C. Gordon Post
“I believe that subjects such as Political Science should be presented in a controversial manner,” Professor Charles Gordon Post wrote in 1955. “That does not mean that I provide the students with the judgments, not at all. They can discuss all they wish, but they have to draw their own conclusions. I am merely a guide.” C. Gordon Post was respected among the Vassar community for his willingness to go against the grain and his embrace of ideological diversity. Though many of his controversial viewpoints were challenged, Post always made sure his convictions were supported by fact, and his 36-year stay at Vassar suggests that he never alienated his students even when he disagreed with them.
Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on November 22, 1901, Post was the son of architect Charles Gordon Post and Charlotte Munson Post. Charles Gordon Post, Sr. was associated for a number of years with Richard and Joseph Howland Hunt, whose firm, Hunt and Hunt, designed the Alumnae House (1924) at Vassar. The family moved to New York City when Charles was a child and where he received his preparatory school training at the Dwight School in Manhattan. Early on a medical student, Gordon Post received his Master of Arts degree at Johns Hopkins University in 1926 and his Ph.D. in political science there in 1933. Later that year, he came to Vassar as an associate professor of political science.
Post primarily taught courses on American government, but he also specialized in British and French government. In the mid-thirties, he spoke extensively on campus and in the Poughkeepsie community on the need to combat anti-Semitism, specifically criticizing the problematic material coming out of the Highland Post in nearby Ulster County. Despite his concerns about antisemitic attitudes, Post was a non-interventionist when it came to the Second World War, endorsing a stronger neutrality act in 1939 and arguing that “the safety of American democracy depends to large extent upon our willingness to mind our own business.”
Charles Gordon Post encouraged the minding of one’s own business on a local scale as well as an international one. After the mayor of Kingston, New York, claimed in 1936 that he would not permit a Communist group to meet in his town, Post wrote him a critical letter advising that he uphold the First Amendment. “If our institutions are sound, what difference does it make if a few Communists voice their dissatisfaction with our present form of government?” he asked. At a peace meeting in the Kingston Hotel in September, Post argued that censorship was more likely to breed Communism than stifle it.
Professor Post also spoke out on campus, entering in 1939 a naming competition for the eating room in the Alumnae House with the submission “The Chicken Coop.” The Miscellany Newscalled this suggestion an “indignity” and the room was ultimately given the name suggested by Lydia Davis ‘39 and Almira Ford ’40, “The Pub.” Another of Post’s early diversions, joining in campus theatrical presentations, proved to be a career-long commitment. An early appearance in an Experimental Theatre production of Antony and Cleopatrain December of 1934 drew attention from the Vassar Quarterly: “Although Cleopatra in her long blue velvet gown, and Antony, played by Professor Gordon Post, in his white uniform and blue cape, reminded us overmuch of a summer hop at West Point, we completely forgot all about scenery and costumes as the plot developed.”
A portrait of Professor Post appeared in the Misc. in March of 1937.
The next spring he appeared in the Experimental Theatre’s first production of Ibsen, as Dr. Wangel in The Lady from the Sea, and in 1937 he portrayed the “Tramp” in The Life of the Insects by the Czech brothers Çapek. Also in that year, his performance in the Experimental Theatre's American premiere of No More Peace, by the German expressionist playwright Ernst Toller, led to praise from The Misc of both his manner and his stature: " Our own inimitable Mr. Post was given the opportunity to display his amiable grouchiness to full advantage. He stooped to the occasion." Appearing in 1938 in Vassar’s Folly, another Experimental Theater production, Post portrayed Vassar’s president at its beginning, John Howard Raymond. Hallie Flanagan Davis directed Post’s portrayal of Thomas Becket in a production in 1941 of T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral.And, when President Henry MacCrackenportrayed Prospero in a 1942 production of The Tempest, the Miscellany News said Post’s Caliban “made the bestial creature lithe and comprehensive.” He and MacCracken recreated these roles in another production of Shakespeare’s elaborate fantasy in 1944.
In 1941, Charles Gordon Post was profiled by the Poughkeepsie Evening Starin a section on Vassar faculty. “Dr. Post likes to meet people, and to be able to say ‘hello’ to Mr. Smith on Main Street,” the author of the profile wrote. “While quite a number of persons have been interested to hear what he has to say about the government, you don’t have to agree with him.” Post did not let his ideological convictions get in the way of productive activity. Despite the fact that he was a non-interventionist, he served as a member of the Town of Poughkeepsie War Finance Committee and devoted himself to Victory Gardens in the Poughkeepsie area during the war. “My broccoli was particularly good,” he reported to the Miscellany Newsin 1943, “in spite of the fact that it was filled with worms.”
Post also worked on two publications with Vassar president Henry Noble MacCracken in the early 1940s. Described by the Miscellany News as “an exposition of the heritage of civil rights which falls to every citizen, and the corollary duty to exercise and perpetuate these rights,” Invitation to Freedom, An Introduction to Civil Liberties, was published in 1941. Fair Play, An Introduction to Race and Group Relations, was published the following year, and argued that “the absence of ‘fair play’ in inter-race and inter-group relations [was] a denial of the spirit of the Bill of Rights.” Both civic handbooks were popular among students and circulated among many high schools in New York and New England.
Professor Post in class.
In 1942, Charles Gordon Post was promoted to associate professor. As he was growing in professorial stature, his teenage daughter Claudia was doing the same among Vassar students. A Miscellany Newsarticle in March 1943, “Youth Threatens Position of Misc,” explained: “The threat is in the form of a weekly publication known as the Nosey News, compiled and printed by Claudia Post, thirteen-year-old daughter of Associate Professor Charles Post.” Named by her younger sister, Antonia, Claudia’s Newsoffered students coverage of faculty and local affairs, ranging from birthdays to teeth-growing among local babies. Every edition featured a jingle contest with war stamps as prizes, perhaps at the encouragement of editor’s father.
Claudia retired in January of 1944, imputing the end of the periodical to the demanding nature of keeping up a weekly publication. A Miscellany Newsarticle from that month titled “MiscSubdues Rival, Nosey News For Sale” noted: “To the great sorrow of its many admirers, The Nosey News, the only challenger to the Misc’sjournalistic monopoly, has ceased publication.” The article added that “The Nosey News is for sale to anyone who will follow its editorial policy of more and better gossip.” Claudia Post graduated from Vassar in the Class of 1951.
While not yet quite the celebrity on campus his daughter was, Gordon Post proved a more prolific writer. In collaboration with fellow political historians Frances P. Delancy and Fredric Darby, he published a case book for introductory classes in American government, Basic Constitution Cases, in 1948, the same year that he gained full professorship. In 1953, he edited and wrote the introduction for a course book on the two major political treatises of the South Carolina politician John C. Calhoun, the posthumously published A Disquisition on Government and A Discourse on the Constitution and Government of the United States (1851). The book was among the first eight texts on the subject of democracy to be sold in India. In 1957, he followed his Calhoun compilation with a case book on British government intended for students in introductory courses, Significant Cases in British Constitutional Law.
Gordon Post appeared at Christmas as Santa for many years, generally with success.
Post remained active in community life when he wasn’t writing. In December 1955, he played Santa Claus at a Christmas party hosted for the youth of the Vassar community and handed out presents to the younger children. In November 1956, he helped organize a celebration of the centennial of Woodrow Wilson’s birth on Vassar’s campus to “give Vassar students an idea of Woodrow Wilson, as seen through the eyes of faculty members, representing different disciplines, who have a clear recollection of him as President of the United States.” Post discussed Wilson as a political scientist, while Professors of Economics Mabel Newcomer and Professor of History Charles Griffin (a close friend of Post’s) discussed Wilson respectively.
In 1959, Gordon Post spoke out against two customs he found contemptible: capital punishment and tenure. In an article, “On Capital Punishment,” in Vassar Quarterlyfor December 1959, Post called the death penalty an “obscene ritual of our society [that] is no more than murder—premeditated, deliberated, and intended.” Post was a member of the New York Committee to Abolish Capital Punishment; a proponent of “fair play,” he did not believe that a reprehensible act like murder should be sanctioned by a state apparatus that did not permit murder in any other forms.
Professor Post’s article “On Relinquishing Tenure,” in the Vassar Quarterly for March, 1959, similarly encouraged more critical thought around an entrenched practice. His article argued that the custom “places the teacher in an especially favored position, a position not generally enjoyed by men and women in other professions; it is undemocratic in that it places the teacher outside the common experience.”Post, the only full professor at Vassar who did not accept tenure, did not want to arbitrarily be given a more privileged position than “Mr. Smith on Main Street.”
Charles Gordon Post published his next book, An Introduction to the Law, in October 1963. Throughout the 1960s, he continued to be active in the Vassar community. He taught on pollution and the environment in a special education program for Vassar alumnae in June 1968, and the following summer he led a community-wide seminar on “The Question of Privacy.” This was the last class that Gordon Post taught in Poughkeepsie. After the summer of 1969, he moved to Aurora, New York to accept a visiting professorship at the all-women’s Wells College.
Despite his departure from Vassar, Post couldn’t help but make his voice heard occasionally on campus. In January 1977 he submitted a letter to the Vassar Quarterlyon the escalation of religious activity on Vassar’s campus. In “Too Much Religion,” Post lamented the fact that religious gatherings were included on Vassar’s college calendar, remembering that the calendar “used to be limited to events of interest to the whole community.” He argued that the liberal arts experience represented a time to “revolt against old notions,” something impossible to do with a priest or minister hovering over the students.
The letter elicited a rebuttal from Chaplain and Associate Professor of Religion George Williamson Jr. In Vassar Quarterly the following June, Williamson made the astute point that a strong religious presence on campus was conducive to fostering new ideas, as many Vassar students were of a “secular ethos” coming into their college experience. Post’s response, in the same edition of the journal called Williamson’s letter “forthright and refreshing” and clarified that he was not against teaching religion. He merely objected to “the presence of organized religion on the Vassar campus.” Always a meticulous judge of what was fair, Post argued that Vassar could not give official status to the Catholic Church or the Episcopalian Church while denying “a similar status to the Baptist Church, the Unification Church, or the Church of God.”
It is likely that Post also felt there was a sense of community lost in Vassar’s increasing religious insularity. Upon the appointment of a new chaplain in 1981, Post published a note in the September 1981 Quarterly urging faculty, administration and students to reconsider. He reflected that in his time at the college, “students attended chapel or attended the Methodist, Catholic, Episcopalian, or Christian Science churches within easy walking distance of the college.” The continuation of a permanent chaplain, he said, would alienate students from the rest of the Poughkeepsie community.
Of course, the college’s expansion had already begun to spoil the strong sense of community that Post remembered from his early days on Vassar’s campus. Gordon Post left Vassar in 1969, the year that the college instituted its most major expansion by becoming coeducational. Post’s decision to move to Wells—a women’s college with a student body of only a few hundred—suggests that he felt a close-knit, communal atmosphere was essential.
Post taught at Wells until 1985, when he retired after 52 years of teaching. After his retirement, he moved back to Poughkeepsie, where he died on February 19, 1997 at the age of 95. A memorial service was held that June at the Vassar Chapel, with a remembrance from President Frances Ferguson and a performance from the Vassar Volunteer Choir. He was survived by his wife, Emily Dome; four daughters (Claudia being the eldest); and 12 grandchildren. In June, his former student, Joan Ferguson Ellis ‘51, remembered C. Gordon Post in Vassar Quarterly:
“The death of Professor Gordon Post will cause hundreds of his former students to remember his voice booming forth his principles in the Rocky auditorium. I know I am not alone in realizing as I grow older that what he was teaching us in Administration of Justice and Constitutional Law were not the principles of American government, but the bedrock of human civility. His determination to reach us on that level was delivered with unforgettable drama and flair. Mr. Post was teacher, adviser, friend, and performer to several generations. What a legacy that is.”
MacCracken, Henry Noble and Charles Gordon Post. Fair Play; An Introduction to Race and Group Relations. Poughkeepsie: Vassar College, 1942.
Post, Charles Gordon, ed. Significant Cases in British Constitutional Law. New York: The Liberal Arts Press, 1957.
“Mr. Post Explains Need of Combating Anti-Jewish Trend,” Miscellany News, vol. XXI, no. 15, November 14, 1936.
Hofrichter, Ruth. "D. P. Presents Ernst Toller's Anti-War Play, Miscellany News, vol. XXI, no.32, March 3, 1937.
“Lydia Davis, Almira Ford Win Contest to Name Alumnae House Eating Room,” Miscellany News, vol. XXIII, no. 29, February 11, 1939.
“MacCracken and Post Write Booklet: ‘An Introduction to Civil Liberties,’ Miscellany News, vol. XXV, no. 29, February 5, 1941.
Safarik, Phyllis. “Faculty Gets Little Rest in Summer Between Victory Gardens, Teaching,” Miscellany News, vol. XXVIII, no. 4, September 23, 1943.
“Misc Subdues Rival, Nosey News for Sale,” Miscellany News, vol. XXVIII, no. 17, January 27, 1944.
Post, Charles Gordon. “On Capital Punishment,” Vassar Alumnae Magazine, vol. XLIV, no. 2, December 1959.
Post, Charles Gordon. “On Relinquishing Tenure,” Vassar Alumnae Magazine, vol. XLIV, no. 2, December 1959.
Post, Charles Gordon. “Too Much Religion,” Vassar Quarterly, Volume LXXIII, no. 2, January 1, 1977.
Williamson Jr., George. “Witchcraft in the Chapel,” Vassar Quarterly, Volume LXXIII, no. 4, June 1, 1977.
Post, Charles Gordon. “Mr. Post Replies,” Vassar Quarterly, Volume LXXIII, no. 4, June 1, 1977.
Post, Charles Gordon. “No More Chaplains,” Vassar Quarterly, Volume LXXVIII, no. 1, September 2, 1981.
“Post Plays Santa Claus at Children’s Festivities,” Vassar Chronicle, vol. XIII, no. 11, December 10, 1955.
“Meet Our Teachers,” Poughkeepsie Evening Star, May 3, 1941.