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LETTER FROM THE EDITORS Dear Readers, In the spirit of Vassar College’s sesquicentennial, our Spring 2011 issue of CONTRAST aims to consider Vassar “through the ages.” As always, we want CONTRAST to showcase the creative expression of Vassar students in as many ways as possible. For this issue we decided to look to Vassar’s cultural history for inspiration. We began with the idea of reinventing the many timeless myths and traditions here at Vassar. From the notorious Jane Fonda myth to Vassar’s Daisy Chain tradition, these myths and traditions have had lasting effects on our Vassar identity. Next we wanted to incorporate one of the biggest moments in Vassar’s history, when men first enrolled at Vassar College, converting it from a century-old women’s college to a co-ed institution. In our exclusively male photo shoot we hoped to capture the ivy look of the early 1970’s, which Vassar men adapted upon their arrival. We defined the theme for the rest of the magazine with the cultural, artistic and stylistic forms, which have evolved throughout Vassar’s one hundred and fifty years. We were delighted to have the opportunity of featuring an article by Rebecca Tuite, a Vassar alumna and Fashion Historian who is currently writing her fist book entitled, Vassar Style: Fashion, Feminism and 1950s American Media. Overall, we tried to have fun this issue. We don’t want to take ourselves too seriously or impose any of our notions about style upon our readers. Our vision for this issue of CONTRAST is an issue that captures many different aspects of our Vassar identity, through a historical lens. Sincerely, Ali Dillulio and David Orkin Co-Editors-in-Chief


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CONTENTS Bermudas and Balzers: Redefining the “Ivy Look” at Vassar in the 1950’s.....................................................4

By Rebecca Tuite

Main Building: A History..........................................................................................................................................8

By Jonathan Ruiz

Vassar Myths and Traditions..................................................................................................................................10 Changing the Notes: A Retrospective of Musical Performers at Vassar.........................................................20

By Chelsea Peterson-Salahuddin

Rocking the Cradle: Hallie Flanagan and the Vassar Experimental Theater..................................................22

By Emilia Petrarca

1969: Welcome Gentlemen....................................................................................................................................24 Men and Women Alike...........................................................................................................................................30

By Anna Schlosser

Curating the Vassar Look.......................................................................................................................................32

By Maddie Davis

Meeting Merymose: An Intimate Look at a Vassar Treasure............................................................................34

By Brie Hiramine


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Rebecca C. Tuite is a writer, fashion historian and Vassar alum. Her first book, Vassar Style: Fashion, Feminism and 1950s American Media, is due out later this year.

“Yale’s coming at 1:00 – they’re making 25 mph and riding like mad!” announced The Miscellany News in April 1952, as students eagerly awaited the arrival of some particularly intrepid Yalies cycling in the annual Yale-Vassar Bike Race. For much of the early 1950s, the race was an important date in the social calendar and there was always a conspicuous absence of the customary “denim and plaid” weekday uniform. In 1952, LIFE magazine announced that they were to send photographers and reporters to cover the event and once again the quintessential “Vassar Style” became the focus of national attention. Closet doors swung open at Vassar that morning and were emptied of Brooks Brothers shirts, Liberty print blouses, Shetland and fair isle sweaters, cashmere cardigans, Capezio flat pumps, bit loafers and the ubiquitous pairs of Bermuda shorts in black watch, flannel and madras; all pre-requisite components of the Vassar look that became so influential throughout the 1950s. But that day in 1952, LIFE’s cameras turned their attention to one garment in particular: a blazer in soft, grey wool flannel, with coordinating buttons, and a perfectly embroidered breast pocket in pale cream cotton featuring an interlocking “VC” emblem: the iconic Vassar College blazer. Worn by so many Vassar students that day, this garment, in many ways, can be seen to define a generation of Vassar women and LIFE magazine’s fascination with its presence in Poughkeepsie that day almost 63 years ago prompted the blazer’s only feature in American media. Archive images from LIFE show the blazer worn by all manner of Vassar girls: the cheering students at Taylor Gate, the smart young women who gathered on the lawn by Main to listen to The Flora Doras sing a cappella, the smiling students hanging out of windows in Main Building waving Yale and Vassar pennants. In this simple, functional grey flannel blazer, Vassar had created their own answer to the monogrammed dining club jackets at men’s Ivy League schools: it became an outward indicator

of the young women who, as LIFE described it, shared an “understandable rapport with Yale.” There is no denying that during the 1950s, Vassar students became fashion leaders of everyday campus style for women, just as Princeton, Yale and Harvard became recognized as the leading schools for setting menswear trends. Vassar students were instrumental in popularizing a look for girls that was the equivalent of the “Ivy League Look” for boys and for students at Vassar in the 1950s, the “Ivy style” was a status symbol that indicated their equal intellectual tenacity. More than being simply an arbitrary collection of what would later be termed “preppy” garments, the bermudas, bit loafers and button downs chosen by Vassar students all became instantly recognizable badges of academic status: clothing symbols of belonging to the collegiate elite. And yet, the VC blazer, which served as a counterpoint to both the monogrammed garments of the men’s Ivy look and the elaborate ball gowns attributed to the “Vassar Girl” in media, has largely been left unrecognized in the history of Vassar dress. In the Vassar Miscellany News, the blazer was described as a “must have” for any student on campus: “Have you been muttering to yourself all winter for forgetting to order a Vassar blazer last fall? Well, you may forgive and live with yourself again – representatives from Robert Rollins, who make our blazers, will be at Vassar today…” Robert Rollins Blazers of New York City created blazers that catered to the individual specifications of the colleges and groups they collaborated with. This means that the VC blazer is the only garment throughout the 1950s that was sold to Vassar students, by Vassar students. The exclusivity of the VC blazer and its creation with the student body in mind was important: it could be promoted and sold through student publications as the ultimate garment for a Vassar student’s college wardrobe. Robert Rollins also had a long history of creating and manufacturing blazers for prestigious men’s colleges and their elite on-campus societies. Men at Ivy League colleges had any number of


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garments that outwardly indicated their allegiance to their school, including the letter sweater, monogrammed jackets for private dining clubs and personalized jackets for teams and societies. At Vassar in the 1950s, there existed no such garment and, as Karen VanderVen ’59 remembers, “Some [students] wanted something that actually said Vassar on it.” Certainly, sports teams had uniforms and there were a few simple sweatshirts available to students, although these sweaters were not especially stylish, nor were they particularly synonymous with “Ivy”. This blazer was representative of both Vassar’s prestigious status, but also, a way for students themselves to promote solidarity, spirit and belonging. In contrast to the Ivy League dining club jackets that inevitably split the student body and delineated inclusion (and by that same token, exclusion), the VC blazer was conceived as an all-encompassing garment that could be embraced by all students. “The blazers are subject to your preference, either gray or navy flannel, as well as the price, $17.95 or $19.95, depending on the quality of the material,” announced the Miscellany News and the modest price tag was used to both indicate value, inclusivity and versatility. Before the company arrived to take orders in 1952, the Misc. reminded students to “consider the potentialities of a Vassar blazer for wear this spring – comfortable enough for shorts and jeans; tailored enough for more dress-up occasions.” And students could even get a matching skirt in the same color and material for just $6.95 or $7.95, again depending on fabric choice. The reality on campus was that the student body was becoming increasingly economically diverse and the blazer’s variable price point offered another leveling aspect in terms of campus dress. Some students even began to get creative with the idea of a VC blazer, designing their own copies in rose and grey, the college’s official colors at the time. The college administration was quick to recognize the blazer’s potential influence on America’s perception of Vassar students. In 1951, the Vassar Press Office expressed some concern regarding images of Vassar students to be featured in the magazine Holiday. The fear was that in these photographs, the students looked like “smiling

sweater girls,” in tight cashmere twinsets, as opposed to studious young women. After failing to stop their publication, Vassar printed their own rebuttal in the Alumnae Magazine the following month. Here, the college used shots of students in bermudas, button downs and, of course, VC blazers: smart, sensible, hardworking and indubitably collegiate, as students clutched notepads and textbooks outside the library, or posed against Ivy covered walls. There’s no denying that the 1950s was a transitional period for both Vassar and a collective women’s experience. Certainly, dress at Vassar began to push beyond the Ivy look and create a new status symbol for women’s education, but what is telling of this period is that more traditional dress codes remained in force. Students were still expected to dress smartly for trips away from campus and skirts were required for dinner. So, 1950s Vassar women still faced the pressure of more traditional gender roles and expectations in American society, and to some extent, the rules on campus that forbade denim at dinner are representative of these struggles; as one student phrased it, “We were pushing the glass ceiling before it was even called that.” But while bermudas were banned at the dinner table, the blazer was never subject to any kind of regulation: The VC blazer redefined student identity at Vassar during the 1950s, it promoted solidarity and spirit while outwardly aligning the status of Vassar with other Ivy and Seven Sisters colleges... and made for the perfect addition to any outfit on Yale-Vassar race day.


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all photos courtesy of Rebecca Tuite Check out the author’s website at


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by Jonathan Ruiz

Most students pass through Main Building at least once a day, whether to pick up mail, buy supplies at the bookstore, or grab a snack at the Retreat. What many people don’t realize, however, is that when Main was originally designed, everything from the classrooms to the chapel was stuffed comfortably inside the structure. Contractor and ex-mayor of Poughkeepsie William Harloe laid Main’s first brick in 1861 and carried the project to completion in 1865. The original plans were designed by renowned New York architect James Renwick who took heavy influence from the man himself, Matthew Vassar. The building’s Second Empire style façade took inspiration from the Palais des Tuileries in Paris (destroyed in 1871 by French Communards) and boasted a double staircase that ascended from the ground of its approach and landed into what today is the Rose Parlor. Upon its completion, Main was greatly acclaimed by architects and the general public alike for its unique design and recognized for its great size. With 156,572 square feet, Main was also the largest building in the country until the United States Capitol Building was completed three years later.

In Main’s youngest days, all students were housed in four room suites. The dinning hall was located in the Villard Room and the chapel was housed above the dinning hall. Most of the library was located on the 3rd floor and was expanded in 1893 in the form of “Uncle Fred’s Nose,” an extension that protruded from the front of Main. This library annex cost the façade its grand staircase and was generally thought to be an aesthetic letdown. With a few exceptions (such as the Observatory and the old Vassar Brother’s Laboratory), a 19th century Vassar student’s life took place entirely in Main. Back in the day, Main was the physical embodiment of the Vassar bubble. However, as demand for space increased, the bubble started expanding away from Main. By 1912, all quad dorms, including Jewett (then known as North) and Josselyn Houses, Rockefeller Hall, and the library had been built. As the bubble morphed from a single building into a campus, Main reflected these changes. As spaces within Main became redundant, they were reincorporated into the building to serve the college’s needs such as housing and common areas. In 1960, Uncle Fred’s


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illustration by Mara Gerson

Nose was finally demolished and Main embraced its original façade once again, though without the grand staircase. In the last few decades, changes within Main have included the College Center, the Palmer Gallery, and a redesign of the lobby. Today, Main is a designated National Historic Landmark and after 150 years stands as a fully functional and vital organ of the college. Despite the fact that many of Vassar’s activities have gradually moved out of the building, Main has remained the center of the bubble and is, undoubtedly, the heart

of campus. Every year Main hosts dozens of widely attended campus-wide events including various fundraisers and dances. Main also houses the most imperative of Vassar institutions: early morning coffee at Kiosk and, of course, Tasty Tuesdays. The structure exemplifies the nature of all things Vassar: chaotic yet sophisticated. Whether this will change in the future as campus expands is hard to tell, but it’s obvious that with its captivating façade and immense size Main will continue to exist as a common ground for all students as well as a constant reminder of our existence within the Vassar bubble. 9

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photo by Alex Reynolds


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THE NIGHT OWL LADIES One of the oldest female acapella groups in the country, The Night Owls have been serenading their Vassar peers since 1941 in their signature black dresses. As the story goes, during an outbreak of polio in the 40’s on Vassar’s campus, the students were put into quarantine but twelve members of the Night Owls snuck out in the middle of the night in all black to sing to their ailing classmates. Thankfully we don’t have to worry about polio anymore today, but the Owls still wear all black in honor of their founders’ acts of kindness.


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photo by Eushavia Bogan


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T E ATI M E WI TH JANE FO NDA Back in the day, weekly teatime in the Rose Parlor was serious business and all of the female students were required to wear gloves and pearls in order to attend. As the story goes, one day famous alumna Jane Fonda decided that she did not really want to wear gloves and pearls to tea, and daringly showed up without them. Sheer blasphemy! A certain professor, taken aback by Ms. Fonda’s lack of respect for the rules, immediately sent her back to her room to fetch the proper accessories. Fonda, who is legendary for her numerous mischevious antics on campus and flamboyant nature, showed up minutes later wearing her gloves and pearls. And only her gloves and pearls. Rules are rules!


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photo by Emilia Petrarca


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PA S S I O N P I T I N N O Y E S After hearing about this legend you might think twice about cozying up on the sunken couches in the Noyes MPR, otherwise known as the Jetson Lounge. Decades ago, when female students were forbidden to bring their male suitors back to their rooms upstairs, they would gather in the lounge to end their date night. Rumor has it that if you were to walk down there in the wee hours of the night, you would most likely find numerous students partaking in some pretty scandalous sexual activities.


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photo by Eushavia Bogan


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W I D E H A L LWAY S I N M A I N Ever wonder why the hallways in Main are so big? Some say that Matthew Vassar, initially concerned with the prospects of the college, decided that if all else failed he would turn the Main building into a brewery. Thus, the hallways had to be wide enough so that workers could roll beer kegs through them. Although that sounds like a nice idea, the real reason behind the extra large hallways was that in the winter months, the women of the college needed a space wide enough to exercise with their hoop skirts! Lunges must have been difficult in those things‌


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photo by Eushavia Bogan


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T H E VA S S A R D A I S Y C H A I N The Daisy Chain, one of Vassar’s oldest and most unique traditions, is an annual event dating back as far as the 1800’s. It used to be that annually, a handful of women were chosen from the sophomore class based on their leadership at the school, academic achievement, spirit and overall eagerness to participate. These “daisies,” as they were called, dressed in their finest white garb, carried a 150-foot daisy chain on the day of commencement and formed a corridor through which the graduates would then pass. From as far back as 1889, the sophomores would join together with the seniors days before the ceremony to pick the daisies by hand from the residential quad, which yes, apparently used to be a daisy field. Today, the daisies are, for the most part, no longer handpicked and participation is open to both sophomore males and females who are chosen by the senior class based on merit. Although it is still regarded fondly as a Vassar tradition, it no longer embodies the same prestige and status as it did in its original form


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Over the past several decades, Vassar’s innovative music scene has changed to reflect the diverse social and political interests of its student body, and has hosted a wide range of notable performers from various musical genres. Although the shifts in students’ taste on campus have often correlated with larger trends in American youth culture, Vassar has always retained an eclectic and forward-thinking music scene that is quite impressive for such a small college.

The American Civil Rights Movement brought activism and vibrant new music to the heart of Vassar’s campus in the 1960s. In ’69, members of the Students’ Afro-American Society took over Main building and staged a sit-in to protest the minimal number of African Americans students and professors on campus, make the newly founded Black Studies Program an accredited major, and create a solid presence of an African American Cultural Center on campus in what was


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then called “Kendrick House.” Accordingly, many African American performers held concerts on Vassar’s campus during this time. In the first year of the Main Takeover, Nina Simone performed and reportedly told female students in Kendrick House, “Keep those Afros, girls. They’re beautiful.” In 1971 Roberta Flack and Earth, Wind, and Fire both performed on campus, and supposedly Earth, Wind, and Fire partied with the residents of Kendrick House after their show. World-renowned jazz musician, Duke Ellington, played one of his last big-band performances on campus in 1974. During this time, music not only served the important social function of helping merge the interests of African American students with the larger student body, but was also a critical part of a revolutionary political movement in both Vassar and America’s history.

Since the 1960s, Vassar students have welcomed artists who have stepped outside of conventions and introduced creativity and progressive politics into to mainstream musical culture. Yet today, it seems that what is “alternative” at Vassar and throughout America is becoming increasingly more normal than it is rare. How radical will the shifts in the music industry be in the near future? And how will Vassar culture change along with it?

With the rise of conservative politics under presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush in the ‘80s, musicians at Vassar responded with the loud and rebellious sounds of punk and alternative rock. Students brought radical artists like The Clash in 1984, Fishbone in ’87, and The Ramones in ’88. These rock bands served as an outlet for American youth to voice their opinions about socio-political issues at home and abroad such as the Cold War, violence in the Middle East, and social struggles in various Third World countries. Aided by the creation and global popularity of MTV, the ‘80s also sparked drastic changes in musical tastes. As genres such as New Wave, Hip Hop and Electronic music emerged internationally, Vassar brought R.E.M., The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Flock of Seagulls to its stages during the beginning of the decade. If we fast-forward to the twenty-first century, we can see that our reputation for having an influential and diverse musical presence on campus still holds. We have hosted many indie rock and hip-hop sensations over the past several years, including Ninjasonik, Girl Talk, Vampire Weekend, M.I.A., Talib Kweli, Beiruit, Grizzly Bear, J. Cole and Yeasayer – many of whom played at Vassar before they achieved major success in the music industry.


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“Playground: The Hallie Flanagan Project,” photo by Hannah Tatar

In light of Vassar’s Sesquicentennial this year, Vassar’s drama department chose to honor Hallie Flanagan – an astounding professor and creator of our drama department. Experimental Theater put on a production in early March called “Playground: The Hallie Flanagan Project” directed by graduate Jen Wineman ’00 and written by her friend Mattie Brickman. The play depicts Flanagan’s career

here at Vassar in the 1920’s and her process in putting on Anton Chekhov’s A Marriage Proposal. In addition to this, in early April students put on a performance of “The Cradle Will Rock,” directed by Christopher Grabowski and written originally by Marc Blitzstein in honor of the sesquicentennial and Flanagan, who put on the show during her time with the Federal Theater Program.


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Forty-two years after her death and some seventy-one years after leaving Vassar, Hallie Flanagan remains to be one of Vassar’s most influential and inspiring faculty members. After attending George Baker’s prestigious workshop at Harvard on dramatic production, she attracted the attention of Vassar’s president at the time, Henry Noble MacCracken, who was interested in bringing experimental theater to campus. Thankfully for us, Flanagan was quickly offered a position and in 1925 arrived at Vassar to teach drama. Although it is hard to believe now, at that time Vassar did not actually have a theater department, and the few drama classes that did exist were taught through the English department. Flanagan, who strongly believed that drama should not just be taught as literature, proposed to create a separate drama major. Unfortunately, other members of the faculty including Dean Mildred Thompson shot down the idea. They did, however, allow Flanagan to continue her experimental theater program and her dramatic production classes, which strayed away from literature. Only two short years after teaching at Vassar, Flanagan was offered the Guggenheim Fellowship, which allowed her to travel the world and bring her rich experiences back to Vassar a year later. She also returned from Europe with a collection of premier plays that the students layer put on. Vassar lost Flanagan again in 1935 when she was asked by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to lead and found the Federal Theater Project, a project geared towards providing employment to the many theater workers who lost their jobs during the Depression. The FTP also sought to make theater more accessible to the lower-middle class, who may not have been able to experience it otherwise. Yet the FTP was short-lived, as Flanagan herself was suspected of Communist ties and the House Committee on Un-American Activities had the program shut down four years later because they feared that her productions contained hints of threatening political content.

the idea, had decided to create a drama major. A year later after her husband and co-faculty at Vassar Phil Davis died, Flanagan felt that it was her time to leave Vassar and she transferred to Smith College, where she remained until her retirement in 1955. In honor of Flanagan’s work as well as the college’s sesquicentennial, the drama department, through the direction and playwriting of Alumni Jennifer Wineman and her colleague Maddie Brickman, put on a play in early March, which reminded us all of Flanagan’s drive and passion for theater. In 1939, on the opening night of Flanagan’s production for the FTP of Marc Blitzstein’s “The Cradle Will Rock,” directed by Orson Welles and produced by John Houseman, the show was shut down due to “budget-cuts.” Refusing to take no for an answer, Flanagan and her colleges proceeded to march the entire cast and confused audience members down the street to another theater, which, unlike the original theater, wasn’t padlocked shut by the government. The cast members, who were mostly members of the Actor’s Equality Union, were forbidden to perform “onstage”. Continuing to make due with the obstacles thrown their way, Blitzstein began to play the piano on stage while the actors performed their lines in the audience. Seeing that their plan was flawless, eventually the entire cast joined in and performed the rest of the play in the house, giving the audience members a night that they surely would remember for the rest of their lives. What those involved in theater as well as any artist can take away from Hallie Flanagan’s story is to never take no for an answer and work for what you believe is right. That goes for both students and faculty alike. Professor Denise Walen, Associate Professor of Drama and Department Chair here at Vassar, finds that one of Flanagan’s most admirable qualities was her “strong desire not just to teach but to inspire her students to reach beyond their abilities or limits.” The art world can be a cruel one, and it is stories like Hallie Flanagan’s that drive us to do what we love most.

Forced to turn back to her job at Vassar, Flanagan returned to find that she had been slighted – in her absence, the faculty, who were initially opposed to


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1969: Welcome, Gentlemen. 24

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photo by Emilia Petrarca


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photo by Alycia Anderson


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photo by Hannah Tatar


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photo by Alycia Anderson


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photo by Zan Schmidt

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MEN AND WOMEN ALIKE by Anna Schlosser

It’s no secret that Vassar holds a firm resistance to all things hetero-normative. The better part of our student population just happens to be a genderbending, patriarchy-protesting, boundary-pushing, LGBTQ-loving bunch. Yet Vassar has a fairly onedimensional sexual history. As we all know, VC was founded as a liberal arts college for young women to offer an educational experience on par with that of contemporary men’s colleges. However, a growing sense of dissatisfaction slowly began to settle in amongst the Vassar ladies, a dissatisfaction far outside the academic realm. As the 50’s rolled around, so did “mainstream media’s emphasis on the importance of marrying early,” according to the Vassar encyclopedia. The prospect of a single-sex education was not exactly appealing to young women looking to tie the knot. While women were under pressure to make that marital plunge, Vassar was under pressure to change it’s ageold traditions and look ahead to a more “progressive” model of education. In 1969, Vassar officially opened its doors to men and since then, “men and women alike” has been a bit of a mantra on campus. Gender neutrality reigns supreme in classrooms, dorm rooms, and most notably, bathrooms. Yet because Vassar enjoys blurring the gender divisional lines, Vassar has historically struggled with its masculinity. In the early transition years from a female to a coeducational institution, the college wondered just how masculine the “new Vassar” should be. Vassar still struggles with its masculinity today, as directly evidence by the dreaded 40-60 male to female ratio on campus. This struggle originated with the introduction of men to the college in the early

transition years from a female to a coeducational institution, as the college wondered what type of man would be attracted to the college. However, a stereotypically gay and effeminate image of Vassar men had already been constructed. Many Vassar women of today are frustrated by this population inequality—sexually frustrated, that is. Straight men are in high demand and almost considered a valuable commodity on campus. For some female students, it’s almost liberating to emerge from the Vassar bubble to realize that the entire world doesn’t operate on the same 40-60 ratio. However, the same frustration has been voiced by the straight men as demonstrated by the anonymous posting site, Say Anything. “How hard can it be to find love, if you’re a straight guy here?” says one confused male student. “I feel like there would be more of a demand for us?” Meanwhile, even the gay community at Vassar can’t always quite find what it wants, as evidenced through this interesting Say Anything suggestion: “I think gay/queer men should start hosting hookup parties (or just a place to meet other people). I think a lot of guys feel lonely and that they don’t fit the VC gay male standards of attractiveness.” Lastly, one lonely student says, “I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve masturbated in the last 12 hours.” What does all this say about the Vassar student body? Perhaps it’s just a lack of effective communication skills. If nothing else, it demonstrates Vassar’s desire to remain sexually active, whether that activity is physical or mental. After all, despite all the complaints, Vassar still snagged the title of one the nation’s top 10 sexiest schools in the country according to college content site, Unigo, due to it’s “strong hook-up environment.” Perhaps it is not masculinity, but simply satisfying Vassar’s sexual appetite that is the true issue here.


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If only Matthew Vassar himself could see his students today, 150 years later. It’s interesting to wonder what he would think of Vassar’s coeducation, questioned masculinity, and it’s sexual expression. I like to think that he’d approve. After all, Vassar was founded in general opposition to the patriarchal educational system of the early 19th century. This sentiment lives on in our extracurricular activities and activist groups, like QCVC and Act Out. It’s seen in our student body’s style of thinking against the heteronormative, and in the way we strive to bring that point of view outside the Vassar bubble. Turns out, Vassar has been fighting against that same patriarchy ever since.

illustration by Alex Reynolds

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While living and learning on Vassar’s campus, traces of the college’s history are omnipresent, if you’re looking. The aging brick buildings and the portraits of presumably distinguished women in each parlor serve as constant reminders of the College’s rich past. However, the artifacts of a 150-year-old campus can quickly become embedded within a modern sensibility distinct from the past we noted and memorized on our first tours of the establishment we now call home. The portraits on the walls become creepy old women, and the parlors become a place to eat late-night Bacio’s. We’ve heard the history, laughed at the legends, and stored our understanding of Vassar’s past in a box, away in some cerebral closet, out of sight from our current college experience. But this year, the sesquicentennial anniversary forces us to take a step back from our temporal absorption and acknowledge the experience of generations of alumni that came before us. This coming May, the Vassar College Costume Collection will be putting up an exhibition of its archives. The collection, according to the Vassar College Costume Collection blog, will be an exploration of education’s influence on style of dress. How does an educational environment affect the stylistic decisions a student makes, and what might that correlation insinuate on a broader scale. To be specific, how might the cultural circumstances of different time periods play into the relationship between dress and education? As we look backward, it will be increasingly important to reflect upon our relationships with our school, in terms of dress and otherwise, as the most recently plotted point on a long continuum of experience. One of the more interesting qualities of this exhibition is that it is put up by students, for students, about students, showing a collection created and

maintained by students and alumni. While they’ve not precisely determined what angle the show will take, it’s clear from only a glimpse into the costume storage room that there will be much to work with. The costume archives and workrooms are a flurry of activity, handling theatrical costuming in addition to ‘stabilization’ processes for the exhibition. Stabilization, an amateur method of conservation, will require a team of students to creatively find solutions to restorative complications. Many of these pieces have been boxed up in the basement of Vogelstein for decades, and the simple act of placing them upright on a mannequin could cause them to disintegrate. Students participating in this aspect of preparation are privy to a unique look into the world of conservation, a hands-on experience that’s usually left to those with significant training. A standout piece, perhaps the standout piece, is a phenomenally intricate graduation ensemble from 1879. The dress was donated in 1989 by the granddaughter of Sallie Tucker Blake, Class of 1879. The bustle dress cascades aged white lace from hips to floor, with a fitted bodice on top that extends high on the neck. More than anything, the ensemble looks like an antique wedding dress, incepting images of five hundred fresh-faced brides with parasols smiling excitedly on graduation hill. As we all chug toward our own graduation days, it’s eerie to consider just how much has changed here at Vassar, in ways impressed by both external and internal factors. The world looks different and so do we. However, the changes that Vassar has undergone in the past 150 years are, in ways, less revealing than that which has stayed consistent. At this point in the explorative process of putting together this exhibition, the similarities have not yet been identified, besides one, overwhelmingly obvious common thread: Vassar College has always had style.

Daisy Chain dress from 1925, photo courtesy of the Vassar Costume Collection


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When I mention to James Mundy, current director of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, the rumor that our sarcophagus head from 1375 B.C. has tomb-raiding origins, he half-jokingly laughs, “We stole it.” But for the record, Vassar never went tomb raiding, nor did any alumni to our knowledge. The red granite sarcophagus head that sits in the Loeb today was removed, along with other fragments, from the tomb of Merymose, Viceroy of the Kush province, in the nineteenth century by unknown robbers. This piece is just one of the 18,000 in Vassar’s collection and can be seen at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, which has been recently reopened after eight months of renovations. Along with an Egyptian stele, the head of Merymose was donated to Vassar in 1989 by Margaret Lanphier Wengren, class of 1938. Though Wengren took only one art class at Vassar, the classic Art 105-106, she attributes her lifelong love of art to the course. Wengren acquired Merymose in the 1970s from a Boston antiquities dealer who delivered it to her in a remarkably undramatic fashion. The 425-pound relic came to her in an ordinary car, perched upon a “makeshift dolly,” devoid of the extreme care and reverence one might expect for an artifact so ancient. It seemed like any old delivery: but the piece itself is far from ordinary. Though Merymose wasn’t royalty, he was hardly unimportant. As the Viceroy of Kush under the ninth pharoh of Egypt, Merymose oversaw the gold-producing lands of Amen, and was so highly

ranked, wealthy, and well liked by the pharaoh that he secured three carved anthropomorphic stone sarcophagi upon his death, pieces of which can also be found at the British Museum and Boston’s M.F.A. “Margie” Wengren was just as fond of Merymose as the king was. Though she willed the head to Vassar, Mrs. Wengren had no intentions of giving it up before then. She wrote in a letter to William J. Hennessey, then-director of the Loeb, in 1982: “I might one day decide to part with it before my death--but very much doubt it. I like having him around!” Judging by pictures she sent of the piece, Merymose made a fine domestic companion, occupying a comfortable space, sans display case, in between a grand piano and leafy green houseplants in her Lexington, Massachusetts residence. But in 1989, upon her and her husband’s move to a senior care facility, her husband urged her to donate the head. She reluctantly sent it off, notifying the Lehman Loeb Curator of Collections Rebecca E. Lawton that Merymose would be “entering college in the marks the time for him to be off on his own!” And so he was. Except for a few jaunts in the nineties to museums in Cleveland, Paris and Fort Worth, Merymose has been in Poughkeepsie, sitting on the same eighteeninch wood and iron base ever since. Wengren, at least, was pleased to imagine Merymose at Vassar, “meeting” Art 105 students about to plunge into the world of art as she had all those years before. “I am glad he’s with you,” she wrote in 1994. The feeling is surely mutual.

Egyptian • 18th dynasty, Amenhotep III period, ca. 1390-1352 BCE • Head of Viceroy Merymose from his Outer Sarcophagus, 1375 BCE • Red granite • Gift of Margaret Lanphier Wengren, class of 1938, 1989.19.1


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Alison Dillulio & David Orkin EDI TOR I A L


Kalei Talwar, Editor Maddie Davis Brie Hiramine Chelsea Peterson-Salahuddin Emilia Petrarca Anna Schlosser Jonathan Ruiz

Alycia Anderson and Dan Small, Editors Noah Michelon Caroline Mills Emilia Petrarca Molly Richard Jonathan Ruiz Hannah Tatar



Eushavia Bogan, Editor Katharine George Caroline Mills Emilia Petrarca Alex Reynolds Alessandra Schmidt Hannah Tatar

Night Owls: et al

Jane Fonda: Callie Beusman

Passion Pit:


Kristian Georgiev Annie Masa Natasha Roy Spencer Tilger

Mara Gerson, Editor Chrishna Caso Hannah Cassius Michelle Dingsun Elizabeth Perry Alex Reynolds

Hoop Skirts:

Anastassia Knight Natasha Roy


Daisy Chain:

Caitrin Hall Zoey Peresman

Tiarra Dickens Emma Goodwin Edy Jostol Annie Massa Quinn Milton Liz Rowland Elyse Schoenburg

Men’s Shoot:

T R EA SUR ER Alexander Panisch


Kristian Georgiev Spencer Tilger Mathew Foster Nana Takyi Baffour-Awuah

Cecelia Clohst, Editor Zoey Peresman Emilia Petrarca

cover photo: Hannah Tatar 36

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Contrast Vol 4 Issue 2  

Contrast Spring 2011

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