I was invited to a celebration of her life and works at the New York Historical Society. Also present and among those delivering remarks was Elizabeth Bradley, Vassar’s brand-new president, and Tyne Daly, a trustee of the Millay Society, sporting bright pink socks beneath her black dress.
Many photographs were shown including those of Millay’s home, Steepletop, in Austerlitz, NY. I remember visiting the house a few years ago and finding it dark and cramped. Apparently Norma, Millay’s sister, lived there after Vincent’s death, keeping the house exactly as it was as a shrine to her sister.
President Bradley told a great story about a run- in Vincent had with the then-Vassar president, Henry Noble MacCracken. Vincent, who considered herself except from college rules and regs, had cut classes saying she was ill but had actually been away from campus—a big no-no. Vassar wasn’t going to permit her to graduate with her class, (although, in response to a petition from the class, they did.) Vincent called MacCracken “Prexy” which probably wasn’t as rude as it sounds, and told him she’d been absent from class “in great pain from a poem.” Far as I know he didn’t flip her the bird. Why her talent should enable her to act outside the regulations beats me.
Vincent was openly bi-sexual and flaunted it. When she married, both parties had relationships with many people—a very open marriage albeit a long one. The feature I liked best at Steepletop was the pool that pre-dates today’s infinity pools with tall grasses
around it. Millay and Eugen Boissevain, her husband, loved hosting pool parties where bathing suits were rarely worn. (Not shocking today but back then?) She was beautiful, talented, won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1923 and sounds like a difficult person all around. I admire her abilities but wonder if I would have enjoyed her company.
It’s not easy finding a food recipe for Vincent’s period—everything focuses on alcohol. Here is a little gem theoretically for breakfast:
Ham for Breakfast
Chop 1 cup cold boiled ham very fine. Heat together the ham, about 1 Tsp butter, 2 Tbls water, ½ tsp mustard.
Make toast and butter. Put spoonful of the hot ham mixture on each slice of toast spreading evenly and serve hot.
The logical beverage would be gin but even Prexy would approve of coffee.