A Rising Activism
After 1900, students and faculty became increasingly active in the women’s suffrage movement. Their commitment to the cause was not always shared by members of the College administration. One prominent opponent was College president James Monroe Taylor, who maintained that suffrage, as well as all forms of social advocacy, was “propaganda” which, therefore, must be resisted in favor of higher educational values. During this period, several student activists went on to become prominent suffragists on the national stage.
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Photograph of Lucy Maynard Salmon (approximately 1900)
History Professor Lucy Maynard Salmon trained several generations of students in the ethos of “going to the source” to understand historical events. In addition, as a suffrage activist she advocated for right of students and faculty to bring pro-suffrage speakers to campus.
Photograph (1913) of Lucy Burns (Class of 1902)
During her graduation in 1902, Lucy Burns served as the senior spade orator, who was responsible for passing on to the rising seniors the spade used by Matthew Vassar to break ground for the Main Building. A radical suffrage activist, Burns went on to co-found with Alice Paul the National Woman’s Party.
Photograph (1903?) of Crystal Eastman (Class of 1903)
A student of Lucy Maynard Salmon and the progressive economist Herbert Mills, Eastman was, at Vassar, an active member of Civitas, an organization devoted to engagement with “social and intellectual study of present day subjects.” As well as a prominent suffragist, Eastman became a noted labor advocate and anti-war activist.
Portrait photo of Inez Milholland (Class of 1909)
An energetic activist for a variety of social causes, Inez Milholland became a radical suffragist after meeting the English suffrage advocate Emmaline Pankhurst. After graduation, the charismatic Milholland continued to help organize and appear at major suffrage events in New York City, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere.
“Vassar Girls Held Suffrage Meeting in Calvary Cemetery.” Pokeepsie Evening Enterprise (9 June 1908)
An opponent of the suffrage movement, College President James Monroe Taylor refused permission for students to organize suffrage events on campus.
Class of 1912 petition to form chapter of College Equal Suffrage League.
President Taylor steadfastly refused to permit campus suffrage organizations. Although this petition did not move him to relent, the number of signatures is a measure of the pressure student activists placed on him during the last years of his administration. Further, the petition did prompt him to allow a mass rally on campus in 1912.
“The Opinion of the Vassar Students on Woman Suffrage.” Points of View, Vassar Miscellany, v. 40, n. 8 (May 1911)
During much of the period between 1865 and 1910, Vassar students were relatively indifferent to women’s suffrage. As this poll suggests, student commitment to the cause rose significantly after 1910.