Vassar Today

An Unusual Bequest

By Sarah E. Brown '09

When Beth Hughes was given a Vassar College graduation pin that had belonged to a friend’s mother, Ethel Marie Burr, class of 1909, she knew she had a unique treasure on her hands. The tiny pin is shaped like an owl wearing the numbers “09” over its eyes like spectacles, with the initials “E.M.B.” on its back. (Hughes, a history teacher, had also been given Burr’s Vassarion, which she liked to show to her students.) As the hundredth anniversary of Burr’s Vassar graduation approached, Hughes wanted to do something special with the pin — perhaps to present it to a member of this new century’s Vassar ’09ers.

With help from AAVC Director of Alumnae/i Relations for Programs Cathy Lunn, Hughes found just one member of the class of 2009 with Burr’s initials — Elizabeth Marta Bock.

After meeting with Bock, an art history and political science double major, Lunn said she knew she had found the right person for the pin, regardless of the serendipitously matching monogram. “She told me that she had come to Vassar because of the history,” Lunn recalls, “and now she will have a part of it.”

Elizabeth Marta Bock '09
Elizabeth Marta Bock '09

Bock happened to work in Vassar’s special collections library and took the opportunity to look up Burr’s biographical file, hoping to learn more about her. Ethel Marie Burr — the great-grandniece of U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr — “seemed like a very fascinating woman, who read and traveled a great deal,” she says.

Bock received the pin during Vassar’s 2009 Commencement ceremony. AAVC President Meg Venecek Johnson ’84 spoke of the item and its history in her remarks that day, after noting that graduation was the moment when the class of 2009 became not just the “beneficiaries of Vassar traditions,” but also “the guardians of those very same traditions.” She asked Bock to take “good care”
of the pin — it is, she said, “due back before the class of 2109 walks across this stage.”

Elizabeth Marta Bock plans to attend law school next year at the University of Michigan.

— Sarah E. Brown ’09

This article originally appeared in the June 2009 installment of This Is Vassar…, the eNewsletter for Vassar alumnae/i.

Photo Credits: Todd Shapera '79
Have comments about this article? Email