As we celebrate 150 years of Vassar's existence, we want to compile the stories, photos, and videos that, together, define what we mean by world changing. "World Changing" is not simply a catch phrase; it is a summation of the philosophy, goals, and achievements that have made Vassar remarkable from the college's earliest days. Please share with us how Vassar changed you.

From Nigeria to New York

I came to Vassar in the fall of 1960, having won one of 24 scholarships which had been offered to Nigeria and the Trust Territory of Cameroons from a group of Ivy League universities and colleges. I had no prior knowledge of Vassar, and the college was chosen for me by the organizers of the scholarship. What a fortuitous choice!

I made the Dean’s List during my freshman year and, in recognition of previous academic work in Nigeria, I skipped sophomore year. Within a span of just three years Vassar changed my life. From a diffident new arrival from Nigeria, I left Vassar a poised, confident, young woman ready to take on the world.

So many wonderful things happened to me at and through Vassar that I felt set me apart as a special person. A liberal arts education broadened my horizon and presented me with new, more meaningful vistas of the world. I joined other foreign students as guests of the Vassar Club of Washington D.C. and visited the White House of Jacqueline Kennedy, herself a Vassar girl. I was guest of the Vassar Club of New York and treated to memorable outings at the opera. Thanks to Vassar, which values ‘learning beyond the classroom,’ I spent an unforgettable late morning and afternoon with one of the greatest women of the 20th Century, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, at her Hyde Park home, Vassar’s neighbor in Dutchess County.

I remember my Vassar years with joy and appreciation for what I have become today. To quote from our graduating song: “Hats off to ’63! …Vassar thou art all One could ask!”


From Hoe-Downs to Scrum-Downs: The Vassar Farm and Vassar Rugby

I have been a part of Vassar rugby culture, a proud tradition that started in 1974, since arriving during the fall of 1976. I actually spent my first night at Vassar (the Before School Conference) out at the Farm. Little did I know how much a part of my life at college the Farm would play, nor could I have imagined continuing to return there half a dozen times or more each year some 35 years hence. Vassar rugby has grown to incorporate both men’s and women’s teams, and many of my fondest memories, especially the more recent ones, actually involve the women’s play (so don’t interpret the concentration on men’s rugby to be in any way demeaning the equally proud tradition of women’s rugby at Vassar).

In the fall of 1976, Vassar rugby took its first steps toward independence. Since 1974, the men had fielded a team that combined with local Hudson Valley players, and it was only with the arrival of the Richard Moll-recruited Class of 1980 in the fall of 1976 that the early Vassar rugby leadership felt certain that a full team could be fielded using only Vassar players. We were a peripatetic lot, practicing or playing at Prentiss, behind Joss, at the Ballantine Fields, but that fall we were offered the use of a portion of the Farm’s former pastureland as a playing field. It remains our home today. The field was severely rutted and had several barely-buried rocks as prominent geographic features. At that time, the rugby team was also offered the use of a dilapidated sheep pen for purposes of storing equipment and changing, but after several hours of enthusiastic shoveling of the earthen floor (a coating that turned out to be more dung than dirt), efforts were quickly abandoned and the pen was eventually demolished. Subsequent use of a corn crib facility for equipment storage followed with greater success and continues today.

The Farm immediately provided us with one of the few full-size rugby pitches in the Metropolitan Rugby Union, guaranteeing an exciting and wide-open version of rugby that was sometimes lacking at the other pitches that offered a smaller playing area. The goal posts were initially cobbled together from a set of portable soccer goals, quickly abandoned in favor of rickety constructions of lagged-together 2″x 4″ lumber graciously supplied by Buildings & Grounds. These were constantly falling over (they weren’t placed in proper concrete foundations or sleeves) and were occasionally splintered by aggressive four-wheeling marauders—long before 4-wheel drive vehicles became ubiquitous.

Over the years our attempts at marking the field became increasingly professional, resulting in the proud setup you can see on display nearly every weekend in the Fall and Spring. Given the conditions that many other teams played under, we realized that we were lucky to have a full-size, regularly shaped field with no broken glass, syringes, or manhole covers to be dodged! We simply kept our ankles taped and dealt happily with the minor inconvenience of the ruts and bald spots.  The college has been kind to the program and, over the years, the field has been rolled and leveled, reseeded, and even irrigated, with bleachers and a videotaping platform appearing, and the finest set of goal posts on the East Coast have been installed, padded to protect player safety.

Unfortunately, the earliest Vassar teams found that their early competitors’ programs had experience, longevity, and superior athletic talent to draw from, and those who took greatest advantage of the open-play at the Farm seemed to wear the colors of visitors. In those early days, there was a less-structured rugby program for colleges and Vassar rugby found themselves scheduling Ivy League (Yale and Princeton) and Little Ivy (Williams and Amherst) opponents to go with local schools (Manhattanville and West Point), the occasional college sides from the greater tri-state area (Pace and St. Johns), and even the occasional men’s club (Albany Knicks and Old Maroon/Essex).

While the Vassar won/lost record may not have been stellar, we didn’t back down from tough opponents and took each mismatch as an opportunity to test our durability and resolve. We found our victories in other ways, winning scrums or lineouts, playing hard to the end, playing an additional half or an additional match to make sure all the visitors got a game in for their travels.

We also prided ourselves on being consummate hosts. In the 70s and 80s, rugby culture enforced sportsmanship and conviviality, and we held our end of the bargain by making sure that there was always a cold keg of local beer (unfortunately, it was, more often than not, Genesee Cream Ale) to gather ‘round at the end of the match and serenade each other with bawdy and creative songs that drew heavily on a rugby tradition established long before there were such things as jukeboxes or stereos. Some years, we even were able to broker a deal with Campus Dining that would allow us to treat our visitors to a meal served in the Executive Dining Room in exchange for a few pitchers of beer for the staff! Our road trips were most often met with similar hospitality and we had dozens of great nights spent on foreign campuses with new friends singing ribald songs until our voices croaked and our post-match limping became boozy staggering.

Rugby is a demanding and rough sport. The collisions can be vicious and individual players, left unprotected and unsupported by close ranks, are in constant danger of injury. The nature of the game requires players of different sizes and skill sets to come together and work as a team for two grueling 40-minute periods of play. We bonded with and defended each other. Many of us had limited experiences with team sports in high school, while others came from overseas and had some prior experience with the game.

Despite the fact that we all had a good bit in common, bound by a competitive drive and a desire to express our confused energy in intercollegiate athletic competition, Vassar rugby was every bit the melting pot that the larger Vassar community was. We were able to forge bonds with each other that still exist today. We attend weddings and funerals, celebrate births, and commiserate over failed marriages. We are there for each other through our respective triumphs and tragedies, remembering each other’s weaknesses and character flaws, but reveling in each other’s moments of brilliance and triumph. Years of players overlap, seniors remember freshmen, new players rise to prominence, and old friends die too young.

The annual Alumni game, played on Founder’s Day, is a tradition that was initiated by the rugby team but quickly adopted by other teams, and allows us to return and not only celebrate the reunion, but also to witness an ever-new generation of Vassar rugby players, see them grow into their adult bodies, and eventually join us in the annual return as accomplished equals. With such a long tradition now, it’s unfair to attempt to limit those memories to the charismatic sway of a few individuals or to some key moments frozen in time; instead we—and I speak for the nearly 1,400 men and women who have played rugby at Vassar over the generations—are lucky to be able to transfer all that emotion into one place: the Farm at Vassar College.

An anecdote: Our longtime coach, Dennis Chanmugam, had returned with us to Vassar for an alumni game after an uncharacteristically long absence. It was a Friday evening as we descended upon the campus for the weekend and we drove as a group out to the Farm, before even entering Main Gate. My car had arrived first and I was standing at midfield with another ex-captain, Chris DuMont ’84. We turned around, Chris’ video camera filming the glory of the Farm in the growing dusk from the viewpoint of the rugby pitch and saw Dennis arrive, leaving his car. We watched from a distance as he slowly approached the chalked line nearest the road, knelt and touched it, before looking up and scanning the field from one set of posts to the other. DuMont crystallizes a moment that really didn’t need the elucidation: “Five bucks says he’s crying.” No one would take that bet, we all were.


While I was at Vassar

While I was at Vassar I believed myself to be more intelligent, beautiful and fascinating than I ever had before or have for most of the time since. I was a transfer student sophomore, someone who had made a ghastly mistake in college choice, and my expectations of Vassar were limited to a modest hope that I would find a less preppy and more intellectual student body than the one I had found freshman year.

Maybe Vassar is like this for everyone, or maybe I fell into a crowd that was among the wittiest, most stylish and iconoclastic to grace Raymond Avenue. I don’t know. It may all be in my head, but it certainly seemed real then and seems so in retrospect. The time was right; the garish 1970s were ebbing and the 1980s’ effort to return to classic style (see Annie Hall and Ralph Lauren) was rising, albeit to a disco beat.

As young adults, we seemed to have little to fear. We were largely unrestrained by the patriotic and conservative seriousness of our WWII parents. On the other hand, our older siblings had done all the hard work of protesting and poking holes in cultural norms. All we had to do was enjoy the fruits of their labor and focus on more entertaining things. Each of us was the symbolic last child in the American post-war family. We were the beloved end of the baby boom generation and, despite the downer decade of the 1970s, our generational personality was crafted by the fun, pop art, Disney-like, optimistic American golden age of the 1960s.

We weren’t afraid of the Soviets anymore; the Berlin wall would be coming down soon (in general, though, international politics seemed so beyond our understanding that we declined to make any real effort in that direction). Few of us had any real religious concerns. There were no AIDs cases yet, and at least at Vassar, gays were out and having fun (although I’m sure it wasn’t that simple). Vassar being Vassar, we had no compunction to attend football games or get engaged by graduation or anything else to fit a tedious gender role. Of course, Vassar didn’t have the racial and ethnic diversity it has today, and there were some awkward moments and inexplicable facts (why did all the Black girls live in Strong?), but our live-and-let-live philosophy meant that we didn’t think too hard about it. We could do and be anything we wanted and assumed everyone could.

We did take some things seriously—we eagerly pursued knowledge and culture with the goal of re-making ourselves into Vassar-worthy specimens. We dedicatedly enjoyed assessing our professors, fellow students and administrators against standards of grace, wit and intelligence. We went to classic movies, concerts and lectures, museums, galleries, performances and, of course, our classes. We did it all with incredible freedom from social restraint; is it really possible that a friend and I dressed for a Halloween dance as Jack and Jackie Kennedy on the day of his death? It is true; I had slipped over the edge from irreverence into callousness, but I was 19 and the iconic image of those two was one of the few things left with real shock value. Our humor was acerbic and sometimes not so nice. But we laughed and made others laugh.

We read all the great writers who lived or wrote about glamorous stylish lives: Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Oscar Wilde, Dorothy Parker, Noel Coward, Mary McCarthy, Lillian Hellman, James Thurber, John Cheever, John Updike. These were educators who could help us be the people we wanted to be. Of course, there were other great writers who didn’t suit, who reflected a different America to which we couldn’t relate.

We wrote silly songs comparing our love to nuclear reactors and sang them with gusto. We dressed up and went to discos on Route 9W and to all-night diners. We read the New York Times and did the Sunday crossword puzzle for far too many hours in the ACDC. We left each other notes in those little boxes guarded by the White Angels in the dorm lobby. We did our share of drinking and other things best left in the shadows. We met for tea in the Rose Parlor. We loved Vassar history and the beauty of campus, managing to largely ignore Poughkeepsie, except for the shops and bars in the immediate neighborhood. We all fell in and out of love with each other. Of course there were jealousies and hurt feelings. After it ended, there were a few moments here and there when we were together again in New York or in the Hamptons, but of course, it couldn’t be, and wasn’t, ever the same. Without really being perfect, my time at Vassar was ideal for the girl I was then. I wish that every girl or boy who seeks such a moment in time can find it, too.


Radical Change

I arrived at Vassar from Oklahoma in 1965 and found the college’s “in loco parentis” role not only expected but comforting. It included the staffing of each dorm with a “White Angel” – a kindly woman dressed in a white uniform who occupied a desk in the lobby. She monitored our comings and goings, and called up to our rooms to announce the arrival of a male guest. Men were not allowed to visit our rooms except on Sundays for a few hours, with the door open and “all four feet on the floor.”

The White Angel also locked the doors of the dorm at the appointed hour at night and woe be unto the girl who missed the curfew.

Fast forward four years.

As seniors, my class of ’69 had moved into Main. The sexual revolution had begun and Vassar had turned down Yale’s invitation to merge. The first male students would be admitted the following year. There were no more White Angels. The college announced that as of a certain date, men would be allowed in the dorms 24/7. Some of my creative friends sent announcements to men’s colleges promoting a mass slumber party for that first weekend. A few Dartmouth guys actually turned up as I recall.

But on the last weekend before the new rules (or lack thereof) went into effect, on Sunday morning, at an hour when the campus was quietly sleeping, the fire alarms in Main were activated. Girls streamed sleepily out of the building and lined up on the front lawn. The alarm continued to ring, suggesting it wasn’t false. Just as it appeared that everyone was out of the building, a side door opened and two men, carrying their shoes, ran out the door and hightailed it as fast as they could into the woods behind the chapel.

There were loud cheers from the Class of ‘69. It seemed symbolic somehow. We had experienced an amazing amount of cultural change during those four years.

Looking back on it, I am in awe of how Vassar, as an institution, adapted and evolved to meet those forces. It neither rushed headlong into rash responses, nor refused to recognize what was going on. Instead, in a spirit of enlightenment and intentionality, it addressed the needs of the time. What an example for those of us who were there.


A Daisy Chain Connection

I have a daughter—a senior at Vassar—who was a daisy and now is the senior in charge of daisies.  My neighbor’s grandmother also went to Vassar and was a daisy. This neighbor wore her grandmother’s daisy dress as her wedding dress. She sent me the attached photo of what she was told was the 1933 daisy ball. The fourth woman from the right is Marianne England Mann ’33, escorted by Arthur K. Mann, her future husband.

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