Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Reggie's Three College 25th Reunions, Part III: Vassar Class of 1985

Perhaps much to the relief of some of the readers of my blog, this essay is my last on the three college 25th reunions I have attended over the years.  My purpose in writing this series, Dear Reader, is to chronicle how much one aspect of the world I come from has changed during my lifetime, and—in my view—for the better . . .

Vassar Class of 1985 25th Reunion

In addition to coming from a family where Yale figures prominently among the men, Vassar figures prominently among the women.  My father’s mother, known as Granny Darling, went to Vassar (class of 1913) and initiated the first Yale/Vassar marriage in my family when she married my grandfather, Yale class of 1911.  She dearly hoped that one of her offspring would continue the tradition.  My Aunt Mary (her daughter), Vassar class of 1941, was the first to frustrate that wish when she married outside the fold (headstrong girl!), and my father disappointed, too, when he married my mother, Sarah Lawrence class of 1943.  After both of my Vassar-educated cousins (classes of 1967 and 1972) failed to marry Yale men, Granny then looked, with mounting desperation, to her two grandsons with Yale potential (my older brother Frecky and me) to remedy this unfortunate situation.  She was further frustrated when Frecky (Yale class of 1974) married a Brown graduate shortly after finishing Yale.
An early postcard of Vassar's Main Building, taken prior to
when the later porte-cochère was removed

I was, then, her remaining hope for such a felicitous union.  More than once when I was an undergraduate at Yale my Granny Darling gently admonished me to be sure to “look up a nice Vassar girl” in the hopes of achieving her goal.  Unfortunately, Granny Darling died before I graduated from Yale and long before I met, and then married, Boy Fenwick, Vassar class of 1985.

Granny Darling was in the Vassar Daisy Chain in 1911
around the time this photograph was taken
Image courtesy of Mount Holyoke Archives

I can just imagine hearing my dear Granny’s reaction upon learning that one of her Yale-educated grandsons had indeed married a Vassar graduate (“At last! What joy!”), followed by her surprise when she learned that I had, in fact, married a Vassar Guy and not a Vassar Girl (“He married WHAT?!”).  I am fairly confident that Granny would have eventually come around after her initial shock wore off, since at least it is a Yale/Vassar union after all . . . it’s just not exactly how she had envisioned it.

The main gate entry onto the Vassar campus
Image courtesy of US GenWeb

So when I joined Boy at his Vassar 25th reunion last year, I did so more than solely as his spouse, but with an added appreciation of that college’s history, traditions, and its meaning to my family.  I enjoyed myself at his reunion, and I had a lot of fun there meeting his college friends and seeing the places on campus where he had once lived, studied and frolicked.  I also thought of my dear Granny Darling and the other Vassar women in my family when I walked around the campus, and I felt a pleasant connection with them and to the school that extended beyond the pleasure that I took in joining Boy there as he and his classmates celebrated.

An early 1900s postcard of Vassar's president's house

Even though Boy graduated from college only six years after I did, his experience at Vassar was quite different from mine at Yale.  For one thing, the majority of his classmates were female (55% to Yale’s 40% when I was there), which is not surprising, given its history.  Also, his classmates were a somewhat more diverse group of people than mine had been at Yale, at least they appeared to me at his reunion.  Finally, attitudes towards being gay had relaxed considerably by the time he enrolled at Vassar, and he was out as a gay man from the moment he arrived there as a freshman.

I think this is more of what my dear Granny Darling had in mind...

As I sat at our table under the large white tent during the big class dinner at Boy’s 25th reunion, I felt glad to be there with him and his friends who welcomed me with civility and good humor.  I also felt a connection with my dear Granny Darling, and was amused that her wish for another Yale/Vassar marriage had finally come true, albeit not quite how she had planned it.  And I felt very fortunate, indeed, that the world had evolved in my lifetime to such a point that I could happily find myself there with my beloved spouse, under the circumstances that I did.

All postcards, except where noted, courtesy of


  1. Hello Reggie:
    "All's well that ends well" as they say! What intriguing twists and turns Life takes, but overall, it is so good that diversity in its widest sense has made great strides in the later years of the C20. For that, we should all be grateful.

  2. I laughed aloud hearing your Granny exclaiming: "He married WHAT!"....and perhaps spilling her Sherry...
    Undoubtedly she would have come around to acceptance and even pride considering that you chose a Vassar grad as companion.
    This reader enjoyed the Reunion series very much...thank you.

  3. Wonderful and romantic!

  4. Sweet brother, the posts have been quite moving. Many years ago, the horror I felt upon realizing that many aspects of life that I took for granted were denied to you impelled me to become much more outspoken in my support of all basic rights for all humans.

    all my love, Camilla

    PS There is also a strong Sarah Lawrence tradition in the Darling family as both MD & I attended the college. And I actually got my degree.

  5. The difference in social climate between my high school experience and my brother's, though only separated by 4 years, could not be more dramatic. When I graduated in 2000 from my progressive, public, highly selective and self-proclaimed liberal high school, there were still psychology teachers who would speak openly during class about the gay agenda and science teachers who would lecture on the evolutionary worthlessness of gays, and by extension social worthlessness of gays (talk about a nice segue to eugenics).

    The social scene was nonviolent, but discouraging -- when I came out in my junior year, there was no one for me to date, due more to social pressures than actual availability of guys in my class who were gay. (The number of guys who I had crushes on in HS who actually turned out to be gay is heartbreaking -- we could all have had so much more fun.) By contrast my straight brother, who graduated in 2004 from a school nearly identical in disposition to mine, heard little of the hate speech expressed in class, and the few times he did my brother challenged the position of his teachers until he was asked to leave the class -- on one such occasion, the entire class left with my brother. I was so proud.

    The influence of the old guard on the young is weakening, and by now I would guess is dead in many places. The polls on acceptance of and support of gay issues that look at the age of those polled are telling -- with each year, the youth could care less. I love watching the ancient protesters who show up each time RI consider a bill for marriage equality -- and each year the issue comes up, there are fewer of them. We are witnessing the literal death of one form of hate.

    Sorry for the rant, but your essays made me think of all this again. And I spoke only of HS because in college the entire issue of sexuality was moot -- almost passe to discuss.

    What a difference a few years makes! As always, excellent reading, and congrats on your Vassar/Yale union.

  6. I've really enjoyed this mini series. It's nice to see how much life has changed in the last couple of decades.

  7. J&LHattat: Thank you, that is an excellent summary "All's well that ends well." I like it! Would that be the case for more of my gay brethren and sisters. And, increasingly is, at least here in America and in other enlightened nations.

    MLS: I am glad you enjoyed this series, and that my dear Granny Darling's surprised response was amusing to you, as I intended it to be. She lived up to her name, and was, in fact, a dear darling Granny, and managed her life with grace. I am confident she would have come around on this issue, as she did on so many others in her lifetime. How did you know she was, in fact, a sherry drinker? That is, when she drank at all, which was rarely.

    Anon 3:54: Thank you.

    Farrell and Lauren: Thank you, and welcome.

    Dear Sister: Your unfailing support of me has been one of the great honors of my life, as is having you as my dear (and darling) sister. Thank you.

    Nick Heywood: Thank you very much for your detailed, thoughtful, and informative comment. It is heartening, indeed, to read how much has changed in HS, a lonely place in that regard for many of my generation, indeed. If it was not hospitable for me to come out at Yale, I can't even imagine how unfathomable it would have been for me to come out when I was at Saint Grottlesex, in the first half of the 1970s. I hadn't even figured it out back then that what I was was gay, and there were zero, and I mean, zero, positive role models for such lads as I in those days. Your brother (and his classmates all) was a hero to stand up to that teacher in the way that he did.

    The Murphys: Welcome, and thank you for your comment (and support).

  8. oh reggie, you are such a great writer.
    how's pompey..? what has he been up to?
    best, ulla

  9. Reggie- judging by your school dates , I think we are about the same age- I look back on my early years as a scared , gay teenager and think "How far we have come"!!!!- the most heartbreaking thing I remember is a fire bombing of a gay bar in New Orleans in the early 1970's (72?)- THe police wouldn't investigate ,churches wouldn't bury the dead and some of the bodies went unclaimed buy the families who were too ashamed- However , a very few years later , my sister, who is an an attorney, prosecuted a "Gay Panic" -"He came onto me so I killed him" murder defense and won, It was one of the first convictions against that defense ever won-

  10. Reggie- Yes. I think your beloved granny would have come round. And would smile as broadly as I am now reading your story. Kind regards- Daniel

  11. Replies
    1. Not quite sure what you mean by this, Anon. I believe I have a life, as evidenced by this blog and post. Tell, me, what's yours?


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