In 1945 the Miscellany News organized a clothing drive for Spanish Republican refugees. The drive was specifically in response to the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration’s (UNRRA) refusal to aid the approximately 200, 000 Spanish refugees residing in France, who were about to face winter with little to no clothing. The UNRRA’s refusal to provide clothing stemmed from the fact that Spain was classified as neutral in WW2, even though many of these displaced Spaniards had stood against the Nazi regime  with some even being escapees from Nazi labour camps.


This photo was taken in 1939 and was headed, “Food and safety within the French border”. The photograph was taken in Le Perthus, France.  Source: International News Photo.




Vassar’s Contributions: Spain & Beyond

The 1930s-50s saw a huge flow of displaced people, especially out of Europe but also from Asia, due to several major political conflicts: the Spanish Civil War, the rise of the Nazis, and WWII.

In 1941, Vassar established the Vassar Emergency Relief Drive to aid refugees from Europe and China during these tumultuous times. Part of the budget was devoted to the World Student Service Fund, a global organization which provided aid to refugees from countries like Poland, Hungary, China, France, and Spain.

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Above is an excerpt from The Miscellany News, explaining Vassar’s way of helping during the refugee crisis: the College established a refugee scholarship and student relief committee.

Notable Grad: Nancy Macdonald

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(Dwight and Nancy Macdonald in the 1950s. Photo cred: Bertrand de Geofroy)

Nancy Macdonald, Vassar class of ’32, was a dedicated social activist and author. She founded Spanish Refugee Aid, an organization devoted to assisting thousands of non-Communist exiled Spaniards. She and her husband Dwight along with a group of New York intellectuals drew attention and support for Spanish refugees during the 1950s.

She wrote prolifically about the refugee situation in publications such as the New York Times and published a book, Homage to the Spanish Exiles: Voices from the Spanish Civil War,  after retiring. imgres

A review of her book can be found on page 31 of the Vassar Quarterly, Volume LXXXIII, Number 4, Sept. 1987.

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”.

Second World Youth Congress


  • The Second World Youth Conference The Second World Youth Congress was held at Vassar where 500 delegates from 52 countries and 18 international organizations… met at Vassar college to study and discuss the political, economic and religious basis for peace, the economic and cultural status of youth, and to devise methods of collaboration which, it is hoped, will help them to continue to work for world peace.” “A girl who lives in Spain…spoke of the bombing of civilians in Barcelona.”
  • In 1939, the rather belatedly formed Spanish Relief Committee at Hull University College organized house-to-house collections. Student fundraising efforts received a boost when, meeting at the second World Youth Congress at Vassar College in August 1938, students from six nations made a pact to outdo each other in the collection of food and funds British students responded by raising £2,400 in the autumn term of Individual colleges were matched “in friendly rivalry” with colleges in United States, Mexico, Holland, Belgium and France as well as asked to challenge their local rivals.
  • “One single college- Vassar, attended by less than 1000 girls, has already collected 150 dollars for the refugees. April 20th, the day of the traditional April Peace Strike (in which more than 1.000.000 students participated last year) was devoted to the collection of funds for refugees. 1875 francs already have been given to the World Student Association for special student in eds. The International Student Competition for Aid to Spain was launched at the Second World Youth Congress, held at Vassar last August. In the course of the competition about 1.500.000 francs have been collected to alleviate the sufferings of the Spanish people.”
  • The following day James G. McDonald, former high commissioner of the League of Nations, spoke about the worldwide refugee situation, noting that among the Americas only the United States had committed to accepting upwards of 27,000 refugees yearly.  “Go back to your countries,” he said, “and say to your governments that there is being offered to them an opportunity to enrich themselves with the…intelligence of some of the finest people in the world.”

Broad Alliances: The Universities and the Spanish Civil War

This passage details the different efforts by students around the world in aiding those affected by the Spanish Civil War. There is specific mention of the World Youth Congress at Vassar College and how it sparked British students to respond in other fundraising endeavours.


It can be found in Georgina Brewis’ “A Social History of Student Volunteering” under the chapter titled Students in Action: Students and Antifascist Relief Efforts, 1933–1939 starting on page 122 by clicking on this link.