Vassar College and the MMA have lost a treasure. For the MMA, it is the loss of another friend. Betty Daniels was the Vassar College historian for at least twenty years. Before that, she had been a professor of English at Vassar, also serving as dean (several times in various capacities) and head of the English Department. Before that, she was a Vassar student. Except for the years she earned her master’s Betty was always at Vassar, commuting to NYC for many years to get her Ph.D. while teaching at Vassar.
I came to know Betty because of her work as the Vassar College historian, a post she took up (she was the college’s first historian) after retiring from the English Department. I am not sure when I first knew of her or spoke with her, but we consulted one another from time- to-time about all things Maria. Maybe eight years ago, I finally had the opportunity to visit Vassar to work in the archives. Betty and I met, had Maria and Vassar discussions, and went out for a lovely dinner. When I found a particular something in the Maria Mitchell papers that were left at Vassar by Maria’s sister and niece, I was very excited and knew of the only other person at Vassar who would share in my excitement, Betty. And she did! When she was on island to visit her son, she usually stopped by the MMA and we would have a brief catch-up.
She was a remarkable woman. Like Maria, she accomplished a great deal in a time when women were still expected to remain at home. Think about raising four children in the late 1940s and 1950s, teaching at Vassar, and also working for something like seven years towards your Ph.D., this at a time when people were a lot less supportive of such a situation. I think Maria Mitchell and she had a lot in common.
While I knew Betty only a little bit, I feel that a piece of her will always be with me. I learned from her and she serves as an inspiration. Thank you, Betty.
To learn more about this remarkable woman, you can visit the “Vassar College Encyclopedia” at: http://vcencyclopedia.vassar.edu/about/index.html and read this piece about her from 2003 in the “Vassar Quarterly:” http://vq.vassar.edu/issues/2003/04/features/living-history.html
“The step, however small, which is in advance of the world, shows the greatness of the person, whether that step be taken with brain, with heart, or with hands.” Maria Mitchell