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Choices and Changes

From the popular culture perspective of marriage, the most compelling reason for two people to marry today is because they have fallen in love. But the narratives here also tell the story of some practical reasons to get married, the reasons why a marriage does or doesn’t last, and limitations on who can marry whom.

For a woman in the mid-nineteenth century, like our earliest bride Margaret A. Heminway (dress #12), there were few options outside of marriage, but little control within marriage. A century later, Mary Lee McPhillips Hartzell (Vassar class of 1953) (dress #2) had more choices, and attended law school after graduation, but then chose to focus on raising her family.

Another 40 years later, Willa McCarthy (Vassar class of 1992) (dress #11) had even more choices, but still felt pressure to follow the expected timeline of marriage, home ownership, child-bearing, and career. Then another choice remained - the choice to divorce. There are many stories around this room of bittersweet memories of a dress worn for a wedding for a marriage that didn’t last.

Drew Minter (Lecturer of Music) and Jim Ruff (outfits #13 and #14) were together for 15 years, but didn’t have the choice of legal marriage until same-sex marriage became legal in New York state in June of 2011.

- Arden Kirkland (Vassar class of 1993)


“I do think it’s a wonderful thing how marriage is changing now and allowing more of us to take part in it because it is, it really is a wonderful blessing, I would say.” - Jim Ruff, husband of Drew Minter, Lecturer of Music

“People ask me why Clint and I married after such a long time together unmarried.  We like to say it was to make two very special people -- our accountant and our lawyer -- happy. “ - Dorothy “Dar” Titus Webb (Vassar class of 1968)

“Then we got married and I started to go to my second year of law school at Pace Western Reserve in Ohio. But I very much wanted to have a family and so I became pregnant with our oldest son Neil and it was very difficult to...I was the only one in the class and there I was pregnant. A lot of made fun of. It about discrimination. There definitely was discrimination. So I stopped going and then had all those children.” - Mary Lee McPhillips Hartzell (Vassar class of 1953)

“I feel like that dress represents a chapter of my life that is long behind me.” -Willa McCarthy (Vassar class of 1992)