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Interpreting Lucy Scribner


The Skidmore of long ago was shared with alumni this spring, courtesy of a Reunion minicollege on the new book In Her Own Words: The Date Books of Lucy Skidmore Scribner, Founder of Skidmore College.


The founder’s date books from 1916 until her death in 1931 reveal details about the school, Saratoga Springs, and the wider world inhabited by a remark- able woman on a mission. Former Skid- more first lady Helen Porter meticulous- ly transcribed the entries and surround- ed them with newspaper clippings, archival photos, and other cultural refer- ences culled from literally years of re- search. David Porter, Skidmore’s presi- dent from 1987 to 1999 and currently the Tisch Family Distinguished Professor in the classics department, added further context with supplementary narrative. And the two inserted explanatory notes throughout the entries. Lucy Scribner’s jottings range from the quotidian to the extraordinary. She notes the weather, her walks and errands, her dining companions, her trips to New York City and Atlantic City, and myriad Skidmore details—faculty lectures, trustee meetings, building alterations, fundraising dinners, commencement celebrations, and seemingly endless


8NEW SLANT


The Lar Lubovitch Dance Company has


been hailed as both fluid and effervescent, and it brought that signature fizz to its Skidmore summer resi- dency and to SaratogaArts- Fest. Along with a major ArtsFest show at the Sarato- ga Performing Arts Center, the troupe’s visit included a talk with choreographer Lubovitch at the National Museum of Dance and three weeks of intensive work- shops, master classes, and lecture/demonstrations in Skidmore’s Dance Center. —SR


10 SCOPE FALL 2011


trips to the bank for loans to fund the school’s operation. She refers to her illnesses, the hotel rooms she likes and the rare speaker or musi- cian she does not like, sermons well delivered and friends much loved, her great affection for Saratoga Springs, and the larger sweep of his- toric events. For May 25, 1918, she wrote: “Saw Pres. Keyes at Skidmore. Enrolled as a voter Republican. Grad- uate Music Recital.” On November 11, 1918, her entry reads: “From Wash- ington authority War over. Motored in evening parade with Pres. & Mrs. Keyes, Dean Ross, Mrs. Yetter and Annie.”


Helen Porter, who devised her own system to decipher the founder’s often inscrutable handwriting, was surprised and impressed by how full Mrs. Scrib - ner’s days were. “Back then, being in your late 60s, you were old,” Helen says. “And when you see what she did, it’s all pretty mind-boggling.” And so was the Port ers’ work in preparing it for publi - cation. Once Helen starting looking through the date books in the late 1990s as part of her research into Scribner House (used by Skidmore as the presi- dent’s home), an extraordinary story quickly emerged that “cast all sorts of


light on Lucy, on the history of the Col- lege, and on the history of the times,” David says. The work grew into a com- prehensive transcription and interpreta- tion project, and they agreed to collabo- rate on a book.


The date books from 1903 to 1915 have never been found. But should they turn up, says Helen, “I would transcribe them—in a heartbeat.” In Her Own Words is available through the Skidmore Shop for $25; all proceeds support student scholarships. —KG


TODD ROSENBERG


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