Doing a Little to Better the Human Condition

Matthew Vassar, whose education never went beyond elementary school, had a generous heart and an incredible, intuitive trust in women. He perceived that they were just as intelligent as men, but tragically had no opportunities for higher education. As he developed a fortune in his father’s brewery, he wondered about the best way to spend it. He suggested that he might provide a hospital in Poughkeepsie or perhaps he could build a college for women exclusively. One wise friend and adviser said to him, “Mr. Vassar, if you build a hospital, you will be known all over Dutchess County. If you build a college for women, you will be known all over the world.”

Matthew did both and the name Vassar is known all over the world where for 150 years the alumnae(i) of his college on the Hudson have made their mark in every profession one can imagine. Vassar has turned out astronomers and mathematicians, poets and philosophers and politicians, doctors and lawyers, WACS and WAVES, not to mention teachers of students of all ages and professors in all the arts and sciences.

Vassar recognizes, accepts and celebrates individual diversity and creativity. Vassar alums are invariably responsible citizens – parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers and friends – people concerned with social issues and social justice. They participate fully in the political process and become involved with significant causes.

At Vassar (1938-42) I was stimulated by my peers, the cream of the crop, and by some of the great teachers of that time. For me it was Agnes Rindge, Richard Krautheimer, and Louis Rubinstein in the art department, Rudolph Kempton in zoology and Helen Lockwood rounded it all off by teaching us to think, reason, and dare to articulate our ideas, understanding that we are always conditioned by our basic assumptions. Athletics were a very important part of my education and there I would mention Betty Richey, Ruth Tim, and Jan O’Loughlin.

Every generation adapted to the new. My mother (1911) gave up the horse for the car. I was in the generation that survived the Big Depression, World War II and witnessed the birth of TV. Our children rebelled against the establishment and often locked in their trustees. Their children became the cell phone generation and found marriage still a convenience, if not an essential, tradition. Most importantly we valued human society, respected individual human life, and clung to the idea that we each could do a little to better the human condition.

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