To honor the 100th anniversary of the graduation of one its most famous alumnae, Vassar College is hosting a special exhibition on the life of Edna St. Vincent Millay, acclaimed Jazz Age poet. Edna St. Vincent Millay: Treasures From Steepletop will be on view January 25-June 11 in the Thompson Memorial Library and the Art Library. This exhibition is free and open to the public.
The exhibition brings artifacts from Millay’s beloved home, Steepletop, an estate in Austerlitz, New York, which is now a museum, to Vassar to bridge two places of importance in the poet’s life. The show, which is organized by season, features candid photos of Millay’s life at Steepletop, excerpts from her letters, first edition books, and poems relevant to each season. Also featured are numerous personal items, including Millay’s traveling typewriter, her hunting rifle, china and crystal, and jewelry.
“Millay’s legacy at Vassar is significant. She is one of Vassar’s most important literary alumnae,” explains Special Collections Librarian Ronald Patkus, who assisted members of the Edna St. Vincent Millay Society in organizing the exhibition. “Treasures from Steepletop provides a special opportunity to view artifacts from Millay’s life as well as her personal writings here in Poughkeepsie. The exhibition also commemorates the 125th anniversary of her birth.”
Millay—called Vincent by family and friends—was a talented, spirited, at times overly dramatic adolescent who loved being outdoors. She was just nineteen when she published on of her most famous poems, “Renascence” in 1912. She attended Vassar from 1913-1917, where she honed her acting skills in plays and pageants, some of which she composed herself. In the post-World War I era, Millay emerged as a major figure in the cultural life of Greenwich Village, when the Village served as an incubator of every important American literary, artistic, and political movement of the period. Millay’s work and life came to represent the modern, liberated woman of the Jazz Age, free of the restrictions of the past, as represented in her famous line of poetry, “My candle burns at both ends…” In 1923 she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her work.
Shortly after, in 1925, Millay purchased the abandoned berry farm that she would name Steepletop, as a way to escape her bustling life in Manhattan. She explained the decision to a Boston Globe reporter, “I cannot write in New York. It is awfully exciting there and I find lots of things to write about and I accumulate many ideas, but I have to go away where it is quiet.”
Holly Peppe, Millay’s Literary Executor and a Millay scholar, says she and her colleagues on the Millay Society Board were happy to see the groundbreaking poet recognized by her alma mater. “The first woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, Millay lived and wrote by her own rules, which gives her life and work special resonance today for students and other readers too,” Dr. Peppe says. “Under the direction of Millay Society Vice President Mark O’Berski, who curated the exhibition, we’ve assembled artifacts that reflect the Bohemian lifestyle Millay and her friends enjoyed on the Steepletop hill, from swimming ‘au naturel’ in a spring-fed pool to partying at an outdoor bar where, in Millay’s words, ‘the flowers were watered with gin.’”
In May, a small exhibition, Millay at Vassar, will open at Steepletop. The exhibition will feature original and reproduced examples of Millay’s works from Vassar’s archives, curated by Gretchen Lieb, Vassar’s Reference Librarian. Visit the exhibition website to learn more.
ABOUT THE FREDERICK FERRIS THOMPSON MEMORIAL LIBRARY
The Thompson Memorial Library is consistently listed as one of the most beautiful college libraries in the world, and with its abundant natural light is a particularly suitable venue for an exhibition of glass art. Perhaps the building’s most distinctive feature is the massive Cornaro stained-glass window that illuminates the library’s main hall and depicts the conferring of the first doctorate to a woman, awarded to Lady Elena Lucretia Cornaro-Piscopia by the University of Padua in in 1678.
ABOUT THE EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY SOCIETY AT STEEPLETOP
The Edna St. Vincent Millay Society is based at Steepletop, which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1972. The mission of the Society and the Friends of Millay supporter program is “to illuminate the life and writings of Edna St. Vincent Millay and to preserve and interpret the character of Steepletop, her home and gardens, places where nature inspires the creative spirit.”
Steepletop is open to visitors for tours and other events from May through October. Though restoration is ongoing, Millay’s furniture and personal possessions are on display in the house and the grounds are lined with paths for easy viewing. Visitors can tour the house and gardens, enjoy the Exhibition Gallery, and walk the Poetry Trail, a wood road leading to the Millay family gravesites that is marked at intervals with Millay’s poems. Learn more at http://millay.org.
Vassar College strives to make its events, performances, and facilities accessible to all. Individuals with disabilities requiring special accommodations must contact the Office of Campus Activities at least 48 hours in advance of an event, Mondays-Fridays, at (845) 437-5370. Without sufficient notice, appropriate space/and or assistance may not be available. For detailed information about accessibility to specific campus facilities, search for “campus accessibility information” on the Vassar homepage (http://www.vassar.edu).
Directions to the Vassar campus, located at 124 Raymond Avenue in Poughkeepsie, NY, are available at www.vassar.edu/directions.Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.