1937 Honorary Degree Recipients with Chancellor Harry Woodburn Chase
Edna St. Vincent Millay is front row, center

In 1937, NYU invited Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Edna St. Vincent Millay to receive an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters and to dine with Mrs. Harry Woodburn Chase, the Chancellor's wife, on the night before Commencement. Millay replied that she was "happy and proud" to accept both invitations. Her sentiments changed, however, when she discovered that while she dined with Mrs. Chase, the other honorary degree recipients, all men, would be the guests of honor at the the Council’s annual pre-commencement banquet at the Waldorf-Astoria. Incensed at the apparent discrimination, she wrote in a letter to Harold Voorhis, the Secretary of New York University, “on an occasion, then, on which I shall be present solely for reasons of scholarship, I am solely, for reasons of sex, to be excluded from the company and the conversation of my fellow-doctors...I register this objection not for myself personally, but for all women." She went on to ask that in the future no woman "be required to swallow from the very cup of this honour, the gall of this humiliation.” Millay won the sympathy of some committee members, including the chairman, William M. Kingsley, who even before Millay knew about the banquet, had requested that she be invited to it. Nevertheless, as Voorhis put it, the University "was not yet ready to break the tradition of the Council dinner by admitting the ladies, at least so long as we still confine our Council membership to the sterner sex."

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