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Alan Simpson: "Full steam ahead in Poughkeepsie."

[ photo: Alan Simpson ]

"Full steam ahead in Poughkeepsie."

Beginning in 1865, thanks to founder Matthew Vassar, women walked through the Main Gate to lives women had simply never experienced before. 104 years later, when Vassar admitted men, it was President Alan Simpson who held the doors open. Under Simpson's leadership, the college that set the standard for women's education began setting the standard for coeducation. And without coeducation, Vassar would probably not have survived as an independent college.

Simpson grew up in England, studied history at Oxford, and was dean of the college at the University of Chicago before succeeding Sarah Blanding in 1964. In the beginning he shared Blanding's view that Vassar should remain a women's college. But the times they were 'a changin'." Students everywhere were demanding more freedom and representation. Simpson, according to professor emeritus of history Clyde Griffen, heard many reports of "student dissatisfaction with Vassar's geographic isolation from comparable men's colleges." The new president also saw decaying facilities, and learned of difficulties attracting both students and faculty. In 1966, Simpson had the temerity to suggest that some form of coeducation might be part of the future of Vassar. He and Kingman Brewster floated the Vassar-Yale plan for moving the college to New Haven. This led directly to an intensive examination of the future of the college.

In 1967, when the Vassar trustees formally rejected relocation, Simpson proclaimed, "Full steam ahead in Poughkeepsie." The course had been set for what Vassar would become--not only fully coed, but also larger and more diverse; with a flexible curriculum supporting innovative programs and emphasizing multidisciplinary study.

Submitted by Anne Constantinople, Vassar professor emerita of psychology.

"Full Steam Ahead in Poughkeepsie": The Story of Coeducation at Vassar 1966-1974, by Elizabeth A. Daniels and Clyde Griffen