Mary Caroline Crawford.

The college girl of America and the institutions which make her what she is online

. (page 4 of 18)
Online LibraryMary Caroline CrawfordThe college girl of America and the institutions which make her what she is → online text (page 4 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

been steadily in the direction of more graceful and
picturesque ceremonies. Year by year the tone has
been more consistently poetic, the costumes more
dainty, the musical and dramatic elements more
effective. More and more each year the ceremony
in which the freshmen plant their tree, and the
seniors bid farewell to theirs, takes the form of a
beauteous sylvan masque. Sometimes green-robed
dryads with leafy wands come dancing from the
woodland, whence a blast of the huntsman's horn
has called Robin Hood and his merry men; some-
times wild-haired gipsies toss their tambourines;
sometimes gnomes in earth-coloured garments troop
by with spade on shoulder; sometimes the flowers
of the field blend their petal hues ; sometimes Eng-



Wellesley College 49

lish maidens weave the circle about the ribboned
May-pole : but always this unique festival redounds
to and is inspired by the love of nature. This is a
family party. No men are ever admitted for it.

Not so Float Day. In that the world shares.
Miss Katherine Lee Bates, herself a professor at
Wellesley, as well as a gifted poet, has thus charm-
ingly described one phase of a representative Float :
" The spectators, numbered by thousands, were
gathered by seven o'clock — daylight still, although
a filmy half-moon peeped down from the quiet arch
of blue, a surreptitious guest. The tall oaks on the
steep slope of Pall Mall stood motionless, as if
listening to the mirthful sounds from Lake Waban.
Now it was the murmurous laughter of the great
throng that, seated on shawls and cushions, filled
the curving shore and reached out upon the spacious
platform of the boathouse; now it was the sylvan
note of a bugle, and now the chant of youthful
voices, the treble gallantly reinforced by deeper
tones. Sometimes came a sweet blithe strain from
the Glee Club ; but in the main a fashion of miscel-
laneous musical repartee prevailed, in which one class
strove against another with sturdy diversion in
favour of a third and fourth rival, — an occasionally
ludicrous effect calling out derisive applause."

Inasmuch as Float Day is the one festival of

so The College Girl of America

this girl's college concerning which the outside
world knows almost as much as is to be known, I
will not dwell upon it further than to say that if the
moon and other weather conditions are right, it
offers an exquisite memory to the store of whom-
soever participates in it. Japanese lanterns glim-
mering here and there, music on the water, pretty
girls in pretty gowns, and, finally, the crews grouped
together to form a beautiful star, are some of the
items that contribute to this charming event, the
logical but poetic climax of the crew-training, which
is a feature of Wellesley's athletic life. Miss Lucille
E. Hill, the physical director of the college, believes
far more in athletics than in gymnastics. To be sure,
Wellesley girls practise indoors, but this only as a
means to an end, — and when out-of-door life is im-
possible. Rowing, tennis, golf, basket-ball, cross-
country running, and hockey, are particularly
encouraged. Lately a new exercise, putting the shot,
has been added to the list of organized sports, and
bids fair to become very popular.

The culmination to an individual of athletic life
at Wellesley comes, of course, when a girl is elected
to the crew. Once 125 girls applied and tried for
places on the 'varsity eight. From the very start,
the boat work on the lake has been encouraged, but
in the beginning it was a white muslin indulgence, —

Wellesley College 51

as witness the occasion when the girls rowed Long-
fellow across the lake in the beauteous barque,
Evangeline. Nowadays, however, the barges are
very professional looking affairs, manned as they
are by maidens in dark blouses and bloomers, using
the Oxford stroke.

Easy as it would be to ignore the subject of
money, I propose in the case of Wellesley to give the
actual cost of one student's life. To many girls,
as I very well know, this point is vital. Here, then,
is the account of a girl whose parents allowed her
five hundred and fifty dollars a year :

Received $55°

College bills . $400

Books, stationery, etc 50

Travelling expenses, including trips into Bos-
ton 24

Clothes bought at college, a hat, a pair of danc-
ing slippers, etc 14

Furniture for my room, desk, bookcase, etc. . 10

Presents, Christmas, etc 25

Food for my tea-table ..... 5

Recreation • '3

Sundries • 9

Total $550 — $550

The girl who must earn part of her money her-
self reduces her expenses by living in a cheaper
boarding-house off the campus, perhaps paying her

52 The College Girl of America

board by tutoring the landlady's children. The ways
of earning money at college are countless. Tutoring
proves a lucrative occupation, and I know a girl who,
for two years, has met all her expenses with money
thus earned. Other girls at Wellesley sell blue
prints, darn stockings, make gym and fencing suits,
or copy themes.

It must not be thought that the student who works
for her education is in any way handicapped or
looked down upon. Except that she has less time
at her disposal, she has an equal showing with the
millionaire's daughter. At Wellesley more than
one class president has belonged to the Cooperative
Association. For it is character and personality
which count here, not money.

The social opportunities of Wellesley girls are
many and varied. Distinguished visitors from over-
seas are often entertained at the college. Last win-
ter, when Yeats, the Irish poet, came to this country,
he gave his first lecture, available to a Boston audi-
ence, at Wellesley, and that the occasion might be the
more widely interesting, President Caroline Hazard
of the college invited the Boston Authors' Club, of
which she is a member, to come out for the after-
noon. Thus Wellesley girls had, that day, an oppor-
tunity, not only to enjoy a marvellously interesting
address by a well-known foreign author, but a

Wellesley College 53

chance also to meet Mrs. Julia Ward Howe, and
many other distinguished representatives of the best
society America has produced.

Four years in such surroundings as the College
Beautiful supplies, with such a normal regimen of
work and play as has been here mapped out, with
such memories of self-sacrifice and aspiration as
make the Wellesley background, and such generous
opportunities for culture as give it its present atmos-
phere, may well make the undergraduate here be-
lieve the truth of the text expounded each Flower
Sunday of the academic year, when Henry Durant's
memory and Mrs. Durant's living interest are es-
pecially celebrated in the college chapel. What is
the text? What should it be but " God is Love."


Thousands who have heard of Vassar College
know little or nothing of the man behind the work,
but none of these thousands were educated at
Poughkeepsie, it is safe to say, inasmuch as the
natal day of its founder is one of the two or three
great days in the Vassar College year. In his own
time, Matthew Vassar was a very substantial figure,
— one of the most successful business men, indeed,
which this country has ever known. He was not
American bom, however, for it was at East Dere-
ham, Parish of Tuddenham, Norfolk, England, that
he first saw the light of day. His father was a
farmer, and his mother a farmer's daughter. But
the Vassar family was of French descent, Mat-
thew's great-grandfather having settled in Norfolk
at a time when his name had the form of Le Vas-
seur. His family cherished a tradition that the
Therese whom Jean Jacques Rousseau made his wife
was of their line.

Very far removed from Rousseau in moral
stamina and in religious sense were the Vassars


Vassar College 55

among whom Matthew grew up. It was, indeed,
in order that they might secure greater rehgious
freedom that James Vassar and his wife came to
this country with his brother Thomas, in 1796.
The boy Matthew was then a promising child of four.
The httle family spent their first winter in America
in New York. But early in the spring of 1797, the
two brothers, having purchased a farm of one hun-
dred and fifty acres in Dutchess County, near Pough-
keepsie, they there took up residence. There it was
that Thomas Vassar started the successful brewery
enterprise upon which the family fortune — and
incidentally, Vassar College — was builded. Suc-
cess came quickly. For it was only a year or two
after the first barley, purchased in England, had
sprouted in the responsive Dutchess County soil, that
little Matthew and his mother began to be seen very
often driving away to Poughkeepsie in a farm-
wagon, which had a barrel of ale standing up proudly
behind the" seat. By 1801, the demand for the Vas-
sar product became so great that the farm was sold
and business begun on a much larger basis.

Thus things went on until Matthew reached the
age of fourteen. Then his father proposed to take
him into the brewery as an assistant. But, rather
oddly, the boy refused to listen to the proposition.
Possibly this was a mere childish freak on his

56 The College Girl of America

part. Certainly it cannot be ascribed to any Puri-
tanic abhorrence for beer-making, inasmuch as, when
older, and presumably wiser, Matthew Vassar quite
contentedly carried on the lucrative business his
father had begun. But he did not go into the work
at fourteen. Threatened with a seven years' appren-
ticeship to a tanner as an alternative, he appealed
to his mother for help, which she, motherlike, gave
generously. The tanner was to come on a specified
morning, but when the hour arrived Matthew
Vassar was nowhere to be found. The day before he
and his mother had walked down to New Hamburg,
eight miles below Poughkeepsie, the lad with an
extra shirt and a pair of stockings tied up in a ban-
danna handkerchief, the mother with tears in her
eyes, but — one must believe — respect in her heart
for her son's desire to make his own way in the
world. At the ferry-landing the boy received a kiss
and seventy-five cents. His mother watched the boat
safely to the other shore of the Hudson, after which
she walked back to Poughkeepsie.

Meanwhile, young Matthew tramped down the
western bank to Newburgh, where he secured a place
as clerk in a store. Here he stayed four years, sav-
ing his money the while, — as do all the successful
men one reads about. At the end of this time,
being eighteen years old, and having come to " sensi-

Vassar College 57

ble " views of life, he returned to Poughkeepsie with
one hundred and fifty dollars, and entered his
father's establishment as bookkeeper and collector.
A year later the brewery burned.

This was Matthew Vassar's opportunity to show
his remarkable business ability. He knew that
money was to be made in brewing, and he was de-
termined, even if fate had seemed fickle toward him,
that Vassar wealth should be forthcoming as a result
of Vassar brew. So he began making ale which he
himself delivered about the town. In addition to
his wholesale trade he turned an honest penny
serving oysters and ale in a little basement-room of
the Poughkeepsie court-house to those who cared to
buy. Thus he so prospered that a little before his
twenty-first birthday he was able to take unto him-
self a wife. Later there was built a substantial new
brewery with which the founder of Poughkeepsie' s
college for women was personally associated for
a term of years, almost up to the time of his death,
indeed. But long before this, — in 1845, — M^-
Vassar visited Europe and made an extended trip
through Great Britain and on the Continent. Then
it was, perhaps, that the idea of founding some
great public institution first began to take definite
shape in his mind. His college for women is said
to have been the thought of a hard-working teacher,

58 The College Girl of America

his niece, Lydia Booth. Certain it is that during the
years following his return from the grand tour, the
idea of an institution which should do for young
women what such great schools as Yale and Harvard
were doing for young men gradually developed in
his mind, reaching full maturity about i860. As
he himself said, in words which George William
Curtis thought ought to be written in letters of
gold on the front of Vassar College : " It occurred
to me that woman, having received from her
Creator the same intellectual constitution as man,
has the same right as man to intellectual culture and
development. It is my hope to be the instrument, in
the hands of Providence, of founding an institution
which shall accomplish for young women what our
colleges are accomplishing for young men."

Pursuant to this ideal, the charter for the Vassar
Female College was obtained from the Legislature
of New York, and on the fourth day of June, 1861,
Mr. Vassar broke ground with a spade which is still
preserved, for the Main Building, which is still in
use. The site was two miles east of the city of
Poughkeepsie, in a park which, from many points
of view, offers an ideal background for student life.
In September, 1865, the college was opened, with
over three hundred students enrolled in the first class.
Two years later the name was changed to Vassar

Vassar College 59

College. For almost three years after this its
devoted founder gave nearly all his time and the
bulk of his strength to promoting the interests of the
college. He died at the great institution he had
created, in June, 1868, while delivering his annual
address before its board of trustees. He left no
children, but the three-quarters of a million dollars
which he had bestowed upon Vassar College was
later increased by his nephews, Matthew, junior, and
John Guy, to considerably over a million and a
quarter. Small wonder that the birthday of this
generous friend is observed as a gala-day at Vassar,
and that speakers of national reputation delight then
to honour this really great self-made man.

The first social function in the college year is the
reception given to the freshmen by the Christian
Association. Soon after this, as the girl is getting
well into the swing of college life, comes the anni-
versary of the Philalethean Society. Philaletheis
is the mother of all the societies of the college, and
as such is naturally ancient and honourable. She
was born December 5, 1865. To her any student
may belong. And because she has the four Hall
Plays, which are another feature of Vassar life,
every student early enrolls for membership. After
that the Vassar girl looks about her and begins really
to absorb the atmosphere of the college. Already,

6o The College Girl of America

no doubt, she has fallen unconsciously into the life
of the place and begun to view things from the Vas-
sar angle; already all the little peculiarities which
differentiate life here from life in other colleges
have become to her intimate and almost necessary.
So she comes into her heritage.

Unlike many of the girls' colleges, Vassar has
very little relationship with the life of the town in
which it is situated. The college, indeed, forms a
small town by itself. The girls live in dormitories on
the campus, and confine themselves pretty closely
from Monday to Friday night to strictly academic
interests. One of the pleasantest things about
Vassar is the fact that the dormitories are very near
each other. The founder's first idea was, indeed,
to have all Vassar students live under a single roof,
as if they belonged to one large family, and it was
with this in mind that Main was erected.

The original large, long building, with a trans-
verse wing at each end, with library and porte-
cochere in the centre, is the special domain to-day
of the seniors. And particularly given over to the
girls in the highest class is the corridor, which is on
the same floor with the chapel. Only seniors live
here, and only seniors furnish and care for the par-
lour at the south end of it. Small wonder, there-
fore, that to be a senior at Vassar is the height

Vassar College 6i

of undergraduate aspiration. The seniors enjoy
several special privileges for which the other classes
have to wait. In the main dining-room, their tables
occupy the entire length of the long apartment,
stretching down the centre in parallel lines, a thing
which brings the class together three times a day,
and enables a girl really to know those who will be
graduated with her.

The height of senior happiness comes upon a
girl's birthday. It is the custom for each senior
table to celebrate the birthday of every member of
the class sometime during the year, and a committee
is early appointed to manage the matter. Thus the
fortunate maiden whose day has arrived finds many
queer-shaped bundles by her plate, and always a
superb cake to be cut by her. While the other stu-
dents look longingly on at the candle-lighted, flower-
bestrewn tables, with their birthday cream and cake,
the seniors sometimes have sung, tantalizingly :

" Only Seniors have this privilege,
Others watch with envious eye,
Don't you care, you'll be here sometime,
In the glorious by and by."

Especially gay is the birthday party of the presi-
dent of the senior class, for which the tables are
usually massed together. When the feast is over,

62 The College Girl of America

the toasts responded to, the flowers gathered up as
mementos, and the guests of the evening come out
to the hall, they find the girls of other classes massed
by the dining-room doors. The undergraduates
then cheer vociferously as the honoured senior of
seniors makes her v^^ay, with her friends, to the
senior parlour. The furniture in this parlour be-
longs to individual members of the class. Thus it is
that each year the room presents a different appear-
ance, and reflects pretty exactly the class standard
of taste. A senior may use the parlour at any time,
but she is never supposed to study there.

A great deal is said at Vassar about the " sister
classes," by which is meant the seniors and sopho-
mores, juniors and freshmen. After the spring
vacation the mutual admiration of sorority is at
its height, and every night between dinner and
chapel, as the seniors withdraw to the steps of
Rockefeller Hall and sing their class song, the sopho-
mores sit below and adore. When chapel bell rings,
however, they promptly line up and stand in deferen-
tial fashion, while the seniors, four abreast, walk
in to take their places of honour directly in front of
President Taylor's desk. It is amusing to note that
the juniors and freshmen on the steps of Strong
Hall feebly emulate this bit of ritual.

The height of sophomore devotion to the senior






I— •


I— I

Vassar College 63

is attained on Class Day when the Daisy Chain
attention comes to the fore. For nearly a day the
entire sophomore class picks daisies, and for part of
another day the Sophs work hard, making a long,
thick rope out of the pretty field flowers. As a re-
ward for this loving toil, fourteen of the prettiest
sophomores are chosen to carry the chain over their
shoulders as the graduating class moves out of the
main building on Class Day. Standing two by two,
they then make an aisle for the seniors, and, after the
distinguished maidens are seated on the platform,
the chain is wound around their chairs. Later it
is placed about the Class Tree.

The beauty of the surrounding country at Vassar
is a constant incentive to out-of-door activity. The
walks to Cedar Bridge, where bloodroot and anem-
ones first come in the spring, the climb up the long
slopes of Richmond Hill to the lone pine-tree which
stands sentinel on top, the tramp to the top of Sun-
rise Hill thence to view the Blue Catskills on the
north and the bluer highlands on the south are
things to quicken the Vassar girl's pulse in memory
as they stirred her blood in achievement.

One of the choicest memories that Vassar has
implanted can be shared, however, only by those
older alumnae who were at the college in Miss
Mitchell's day, and so were privileged to attend her

64 The College Girl of America

Dome Parties. On these occasions the hostess sat
in state among her instruments, her cat and kittens
helping her receive. The rhymes for the cards,
which, of course, only astronomy students received,
had always been written by Miss Mitchell herself,
and were quaint and delightful.

In every possible way, though, the old Vassar is
linked with the new. A great deal used to be said
about flapjack days. It is interesting to know that
these still survive, griddle-cakes being regularly
served twice a week in the big dining-room. The
food at Vassar, though good, is fairly plain. Of
course there could be nothing extravagant in a col-
lege which costs only $400 a year, including tuition.
The rooms, assigned at an annual drawing, by lot,
are usually in a suite, two bedrooms and one study.
The girls make their own beds, and, to some extent,
see to their own rooms. The furniture is always
simple, but sufficient. There are now about one hun-
dred students in each hall on the campus, while Main
accommodates five hundred in all.

The Vassar girl does not wear cap and gown.
Neither does she have much use for a hat. In cold
weather she may often be seen on the campus with
a thick coat, warm gloves and luxurious furs, per-
haps, quite bareheaded. To be sure, there is a strict
rule to the effect that she may never go in the cars







Vassar College 65

or down-town " uncovered," to use Paul's parlance,
but this troubles her little, inasmuch as she spends
only a small part of her life in Poughkeepsie. Yet
once the Opera House of Poughkeepsie saw her
often and attained world-wide renown as a result.
This was when the Vassar girls gave " Antigone "
in the original Greek, on its stage.

Chapel attendance is compulsory at Vassar, but
it has never occurred to the girls to make a hardship
out of this. Similarly, students are expected not to
go away from the college much, except during va-
cations. And when leaving town, they must, in
every case, secure permission. In general, it will be
seen, the life at Vassar is distinctly a campus one,
with a far greater proportion of work than of play in
it. Saturday, to be sure, is the free day, and then,
as on Friday evening, social affairs may be held.
But all through the week the ideal kept before the
girl is that of work.

To this the newcomer very quickly becomes ac-
customed. She is roused in the morning by the
seven o'clock bell, and she learns to be ready for
breakfast in half an hour. When she leaves the din-
ing-room she has until half-past eight before the
recitation day begins, time enough to straighten her
room, and even glance over a doubtful sentence in
her translation. No freshman has more than three

66 The College Girl of America

hours of recitation a day, — the first year is aho-
gether " required " work, — so that she may easily
spend a good proportion of time in out-of-door
sport, or in " frivoHng." Three hours of exercise
are required a week, though golf, tennis, swim-
ming, basket-ball and hockey are accepted as ful-
filling this requirement. Athletics are governed by
an athletic association, and " gym " work is compul-
sory. Yet so glad are the girls to make use of the
complete equipment of baths and swimming-tank
and apparatus which help to make exercise in their
gymnasium inviting that they never stop to remem-
ber the " must."

For an atmosphere distinctively Vassar we must
turn to the " Trig Ceremonies." These correspond
to the burning of mathematical books customary
at some colleges for men, and in them the sopho-
mores celebrate their completion of the prescribed
course in trigonometry. The play of the occasion,
given on the stage of Philalethean Hall before an
audience of students and faculty only, is almost in-
variably an original and clever travesty on the
terrors of this prescribed course in mathematics.
One year trigonometry was represented in the form
of a young professor who courted and wed a maiden
typifying that particular class. Another time the
girls presented a skit founded on the voyage of

Vassar College 67

Columbus, in which the land of Trig was discovered
and conquered. ** Whatever the form of the play,
sophomores are extolled in it, freshmen kept under a
steady fire of grinds, juniors receive back with *
interest their grinds upon the younger sisters at the
preceding ceremonies, seniors are flattered, and col-

1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Online LibraryMary Caroline CrawfordThe college girl of America and the institutions which make her what she is → online text (page 4 of 18)