Explore Black history at Vassar through the Vassar Quarterly. The issues below have been downloaded for your convenience from the newly digitized archives of the Vassar Quarterly. Access the complete archive—453 issues from 1916 to 2015--here.
Anita Hemmings, class of 1897, was the first African American graduate of Vassar College although she had to "pass" as white in order to gain admission and was nearly prevented from graduating when the truth came to light. Read her story in the Vassar Quarterly, Winter 2001, p. 14.
Beatrix McCleary, class of 1944, Camille Cottrell, and June Jackson, both class of 1945-44, were the first three African Americans knowingly admitted to Vassar. Read McCleary's article, "Negro Student at Vassar," in the Vassar Quarterly, June 1946, p. 15.
Carole Merritt '62 and five other Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee workers were arrested and jailed in Canton, MS, on February 3, 1964. Merritt reflected on her experience, and her experiences at Vassar, in "The status of a Black life" in the Vassar Quarterly, September 1983. Read her article, p. 22.
In 1976, Norman Hodges, associate professor of history, was appointed director of the Africana Studies Department. The same year, he published an article about the Black community's ambivalence about the approaching bicentennial celebrations. Read "Blacks and the Bicentennial: The Irony of Democracy" in the Vassar Quarterly, June 1976, p. 2.
In April 1984, the first Black Alumnae/I Forum was held on campus, at the conclusion of which the Triple A VC was founded. The first chair was Claudia Thomas '71, the first Black studies major to graduate from Vassar who went on to become the first Black woman orthopedic surgeon in the U.S. Read her account of the forum in the Vassar Quarterly, September 1984, p. 26.
June Jackson Christmas, '45-44, one of the first African Americans to graduate from Vassar, is a noted psychiatrist and health policy planner who served as the Commissioner of Mental Health in New York City, president of the American Public Health Association, and vice-president of the American Psychiatric Association, to name a few of her policy positions. In 1988, Dr. Christmas wrote "A Historical Overview: The Black Experience at Vassar" for the Vassar Quarterly's March issue, p. 7.
A founding faculty member of the Education Department and the Africana Studies Program, Joyce Bickerstaff arrived at Vassar in 1971 and retired in 2014. In 1996, she led a fascinating study trip to the Black South which she described in depth in this article in the Vassar Quarterly, p. 6.
The Africana Studies Program had its first incarnation as the Urban Center for Black Studies in downtown Poughkeepsie. Read about the genesis of the program in this 40th anniversary article in the 2009 spring issue of the VQ, p. 12.
Pascal St. Gerard '92 was the first Black student to be elected president of the Vassar Student Association. Read an interview with St. Gerard in the December 1991 issue of the VQ, p. 11.
Actor and playwright April Yvette Thompson '94 was the president of the Black Students' Union when the ALANA Center (then called the Intercultural Center) was inaugurated. Read her remarks in the June 1993 VQ, p. 3.
Now a venerable tradition, the African Violets first became a part of Vassar's Commencement celebration in 1991 after a year of racial unrest. Read about the origin of this tradition and the revival of the Baccalaureate service, organized by the Council of Black Seniors, in the September 1991 issue of the VQ, p. 2.
In 2015, the AAAVC celebrated its 30th anniversary, welcoming nearly 80 alumnae/i back to campus for Triennial XI: Reflections on Activism.
Read about the history of the AAAVC and some of the experiences of Black alums from the 1940s to the present in the Spring/Summer 2015 issue.
Black Scholars: Read about political science professor Zachariah Mampilly's research on rebel movements from Africa to Asia in the Winter 2014 issue, p. 11.
Black Scholars: Read about film professor Mia Mask's class, African American Cinema, an exploration of how African Americans have been portrayed on the screen and how those portrayals impact cultural attitudes.