What could be better than to see your professors check their scholarly personae at the door and sing and dance with the sole purpose of entertaining you? In the Vassar tradition of faculty shows, for many decades professors put on a play, usually of the comedic variety, solely for a student audience. “It never fails to be hilarious,” Ann Hill ’51 declared in 1949, “when the faculty shows us what they think we think of them, along with their own views on campus happenings in general,” an opinion widely held by Vassar classes since the shows’ inception. Sometimes referred to as the “Faculty Follies,” and generally lighthearted and often goofy, the productions have gone through cycles of discontinuation and revival over the years.
Emblematic, however, of the tight-knit nature of Vassar’s campus community throughout most of the 20th century, the shows have become harder to stage as the college has grown in size and the faculty and the student body more diverse in composition and in focus.
The earliest faculty play on record took place on January 23, 1915. On the bill were two eighteenth century farces: Who’s the Dupe? (1779) by Hannah Cowley and The Deuce Is in Him (1763) by George Colman the Younger. The show was apparently a success, for another play, Eastward Ho! (1605), a satire by George Chapman, Ben Jonson and John Marston, was staged the following year. Several prominent faculty were involved in the play, including psychology professor Margarete Floy Washburn ’91 (playing Touchstone, a goldsmith) and Marjorie MacCracken, the wife of the new president, Henry Noble MacCracken.
Mrs. MacCracken became a staple of these faculty shows, appearing, for example, in Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors in 1917 and an original play entitled “Matthew Vassar’s Omission” in 1921. The earlier shows had been satirical, but “Matthew Vassar’s Omission” pushed the boundaries with the peculiar roles in which professors were cast. Set in a preschool, the play presented various faculty members as toddlers. Internationally known physicist Frances Gertrude Wick was cast as a small boy who annoys the other children, while Marjorie MacCracken played “Little Marjorie,” a girl who skipped onto the scene with a jumping rope. Relatively loose in its plot, the play was largely a showcase for faculty playing toddlers. The plot revolved around the recruitment of a potential student, whose mother seems perplexed by the loquaciousness of the toddlers at the school. It was no doubt a thrill for students to see well-known faculty figures playing characters younger than themselves—particularly as the preschoolers retained the peculiar language of academia.
Faculty members were compensated for participating in these early shows. Those in larger roles received between three and five dollars, while those in a smaller role received a dollar or two. Members of the “Faculty Players,” however, paid annual dues of one dollar apiece toward funding the shows. President MacCracken also made contributions towards the funding of these productions, at one point giving $150 to ensure their continuation of the shows.
The president also appeared in many of the performances. In 1921, he played the judge in the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta Trial by Jury. The performance was foreshadowed in the Vassar Miscellany News by “our faculty NEWS editor,” the head of the Bureau of Publication, Professor Burges Johnson, who announced that a “company of more or less trained voices” would sing “the shortest of the Sullivan operas” for “the faculty, their invited guests and the senior class, following the custom of faculty plays of former years.” The play—preceded by “three Spanish fandangos,” performed by two members of the French and Spanish department and Lady Gregory’s one-act play, The Workhouse Ward—was praised by the Misc. as a “complete success judging by the applause of the audience.”
Succeeding faculty performances, such as the pantomime in 1924 “alternately entitled”— according to a 1954 account in the Miscellany News by Emma-Jane Weale ’55—“’The Events of the Day’ or ‘Sheepskin vs. Hot-dogs,’” forged further into local satire. Although little is known about the play or its enigmatic title, the names of its cast presented, she said, “a new emphasis on humor.” Professor of Psychology Margaret Floy Washburn ‘91 was listed as “Mrs. Margaret Wolfingham,” President and Mrs. MacCracken were “Mr. and Mrs. Cracker Nobly,” Professor of Music George Sherman Gow became “Mr. Wog” and Burges Johnson was identified as “Mr. Jurges Bohnson.”
The faculty returned to music in 1926 with a Founder’s Day production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience, prompting the Miscellany News to suggest that its readers “scour the country or send home for Grandmother’s party frocks” because “no doubt…the players will feel more at home if we are in the costumes of the 1880 and 1880.” Unlike some previous productions in which students took part, this show was entirely the work of the faculty. In another echo of the past, the faculty show for 1927 returned to the 18th century with another work by George Colman the Younger, Inkle and Yarico (1787), an old story of an adventurous and avaricious Englishman, Thomas Inkle, who falls in love with a Native American, Yarico, whom he takes to Barbados. The economic historian Professor Caroline Ware ’20 was the chair of the faculty committee responsible for this production, and she was aided by the musicologist Edith Woodruff ’09, Professor of Art Clarence Chatterton and, again, Professor Gow. The first faculty show with a completely original script, “Faculty Fodderville,” was presented in 1928. Unfortunately, nothing is further known about this innovation to the tradition. To close out the decade, for Founder’s Day in1929 Professor Washburn, Marjorie MacCracken and Henry Noble MacCracken (addressed in a Miscellany News article by his campus name, “Prexy”) and others sang in the Students’ Building. The Miscellany News deemed the night a “howling success,” proof that faculty music could thrive even without being placed in a narrative production.
Faculty shows in the following decade included a 1930 faculty parody of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, with Henry Noble MacCracken in the title role. “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar,” the Miscellany News reported, “was presented in true Shakespearian style, to the tune of such melodies as Yessir, she’s my baby and Juanita. President MacCracken’s resounding bass voice gave the key to the solemn mood of the production and Messrs. [Professor of Religion J. Howard] Howson, [Professor of French Oscar E.] Imer…[Professor of Geology A. Scott] Warthin, Mme. Washburn and an all-star cast nobly supported him. So deeply was the audience stirred that, in the death scene, when the conspirators performed a cake-walking formal march around the defunct corpse of their emperor to the words of Gory, gory, poor old Caesar, it clapped in dismal and sympathetic rhythm.” The play’s program attributed the costumes to “the college laundry,” and during an entr’acte in this production, Prexy, according to Vassar Quarterly, gave “a representation of Rudy Vallee.”
In 1933, as part of a Hudson Valley theme for Founder’s Day, the faculty collaborated with members of the Glee Club in a comic operetta about Rip van Winkle. Set to music by Professor of Music Quincy Porter, the play featured another member of the music department, John Pierce, “in a mop of curls and a rakish hat,” as Rip. The role of the Hendrick Hudson, a collaborator in Rip’s enchantment, was played by Professor of Political Science Emerson Fite.
In 1937, two members of the music faculty, joined by a recent graduate, offered more original music; the Miscellany News reported that the ‘37 show included “Six New Songs (Six!) by Quincy Porter and Clair Leonard,” which would go “hand in hand with Tina Ramsey’s lyrics.” Quincy Porter had joined the Vassar music faculty in 1932, and Clair Leonard followed in 1934. Christina Ramsey ’29 was an administrative assistant in the office of admission. The show’s title, “Tonight We Correlate,” echoed Luigi Pirandello’s Tonight We Improvise, a “theatre within the theatre” work that had had its American premiere at Vassar a few months earlier, in December 1936. The title also alluded to a recurrent theme in President MacCracken’s frequent writings and addresses on educational theory and practice. Speaking on “Correlation and Concentration” in 1925 at a Washington meeting of the Associate Alumnae of Vassar College, MacCracken had urged attention to curricular correlation along with the traditional focus on disciplinary concentration. The Miscellany News proclaimed this climax of Founder’s Day “an hysterical evening of correlation,” and four of Tina Ramsey’s numbers from the show, “Heavenly Blues,” “Give Me the Opportunity,” Hormony” and “Fun in the Zoo,” were so popular that the Co-operative Bookshop offered to issue phonograph records of the songs.
Faculty plays continued in the 1940s, with several original faculty shows in the first half of the decade. “Pillars of Our Town” went up in March 1941, shortly after the powerful production by Hallie Flanagan Davis’s Experimental Theatre of Ibsen’s Pillars of Society (1877) and also echoing in its title her innovative mixed media production in December 1940 of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town (1938)—in which, incidentally, Prexy played the Stage Manager. Breaking with the tradition that linked faculty shows with Founders Day, this December production, a benefit in support of the overseas Emergency Relief Fund, raised $1,075 to help feed French children in unoccupied France.
According to the Miscellany News, this “student-faculty-administration conglomeration of fun and frankness reached unprecedented heights…. An enthusiastic audience cheered wildly to see among other phenomena, a masculine Dean, broadcasting campus gossip in true Winchell fashion, Prexy pouting over Ma-enforced administrative duties, Mrs. [Christine Ramsey] Lyman’s dramatic versatility and Jean Sobotta’s [‘38] throaty rendition of’ ‘My Heart Belongs to Caddy.’ A flimsy network of plot based on ‘Our Town,’ reinforced by ‘Pillars of Society’…and directed by Prexy’s management was the excuse for many varied, hilarious skits.”
In anticipation of the faculty show in 1944, a wholly original vaudeville, written by English Professors John Malcolm Brinnin and Dorothy Buchanan and featuring some two dozen members of the faculty including both Dean C. Mildred Thompson ‘03 and “Prexy” MacCracken, a Miscellany News writer quoted Libby Austin ’45-5 on faculty shows: “For most of us, just seeing our professors on stage is enough, but when they write original scripts (and several of them have) and their own music, you may be sure that you’re in for a bang up evening.” The professors rarely disappointed, and ’44 was apparently no exception.
Faculty shows in the ‘40s, continued to incorporate music into the productions. “The Indoctrination of Sarah Gibson Blanding,” an original play written and directed by economics Professor Ruby Turner Norris, was staged in 1947. The show included such old-timey classics as “Working on the Railroad” and “Three Blind Mice,” played by Clair Leonard. The play followed “the typical college girl at work, her own trials and tribulations, hopes and aspirations,” according to the Misc. When the girl has a rough go at school, Matthew Vassar, played by college chaplain Rev. Charles Graham McCormick, and Sarah Gibson Blanding team up to help her out. The play was elevated by the music, with the male faculty chorus singing to the audience during intermission. The success of the music in this play may have inspired the next year’s show. “De Profundis” featured Miss Blanding again, as a concert pianist, and also introduced a musical typewriter. The performance was praised by the Miscellany News for its “spontaneity and lack of self-conciousness,” and the music in the productions was becoming an annual highlight. “The hit song of 1948’s show,” E. J. Weale wrote, “sung to the tune of ‘Meet Me in St. Louis,’ had the amazing first line ‘Meet Me Right by Students, Prudence’.”
The late ‘40s and early ‘50s contained a number of highly successful faculty shows, including 1949’s parody of the national TV craze, “Can You Television When You See One?”. Professor of Political Science C. Gordon Post, Professor of History Charles Griffin and Professor of Geology A. Scott Warthin appeared, respectively, as “Curse It,” “Abhor It” and “Drat It,” in “Hard Times,” in 1952. 1953’s cheeky “series of take-offs on life at Vassar” was called “Vulgarities of 1953,” and 1954’s “Alice in Wonderland” parody was “Daisydaze.” The demand for faculty shows remained high, as Weale’s Miscellany News article on the popularity of various Founder’s Day events reported: “Students’ is [always] filled to the capacity for the Faculty Show.”
The most popular and well-remembered faculty show, however, came along in 1957, when “From Peer to Maternity” was presented.The tradition had been around long enough—around 40 years—that the concept of faculty shows was itself ripe for a send-up. Professor of English Walter Stone’s play posited the visit to Vassar of several well-known authors— Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, T.S. Eliot, Fyodor Dostoevsky and James Joyce—who had apparently been invited to the college to write skits for the faculty play. After an introductory scene, each author’s contribution was staged, with plot and dialogue that parodied the writer’s characteristic style. Stone recruited the director of the music library, James Coover, to write the music for the show. English Professor Robert Kingston was the play’s director, Rosamond Cohan ‘51 its musical director and Lynne “Winkie” Martin ’58 its stage manager. A faculty show “of such scope and grandeur,” a Miscellany News writer reported, “has never been attempted on Vassar’s campus.”
The Miscellany News anticipated Walter Stone's show with a dramatic illustration.
The play's title was an echo both of James Jones’s National Book Award winning novel, From Here to Eternity (1951) and its Academy Award winning 1953 movie version and of Vassar’s recently concluded Mellon Study. Funded by a $2 million grant in 1949 from philanthropist Paul Mellon in memory of his wife Mary Conover Mellon ’26, the study’s report had been quite controversial at the college, as it seemed to dismiss the influence of the faculty and the curriculum by implying that the college functioned primarily as a framework in which “peer groups” could form. The project’s director, Dr. Carl Binger from the Research Center for Human Relations at New York University, had raised further resentment by stating in his resignation in May 1951 his doubt that “a matriarchy” such as Vassar could provide “a wholesome atmosphere in which students are likely to develop satisfactorily.”
If the title of the show captured something of the Vassar zeitgeist of the ‘50s, the authors who were satirized represented its academic tastes. All the “visitors” were dead or well past their prime, and all were staples in college English syllabi. In the first scene of the play, the five authors, each caricatured in a way that Stone trusted students would recognize and find funny, are trying to find the college. Hemingway wears macho hunting attire and speaks almost exclusively in baseball metaphors; Joyce wears an eye patch and speaks in the kind of complex jargon students of Ulysses would appreciate; Dostoevsky is portrayed as a passionate Russian who tends to project his stories into his surroundings; T.S. Eliot speaks in verse and Faulkner wears a southern colonel’s attire and carries a mint julep. Singing an author’s song [text?] as they make their way to campus, they are met by a bevvy of reporters, who ask questions about meaning and symbolism in the authors’ novels. Hemingway criticizes them for over-intellectualizing their work, noting that “intellectuals sure have dirty minds.” The authors reveal their purpose for coming to Vassar, and the first act fittingly ends in meta-fashion, with Joyce staring out into the audience, asking “Do you mean you’ve been sitting there all this time, like a herd of tame animals, watching this? You are all imbeciles.”
The following three acts present three of the visitors’ skits. The Faulknerian “Requiem for the Numb” takes place at a house on Faculty Row. A professor in a floppy straw hat and suspenders talks of the honesty and simplicity of his “land.” His many children are ragged and beg for money, and the house is decrepit. A group of trustees, well-dressed and apparently well-off, enter the scene as a committee looking into faculty salaries. They sing a trustee’s song [text?] as they examine the house, and one ultimately concludes, “I can’t see what they are complaining about.” The scene ends when the professor’s wife alerts her husband. A child is missing, and their children may be reverting to cannibalization again. The professor waves this off, exclaiming “the young fry have to eat too.”
In the Hemingwayesque skit, “The Gorge Also Rises” two disgruntled students plot to murder one of their professors. The scene takes place in the Retreat, and a “Retreat song” is sung at the top of the act. [text?] The two students alert their professor to their plan and are praised for their innovative thinking and thus their keeping the educational system from corrupting them. They go ahead with the murder, and in a meta-ending, the characters shoot their writer, Ernest Hemingway. The third and final sketch, “Dostoevsky’s” “The Idiots, or The Brothers Mellnov,” consists of two scenes. The first is set at the Mellon foundation, where administrators in Russian overcoats gather around a pot-bellied stove. The administrators are pressured by a journalist from the Miscellany News for the infamous peer group report. They resolve to send a spy into a peer group to strengthen the findings of their report. The second scene takes place in an opium den, where several students sing “The Peer Group Song.” [text?] They exchange radical ideas and blatantly brainwash one another, validating the fears that were generated by the official Mellon report in an over-the-top fashion. The act ends with various reporters infiltrating the scene, all attempting to get the first scoop on the story. There is a shoot-out, and when the reporter for the Vassar Chronicle is the last one remaining, everybody performs a reprise of “The Peer Group Song:
This is Vassar Ph.D.’s…. Yessirree.
Where you oughter We’ve amounted.
Send your daughter We’re well-grounded,
For a while. And well-rounded,
We can pass her Joint by joint
In her courses. Intellectual
We’re the forces. Heterosexual,
We’re the style…. We expect you all
Encapsulated See the point….
In the Peer Group We conform all
We are Vassar’s We are normal
Main disease. In the dorm all
We are graded Girls agree:
By that queer group, We’re no mere group
Our professors, We’re the Peer Group
The show, on May 3rd, got a rapturous response, despite some ruffled feathers among traditionalists who thought it was overproduced. Praising the show in “Plight of Faculty Moves Ulcer to Tears; Show Enchants Critics” in the Miscellany News, Jean Sonkin ’58 and her alter ego, “Duodena Ulcer ‘classless,’” saw in it a complex communication between Vassar’s two groupings of peers, students and the faculty. “Speaking from my vantage point in the brain-washed peer group,” Sonkin wrote, “I was delighted to note how quickly we nebulae pounced upon each literary reference, Christ symbol and sex symbol. It was quite an esoteric evening and it does credit to both peer groups, I think, that not a line was lost.” The “outstanding contribution to the drama,” she declared, “was its satire, which was at times a bit Swiftian and often, but not always, straight to the heart of the matter.” Noting, however, the “overwhelming number or murders committed (for the Vassar campus anyway)” in Stone’s play, she suggested that an “investigation of the homicidal tendencies of the faculty would seem to be the next project in line for the Mellon foundation…. Of the six struggling authors who composed the play,” she concluded, “I find Mr. Walter Stone the most accomplished….because of the unstable nature of the other five gentlemen. The show was a triumph and I liked it; I liked it.”
For her part, Duodena Ulcer—who, Sonkin had noted, “sat behind me and was moved to salt water tears”—had a more pragmatic response to the show: the formation of a “FEED THE FACULTY” campaign, which would include free hot lunches in the Retreat starting “a week from next Monday,” door to door solicitations on the faculty’s behalf and, as part of a self-help program, the removal of “the cigarette machine now located outside of the Retreat in order to remove temptation.” “We welcome,” Ulcer concluded, “this opportunity to serve the community. We regard the faculty as an integral, and even useful, aspect of college life.”
A coda to his faculty show was Walter Stone’s gracious acknowledgement in a letter to the editor in the Miscellany News for May 22. He thanked “both Jean Sonkin ’58 and Duodena Ulcer ’00 for their reviews: Miss Sonkin for catching the spirit of the occasion so precisely, Miss Ulcer for being so courageously true to herself…. The community proved that it can take and enjoy satire. Practically everybody has forgiven us: the bookstore, the Mellon research staff and the Miscellany News. Even the Peer Group seemed to be having a good time, in a cautious sort of way.”
Things might have been on the upswing for faculty shows following the success of “From Peer to Maternity,” although it’s was a complex success and therefore perhaps a challenge to successors, particularly after Walter Stone’s death in the summer of 1959, while in England. Vassar historian Colton Johnson, who joined the Vassar English department a few years later, learned early on both of Stone’s cherished presence at the college and of his already legendary legacies. “Stone’s death,” he has noted, “was perhaps so shocking that the notion of faculty shows went away.”
But, if faculty were no longer willing to come forward to write the plays, Vassar students still longed to see their professors perform. A Miscellany News article published on May 4, 1960, criticized the upcoming Founder’s Day program: “[It] could not be less inspiring or interesting…What is Founder’s Day without a faculty show—that delightful exhibition of faculty ‘talents?’” The anonymous writer went onto suggest, in an act of radical thought the like of that parodied in “From Peer to Maternity,” that Founder’s Day be abolished if the “much desired faculty show” were not brought back. This plea for a revival did not bring about another faculty show, nor did a plea in November 1960 that a faculty show be staged to honor the college’s upcoming centennial. A year later, in November 1961, a reporter in the Miscellany News lamented that “the seniors are the last people who really know…about this delightful thing called a faculty show…the event is becoming a myth, a legend.” Student demand was not enough to bring the dying tradition back to life. The incentive would come from elsewhere.
Recalling, in The New Vassar (1971), his 1964 inauguration as the college’s seventh president—on “a golden day bathed in beauty”—Alan Simpson admitted that he had known “Vassar’s problems only slightly—some lost momentum, some difficulties in faculty and student recruitment, some sacrifice of character to comfort.” Simpson’s first five years had brought about, he wrote, “a great turning point in Vassar’s history:” reorganized faculty structures; more professional admissions policies and practices; a successful capital campaign; a joint study with Yale University funded by the Ford and Carnegie foundations of the possibilities of “coordinate coeducation” and the decision in 1968 to admit men.
The discussions and their conclusions, the turmoils and their resolutions had, he thought, strained the campus atmosphere. Something was needed to inject some student-faculty kinship and optimism back into campus. Learning about the faculty shows, Simpson thought their revival might be a help in doing this. He invited some faculty members, at all ranks, to the President’s House to talk about renewing the tradition. Among them, Colton Johnson, newly in the English department, and young drama professor James Steerman engaged with the idea, working, with the aid of Elisabeth Chapman ’38, an officer in the admission office and the wife of Professor of Psychology Dwight Chapman, on shows for Founder’s Day in 1968 and 1969.
There was no shortage of relevant topics to satirize, and the student coordinator for Founder’s Day in 1968, Theo Easter ’69, remarked that “the faculty were delighted to join in this show…they felt a lot of events at Vassar in the past few years lent themselves to faculty shows.” The shows throughout the late ‘60s and the ‘70s were presented in the Students’ Building and, after its conversion to the All Campus Dining Center (ACDC), in the Chapel and in Kenyon Gymnasium, and they may well have helped make the college again become comfortable with laughing at itself.
President Simpson sang with faculty members Anne Constantinople and Joanne Dempsey.
The show in 1968 greeted the college’s first mainframe computer by putting a large shipping box marked “IBM” and with a red light bulb on top on stage. When the “computer” was asked how a student could get an A in the English department, the light blinked and the department’s chair, Caroline Mercer ’29 (a noted participant in 1941 in “Pillars of Our Town”) emerged from the box to declare the question historically unanswerable. Another show referenced the study of “coordinate coeducation” with Yale when Professor of Astronomy and Director of the Vassar Observatory Henry Albers, dressed as Yale President Kingman Brewster Jr. walked on stage with a bulldog to sing his version of “Boola Boola.” The implementation, in the fall of 1969, of the “Comprehensive Plan,” a radical revision of the Vassar curriculum that emphasized multidisciplinary study, credited independent work and exchanged the traditional “semester hour” course credits for a new and more flexible “unit” system, was a subject for a faculty skit in that spring’s show. English Professor Everett Weedin appeared with a student whom he attempted, with little success but much amusing confusion, to aid in adapting to “the comprehensible plan.” Another show, in 1975, was called “Let’s Admit It,” acknowledging in satire the public chatter that the college was admitting substandard male applicants as a result of co-education.
The faculty shows revived by President Simpson didn’t become an annual event. Rather, the faculty committed to doing a show once every four years so that every class would be able to see one. These shows were also much more informal affairs than the earlier ones. According to John Feroe, a mathematics professor who participated in the later faculty shows, they were “amateur hour in every sense of the word…it was presented script-in-hand, so not polished by any means.” The rehearsals were usually done the morning of Founder’s Day, and then “performed the same Saturday night,” according to Colton Johnson. The thrown-together nature of these productions lent itself to the self-deprecating quality they were trying to achieve.
Music was a great part of the appeal of earlier faculty shows, and the new shows maintained the musical element. The music, however, was not original—the shows’ songs would usually supply popular songs with lyrics that pertained to Vassar, which delighted the students. The plucky accompanist for these musical events was Drusa Sherman, who officially supplied accompaniments for Vassar’s dance classes, but who could also harmonize any murmured ditty. Mary Hopkins ‘s 1968 hit, “Those Were the Days,” provided the music for: “Once upon a time here at the college,/ before the days of Vassar-Yale and men,/ there was a single simple path to knowledge/and another to New Haven at week’s end; Those were the days, my friend, /we thought they’d never end….We’d live the life we please/grow old with our Class Trees/ Those were the days/Oh yes, those were the days.” And mediaeval historian Benjamin Kohl and psychology Professor Anne Constantinople led a merry chant in praise to the liberal arts, set to the refrain from Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club song: “L-I-B/E-R-A/L-A-R-T-S! Liberal Arts, Liberal Arts, together let us raise our banners high….” Another favorite in these shows was the corps de ballet, consisting of Professor of Political Science Richard Willey, Professor of Education Tom McHugh and Professor of Physical Education Roman Czula, who, suitably en tutu, danced to a fragment of The Nutcracker.
Originality was not the top priority for this student audience—they were looking for a chance to see their professors being silly and singing on stage. “It was a VERY easy audience to please,” Feroe admits. “I had the sense that we could have done anything and would have gotten a huge reaction.”
Although the shows of the ‘70s and ‘80s were met with large student turn-outs and positive responses, the tradition once again died out in the late ‘80s. As the shows of later years needed minimal resources to be put up and were quite successful, it is likely that a lack of faculty interest in writing the shows, coupled with the expansion of the school’s faculty, brought about the end of the tradition. There have been a couple shows since, thanks largely to former Hispanic studies Professor Patricia Kenworthy, but the concept of “Faculty Follies” has faded further and further into obscurity in recent years.
The tradition was, however, honored in 2011 for the sesquicentennial with a variety show organized by Dean of the College Chris Roellke. Entitled “Matthew’s Follies,” the show featured a mixture of faculty and student performances. A co-organizer of the show, Art history Professor Susan Kuretsky ‘63, confirmed that “Matthew’s Follies” was inspired by the “performances vividly [remembered] from early years.” However, as nostalgic as the show may have been for senior faculty members, the phrase “faculty show” doubtlessly did not mean the same thing to students of the 21st century as they did to students of the 20th.
English Professor Bill Gifford noted while reflecting on the era of “From Peer to Maternity”: “People at Vassar knew each other better then. The college had probably about 1,400 students. Economy, technology and culture turned the college inward to a degree we don’t experience today.” Many sacrifices come with the expansion of a college, and unfortunately, one of those may be the strong sense of community that faculty shows reflected. One can only hope that the college will find a way to capture that sense of community again, so that the faculty can carry on with their follies once more.
Simpson, Alan, The New Vassar, Vassar College, 1971.
Stone, Walter. “From Peer to Maternity.” Music written by James Coover. Vassar College. 3 May 1957. Performance.
Ellery, Eloise, “Faculty Play to Riotous Audience,” Miscellany News, vol. VI, no. 29, February 9, 1922.
“Gay 90s to Reappear on Founder’s Day,” Miscellany News, vol. X, no. 44, April 28, 1926.
“Founder’s Day Fraught with Fun,” Miscellany News, vol. XIV, no. 46, April 30, 1930.
“Through the Campus Gates,” Vassar Quarterly, vol. XV, no. 3, July 1, 1930.
“Vassar Community Joins Celebration of Founder’s Day, Miscellany News, vol. XX, no. 44, April 25, 1936.
“Vassar Enjoys Festivities of Founder’s Day,” Miscellany News, vol. XXI, no. 44, May 1, 1937.
“Faculty Show Nets Laughs, Applause and 1,075 Dollars,” Miscellany News, vol. XXV, no. 37, March 5, 1941.
“Campus Prays for Sun on Founders Day; Plans for Gay Nineties Review Takes Shape,” vol. XXVIII, no. 30, Miscellany News, May 3, 1944.
Wallach, Hilda, “Faculty Skit Finale of Founder’s Day,” Vassar Chronicle, vol. IV, No. 25, March 29, 1947.
Thurman, Olive, “Founder’s Day Concludes with Successful Faculty Program; Characterized by Spontaneity and Lack of Self-Conciousness,” Miscellany News, vol. XXXII No. 25, May 5, 1948.
Sonkin, Jean, “Plight of Faculty Moves Ulcer to Tears; Show Enchants Critics,” Miscellany News, vol. XXXXI, No. 25, May 8, 1957.
“Letter to the Editor,” Miscellany News, vol.XXXXI, no. 27, May 22, 1957.
“Peer Group Song,” Miscellany News, vol. XXXXIV, no.26, May 4, 1960.
“Founder’s Day 1960,” Miscellany News, vol. XXXXIV, no. 26, May 4, 1960.
“The Play’s the Thing,” Miscellany News, vol. XXXXVI, no. 7, November 1, 1961.
“Spring Rites Rise Again,” Miscellany News, vol. LII, no. 21, April 17, 1968.
Buchsbaum, Adam, “Matthew’s Follies Brings Back Traditional Vassar Variety Show,” Miscellany News, vol. CXLIV, No. 22, April 28, 2011.
Subject File, Faculty Plays. Vassar College Special Collections (VCSC).