that she was going to have to miss classes at Vassar. And it was also a social infraction, not the first, as there were probably many of them. But anyhow the two compounded on her record, and so her case came before the faculty as to whether she was going to graduate or not. I mean she passed all her courses but she was not going to stay…the faculty thought she should not be allowed to graduate.

CJ: The whole faculty debated her?

EAD: The whole faculty debated her. In the faculty minutes, which we have over in Special Collections, you can read about the faculty's discussion of this.

CJ: Was that an exceptional thing, done just for her or was this simply the way it would have been done in those days?

EAD: The way it would have been done in those days.

CJ: The year now is 1918.

EAD: So the faculty voted against her being able to graduate. She had written the class play, the class song, etc. MacCracken said this was the only time in his career as president that he exercised his authority to make a decision as the final arbitor.

CJ: Overriding the faculty's will?

EAD: Yes. So he said she could graduate. And her class was ecstatic she was there.

CJ: Well, I suppose the politics may have been different in those days, but that way the faculty maintained its integrity and the student graduated and the president was not materially damaged by the outcome.

EAD: But she must have been a truly amazing individual. MacCracken saw her one day. She was doing gymnastics out near the gatekeeper's lodge (torn down in 1915, near the current Taylor Gate) and she had missed his class a few hours or—I don't know—a few minutes earlier. And so he said, "Well, I'm glad to see you're well. I thought you were ill." And she said, "I was in pain with a poem." So, she wound him around her little finger, I guess. But it was well worth it.

CJ: I've had a taste of that. I remember a much later eccentric who in her freshman year—she's now a college professor of medieval history—in a course in older literature, she carried with her a green velvet notebook, in which she put nary a written note but instead drew delicate, elaborately detailed cartoons and drawings of everything we were talking about.

EAD: Was she the head of student government?

CJ: She was later the head of student government and signed all of her presidential edicts that year Il Doge.

EAD: Yes!

CJ: An extraordinary Vassar eccentric and an extraordinary person.

EAD: Vassar has had some wonderful eccentrics. Do you remember the infamous episode that MacCracken talked about in his charming book, The Hickory Limb, about a folklore teacher, Martha Beckwith, and her colleague, Miss Monnier, of the French department, who marched into a local theater and exposed a phony hula dancer or vaudeville show from West Broadway in Poughkeepsie or a local movie theater


CJ: Well let me ask. Were there similar charged moments or difficulty or eccentricities about Mary McCarthy's time here? Or was she more or less a person who worked her genius within the Vassar system?

EAD: I think the latter.

CJ: That's my impression.

EAD: Of course I wasn't here in Mary McCarthy's time, but nothing I've ever read would suggest that kind of thing. Of course Mary McCarthy would have livened up any class that she was in, I'm sure.

I took a course with Anna Kitchel, an English professor, who thought she was an astonishing student. For Anna Kitchel, Mary McCarthy was one of the most talented freshmen she had ever taught. I mean I was almost jealous of Mary McCarthy because of the way her teachers carried on about her. She must have had something, a kind of real genius, for relating to certain people. Well there were professors that she was copasetic with. Of course she had awful fights with other professors like Helen Lockwood, whom she couldn't stand. All of this is no secret. I mean she talks about it in her various writings about Vassar.


CJ: I met an alumna, a noted journalist and author, who was on the campus this year. She had a fascinating story about her run-in with Miss Lockwood. Had you heard? Did you know about that?

EAD: No.

CJ: She was an English major, and Miss Lockwood called her in one day. And she said, "I want you out of the department. You represent many things that I intensely dislike." I think she may have said "everything." She said, "You're" (I'm going to have to approximate this) "self-important. You're tall. You're Catholic. And you're from the Midwest."

EAD: Hm.

CJ: And she told me that at that particular time no matter how she seemed, she was as frail as a reed. She went back to her room in Cushing, I think, and wept and left the English department. And then she told us that subsequently she mailed every one of her books to Helen Lockwood and always received a kind note of acknowledgment, "Thank you for your book(s)," but nothing more. So, on or about the seventh book, she wrote a little bit more fully to her old teacher and nemesis and said, "Well, I guess I must be some kind of a writer by now." And Helen wrote back, "Yes, I've read your book. I cannot say that you are genuinely a writer now but you are a very, very good communicator." That was about as far as it ever got.

EAD: No, I never heard that one before.

CJ: Do you feel at ease to tell me anything about another interesting eve of graduation story involving your days in the Dean of Studies office?

EAD: If you're dangling for a particular story, I fail to think of it. I don't feel any squeamishness about telling the story. I just don't remember what story I'm supposed to be recalling.

CJ: The story as I understood it from a graduate was that sometime in the second semester of her senior year in connection with a social psychology course, I think.

CJ: She and a couple of her colleagues within a group that were assigned to study reactions and report on them…

EAD: Oh!

CJ: Oh! You do remember now!

EAD: All right. What you're referring to is the fact that I was waked up by the phone next to my bed at about a quarter of two in the morning, and the voice on the other end said, "Mrs. Daniels, would you go to Vassar Hospital to give blood? There's been an accident involving Vassar people on Manchester Road/Route 55." And I said, "Heavens. Well, let me call Message Center" (or something discreet like that). So I promptly called Message Center, and then I called the College doctor, who I think was Jean Stephenson at the time. No one knew anything about it. So, I went back to sleep. But I never knew that she was involved. (chuckle)

CJ: The story I heard was that several calls were made that night. Their intention was to say something very shocking and therefore find a splendid and extraordinary way to do the assignment. However, those people who were called became more and more concerned and there was actually some indication that there might be some action taken to impede her from getting credit for the course or graduating because…

EAD: That's the way stories grow, I guess.

CJ: Well let me ask, then, because we have a little time left, about at least two mysteries like that one. This one I've always wondered about. It is said that we no longer have the Vassar records of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy at Vassar. Is that true?

EAD: I don't think so. I don't think it's true that we no longer have a record, but I must admit I haven't looked for it.

CJ: Well that's the second myth that you've cleared up for me in these sessions, the first being that the famous Miss Borden, who was Elizabeth Bishop's mentor and the legendary librarian, was not the sister of Lizzie Borden.

Let me ask one more mystery.

EAD: Oh dear. I'm debunking everything.

CJ: I think debunking is a part of an historian's job just as much as establishing the facts. Can you tell us anything about the ghosts and the devil-worship in Main? How far do the stories go back? Do you know?

EAD: I suppose they probably go back in the folk oral tradition.

CJ: Were there ever any verified sightings?

EAD: Never any verified sightings. (chuckle) None that I know of.

CJ: Do you remember that you and I once were sent to the Main basement to look because someone thought they'd found a witch's den? We didn't really find much down there.

EAD: We didn't find much except we found that some students had obviously been wandering around and defacing the walls. Or somebody had been. I'm not sure it was students. It might have been some of those faculty children who from time to time found their way in. They seemed to turn up in various places.

Really, I'm probably a poor person to be a tracer of Vassar's myths because I can't seem to locate really any underpinnings for these myths. People frequently talk about the fact that there's a room on the fifth floor of Main where the door opens at night and slams shut. I've seen this in the Miscellany News from year to year. I mean it turns up in various forms, but I have no knowledge of any student who jumped out of her window in Main Building or who died in her suite in Main. Of course, students have died at Vassar. There have been several over the years, but they don't seem to be roaming the corridors. I'm such a skeptic myself that I don't even like to perpetuate these stories.

CJ: Before you debunk any more of my favorites, such as that there is an endowed fund set up to buy broccoli on a regular basis and torment the students with it, perhaps we should end this session with my thanks for what you've done to enlighten me.

EAD: Well good!