Vassar Quarterly - Spring/Summer 2017 - 44
THE VASSAR DIASPORA
According to legend, the Vassar College Night
Owls was founded in 1942 during a polio
outbreak that forced the school to quarantine
its students. Sixteen intrepid young women
snuck out of their dorms in the middle of the
night, all dressed in black, to practice singing in the library; their plan was to serenade
their sick classmates.
Thus, Vassar's first a cappella group was
born. The group is one of the oldest all-women's a cappella groups in the United States.
Vassar students have continued the tradition, and in late March, alumnae from as far
back as the '60s and as far away as Arizona
gathered in New York City to celebrate the
Night Owls' 75-year anniversary with
current members. About 60 people attended.
As part of the evening's entertainment,
current Night Owls, who had just ended
a week-long tour in Boston, performed.
The group's business manager, Jacqui
Anders '19, lead organizer of the event, says,
"When we started putting this together, we
were worried no one would come and/or no
one would sing along, but that worry disappeared once we started singing the older songs!"
"Many of us couldn't help but sing along
to the old favorites," says Karen Strain Smythe
'82, who had served as the business manager
of the group when she was a student. "Everyone sang as though they had rehearsed it
Many of us couldn't help but
sing along to the old favorites.
- Karen Strain Smythe '82
The traditions run deep, Smythe says.
She found it amusing that the notion of
wearing black is so strong that the majority of
the guests at this event were dressed in black
without any notice to do so. "We just knew,"
"It was incredible and inspiring to see and
hear our history," Anders notes. "There were
some alums who had sung the same solos as
a couple of the current Night Owls, so they
shared stories and compared notes about
how the songs were the same or different."
Elizabeth Kaledin '84, who reconnected
with Smythe and other Night Owls contemporaries at the event, says: "The reunion
was both a wonderful journey back in time
and a reminder of the timelessness of
enduring traditions. The women sang with
the same pitch-perfect musicality, confidence, and sass that I remember loving so
much. There was a modern twist: funkier
outfits, a few more tattoos, hair dyed pink
and blue, and selfies. But if you closed your
eyes to listen, it was the same beautiful,
At the end, when all former Night Owls
were invited up to sing the signature hits,
'Night and Day' and 'Runnin' Wild,' I was
overcome with emotion and couldn't get out
a note! The joy of it all came rushing back to
me like it was yesterday. The young woman
next to me looked at me crying, and without
missing a beat she put her arm around me
and gave me a squeeze. Night Owl sisterhood,
across the generations."
Night Owls, Samuel Stuart / Iceland, Susan Quade / Rebecca Hyde / remainder, courtesy of the subjects
Night Owls Celebrate the Big 7-5!