VAZQUEZ: Our past and where we’re going

I was enjoying one of the most old blue of Yale traditions two nights ago, when Cole Porter’s name tag appeared in the YSO Halloween Show. “Who is that?” the kid behind me asked.

The question made me wonder how much of our Yale history has been lost. He also asked what Vassar had to do with Yale. I was astounded by his ignorance. Maybe it’s time that we all take Yale & America.

Today we celebrate Elihu Day. We commemorate the namesake of our university and, more broadly, a day we should take to reflect on our forebears, those who studied, sang and worked where we do now. We should find it important to look back on the history of this place, our Yale.

We have some vague notions of figures after which our residential colleges were named, like Ezra Stiles and Jonathan Edwards. The familiar characters of 20th century Yale make the occasional appearance at the YSO show and in our history courses; the Henry Luces and the Elia Kazans receive the occasional nod. But we know very little about the great number of Yalies who formed our society and to whom we owe much of our modern world.

We should start with Elihu Yale, the man who made a donation 293 years ago to jump-start the university. Yale was born in America, travelled across the British Empire from Africa to India and eventually settled down in London. He was one of the earliest proponents of the globalizing world.

In today’s vastly more global society, the goals of our university parallel those of Elihu Yale three centuries ago. The administration has made it a priority to give students ample opportunities for international immersion. Yalies in the last decade have studied abroad in unprecedented numbers, experiences that will make them more globally conscious.

Yale’s greatness is tied to the culture of donors that have helped uphold its status as a center of liberal arts and scientific breakthroughs. The old School of Fine Arts, Street Hall, which is currently under construction, was the first higher education fine arts school in the country — the product of a donation in the 19th century. The residential colleges that have come to define our university at its very core were funded by the Harkness family in 1930.

But these large scale projects started by Yale greats can only be maintained with the support of generations of Yalies. We would not find ourselves at a Yale with such a bounty of resources had it not been for that initial donation nearly three centuries ago.

This year, Yale concluded a campaign to continue investing in its greatest asset: the student body. The close to $3.9 billion raised over the last five years will go towards building the new residential colleges, renovating Yale art facilities and lessening the financial burden of a Yale education. But if we hope to continue our mission, to become a truly global university, we must garner that same support in the future. Giving back to Yale after graduation is an important commitment, one that we made with our fellow Yalies on the first days we walked across Phelps gate onto Old Campus in the fall of freshman year.

Today, we honor our first benefactor — as well as the countless others who have contributed to make Yale what it is today — in the hope that we can do the same for future Yalies. Thankfully, Yale alumni continue to fervently support their alma mater regardless of its changing nature. They believe in a greater Yale community, one that encompasses members of the Greatest Generation, Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers and us.

Next time you step into a building, you should take a moment to reflect on the person that building is named after. You might discover that he or she was the first to discover the uses of petroleum or the inventor of the telegraph. For better or for worse, the John C . Calhouns and Hiram Binghams are a part of our institutional memory — one that we all have the opportunity to expand upon.


  • River_Tam

    I’m going to be honest, I know who Cole Porter was, but for the life of me I can’t name a single thing he wrote.

  • The Anti-Yale

    *worked where we do now*

    My grandfather, LeRoy Ward* laid the hardwood floors in Strathcona Hall. Does that count, or do only the academic accomplishments of the big shots around Elihu’s Empire count as “work”?

    Paul D. Keane

    *His widow lived two blocks from Yale in a third-floor walk-up with no hot water at Elm and State Streets until she was 70 years old.

  • River_Tam

    > My grandfather, LeRoy Ward* laid the hardwood floors in Strathcona Hall. Does that count, or do only the academic accomplishments of the big shots around Elihu’s Empire count as “work”?

    Come now, Paul. We need not interact with our floor-layers in the same way that we interact with our sisters or our childhood best friends.

  • The Anti-Yale

    ***Touché !***

  • joematcha

    @Paul, I love that you know that. I wonder if there has been any effort in the past or even now to collect that kind of history. It would be fascinating on a number of levels.

  • InterestedInBiology

    Christian, did you take Yale & America?

  • The Anti-Yale

    Every week of my childhood we drove in from Mt. Carmel to my Grandmother’s ghetto apartment two blocks from Yale to bring my Grandmother to Sunday dinner back in Mt. Carmel. My mother would say, as we drove past Strathcona, “Your Grandfather Ward laid the hardwood floors in that building.”

    I have never repeated that story in the last 60 years until the previous post yesterday, I believe. It is a great personal satisfaction to think that someone found it intersting and also to write my Grandfather’s name, LeRoy Ward, which has probably not been written or uttered for half a century.

    Thank you, Joematcha.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Here’s another bit of Yale trivia. My Hamden childhood pal’s father, Henry Pfisterer, was the enginerer for the Empire State Building. He told us that he had to design into the structure an ability for it to sway one foot in all four directions at the top of the building to accommodate the rotation of the planet, otherwise it would fall over! He was an adjunct prof in the Architecture School.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Here’s another piece of Yale history: A theology professor at Yale, Douglas Clyde Macintosh, took on the U.S. government in the Supreme Court , over the supremacy of government over religion.
    United States v. Macintosh

    283 U.S. 605 (1931)

    Facts of the Case:

    A Canadian citizen wanted to become a naturalized U.S. citizen, but he refused to pledge to take up arms in defense of his country. He would only fight for his country if he thought the war was morally justified. On his citizenship application he wrote, �I am willing to do what I judge to be in the best interests of my country, but only in so far as I can believe that this is not going to be against the best interests of humanity in the long run. I do not undertake to support ‘my country, right or wrong’ in any dispute which may arise, and I am not willing to promise beforehand, and without knowing the cause for which my country may go to war, either that I will or that I will not ‘take up arms in defense of this country,’ however ‘necessary’ the war may seem to be to the Government of the day.� While he was willing to give allegiance to the United States, he was not willing to put that ahead of his allegiance to God.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Here’s a fourth for your Yale Trivia Quiz: : In 1977, thirty years before the category transgender became fashionable, Yale Divinity School was the site of the first lecture in Yale’s history by a transvestite on the subject of transvestitism: the actor and playwright, Quentin Crisp.

  • The Anti-Yale

    What Yale 1984 revealed on CBS’s “60 Minutes” to 20 million viewers for the first time the news that AIDS could be transmitted by a woman as well as by a man? Answer: Dr. John Dwyer, Head of Immunology at Yale New Haven Hospital.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Six: What famous Yale scholar carried a typewriter equipped with Greek and olde English characters on his back like a backpack all over Europe to transcribe documents before the invention of the xerox machine?
    Answer: Roland H. Bainton, Titus Street Professor of Ecclesiastical History and the author of “here I Stand” Abbingdon Press’s all time best seller, the biography of Martin Luther.

  • The Anti-Yale


    When Lord Byron was exhumed to determine which of his legs was shorter then the other, that post-post-mortem took the extraordinary step of rcording the dimensions of every possible measurable on his body, including his alleged infamous record-breaking reproductive measurable. Where can that data be found at Yale?
    Answer: Sterling Memorial Library and its subsidiaries.

  • The Anti-Yale


    True or False?

    ] When a world famous scholar and prolific published writer at Yale developed Alzheimer’s in his middle to late 50’s in the late 1970’s early 1980’s and could no longer lecture, Yale refused to grant him early retirement and said that the only way he could maintain his position and salary was if he met all of his classes.

    He had one year to go before he qualified for retirement, so kindhearted colleagues ouwitted the cold administrators led the distinguished gentleman around to each of his classes which he greeted with a “good day” and then took him back to his office. He died when he wandered from his office into New Haven trafic and was hit by a car.

    TRUE. (Astonishingly true.)