Make No Small Plans
A five-year project originally conceived of as a "picture book with a
short essay" has come to fruition in a much more comprehensive form as
the first scholarly history of Skidmore College.
Mary C. Lynn
Written by professor of American Studies Mary C. Lynn, Make No Small
Plansat 489 pages and more than 200 photosis an in-depth look at
the growth and development of Skidmore.
Lynn has traced the chronology of the Young Women's Industrial Club
and the Skidmore School of Arts, the early years of Skidmore College,
the Depression and war years at the College, pivotal changes during
the 1960s and 1970s, and such themes as academics and campus life.
The effort was a collaborative one. Professor of History Patricia
Ann Lee wrote a chapter on college founder Lucy Skidmore Scribner,
there are forewords by President Emeritus David Porter and former
Dean of the Faculty Phyllis Roth, and an afterword by [former] President
Jamienne S. Studley. Scope editor Sue Rosenberg edited the
When college officials asked Lynn to tackle the Skidmore history she
reports, "At first I said no, because this is often a job given to the
oldest living faculty member, and I didn't think I was old enough!" She
agreed to reconsider and after beginning to work, she says that she
realized it needed to be a full-scale research project instead of a
collection of photographs accompanied by a brief essay.
A historian by training, Lynn says one of her biggest hurdles was
learning at the outset of the project that the College archives were
temporarily inaccessible due to the Scribner Library renovation, which
had just started. She nevertheless discovered a silver lining in that
cloud. "It turned out to be a blessing," she explained. "Because I was
forced to search the campus for records, and in North Hall I found two
boxes of material. They were marked 'Skidmore College Historical and
Cultural' and contained letters written by students, staff, and
administrators, about all aspects of College life, from the 1910s
through the 1960s."
After reviewing the material, Lynn thought, "This is pretty exciting."
One folder labeled "The War Years" contained "wonderful, quite touching"
documents. She learned that a small labor crisis developed during the
1940s "when all the housekeepers and waitresses quit working at the
College to take jobs in the defense industry. So the students were
enlisted to perform community service activities in dormitories and
dining halls." One letter told of a housekeeper who found a pistol under
a student's bed. "It turned out to be the student's fiancÚ's dearest
possession and she was keeping it for him for when he returned from the
war," Lynn related.
Lynn had help from student researchers Karen Northrop '96, Kelli Butler '97, and
Krista Senator '99. She and the students spent time at the Saratoga
Springs Public Library, the basement storeroom of the Presbyterian
church, the College archives (after the library reopened) and dusty
closets on campus. One of Lynn's favorite tasks was interviewing people
about their Skidmore recollections. There were about 60 interviews
all together, and some were especially memorable. Says Lynn: "Krista
and I went together to talk to Margaret Paulding (professor emerita
of physical education and former chair of the department). She came
to Skidmore in the late 1930s and here we were, in the late 1990s,
25 years into Margaret's retirement, talking to her about Skidmore.
She still loved Skidmore, and felt that it had given her much to enhance
her life. At the time we spoke to her, Margaret was an elderly woman
who was nearly blind, andas it turned outnear the end
of her life. Yet she was so joyful. We were exhilarated after talking
Here we were, in
the late 1990s, 25 years into Margaret's retirement, talking to her
about Skidmore. ... At the time we spoke to her, Margaret was an
elderly woman who was nearly blind, andas it turned outnear the end
of her life. Yet she was so joyful. We were exhilarated.
Others whose memories had special significance were former first ladies
Ruth Wilson, Anne Palamountain, and Helen Porter. Notes Lynn, "I got a
whole new vision of what life at Skidmore was like for them."
Lynn says she treasures many memories from Skidmore's history, but somelike the tale of Skidmore's only football gametruly shine. The event
took place in 1946 when Skidmore temporarily opened its doors to male
students, many of whom were veterans. The College had two campusesin
Glens Falls and in Saratoga Springswhere men enrolled as day students.
Says Lynn: "They wanted a 'real' college education, which included a
strong athletic experience. So they organized a football team and
challenged the Vassar men to a game. The president of Vassar declined on
behalf of the Vassar men. Finally, the Skidmore football team organized
a game with the Brown Schoola prep school for older men, housed in
what is now the Surrey Williamson Inn.
"Approximately 1,500 people attended the game, which took place on the
old campus athletic field and ended in a scoreless tie. The story was in
the newsreels of the day and according the "Skidmore News," was
reported in more that 300 newspapers."
Other anecdotes resonate because they echo ongoing campus themes. Lynn
recalled a spring 1971 incident in which a group of white and
African-American students seized the office of then-President Joe
Palamountain and demanded the establishment of an Afro-American studies
department and the enrollment of more minority students. She explains,
"The college was in terrible financial condition at the time and not
very responsive to the students' demands. In fact, the college obtained
a court injunction to end the occupation of the president's office. But
these students were both determined and committed to make Skidmore more
ethnically diverse, so about six months later some of then spent their
January Winter Term working to recruit students of color. And while it
was not a wholly successful initiative, it did give the students an idea
of the difficulties involved in trying to effect a major change."
One student who spent January 1972 working to make Skidmore a better
place was current Trustee Linda Jackson-Chalmer '73, who, according to
the book, "noted that her activism 'shows how much we liked the
College,' as she and others worked to help Skidmore become more diverse,
rather than giving up and transferring to another college."
Now that her task is finished, Lynn is reluctant to indicate which part
of the job was her favorite. "Both the research and the writing were a
lot of fun," she acknowledged. "The research was wonderful in terms of
finding out stuff. I've always loved whodunits, and there was a lot of
that. But the writing was a way to impose some order on a whole lot of
chaotic information. I've weighed evidence and data and hope that I've
made convincing arguments."
In addition to her writing and research collaborators, Lynn says she is
especially grateful for "two people who made the project possible":
Rosenberg, her editor, "who made my prose so much better"; and Michele
Dunkerley '80, whose 20th-reunion gift to the College subsidized the
book's publication. Lynn called Dunkerley "a terrific woman who was a
bright and lively student. Her contribution means we can offer this book
to a broader audience, including current students."
Make No Small Plans is on sale at the Skidmore Shop (ext. 5490) or online.
(Reprinted from the December 18-31, 2000, issue of Skidmore Intercom.)
Creative Thought Matters.