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A Part of Vassar History: Betty Daniels ’41

This January, Elizabeth “Betty “Adams Daniels—whom some had called “the living embodiment of Vassar History—died at the age of 93 in Middlebury, VT. Betty had been associated with the college—as a student, professor, administrator, and parent of a student—for the better part of 75 years.

“She is a part of who we are and I think we are a part of who she is,” President Catherine Hill noted during an event honoring Betty’s years of service.

Betty began teaching in the English Department at Vassar in 1948. She held many other positions over the course of her 65-year career, including freshman dean, dean of studies, acting dean of the faculty, and chair of the English Department, and Vassar historian.

In the mid 1960s, she played a key role in Vassar’s transition to coeducation. Then dean of studies, she served on the Vassar-Yale Study Committee tasked with exploring the possibility of a merger between the two institutions, and later, she chaired the Committee on Alternatives, exploring the possibility of a coeducational Vassar instead. Once the decision to go coed had been made, she served on the Committee on New Dimensions, developing “The Comprehensive Plan,” including a new curriculum that is the backbone of the Vassar curriculum today.

In 1985 (at the age of 65), Betty “retired for the weekend,” as she put it, and then went to work the following Monday as the first Vassar historian, a position to which she devoted herself for more than 20 years.

Betty authored, coauthored, or edited eight books—seven about the college’s history and presidents. They included Bridges to the World, her book about Henry Noble MacCracken, who had had a profound influence on her—he served as president when she was a student.

In recent years, she created the Vassar online encyclopedia with the assistance of her colleague (and current historian) Colton Johnson and students, leaving future generations the legacy of her vast knowledge of the college.

For her efforts, the Alumnae and Alumni Association of Vassar College awarded her the “Spirit of Vassar” award in 2006. Betty served her class as president many times. Her class funded The Elizabeth Adams Daniels Seminar Room in Special Collections in her honor during its 60th reunion.

Betty maintained a vibrant and active life, playing tennis until her late-80s. She retired—for good in 2012—moving to Vermont to be near her daughter Sherry.

Betty Daniels—a chronicler of Vassar’s history will live on as part of the college’s history through her contributions to her alma mater and through those who are lucky enough to have known her.