An Overview of “College” Coverage in Vermont Life

Vermont Life Volumes 1 – 35

In the seventy-two-year history of Vermont Life, the word “college” appears in 281 out of the 285 total issues of the magazine. During the first half of the magazine’s life (1946-1980), at least 37 articles are specifically about colleges in the state, while others may only mention the word “college” in passing or may be pieces written by “college” students or professors but are not actually about higher education. 

The articles on higher education appear in many forms. One of the most common is a group we can call “anniversary pieces,” articles that celebrate a particular college’s birthday. For example, Vol. 09, Iss. 1 celebrates the “golden anniversary” of St. Michael’s College and Vol. 34, Iss. 3 celebrates “St. Michael’s at 75.” The 150th anniversary of Middlebury College (Vol. 04, Iss. 04) and the 50th anniversary of Bennington College (Vol. 35, Issu. 01) are also celebrated.

Vermont Life , Vol. 4, Iss. 4

In addition to commemorative articles, there are many that celebrate the general history of particular institutions of higher education, including Norwich University (Vol. 06, Iss. 2), the Middlebury Language Schools and Vermont Technical College  (Vol. 18, Iss. 4), and Johnson State College (Vol. 25, Iss. 4), among others.

Other articles, notably in their headlines, drew attention to the uniqueness of colleges in the state. In Vol. 04, Iss. 1, Marlboro College is described as a “yankee education ”and Goddard as an “experiment” (Vol. 05, Iss. 3).

Many articles also center on the ways in which colleges better surrounding communities or the state. This can be through activities like skiing, the arts, or medical research. Other examples include an article from Vol. 10, Iss, 4 on a “school for sailors,” where boats for sailing lessons were on loan from St. Michael’s College and the University of Vermont, the creation of an “adult degree program” at Goddard College (Vol. 32, Iss. 3), and a celebration of the Marlboro School of Music that took over the college each summer, breathing life into the community (Vol. 11, Iss. 4).

Marlboro College in 1982 as seen in Vermont Life , Vol. 37, Iss. 1.

The latter group ties directly to another category of articles dealing with the general role of higher education in the state. A 1948 article (Vol. 03, Iss. 2), discusses private education as a “new enterprise.” The University of Vermont College of Medicine is referred to as “our school of medicine” (Vol. 07, Iss. 3). Twenty years after a look at the new business of education, an article in Vol. 23, Iss. 1, titled “Colleges in Transition,” assessed the state of each institution of higher education. The future woes of colleges in the state were previewed in a 1974 article with the not-so-inspiring title of, “Lyndon State College Is Here to Stay” ( Vol. 29, Iss. 1). 

– Will DiGravio

Vermont Life Volumes 36-72

As we moved into the latter half of the magazine, the focus on higher education shifted to an emphasis on two aspects: one, the state of Vermont as a place which breeds innovation, and two, a place where higher education intertwines itself with the local communities it inhabits.  As Vermont institutions began to struggle financially and the cost of college began to rise exponentially, the appeal of the liberal arts as a stand-alone entity began to fade.

Vermont Life , Vol. 63, Iss. 3.

Vermont Life towards its later years began to focus on how the existence of liberal arts institutions in Vermont affected the surrounding communities.  At times, higher education revives the town in which it resides, as Vermont Law School did with Royalton (Vol. 63, Iss. 3). At other times higher education is “considered a good neighbor, but not family” as with Bennington College and North Bennington (Vol. 59, Iss. 4), and instead a “self-contained community” (Vol. 51, Iss. 1).  Bringing the community connection of higher education full-circle, Vermont Life said that for a Castleton resident, “the normal” college was right in town, namely Castleton University (Vol. 45, Iss. 1).

Vermont Life, Vol. 37, Iss. 1

In addition to Vermont Law School, higher education institutions were responsible for bringing together Vermont communities, as was the case with Middlebury and Norwich through their potent sports rivalry in “The Big Game,” a traditional football matchup between the Middlebury College Panthers and Norwich University Cadets, which brought at least 5000 attendants annually.  Although the rivalry got tense at times between the two schools, it still brought members of both institutions together for a clambake each spring (Vol. 37, Iss. 1).

The magazine also makes an effort to point out those who have taken an active role in engaging Vermont, thus becoming “Frontline Vermonters” (Vol. 48, Iss. 2). Take Rita McCaffrey, for example, who graduated from Trinity College, a liberal arts institution, in 1959, served in the Vermont Senate for two years, and by 1986 had founded the Decisions/Threshold Program to help the society’s disenfranchised make better decisions.  Another example is seen through Project Home, an organization that connected college students with senior citizens who needed assistance in town.  (Vol. 42, Iss. 1).

Often, the idea of doing-it-yourself and making it on your own is emphasized in Vermont Life and is in a way “The Vermont Brand” (Our classmates Bea, Nina, and Peter discuss this here). The magazine covers a 22-year-old Sterling College graduate who began working on a farm in South Royalton after earning his degree in sustainable agriculture.  Initially, Taliaferro wanted to oversee his own farm, but realized after working there that being a farmer is exceedingly more difficult and multi-faceted than it seems: “I wanted my own farm, but I hate to say it, but it’s so rough. You need to be a businessman. You need to be a salesman.  You need to be a marketer. You need to be a mechanic. You need to be a livestock expert” (Vol. 69, Iss. 3, “The Awakening”).

– Randy Spillane