Alida Cornelia Avery was born in Shelburne, NY on June 11, 1833, to Deacon William Avery and Hannah Dixon Avery. She was one of eight siblings, including three girls. She started teaching at local schools at sixteen, and eight years later in the spring of 1857 she began her study of medicine. She attended the Philadelphia Women’s Medical College for one year in 1858, and then moved on to the New England Medical College in Boston, from which she received her diploma.
Avery joined the founding faculty at Vassar in 1865 as Professor of Physiology & Hygiene and Resident Physician. Her obituary in "The Shelburne News"' of October 3, 1908, states that no student died during her tenure at Vassar. She also served as Secretary of the Faculty from 1866 until 1874.
Avery resigned in February 1874 and moved to Denver, where she became Superintendent of Hygiene for Colorado and and opened a private practice. She was said to have made $10,000 per annum. In Denver, she played host to the famous eclipse-watching expedition of five Vassar students led by Maria Mitchell.
Avery was active in the women’s enfranchisement movement, the Unitarian Church, and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Her involvement increased when she retired and moved to San Jose in 1887. In 1901 she moved to San Francisco, but returned to San Jose after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. She died at her home in San Jose on September 22, 1908.
Dr. Avery's contemporary, Vassar faculty member and head librarian Frances A. Wood, included an appreciation of her time at Vassar in "Earliest Years at Vassar," in The Vassar Miscellany for January 1, 1909, saying, in part: "Among those who contributed so much to the early life of the college and its success, the name of Alida C. Avery cannot afford to be overlooked. She came in 1865 as the resident physician, was a strong member of the Faculty, high in the confidence and trust of [President] Raymond and [Lady Principal] Miss Lyman and sharing with them the responsibility of that important formative period. So close were the friendly and confidential relations among these three 'powers that be'—hardly ever one appearing without the other—that some irreverent students dubbed them 'The Trinity.'"
Frances A. Wood, "Earliest Years at Vassar," The Vassar Miscellany, January 1, 1909
Vassar College Special Collections Biographical File