Findings straight from the files of President MacCracken

As part of our research we spent a considerable amount of time filtering through Vassar’s archives and found various documents detailing its different responses to various international refugee crises. All of the documents and letters found regarding the Spanish Civil War refugee crisis and Vassar’s response to it came from documents saved by President MacCracken. President McCracken served as Vassar’s fifth President from 1915-1946, during his presidency he had a large focus on Vassar expanding it’s relationships both with other colleges and the international community at large.  


President MacCracken (1915-1946)

Folder name: Committee on Refugee Scholars (1) – 45.21

In 1939, Miss Geneva Drinkwater of the History department was given a trust of $1000 from the board of trustees to head and create the Vassar Committee on displaced Scholars. The Committee worked from 1939-40 on bringing displaced scholars to Vassar to lecture for two weeks, they paid these scholars $100 as compensation for their services.

Below is information taken from a document written in 1940, which listed the accomplishments of the Committee on displaced Scholars.

Dr. Alfonso Castelao was a Spanish Refugee and Displaced Scholar residing in the U.S who was brought to Vassar through the Committee. He was a doctor of Art, and an artist in his own right. He came to Vassar for two weeks and was given $100 for his time as per custom.

In 1940 Dr. Alfonso Castelao wrote a letter to President MacCracken about his stay at Vassar, thanking him for his hospitality. The letter serves as a reminder of the human component of the Refugee crisis:

“I wish to express you my gratitud for the hospitality my wife and I have enjoyed at Vassare. In the midst of all our troubles and sorrows, Vassare’s invitation was a splendid reality to live and a source of optimism and vitality to cure the anguish of Europe”

In the document there was also information recorded about Mrs. Pilar Madariaga, a displaced Spanish scholar who became part of the Vassar faculty.

“Mrs. Pilar Madariaga was an assistant in Spanish appointed to faculty three years ago, but because of the Spanish situation was unable to come to the country until this year. She is certainly not able to return.”

In the document Miss Drinkwater also said the following about the Committee’s work as a whole, “it was surprising to many of us that the opportunity to participate in the life of the college should mean so much in helping these scholars regain self-confidence”, she also said that due to its success she hoped that the board of trustees and school would see that “our program must be continued”.


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