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Vassar Encyclopedia

An online work in progress under the direction of Vassar's College Historian

Alice D. Snyder

Born in 1887 in Middletown, Connecticut, to a Congregationalist minister, Peter M. Snyder, and his wife, Grace, Alice Dorothea Snyder received her A.B. and A. M. degrees in English from Vassar in 1909 and 1911 and her Ph. D. in Rhetorical Studies from the University of Michigan in 1915. While a graduate student, she taught English—first at Rockford College for a year and then at Vassar for two years. She also served as an assistant in rhetoric at the University of Michigan for a year. After earning her Ph.D., Miss Snyder returned to Vassar College as an English professor in 1915. At the time of her death in 1943, she was the chairman of the Vassar English Department.

Professor Snyder gained distinction through her research in English literary criticism, becoming an expert on Samuel Taylor Coleridge, an early 19th century Romantic author, best remembered for his poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Snyder, however, focused on Coleridge’s lesser-known manuscripts. Her book, Coleridge on Logic and Learning, published in 1929, “contained previously unpublished manuscripts made available to her by the poet’s great-grandson.” In her lifetime, Ms. Snyder published three books and twenty-plus articles devoted to Coleridge. She was working on a collection of edited marginalia and prose fragments from the Coleridge manuscripts only two years before she died. Her efforts earned her a place in a publication of 1961 called Notable American Women.

Snyder’s impact was not limited to the sphere of Coleridgeana. Her colleagues recalled at her passing, “A great part of her time outside the classroom went into arduous committee work in the interests of better education, social justice, and good government.” She was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and active in the Modern Language Association and the Modern Humanities Research Association. She served on the examining committee of the College Entrance Examination Board as well as on its various special committees, and also presided as chairman of the School and College Conference on English. She was deeply interested in women’s suffrage, acting as chairman of the Poughkeepsie Woman Suffrage Party in 1916. Later in life, she worked with the Teacher’s Union, the Better Housing League, the Women’s City and County Club, and the League of Women Votes in Dutchess County. She participated in the American Labor Party, and the fall before she died, she joined the National Council for American-Soviet Friendship. Within the confines of the college, she acted as the Associate Editor of the Vassar Quarterly for several years and often contributed to various college publications.

Through it all, she continued to be a beloved presence on Vassar campus. Colleagues remembered her as a “person of complete integrity, who said what she meant and meant what she said. Her intense mental life never separated her from other people, for her thought and her feeling had united in a sincere conviction that the duty of the American scholar was, in the words of Emerson, to ”put forth his total strength in fit actions, “ although her path to that conviction was not Emersonian or mystic, for her personal philosophy was founded on that of John Dewey.”

Professor Alice D. Snyder died suddenly of a heart attack in her apartment on campus February 17, 1943. To preserve her legacy, her colleagues established the Alice D. Snyder Fund, an endowment for the English Department. The department was to determine the purpose of the fund annually in line with Miss Snyder’s interests. Recommended uses of the $2,700 fund included a prize to a student of marked ability in English, a lecture on aesthetics, a poet’s reading of his own work, or the purchase of additions to the school’s collection of Coleridgeana. Today, students still receive the Alice D. Snyder award for excellence in English. Through this award, Alice D. Snyder’s achievements continue to inspire new generations of Vassar writers and critics.

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Biographical File. Alice D. Snyder. Vassar College Special Collections (VCSC).

Biographical File. Alice D. Snyder. Appreciation Eulogy at Faculty Meeting by Mary L. Sague and Constance Ellis. 1943. VCSC.

SRH, 2006