Sarah Gibson Blanding (1898-1985) enjoyed the distinction of becoming one of the first women to serve in important U.S. government administrative posts during World War II.
Sarah Gibson Blanding began her career as an assistant professor of political science at the University of Kentucky in 1937. Her credentials included a year of study at the London School of Economics (1928-1929). She remained at the University of Kentucky, later becoming the dean of women, until 1941, when she became director of the New York State College of Home Economics at Cornell University. During her tenure there wartime demands for home-economics services quadrupled. She expedited requests for help by promoting food and nutrition education, child-care techniques, conservation and preservation of war materials in short supply, mass feeding, and maintenance of equipment.
Blanding's efforts at Cornell did not go unnoticed. During the last years of World War II Gov. Thomas Dewey of New York appointed Blanding to several state government posts, including director of the Human Nutrition Division of the State Emergency Food Commission and consultant to the State Defense Council's Division of Volunteer Participation. But her work was not limited to the local or state levels. As the war progressed, she was selected as the only female member of several national committees, which enhanced her reputation as an administrator.
In February 1946 Blanding sought and obtained the post of president of Vassar College, succeeding Henry MacCracken, who had been president since 1915. She was selected because she was "the best possible person, man or woman." The New York Herald Tribune noted that Blanding "was a fresh, vigorous, and resourceful person with a mind of proved capacity, and, most of all, balanced judgment." She believed that her main mission was to maintain Vassar's high quality of education for women; ironically, this came at a time when the college, to help alleviate the overcrowding of men's colleges, began accepting male war veterans on the GI Bill as students working toward Vassar degrees.
Blanding received national recognition for her efforts on behalf of women's education at Vassar. She toured often, lecturing that the balance of good and evil was so precarious that the scales could be tipped in either direction, so democracy was in a perilous position. In the process she received honorary doctorates from several colleges, including the University of Kentucky. She was appointed by President Harry S Truman to the National Commission on Higher Education, whose aim was to reexamine the system of education in the United States; later Governor Dewey appointed her to a committee to study the need for a state university system in New York. At her inauguration to the National Commission on Higher Education in October 1946, Blanding was given the War Department's Civilian Service Award for her service to the secretary of war. Cited during the ceremony were her exceptional efforts in developing activities for the Women's Army Corps and her leadership as a member of the army and navy committees on welfare and recreation. She was then appointed to the War Department Civilian Advisory Council and to the Chief of Staff 's Advisory Committee for the Women's Army Corps.
Jean Nowell, "New President Greets 1,440 at Vassar Opening," New York Herald Tribune, 8 September 1946, p. 33.