Vassar Changed the Direction of My Life
by O. Howard Winn, Class of 1950
In 1946, I returned to Poughkeepsie from the Western Pacific and the 20th Army Air Force on Tinian, ready to take up my deferred admission to Dartmouth, granted before I entered service. To my dismay, I was told I was still welcome, but there would be no dormitory space available. I would need to find rooms in Hanover. My sister, Vassar ’42, and my mother, Vassar ‘16, pointed out that Vassar was temporarily taking Veterans. “Just go to Vassar,” they said, and live at home instead. So I did.
At Vassar, my prior interest in engineering evaporated, and literature and creative writing became my focus. That change could be attributed to the faculty that I had, and to the fact that literature and writing had always been a major interest for me, while engineering had been what “real men” did in those pre-war years when gender roles were often defined.
Many faculty encouraged me. Frances Foster, in English 105, who encouraged my writing. Ann Kendall, in English 215, (and who left Vassar to marry Richard Scowcroft, second in command to Wallace Stegner at the Stanford University Writing Program) who encouraged me to apply to Stanford for graduate study. Maud Makemson, in Astronomy, who gave me a job as a lab assistant (and found an interest in Astronomy and the Mayan Calendar perfectly compatible with an interest in creative writing). President Sarah Gibson Blanding, who welcomed the men to the campus. Catherine Wolkonsky, whose love of Russian Literature was infectious. Ida Treat Bergeret, who was my creative writing senior thesis advisor. Edna MacMahon, in Economics, who reinforced my liberal political tendencies, and who later served on the first Board of Trustees for Dutchess Community College, where she urged me to take a position as a founding faculty member and head of the English and Humanities Department.
All great women and great teachers, the Vassar influences on my life.
There was also the most important fact that I first met Janet Boehm in that English 105 class with Miss Foster and, after the requisite four years (during which we two often found ourselves in the same classes), married her in 1950, the July after our graduation. The two of us left the Northeast for Palo Alto, since Janet (with a Vassar Fellowship) was accepted at the last minute for graduate study in Philosophy at Stanford, where, incidentally, she became the first woman to receive a masters degree in Philosophy from the Stanford Philosophy Department (previously a fortress for male philosophers). Vassar had told her that as a woman she did not have to take second best.
Four children and four grandchildren later, we have celebrated our 60th Wedding Anniversary.
Of course, Vassar changed the direction of my life. Of our lives.
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