In recognition of Women’s History Month, we bring you the stories of a few of Vassar’s remarkable alumnae from the newly digitized archives of the Vassar Quarterly. The issues below have been downloaded for your convenience; access the complete archive—453 issues from 1916 to 2015—here.
Legendary suffragette Inez Milholland ‘09 is perhaps best known as “the Woman on a Horse” who led a thousand women under a banner that read “Into the Light” down Pennsylvania Avenue on the eve of Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration. Read more about this feminist in the spring 1999 issue of the VQ, p. 12.
When she “retired” from teaching in 1985, Elizabeth Adams Daniels ’41 embarked on a new career as the first Vassar College historian and worked tirelessly for the next 27 years to preserve, celebrate, and share the history of her beloved alma mater. Read more about her life and work in the fall 2003 issue of the VQ, p. 11.
Widely regarded as one of the pioneers of cultural anthropology, Ruth Benedict ‘09 wrote, “The purpose of anthropology is to make the world safe for human differences.” Read about her legacy in the spring 1983 issue of the VQ.
In the wake of World War I, Belle Skinner, class of 1887, devoted herself (and about a million dollars) to the complete reconstruction of Hattonchatel, a village in France devastated by the war. Read more about this remarkable philanthropist for whom the Skinner Hall of Music is named.
Poet and political activist Muriel Rukeyser ‘34 wrote, “If there were no poetry on any day in the world, poetry would be invented that day. For there would be an intolerable hunger.” Read a reminiscence by one of her classmates on the last page of the fall 1997 VQ.
Earlier this year, Vassar mourned the passing of Sylvia Cranmer McLaughlin ’39, the passionate environmentalist who rescued San Francisco Bay from developers. Read her story in the summer 2004 issue of the VQ, p. 62.
Julia Catherine Stimson ’01, the head of the Nursing Service of the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I, became the first woman awarded the rank of major in the United States Army. Read her description of a week in the Red Cross hospital in France, November 1918 VQ, p. 80.
An internationally recognized pioneer in the field of sex education, Mary Steichen Calderone ‘25 wrote, “I truly feel that there are as many ways of loving as there are people in the world and as there are days in the life of those people.” Read about her contribution in the winter 2000 issue of the VQ, p. 23.
Beatrix McCleary Hamburg ‘44, the first African American student knowingly admitted to Vassar, went on to become the first African American woman admitted to Yale School of Medicine. Read more about this pioneer in the spring 1988 issue of the VQ, p. 5.
The third woman to win a Pulitzer for poetry (1923), Edna St. Vincent Millay ‘17 was a bit of a handful during her student years at Vassar. Read the story of this famous poet in the Dec. 1994 issue of the VQ, p. 17.
The first woman in the U.S. to receive a PhD in psychology, Margaret Floy Washburn, class of 1891, joined the Vassar faculty in 1903. By the time she retired in 1937, she had mentored 69 published studies with 177 students. Read the tributes published at the time of her death in the January 1940 issue of the VQ.
In 1912, President Taft appointed social worker Julia Lathrop, class of 1880, chief of the Children’s Bureau in the Department of Commerce and Labor, making her the first woman in U.S. history to head a federal bureau. Read the memorial tribute in the July 1932 VQ, p. 235.
A champion of children’s literature, Louise Seaman Bechtel ’15 became the first editor of the first children’s book department at a major publishing house (Macmillan) in the U.S. Read about Vassar’s Bechtel collection in the March 1981 VQ.
Under the leadership of Winifred Asprey ’38, Vassar became one of the first liberal arts colleges in the country to establish a computer science program (1967) and the second in the country to acquire an IBM System/360 computer. Read about this pioneer in the fall 2005 VQ, p. 20.
Ellen Swallow Richards, 1870: first woman admitted to study at MIT, first woman appointed to the MIT faculty, first U.S. scientist to conduct water surveys, which led to the first state water-quality standards in the U.S. Read a tribute, written by fellow alumna Julia Lathrop, in the Feb. 1923 VQ, p. 39.
Jazz aficionado Jean Enzinger Bach ’40 unraveled the mystery of this famous photograph of 57 jazz greats, posing on the stoop of a Harlem brownstone in 1958. Her documentary, A Great Day in Harlem, was nominated for an Oscar in 1995. Read about it in the Dec. 1997 issue of the VQ, p. 16.
Princess Oyama, who graduated magna cum laude from Vassar in 1882, was the first Japanese woman to receive a college degree. Read more about this distinguished alumna in the spring 1983 issue of the VQ, p. 12.
According to the Vassar Encyclopedia, the Folger Shakespeare Library, created by philanthropists Henry and Emily (Vassar class of 1879) Folger, is “the largest literary gift in the history of American philanthropy.” In 1915, Emily gave an address at Vassar, “Some Women Interpreters of Shakespeare.” Read a scholar’s analysis of her speech in the March 1990 VQ.
To Dr. Bernadine Healy ’65 we owe the discovery that hormone replacement therapy significantly increases the risk of breast cancer, heart attack, and stroke. Read more about the first woman to head the National Institutes of Health in the summer 2004 issue of the VQ.