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Vassar Encyclopedia

An online work in progress under the direction of Vassar’s College Historian

Laura Johnson Wylie ’1877

Born in Milton, Pennsylvania, on Dec. 1, 1855 to William Theodore Wylie and his wife Sarah Murray Johnson Wylie, Laura Johnson Wylie spent her childhood on the move, learning from her father and caring for a growing collection of half-siblings. When she entered Vassar as a freshman she was far behind her fellow classmates, later […]

Catherine Bauer Wurster ’1926

A pioneer in her field, Catherine Wurster ’26 devoted her life to advocating for affordable public housing, serving during her career under three U.S. presidents. Catherine Krouse Bauer was born on May 11, 1905, in Elizabeth, New Jersey, to Alberta Krouse Bauer and Jacob Bauer, the chief state highway engineer, whose occupation may have influenced […]

World War II

I. Vassar Considers the New Germany  In the years leading to the Second World War, Vassar’s campus, perhaps more than much of the world, examined the rise of the Third Reich with a dispassionate, measured attitude. The college’s president since 1915, Henry Noble MacCracken was himself both an internationalist and a pacifist. The founder, during […]

World War I

Like much of the United States, Vassar reacted to the outbreak of the First World War with shock, but with a prevailing sense of the war being a European problem, not an American one. The editorial board of the Miscellany, while acknowledging the “well-nigh unimaginable horror of the European War,” encouraged students in 1914 to […]

Catherine Wolkonsky

Despite being the first of its kind in the United States, Vassar’s Russian Department had only thirty students in 1946, the year Catherine Wolkonsky joined the faculty. By the time she retired in 1961, there were 254. Under her leadership, the Russian department created a course on Advance Translation to prepare students for government work […]

Williams House

Williams House (1922) Hunt & Hunt “After many and diverse hopes and fears,” announced the Vassar Quarterly in 1919, “a beautiful new house for the women of the faculty is actually given and will soon be begun.” Constructed by 1922 in the presidency of Henry Noble MacCracken, Williams Hall was to fulfill a long hope. […]

Mary Watson Whitney, “The Founders of Vassar”

Mary Watson Whitney entered Vassar when it opened, in September, 1865, and was among Maria Mitchell’s first students in astronomy. The assistant to Maria Mitchell until she succeeded her as chair of the astronomy department and as director of the observatory, Whitney built Vassar’s research program in astronomy into one of the nation’s finest Mary […]

Mary Watson Whitney ’1868, ’ 1872

Mary Watson Whitney, a member of Vassar’s first graduating class in 1868, was Maria Mitchell’s student in astronomy. The assistant to Maria Mitchell until she succeeded her as chair of the astronomy department and as director of the observatory, Whitney built Vassar’s research program in astronomy into one of the nation’s finest. Mary W. Whitney […]

Henry Seely White

Henry Seely White was born May 20th, 1861 on the family farm in Cazenovia, NY. His father, Professor Aaron White, was a teacher of Mathematics and Surveying at Cazenovia Seminary, and later became the head of the Seminary. Though several generations of his family lived in Western New York, the Whites originally hailed from Connecticut, […]

Ella Weed, ca. 1885

Ella Weed ’1873

A few months after Ella Weed’s death in 1894, a Vassar alumna, Belle Ward ‘88, praised Weed in the Vassar Miscellany: “There is not one among us who is not better for having known of such a woman. One who accomplished so much in such simple deeds; simple, yet in their very simplicity most great.” […]

Jean Webster ’1901

The letters that Jerusha Abbott, the protagonist of Jean Webster’s Daddy-Long-Legs, writes to her patron vary from being comical to earnest. In one letter, Jerusha writes: You never answered my question and it was very important. ARE YOU BALD? I have planned exactly what you look like—very satisfactorily—until I reach the top of your head […]

Margaret Floy Washburn ’1891

Margaret Floy Washburn graduated from Vassar College in 1891 and joined the ranks of Mu Chapter, Phi Beta Kappa in 1898. She audited classes in Psychology at Columbia, but, unable to matriculate because she was a woman, transferred to Cornell into a credited program for the M.A. degree. Her Master’s degree was sent by E.B. […]

Undergraduate Life at Vassar College (1898)

“Undergraduate Life at Vassar College,” by Margaret Pollock Sherwood ’86, a professor at Wellesley College, appeared, with illustrations by Orson Lowell, in Scribner’s Magazine in 1898. The problem, What is to be done with the college woman? has of late been troubling critics and reviewers. Much discussion of the question has perhaps given the public […]

Viet Nam

“For the past week, the top officials of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point have been practicing their Military Police in riot control and the use of tear gas,” an ephemeral Vassar publication, Blood & Fire, reported in October 1969. “Their fear: an onsurge of college girls from Vassar with anti-Vietnam War petitions in hand, and […]

Vassar’s First Intercollegiate Debate

On April 26th, 1902, Vassar participated in its first intercollegiate debate. The debate was held at Wellesley College on the topic “Resolved: that the United States should subsidize a merchant marine.” Prior to this occasion, the students were repeatedly denied requests to debate with other colleges, as it was thought such rigorous extracurricular activity would […]

Vassar’s First Computer

On January 11th, 1967, Vassar’s first computer, an IBM Systems/360 Model 30 E, was delivered, to be installed in the new Computer Center in the Old Laundry Building.  With this acquisition, Vassar put itself ahead in higher education’s quickening technology race.  While several universities in the United States housed computers, Vassar was the first women’s […]

Vassar’s Communications to the Board of Trustees

Matthew Vassar died while reading his farewell address to the Board of Trustees on June 23, 1868. After a respectful interval, the Board reconvened to hear the conclusion of his remarks. It had been Vassar’s practice to address the Board formally at their meetings, and when the adjourned meeting resumed, the decision was taken to publish these communications.

The Vassars at Home

The Dinner Table A Peek into Daily Life on Vassar Street Matthew Vassar and Catharine Valentine Vassar at Home Searching down a fascinating article written by W.S. Cooper, son of Dr. John Cooper, Matthew Vassar’s doctor, published in installments in the Poughkeepsie Courier between October 15, 1915 and the end of the year, the reader […]

The Vassar-Yale Study

In the 1960s, the elite colleges and universities of the East Coast were going through an identity crisis, finding that their single-sex traditions threatened to drive away the best students who wanted a coed undergraduate experience. Liberal arts colleges like Vassar found the lack of graduate programs and specialized facilities made it harder to attract […]

Vassar Visitors

From its earliest days, Vassar drew critical comment and frequent visitors, whether invited or not. Some arrived to deliver speeches or gather information for magazine articles, while others came out of sheer curiosity. Some would become lifelong affiliates of the fledgling institution, while others would never be heard of again. The following entries chronicle prominent […]

The Vassar Training Camp for Nurses

To those of us who are both Vassar graduates and member of the nursing profession this is almost the proudest and most thrilling moment of our lives, for we see our own beloved Alma Mater making to our no less beloved profession the greatest contribution I believe, that any college could make at this time […]

The Vassar Summer Institute

June 1926 marked the commencement of the first session of the Vassar Summer Institute of Euthenics. The Institute was started by President Henry Noble McCracken as a “…graduate program designed to supplement the undergraduate curriculum along the lines of euthenics.” The Summer Institute was an offshoot of the controversial euthenics major, which had been established […]

Vassar Students’ Study Abroad

An article in 1917 in the Miscellany Weekly observed that Vassar graduates had “a very unusual opportunity for study abroad.” Mrs. Mary Borden Turner ’07, a novelist and, later, a famed nurse in both World Wars, had established the Borden Fund in 1907 to provide alumnae the opportunity to study abroad in Europe for a year after […]

Vassar Student Association (VSA)

In 1868, the Student Association, Vassar’s first student government, came to order. One tremulous genesis and several major transformations later, the ongoing evolution of Vassar’s student government still reflects kindly on Matthew Vassar’s unprecedented commitment to women’s education and his legacy of higher learning. Women’s education was still a speculative enterprise when Milo P. Jewett, […]

Vassar Relief Unit, WWI

Verdun Experiences, a slim volume written by Margaret Lambie and comprised primarily of an article she wrote for the November 1919 Vassar Quarterly, recounts the College’s special connection with the battered French city of Verdun, which began less than six months after the Armistice of November 11, 1918 ended the First World War that had […]

Vassar Radio/WVKR-FM

On Tuesday, January 11, 1938 at 12:45 P.M., from Room 403 in Belle Skinner Hall, Vassar College’s very first radio broadcast hit the airwaves via station WGNY Newburgh. The Vassar College Committee on Broadcasting, composed of faculty and students, had arranged with Peter Goelet, owner of WGNY, to allow the college to broadcast from 12:45 […]

Vassar Proms

Hannah Lyman, the first Lady Principal of Vassar, doubted that dancing was in accord with Christian principles and before she was hired, challenged President Raymond about the propriety of students dancing. As recorded in his Life and Letters1, while President Raymond was forming his initial college administration in January 1865 and considering the candidacy of […]

Vassar Myths & Legends

JANE FONDA RIDES MOTORCYCLE THROUGH MAIN BUILDING Rumor has it that when Jane Fonda was a student at Vassar, she arrived to tea one day improperly dressed. She was sent to her room and told to come back wearing the requisite gloves and pearls. When Ms. Fonda reappeared, she was wearing only the aforementioned gloves […]

The Vassar Miscellany News to 1969

The Weekly Begins The first issue of the Miscellany Weekly appeared February 6, 1914 as a supplement to the literary magazine, the Miscellany Monthly. The premiere editorial, “An Old Need Answered by a New Opportunity,” laid out the scope of the supplement: “It comes to answer an old need of the college for a more […]

Matthew Vassar

Embarking Matthew Vassar, business entrepreneur and founder of Vassar College, was born in Norfolk, England, in 1792. Like several others in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Vassar’s parents, James and Ann Vassar, planned on immigrating to America in hopes of starting anew, free of the social and political constraints imposed by the English […]

Vassar Greenhouses

“Once started in the pursuit of growing things, the fascination in them is very strong…” Vassar Miscellany, Volume XL, Number 8, 1 May 1911 Vassar students expressed an early interest in horticulture and gardening.  The 1868 Annual Catalogue of the Officers and Students of Vassar College mentioned, just three years after the college opened, a Floral […]

Vassar Female College and Sarah Josepha Hale

Shortly after Vassar Female College was founded by Matthew Vassar and was incorporated on January 18, 1861, Mrs. Sarah Josepha Hale, “editress” of Godey’s Lady’s Book, put her considerable weight in public opinion behind the college. She was the moving spirit of the most popular American women’s journal of the mid-nineteenth century and was thus […]

The Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve

Farming in the Early Days of the College Since 1865 when the first students arrived, Vassar College has had a farm. The map of the college grounds in Benson Lossing’s Vassar College and Its Founder, published in 1867, places the vegetable gardens to the west of what is now Raymond Avenue, where faculty houses now […]

Vassar College Seal

In the by-laws of the Board of Trustees from 1931, the design elements of the Vassar College Seal are stipulated as: …a disc bearing the name of the corporation, the year of its organization, and the seated figure of Athena as patron of learning holding the olive as symbol of civilization, with a view of […]

Catharine Valentine Vassar

Catharine Valentine of Fishkill, N.Y married Matthew Vassar in 1813 and, as Vassar recorded in his diary, he rented “part of a tenement for the sum of $40” and was roundly rebuked by his father for paying too much. It is difficult to find out much about the life the two Vassars shared, as Matthew […]

Vassar Brothers Laboratory

The equipments of that institution are simply superb…. The new laboratory is almost equal to that of University College in London. And up there two miles from the city, hanging onto civilization by the skirts as it were, like a baby to its mother’s gown. It is a sort of poem, in the vast volume […]

The Vassar Bank

When Henry Noble MacCracken became president of Vassar College in 1915, one of his goals was to increase interaction between the college and its surrounding village, Arlington. In 1865, Vassar had necessarily been planned to be very self-sufficient, drawing lightly on the local resources and people. As Vassar, Arlington and the times had changed, MacCracken […]

Henry Van Ingen

The illustrious career of Vassar’s first professor of art and art history, Henry Van Ingen, began on Vassar’s opening day and lasted for thirty years until his death. Born in Holland on November 12, 1833, Van Ingen studied at the Academy of Design at The Hague, specializing in landscape painting. After his arrival in the […]

Baroness Uriu ’1881

Shigeko Nagai, later—by her marriage to Rear Admiral Uriu—Baroness Uriu, was one of the first women piano teachers in Japan to teach Western classical music and a piano instructor to the first graduates of the Tokyo School of Music (1885). The daughter of a samurai who had been on the losing side of the civil […]


During his freshman and sophomore years, Ross Goodman ’79 had two surprisingly inspirational experiences. First, in the showers of Josselyn House he bumped his head, which got him thinking about campus facilities. Second, while out shopping, he began to suspect that Vassar students were overpaying for groceries. After comparing prices at various Poughkeepsie supermarkets, Goodman […]

Twas the Night of the Sit-In: A Parody in Verse

This poem, written by an anonymous author and found in the Vassar College Archives, commemorates the faculty response to the threat of outside intervention in the Black Students’ Association’s take-over of Main Building in 1969. ‘Twas the night of the sit-in and all through the house, All the creatures were stirring except for the mouse. […]

Aaron Treadwell

Aaron Treadwell arrived at Vassar in 1900 as the Giraud Professor of Biology and the curator of Vassar’s Museum of Natural History. Although he stayed for thirty-eight years, he switched departments in 1914, becoming Chairman and Professor of the new Zoology department. A modernizing force on campus, he was responsible for introducing some of the […]

Touch Football

Touch Football Football has never exactly been a sport central to Vassar student life. As anyone who has walked around campus in the past few years knows, students even sell tee shirts advertising Vassar’s non-existent football team with the words “Vassar Football: Undefeated Since 1865.” And although some women’s colleges, like Skidmore, provided football for […]

Top Hat Scandal

“[MILO P. JEWETT] described to Mr. Vassar again and again, how Mr. V would drive up the broad avenue in his barouche and be met with crowds of beautiful young ladies who would cover him with roses and lavish thanks on him as their wonderful benefactor.” (Excerpt from a letter from Nathan E. Wood to […]

Interview with Ruth Timm

EMS: Let’s start off with some basic things: When did you first come to Vassar? What was your position when you first arrived? And why did you decide to come to Vassar? RT: I came in 1944 as Fitness Instructor in Physical Education, and I think I was a little old for that at that […]

C. Mildred Thompson in the 1903 Vassarion

C. Mildred Thompson ’1903

Clara Mildred Thompson was born in Atlanta, Georgia on November 27, 1881 to Robert Galbraith Thompson, an Irish-born hotel owner, and Alice Wood Thompson. Initially preferring to be called “Mildred,” she added the initial “C.” when she discovered there was another child named “Mildred Thompson” in her neighborhood. After attending Atlanta public schools, among them […]

Claudia Lynn Thomas ’71: Takeover of Main Building, 1969

From October 30 to November 1, 1969,Vassar’s Main Building was taken over and occupied by thirty-four Black female students. Claudia Thomas (’71), then President of the Students’ Afro-American Society, recalls the personalities and circumstances of that critical event in a chapter of her book of memoirs, God Spare Life, published by WME Books (late summer […]

Testimonies to Taylor

When he retired in 1914, after nearly three decades as Vassar’s president, James Monroe Taylor was hailed as the college’s “second Founder,” and his contributions are recognized in three campus landmarks, which can all be seen within a five-minute walk, starting at the President’s House. From the founding of the college, Vassar’s presidents lived in […]


Contestants in the first tennis tournament, 1886. Tennis arrived at Vassar in 1879, only five years after its introduction to the United States in 1874. It immediately became popular, diverting attention from most other outdoor sports. Although the girls initially showed “more energy than grace in playing,” by 1891 they had organized a club. Unfortunately, […]

Sanborn Tenney

Vassar’s first professor of natural history, Sanborn Tenney, was born on January 13, 1827, in Stoddard, New Hampshire. He attended Amherst College from 1849–1853, where he was a devoted student. As the 1922 Williams Alumni Review noted, “his college room [was] turned into a museum of collections in the various fields of the subject. His holidays […]

The Telephone

A few years before it became a campus reality, the telephone apparently seized the imagination of Vassar students, who wove the new medium into several articles in The Vassar Miscellany. Among the “fantastic shapes” among the “vapors I have created” at night in the laboratory used by Mary W. Clarke ’78 to prophesy her classmates’ futures […]

Teaching Evolution at Vassar College

Published in November 1859, Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species introduced the theory of evolution by natural selection, changing the way scientists viewed the world and changing the way the world viewed science. Although the idea that complicated life forms descended from simple ones was not unique to Darwin, he was the first to […]

James Monroe Taylor, “Vassar’s Contribution to Educational Theory and Practice”

Hailed as Vassar’s “second Founder” at the time of his retirement in 1914, after nearly 30 years as Vassar’s president, James Monroe Taylor returned to the campus the following year to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the college’s opening.  The event, on October 10-13, 1915, combined the semi-centennial observance with the inauguration of Taylor’s […]

James Monroe Taylor

James Monroe Taylor’s tenure as Vassar’s fourth president saw the college expand; the student body more than tripled in size to about 1000, many new buildings were erected, and the curriculum was dramatically altered. During his twenty-eight year presidency, Taylor raised Vassar’s reputation and its standard for academic work and held unwavering loyalty and support […]

Eva March Tappan

Eva March Tappan ’1875

Throughout her life, Eva March Tappan exhibited a love of learning that imbued her being. From a young age she sought out knowledge both in formal education and in spare time. This brought her to Vassar, where she cultivated her skills in order to bring this joy to others. At first, she taught, directly bestowing […]


High above the Circulation Desk and the central hall of the Vassar College Library, on the four interior walls of the great tower, hangs a set of five tapestries illustrating the mythological story of Cupid and Psyche. The tapestries were purchased in Paris in 1904 by the architect F. R. Allen for Mary Clark Thompson, […]

Christine Vassar Tall: The Story of One British Evacuee

There was family lore that we were distantly related to Matthew Vassar, who had immigrated with his family from Norfolk to Poughkeepsie, New York as a young child and went on to found Vassar College. So after Dunkirk, my mother telegraphed Vassar College asking if anyone would give sanctuary to one British evacuee named Christine […]

Marion Tait

If C. Mildred Thompson was the most formidable Dean of Vassar College in the twentieth century, Marion Tait was surely the most beloved. Appointed to the venerable position–its title was later changed to Dean of the Faculty–in 1948, when she was only 37 years old, Miss Tait (as she was known all her life) followed […]

Swift Hall

Swift Hall (1900) York and Sawyer Before Swift Infirmary opened in 1900, Vassar had a small infirmary and convalescents’ room located in the southeast corner of Main Building’s fourth floor, staffed by the resident physician, her assistant and a few nurses. As the college expanded, in 1897 the physician, Dr. Elizabeth Thelberg, rented a nearby […]

Sunset Lake

Looking over Sunset Lake on the Casperkill creek, one might guess neither that it is an artificial lake nor that the idea for its creation goes back to Vassar’s earliest days and to its Founder. In 1912, when the lake was under construction, the Poughkeepsie Eagle News noted that in 1868 Matthew Vassar had suggested the […]

The Suffrage Movement at Vassar

Early in 1913, when President James Monroe Taylor of Vassar College gave notice to the Board of Trustees that he intended to retire within the year, rumor held that “friction, suffrage, and socialism,” as he put it in a letter to Smith President Marion LeRoy Burton, had influenced his decision. This he denied, though the […]

Strong House

Strong House (1893) Francis R. Allen In 1889, the Vassar campus consisted of Main Building, the Observatory, the former Calisthenium and Riding Academy (later Avery Hall), the Alumnae Gymnasium (later Ely Hall), Vassar Brothers Laboratory, some service buildings, and under 500 students. The college had recently undergone an administrative crisis, leading to the appointment of […]

Nikander Strelsky

When Nikander Strelsky was growing up in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, he adored the American Indian stories popularized by James Fenimore Cooper. In a lengthy 1939 profile of Strelsky, the Poughkeepsie Sunday Courier described how he and his best childhood friend reenacted Cooper’s romanticized tales: The two boys played Indian war games; built wigwams, […]

Julia Stimson ’1901

Colonel Julia Catherine Stimson ’01, the head of Nursing Service of the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I, was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, on May 26, 1881, the daughter of Dr. Rev. Henry A. Stimson and Alice Wheaton Bartlett Stimson. The second of seven children, Julia was a member of a particularly distinguished and […]

Barbara Stimson ’1919

Dr. Barbara Bartlett Stimson ’19, a highly respected, path-breaking orthopedic surgeon served as a major in the Royal Army Medical Corps throughout World War II, with tours in England, North Africa, and Italy. Stimson was the first female member of the New York Surgical Society and of the American Association of the Surgery of Trauma. […]


Matthew Vassar returned to Poughkeepsie in 1848 from his extensive European tour eager to dedicate himself and his fortune to philanthropic and civic-minded endeavors. Vassar presided over the Poughkeepsie Village Board of Trustees and headed a committee to select the site for a new public cemetery to replace the city’s overcrowded church graveyards. The committee […]

Interview with Professor Emeritus of Drama Evert Sprinchorn

Patrick Brady: I’m here with Evert Sprinchorn, Professor Emeritus of Drama at Vassar College. Professor Sprinchorn, when did you first arrive at Vassar and what did you encounter when you got here? Evert Sprinchorn: I first arrived at Vassar in the Spring of 1956 to be interviewed for a position. And I declined it because […]

Sophomore Trig Ceremonies

The Sophomore Trig Ceremonies represent a tradition apparently unique to Vassar. After the first semester, to celebrate their completion of the rigorous and detested Trigonometry course, a committee selected by the sophomores would write and perform an original drama to initiate the freshmen class into the study. The earliest ceremonies, begun in February or early […]

The Society for Religious Inquiry

Throughout Vassar’s history, student organizations have reflected students’ concerns as they have changed with the times. The college’s opening in 1865 coincided with a shift of direction for the missionary movement in America, which had focused in the first two-thirds of the 19th century on the westward expansion of the several denominations. The conclusion of […]

Alice D. Snyder

Born in 1887 in Middletown, Connecticut, to a Congregationalist minister, Peter M. Snyder, and his wife, Grace, Alice Dorothea Snyder received her A.B. and A. M. degrees in English from Vassar in 1909 and 1911 and her Ph. D. in Rhetorical Studies from the University of Michigan in 1915. While a graduate student, she taught […]

Virginia B. Smith

Eight years after Vassar became coeducational, Virginia B. Smith became its eighth president. Smith brought to Vassar the expertise she had garnered from her previous careers as a lawyer, economist, and educational policy maker, strengthening Vassar’s administrative networks and leading the greatest funding drive in the college’s history. Virginia Beatrice Smith was born in Seattle, […]

Winifred Smith

Winifred Smith was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1879 to Biblical scholar Henry Preserved Smith and his wife Anna Macneale. When she was thirteen, her father was tried and convicted of heresy by his presbytery for questioning the literal truth of the Bible. According to professor emeritus of drama Evert Sprinchorn, her father’s conviction “was […]

William Smith: Steward to Vassar College

The Great Experiment: a familiar epithet for Matthew Vassar’s ever-growing enterprise. Less familiar to most are the hardships and difficulties borne by a select few at the founding of the college. While the trials of presidents, trustees, and faculty have all been well documented, several others have been seemingly lost in the shuffle. Enter William […]

Skinner Hall of Music

Skinner Hall of Music (1931) Charles Collens The dedication of the Belle Skinner Hall of Music on June 7, 1931, marked the end of a cramped and uncomfortable 30 years for Vassar’s music department. The college had, at its founding in 1865, appointed the first professor of music in the United States and, as early […]

Belle Skinner ’1887

Belle Skinner was a humanitarian and music-lover whose life her brother William memorialized in the construction of the Skinner Hall of Music at Vassar in 1932.

The “Skating Pond”

Vassar’s campus consists of over 1,000 acres, but most of us identify with a small number of selected features. From the expansive quads and manicured playing fields to the Shakespeare Garden, Noyes Circle, and the man-made Sunset Lake, Vassar’s varied, carefully maintained landscape contributes to the feel of the main campus. These landmarks attract prospective […]

Alan Simpson

Alan Simpson

Succeeding Sarah Blanding in 1964 to become Vassar’s seventh president, Alan Simpson led the college through far-reaching changes, most notably its transition to a coeducational institution in 1969. Simpson once said, “Our problem is to plot an imaginative path between harlotry, humbug, and huckstering on the one hand and encrusted conservatism on the other.” He […]

Margaret Pollock Sherwood ’1886

Born on November 1, 1864, in Ballston, New York, Margaret Pollock Sherwood, Vassar Class of 1886, was the author of many novels, short stories, collections of poetry and  essays. As did her first, An Experiment in Altruism(1895), some of her novels appeared under the nom de plume Elizabeth Hastings.  Miss Sherwood taught in the English department of Wellesley College […]

Shakespeare Garden

Vassar’s Shakespeare garden, the second oldest in the United States, was the brainchild of President and Professor of English Henry Noble MacCracken. The garden opened on April 24 1916 in a ceremony commemorating the tercentenary anniversary of the Bard’s death with the planting of pansies and flower seeds from Shakespeare’s gardens in Stratford-on-Avon, England. Along […]

Senior Parlor

In the parlor at the turn of the century More then 60 years ago one of the most anticipated social events of the fall semester was the opening of a room in the south wing on the third floor of Main Building. Sophomores sang and performed for their sister class, the seniors, while enjoying what […]

Ellen Churchill Semple

Ellen Churchill Semple ’1882

Man is a product of the earth’s surface. This means not merely that he is a child of the earth, dust of her dust; but that the earth has mothered him, fed him, set him tasks, directed his thoughts, confronted him with difficulties that have strengthened his body and sharpened his wits, given him his […]

School of Art & Music

Vassar has a long tradition of supporting the enriching powers of the fine arts and music in the lives of their students. Matthew Vassar and President John Raymond took an interesting and somewhat complicated approach to the creation of music and art programs that rivaled those of their peer institutions. The traditional place of art […]

Sanders Chemistry Building

Scientific experiment was itself a key component of the “great experiment” that was Vassar College, as President Emeritus James Monroe Taylor observed in 1915 at a celebration of the college’s 50th year and of his 28 years in its service. The college opened in 1865, he said, with “a broad course of study, a faculty […]

Lucy Maynard Salmon

Lucy Maynard Salmon was born on July 27, 1853, in Fulton, NY to George and Maria Clara Maynard Salmon. Her father was a prosperous tannery owner and her mother had been the first principal of Fulton Female Seminary. Salmon attended the Seminary’s coeducational successor, Falley Seminary. In 1872 she entered the University of Michigan, a […]

A Sad Recollection from 1868

Unable in June 1933 to attend the Vassar reunions, Anna Baker Brooks, a member in 1868 of the college’s second graduating class, wrote from her home in California about a sad incident. Her letter, under the title “From the Sixty-Fifth Reunion Class, a Letter,” appeared in Vassar Quarterly. 2218 Fourth AvenueSacramento, California. To the Associate […]

Muriel Rukeyser ’1934

“The range and daring of her work, its generosity of vision, its formal innovations, and its level of energy are unequal among twentieth-century American poets. Her poems can be panoramic (yet vividly concrete), intimate, epigrammatic, meditative, sensual, mordantly witty, visionary; never are they quiescent or disenchanted.” Adrienne Rich, “Muriel Rukeyser for the Twenty-first Century.” (2003) […]

Royal Holloway College: A Memoir

TWO SELF-MADE ENGLISHMEN AND THEIR CROSS-OCEANIC DREAM COLLEGES: MATTHEW VASSAR, VASSAR FEMALE COLLEGE. Established 1861, Poughkeepsie, NY, U.S.A. THOMAS HOLLOWAY, ROYAL HOLLOWAY COLLEGE . Established 1886, Egham, Surrey, England. I first became aware of the strong links between Royal Holloway College and Vassar College in the early 1980s when I received a communication from the […]

Constance Mayfield Rourke ’1907

Constance Mayfield Rourke (1885–1941) wrote to her mother in 1921: I think even for you, certain elements of my character must be difficult to understand, at least their intensity. I am appealed to so strongly by the mystical, the inexpressible. There are times when I could have become a nun, I can understand that now. […]

Bruno Roselli

In 1907, a twenty-year-old Italian disembarked a large ocean liner in New York City; he wore a money belt full of gold coins and, perhaps, a wide grin. Bruno Roselli spoke very good English—his mother had taught him—and he knew exactly where to go when the ship docked. Heading straight for the office of Henry […]

W.K. Rose (and The W.K. Rose Fellowship)

William Kent Rose, professor of English, joined the Vassar faculty in 1953, after teaching at Stanford, Williams, and the University of California. Born in Healdsburg, California in 1924, Rose – then William Rosenberg – grew up attending concerts and theatre performances in San Francisco with his family. While his father ran a successful department store […]

W. K. Rose and “The Art of Reading and Writing”

When I was preparing to come to Vassar as an instructor in English in 1965, my dissertation director mentioned a friend in the Vassar department. W. K. Rose, the editor of the letters of Wyndham Lewis, and at work on a study of, as Lewis called them, “the men of 1914”—modernist writers in London in […]

“The Rose and Silver-Gray”

“With true college zeal we had decided that we must have ‘colors,’ and finally fixed upon ‘Rose and Silver-gray’ for no reason except as a pretty combination.” Writing as “S. M. G” in Vassar Miscellany in 1873, Sarah Mariva Glazier ‘68 recalled the early students’ choice of colors for their college. Her article, “In Memoriam,” […]

Rockefeller Hall

Rockefeller Hall (1897) York and Sawyer In the mid-1890s, as Vassar expanded its accommodations for students with what would become the first quad dorms, an acute need for more classroom and office space for professors also came to light. Meeting on June 12, 1894, the trustees acknowledged that “a building devoted to the purposes of […]

Blanchette Rockefeller ’1931

Blanchette Ferry Hooker was born in New York City on October 2, 1909. As the daughter of Blanche Ferry and Elon Huntington Hooker, she came from extraordinary affluence. Her mother’s family owned the Ferry Morse Seed Company in Detroit, while her father was president of the Hooker Electro-Chemical Company. This inherited fortune, combined with the […]

Josephine Roche ’1908

A tireless activist for rights of workers and children, Josephine Roche dedicated her life to proving that better living conditions were good business and that there were practical, effective ways to help people.

Frédérick Louis Ritter

Frédérick Louis Ritter joined the Vassar faculty as head of the School of Music in 1867, upon the departure of Edward Weibé, and under his tenure the music program grew in breadth, skill, and renown. Born in Strasburg in 1832, Ritter made his public piano debut at the age of 18. He immigrated to America […]

Woodbridge Riley

Isaac Woodbridge Riley was born in New York City in May of 1869. His father, a Presbyterian Minister, moved the family to Buffalo in 1875. Riley attended the English school in Florence, Italy, for several years before returning to the United States to complete his bachelor’s degree at Yale.  in 1908, while working on his masteris thesis, […]

Ellen Swallow Richards ’1870

A plaque under the entrance arch of Vassar’s Blodgett Hall reads: Ellen Swallow RichardsClass of 1870Pioneer in the Study of Family LifeFounder of Home EconomicsA tablet is placed on the buildingDedicated to the field of workCalled by her Euthenics “Euthenics” now rings oddly in Blodgett Hall, home to the study of economics, anthropology, psychology, sociology, […]

The Residential Quad

The Residential Quadrangle (1897–1912) Francis R. Allen, Allen and Vance “The real issue is between a large house and a great building. Because both will meet certain demands, both will continue to form part of a future college. No method is ideal, but the ‘caravansary’ plan, to use the opprobrious term which has begged and […]

John Raymond: “A College for Women, in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.”

In May of 1873 at the request of the United States Commissioner of Education, Vassar’s president, John Howard Raymond, submitted a report on the college’s first seven years. Commissioner Eaton wanted to present this early account of Vassar’s experiment in women’s education to the World Exposition in Vienna, to be held later that year. Raymond published his report as “A College for Women, in Poughkeepsie, N. Y.” Reprint included.

John H. Raymond

John H. Raymond, as the second president of Vassar, led the young college through its formative years and was largely responsible for the formation of Vassar’s system of education. Born in New York City in 1814, Raymond received a classical education. A long and significant relationship with education, in which he was a student, teacher, […]


According to the International Quidditch Association (IQA), there are currently over 500 quidditch teams in 26 different countries, and in the United States, more than 100 colleges have teams. Talented college players can try out for Major League Quidditch (MLQ), which has teams in 16 cities across the US and Canada, or they can compete […]

“Prexy on the Half-Shell”

President Henry Noble MacCracken’s daughter, Maisry MacCracken ’31, with help from her nephew, Michael MacCracken, has traced the story of a tribute to her father by sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski. Korczak Ziolkowski was a sculptor of Polish descent who was born in Boston in 1918. He was orphaned at age one and grew up in a […]

The President’s House

The President’s House (1895) Rossiter and Wright President James Monroe Taylor’s administration was a time of great expansion at Vassar. The construction of Strong House in 1893 marked the beginning of student residential life outside Main Building and allowed for increased enrollment. Faculty housing was still confined to Main; even the president and his family […]

Preparatory School

Vassar College opened in 1865 with the intent to provide women with an education equal to the one their brothers were getting at Harvard and Yale. The trustees took care to hire the best professors and to plan a rigorous course of study. But the results for the first entrance examinations disappointed both trustees and […]

Posture and Photographs

Posture photographs have become rather notorious over the years. Their fame results at least partially from Ron Rosenbaum’s article, “Great Ivy League Nude Posture Photo Scandal” that appeared in The New York Times Magazine a few years ago. Even without such publicity, the idea of nude photographs taken of young men and women attending the […]

C. Gordon Post

“I believe that subjects such as Political Science should be presented in a controversial manner,” Professor Charles Gordon Post wrote in 1955. “That does not mean that I provide the students with the judgments, not at all. They can discuss all they wish, but they have to draw their own conclusions. I am merely a […]

Plaster Casts

Early in the establishment of their new college, Vassar’s Board of Trustees decided to purchase copies and casts of great works of art. In 1862, the Executive Committee approved the acquisition of copies of paintings, and in April of that year, on a tour of foreign educational institutions, President Milo P. Jewett commissioned copies of […]

Informal Interview with Head Gardener Martin Pinnavaia

On September 24, 2004, I got a chance to sit down with Vassar College Head Gardener Martin Pinnavaia and discuss the history and current state of the Vassar College grounds with him. Marty has a degree in vertebrate zoology and worked for eight years as a special education teacher and four years as a medical […]

A Piece of Plymouth Rock

In 1927, Millicent Todd Bingham, an author, geographer and the first editor of the poems of Emily Dickinson, reflected on her last tour of New England with her friend the late Florence Cushing ’74: We came out upon the high road to Plymouth and soon drove up to Plymouth Rock. As we stood looking at […]


In 1865, the first year Vassar opened its gates to the public, the students formed their first extracurricular organization, the Philaletheis. Created initially as a literary society, then serving briefly as a catchall for student activities, the group’s most recent incarnation explores the dramatic arts.

Phi Beta Kappa, Mu Chapter of Vassar

Not until I began work on the study of Vassar history, especially the decades when the college was being transformed into today’s modern organic institution did I learn of the difficulties some of Vassar’s faculty members encountered in founding Vassar College’s Mu chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. Mu Chapter broke through a time-honored male tradition […]

Ron Patkus on Vassar College Special Collections

The Archives & Special Collections Library is part of the Vassar College Libraries system. It holds the rare book, manuscript, and archival collections of the college. It collects, preserves, and makes available rare and unique collections, and also engages in teaching and outreach activities. Beginnings A tradition of exposing students to rare books and other […]

Margaretta Palmer ’1887

Born in 1862, in Branford, Connecticut, Margaretta Palmer graduated from Vassar in 1887. She was a student in Maria Mitchell’s Astronomy III in the fall term of1885 and one of 10 students in the advanced class the following year. At her commencement, in 1887, she and fellow astronomer Antonia Maury were among the seven graduates […]

Princess Ōyama ’1882

One of the class of 1882’s most vibrant members was also the first Japanese woman to receive a college degree. Sutematsu Yamakawa (known to her Vassar friends as “Stematz”) came to the United States in 1872 with four other young Japanese girls. They traveled as part of the Iwakura Mission, a group of a hundred […]

Overview of Original Faculty

In 1865, Matthew Vassar and President John H. Raymond selected nine professors to serve as Vassar College’s first faculty. Each professor became the head of one of nine departments, which ranged from Philosophy to Physiology and Hygiene. The following list details each of the nine original professors and their respective accomplishments. Alida C. Avery, born […]

James Orton

In 1869 Orton accepted a professorship at Vassar College, and from 1869 until his death he served as chairman of the department of natural history and curator of its museum. Originally supplied to the college by Henry Augustus Ward, the Natural History Museum, was reinvigorated by Orton’s expertise, soon blossoming into an even more impressive collection of over 10,000 geological and zoological artifacts. While teaching at Vassar and directing its museum, Orton remained an important figure in scientific research and writing.

Original Course Catalogue

When Vassar College opened in 1865, it faced a number of challenges. The question of curriculum posed a very basic and immediate problem. Matthew Vassar had decided to found a college for women equivalent to colleges intended for men, but it was initially somewhat unclear what form this equivalence would assume. Read the Original Course […]

Donald J. Olsen

Born in 1929 in Seattle, Washington to Iver J. Olsen and his wife, Anna, Donald J. Olsen earned his BA, MA, and Ph.D. from Yale University, completing his studies at Yale in 1954. He taught history at the University of Massachusetts and University College of Hull, England, before joining the Vassar faculty in 1955. Olsen […]

Emma Hartman Noyes House

Emma Hartman Noyes House (1960) Eero Saarinen “About a house we’ll sing a songThat has not been at Vassar long.” So began a 1960 freshman chant. In October 1958, the Vassar Office of Public Relations had announced the completed construction of a new, “strikingly modern” residence. The youngest of Vassar’s residential halls, Noyes House was […]

Mabel Newcomer

Mabel Newcomer taught in the Vassar economics department from 1917 to 1957. An outstanding educator, she combines her excellent teaching and faculty leadership with her activities as a professional economist. She was known as the best “tax man” of those years. Her students’ Vassar experience was vastly enriched. The daughter of one of Stanford University’s […]

New England Building

New England Building (1901) York and Sawyer “I have given much time and careful thought to the needs of the department,” Professor of Biology Elizabeth E. Bickford wrote in her annual departmental report to President Taylor in 1899, “and have steadily tried to raise its standard of work in order to give my students high […]

Natural History Museum

As Matthew Vassar was beginning to think about his college, a new method for science education was taking hold in America, a shift from conventional lecture classes to the understanding that first-hand observation and experimentation is essential to learning. In 1862 Vassar commissioned a so-called ‘cabinet’, or collection of scientific specimens, knowing that in order […]

More Than a Brewer

“More Than a Brewer,” by Vassar’s first official historian, Elizabeth Adams Daniels ’41, was originally written and published as part of the college’s celebration, in 1992, of the 200th birthday of its Founder, Matthew Vassar. Very slightly revised, the text presented here is that of the essay’s second publication, in 2011, at the time of […]

“Monumental Honors”: The Founder’s Wish Fulfilled After 139 Years

On December 19, 1867, Matthew Vassar wrote to Stephen Buckingham, a member of the trustee committee appointed to commission a commemorative statue of him. “It was never my wish or desire,” he wrote, “to have the…work executed during my life time, whatever the Hon. Board of Trustees might deem proper to do thereafter.” Beneath the […]

The Modern Vassar Miscellany News

The Misc since 1969 The first year of coeducation brought more than men to the campus. In 1969, the campus newspaper, The Miscellany News, transformed, becoming simply The Misc. Unfortunately, the new name didn’t spark student interest as hoped. The 1969 paper was decidedly less inflammatory than its 1968 predecessor, and its passivity annoyed the […]

Ruth Crawford Mitchell ’1912

When Ruth Crawford Mitchell was a junior at Vassar in 1910, her parents offered her the opportunity to travel around the world. Mitchell and a friend from Vassar traveled un-chaperoned to England to witness the coronation of George V, then visited Finland, Norway, Russia, Japan, and several islands in the Pacific that summer, missing a […]

Maria Mitchell Salary Dispute

On December 16, 1871, Maria Mitchell wrote to the artist and historian Benson Lossing, a Vassar trustee, in great distress. “I must trouble you again! I simply want you to know how things go on. Can it be possible that the Ex. Com. wish to make us uncomfortable?” To make sure he fully understood the […]

The Maria Mitchell Observatory Clock

The Vassar Observatory, built specifically to accommodate Maria Mitchell, required first class equipment. Her telescope, made by Henry Fitz and now in the Smithsonian, was the finest available, and since one of the duties of an observatory is to supply and maintain accurate time, the Vassar Observatory also had to have a first class timekeeper. […]

Maria Mitchell Observatory

The first building to be completed at Vassar’s founding was long called, after its famous first inhabitant, the Maria Mitchell Observatory. The celebrated astronomer made the building of an observatory, including living quarters for herself and her father, a condition of her joining Vassar’s first faculty. Accordingly, Charles S. Farrar, who later became Vassar’s first […]

The Maria Mitchell Association

The bylaws of the Maria Mitchell Association in Nantucket, Massachusetts, state that it was formed in 1902 “to purchase and preserve the birthplace of Maria Mitchell (1818–1889) as a memorial museum for scientific purposes.” Many of the twelve women on the Organization Committee had close ties to the college, including Mary W. Whitney, Mitchell’s first […]

Maria Mitchell and Women’s Rights

Best known for her astronomical research and professorship at Vassar College, Maria Mitchell did not limit her interests to academia. A pioneer in establishing women in the sciences, she devoted a great deal of time to finding ways for women everywhere to gain greater freedom and have their rights recognized in society. In 1872 Mitchell […]

Maria Mitchell

Maria Mitchell, one of the first professors hired for the nascent Vassar College, was sought by Matthew Vassar to lend luster to Vassar’s nine-member faculty. Mitchell (1818–1889) had already gained a world reputation in astronomy when, while “sweeping” the skies of Nantucket with a telescope in 1847, she had discovered and reported a “telescopic” comet, […]

The Miscellany Monthly

Before the Monthly Vassar’s student body issued its first publication, the Vassariana, on June 27, 1866, as a bulletin of the year’s events. Mary Mallon ’15, in her history “The Vassar Miscellany,” described the Vassariana as “somewhat after the style of a church fair bulletin in the form of an annual folio.” Included in the […]

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Edna St. Vincent Millay ’1917

In the summer of 1912 at an evening party in Maine, a young woman with light red hair was asked to recite some of her poetry to the guests. “All I could see from where I stood; Was three long mountains and a wood…” she began. By the time the poem, “Renascence,” was finished she […]

Inez Milholland ’1909

“She was avid for life, and impatient for a world fit to live in.” Alice Cheyney ’1909, discussing Inez Milholland An activist and social reformer, Inez Milholland was a woman willing to champion the causes of anyone—women, laborers, children, or the poor—who found themselves disenfranchised. Dedicated to social equity regardless of class or gender, she […]

Maria Dickinson McGraw: A Glimpse Backwards

Speaking in Cleveland to the Associate Alumnae of Vassar College at their annual luncheon on February 8, 1913, Maria Dickinson McGraw ’67, one of the first four students to graduate from the college offered “A Glimpse Backwards.” In June, 1862, my High School seatmate, Hattie Warner, and I signed an agreement that in the event […]

Dean McCaleb in her office in 1917

Ella McCaleb ’1878

Famous among friends and colleagues for her lifelong devotion to Vassar and the first person to assume the title of dean at the college, Ella McCaleb ‘78 provided unique support to both Presidents James Monroe Taylor and Henry Noble MacCracken and an indispensable link between their presidencies. Speaking at the time of her death in […]

Mildred McAfee ’1920

Born in 1900 to Reverend Dr. Cleland Boyd and Harriet Brown McAfee at Park College, Missouri, Mildred H. McAfee was surrounded at birth with the influences that would fill the rest of her life: faith and education. The daughter of a clergyman, and born at the college her grandfather founded, McAfee combined religion and learning […]

Antonia Maury ’1887

The astronomer and historian Dorrit Hoffleit has noted that by the time Antonia Maury entered Vassar “she was probably better prepared for science than any other student.” Born in Cold Spring, New York, on March 21, 1866, Antonia Caetana de Paiva Pereira Maury was the daughter of Reverend Mytton Maury, a protestant minister and naturalist, […]


Dwight came to Vassar in 1878 after already having had a long and distinguished career. His primary training was in geology and mineralogy, but as the Theory of Evolution became to be more widely accepted, by the 1890s the department began to put more emphasis on the study of zoology. Dwight’s class in Paleontology only […]

Makemson in her office in the Observatory

Maud W. Makemson

A complicated series of choices led Maud Makemson to a unique career. Her early focus on writing and on learning languages might have prepared her to be a diplomat rather than a scientist. But early work as a teacher and journalist, in New England, the Southwest, and California led her, eventually, to earth and space […]

Main Building, Frederick Ferris Thompson Annex

By the 1890s, Main Building, originally designed to house all the college facilities for 350 students, had become overcrowded. The Vassar Brothers Laboratory had been built a decade earlier to relieve the cramping, but now the library threatened to overflow its physical space. First located on the third floor and then moved to the second […]

Vassar College Main Building

Main Building

Matthew Vassar’s idea of a perfect environment for educating young women, Main Building or “The College,” as it was originally called, was erected between 1861 and 1865.

Informal Interview with Mary McCarthy

Mary McCarthy (1912–1989), one of America’s most distinguished novelists, essayists, and critics, graduated from Vassar College in 1933. During the turbulence of the mid-sixties, McCarthy wrote a novel, The Group, in which she imaginatively and trenchantly reinterpreted the Vassar she had known and the post-college lives of “fictional” members of a Vassar “group.” (The undergraduate […]

Mary McCarthy ’1933

LIFE magazine described Mary McCarthy as the “lady with a switchblade,” and TIME referred to her as “really our only woman of letters.” She was well known for her quick wit, her uncompromising need to write the truth and her seemingly effortless ability to create controversy.  Much has been written about her various relationships, her three marriages, her political, […]

Anne MacKay ’1948–’49

MacKay’s leadership was critical in the founding of Vassar’s first lesbian and gay alumnae/i group, LAGAVC, which held its first conference on campus in April 1991, and her foresight ensured that a rich slice of Vassar’s LGBT history would not be lost when she served as editor of Wolf Girls at Vassar: Lesbian and Gay Experiences 1930–1990 (1993), which was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award.

Informal Interview with Maisry MacCracken ’1931

The daughter of Henry Noble MacCracken, Vassar‘s president from 1915 to 1946, Maisry MacCracken graduated with the Vassar Class of 1931. This interview by Maya Peraza-Baker ’08 was conducted on September 11th, 2006. MPB: One of the most interesting things, to me, is that you grew up at Vassar didn’t you? MM: I did. MPB: […]

MacCracken’s “Dream Child”: Sarah Lawrence College

THE YEAR IN WHICH President MacCracken founded the Vassar Summer Institute of Euthenics, 1926, was the same one in which he led a group of persons in the application for a temporary charter for a junior college in Bronxville, New York, to be called Sarah Lawrence College. The two events were closely connected, and both […]

President MacCracken Remembers Edna St. Vincent Millay

President Henry Noble MacCracken had come to know one of his students, the poet Edna St. Viincent Millay, as both an outstanding campus personality and a frequent campus rogue. A member of the Class of 1917, ”Vincent” became both a friend and a nuisance to the new president, who had taken office in the fall of 1915. Millay […]

Henry Noble MacCracken: The Student Movement

On May 30, 1926, a few days before Commencement and before the meeting at which Vassar’s board of trustees would provisionally agree to abolish compulsory daily Chapel attendance—a reform long-sought by students—President MacCracken published his reflections on the “student movement.” He examined the place of students in the historical development of American education, the growth […]

Henry Noble MacCracken

Internationalist, pacifist, educator, scholar, thespian: Henry Noble MacCracken, as Vassar’s first secular president, was a modernizing force who led Vassar into the 20th century. MacCracken made it his personal mission as president to make Vassar students “citizens of the world, beginning with Poughkeepsie.”

Hannah Lyman: The Lady’s Principles

According to President Raymond’s eldest daughter, “there was no office, perhaps, to which [the president] attached more importance than that of the Lady Principal, on account of the intimate relation she must hold to the students, and her influence in the shaping of character.” Such high expectations presented a massive undertaking for Hannah Lyman, the […]

Hannah Lyman

Hannah Lyman, Vassar’s first Lady Principal, was born January 29, 1816 in Northampton, Massachusetts. After completing her education in Northampton and Ipswich, she taught at Gorham Academy in Maine and Mrs. Gray’s Seminary and served as principal of another girls’ school in Montreal. In June 1865 the Board of Trustees unanimously elected Miss Lyman as […]

Nancy Harkness Love ’1935

In the March 1929 edition of The Magus, a literary magazine published by the Milton Academy Girls Upper School, Hannah L. Harkness wrote a short nonfiction piece, “The Flowers that Bloom in the Spring, Tra La!” The fifteen-year old describes her joy at the changing seasons: “Lessons are more drab than usual,” she admits, “and […]

Lois Long ’1922

At the time of her death the notoriously reticent editor of The New Yorker, William Shawn, declared that “Lois Long invented fashion criticism,” adding that she “was the first American fashion critic to approach fashion as an art and to criticize women’s clothes with independence, intelligence, humor and literary style.” Hired by the magazine’s founder, […]

Helen Drusilla Lockwood

The editors of the Vassar Encyclopedia are very grateful to Suzanne Bordelon, the author of A Feminist Legacy: the Rhetoric and Pedagogy of Gertrude Buck for this essay on Helen Lockwood. Dr. Bordelon teaches at San Diego State University and is the advisor to the University’s interdisciplinary minor in Rhetoric and Writing Studies. Described as […]

Lincoln Center

A decision in 1916 by a committee of the Vassar Christian Association to found a Poughkeepsie community services center, Lincoln Center, under college auspices, sparked a philosophical debate between adherents to the former Vassar President Taylor and Taylor’s successor and his wife. According to Josephine Palmer, the student founder of the center, Henry and Marjorie […]

The Library

The Library The Fredrick Ferris Thompson Annex (1893)Francis R. Allen Frederick Ferris Thompson Memorial Library (1905) North and South Wings addition (1934)Allen and Collens Helen D. Lockwood extension (1976)Helmuth, Oban & Kassabaum Martha Rivers and E. Bronson Ingram Library (addition) (1997)Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Thompson Memorial Library, May 2018. Photo: Karl Rabe Previous Next Sixty years […]

Abigail Leach

In the 1870s, there were many more opportunities for women in education than there had been a decade earlier–Vassar, Smith, and Wellesley had been all been founded by 1878, and the Harvard Annex, later to become Radcliffe College, was founded in 1879. Still, the major men’s colleges of the day entertained no thoughts of educating […]

Julia Lathrop ’1880

Social worker and reformer Julia Lathrop was nicknamed “America’s First Official Mother” for her devoted work in bettering the conditions for the often-neglected members of society: children, the mentally challenged, and the disabled. Yet Lathrop understood early in her career that caring did not suffice in heralding real changes in the torrid living conditions of […]

Mary Fisher Langmuir ’1920

The Vassar archives on Mary Shattuck Fisher Langmuir overflow with newspaper clippings announcing her highly anticipated and sought-after appearances across the country—”Dr. Langmuir Speaks Before Arlington PTA,” “Dr. Langmuir gives talk on Discipline,” “Dr. Langmuir to address junior league”—as well as the numerous articles she wrote on child and family psychology. The thick folders filled […]

Christine Ladd-Franklin ’1869

Christine Ladd-Franklin—mathematician, logician, and psychologist—was born in Windsor Connecticut, on December 1, 1847. Her father, Eliphalet Ladd, a prominent merchant, and her mother Augusta Niles Ladd, an early feminist, both came from distinguished families. One great uncle, William Ladd, had founded, in 1828, the American Peace Society, a merger of the Christian pacifist societies of […]

Letters Home: Social Life at Vassar 1865-1880

Throughout the opening years of Vassar College, a number of students wrote letters to their parents, siblings, friends, and even future husbands. Before the advent of telephones or email, the weekly letter home was the primary way students kept in touch with their families. This tradition continued for some time: the last letter home in […]

Lake Mohonk

Lake Mohonk 1896 Albert Smiley built Lake Mohonk Mountain House in 1869 as a resort and conference center. When it opened, it boasted five hundred acres of undeveloped land, lakefront property, and powerful, wealthy guests. However, Mohonk was more than a playground for the rich: Smiley was a Quaker, and he used the resort from […]

Ernst Krenek

Born in Vienna at the dawn of the twentieth century, the composer Ernst Krenek (1900 – 1991) began his career in the musical salons of Weimar Berlin and ended it half way across the world in the recording studios of Southern California. Already composing pieces for piano before he was ten, the young Krenek caught […]

Richard Krautheimer

 “I do not know what I have achieved as a teacher, if anything,” admitted Richard Krautheimer in his commencement address to the Class of 1945. “But I do know that I have enjoyed teaching…I have learned a great deal, from my blunders, and from my colleagues, and from my students.” Over 40 years later, in […]

William Knapp

The college’s first professor of modern and ancient languages, William Ireland Knapp, taught at Vassar from 1865 until 1867. President John Raymond’s daughter, Cornelia Raymond ’83, recalled the impression Knapp made on Vassar students and faculty: “He was quite strikingly handsome, had a delightful personality and was. . . a brilliant linguist.” The son of the Reverend […]

Virginia Kirkus ’1916

In 1967, as chairman of their 50th reunion, Virginia Kirkus Glick ‘16 wrote a characteristically vigorous invitation to her class, echoing Lewis Carroll in a playful poem: “The time has come,’ the Walrus said,      To talk of many things:Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —      Of cabbages — and kings —Of what VC has meant […]

Helen Kenyon ’1905

Born in Brooklyn in 1884, the daughter of Clarence Kenyon and Emma J. Kelsey, Helen Kenyon had a privileged upbringing at the turn of the century. Her father was the owner of one of the first garment factories in New York, and her family’s genealogy could be traced back to the Mayflower. With an auspicious […]

Kenyon Hall

Kenyon Hall (1934) Allen Collens On February 23, 1934, Dr. William Darrach, dean emeritus of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and a Vassar trustee, spoke at the dedication of Kenyon Hall, Vassar’s new gymnasium. The dedication was the culmination of a project that had begun on December 15, 1932, with the groundbreaking by […]

Mary Augusta Jordan: “Spacious Days at Vassar College”

Mary Augusta Jordan (1855–1942) graduated from Vassar in 1876, the first of three Jordan sisters to attend the college. She received her Master’s degree in English from Vassar in 1878 and served as a “critic” in the Vassar English department from 1880 to 1884, when she accepted an appointment as an assistant professor in rhetoric […]

Mary Augusta Jordan ’1876

The editors of the Vassar Encyclopedia are grateful to Dr. Stephen H. Grant for this article on a distinguished member of the class of 1876. He is the author of Collecting Shakespeare: The Story of Henry and Emily Folger (Johns Hopkins Press, 2014), the first biography of Emily Jordan Folger and Henry Clay Folger, founders […]

Burges Johnson

In his book Campus Versus Classroom (1946), academic innovator, long-time Manhattan publisher and—between 1915 and 1926—member of the Vassar faculty, Burges Johnson offered a mocking example of the “sounds of education machinery” and of inaccessible and detached “pedagogs”: Education is that process by which accretions to the efferent speech patterns and the contentual and potential […]

Milo P. Jewett

Milo Parker Jewett, Vassar’s first president, left an indelible mark on the college’s history by departing from the institution he helped construct before it opened. The meeting of Matthew Vassar, a wealthy and forward-thinking business man, and Milo Jewett, a conscientious clergyman and dedicated educator, was a fortunate one that laid the foundations for Vassar […]

International Students at Vassar

The tradition of international students at Vassar goes far back into the late-nineteenth century. Baroness Uriu ’1881 (born Shigeko Nagai) and Princess Oyama ’1882 (born Sutematsu Yamakawa) were Japanese students who came to Vassar as part of the Iwakura Mission, a diplomatic voyage organized by the Meiji government. Part of the initiative to modernize Japan, […]

Hunting Down Vassar History

Reflections by Elizabeth A. Daniels, ’41 In March 1984 when I was approaching my 64th birthday, I made a decision which changed my career path from Professor of English to Professor of English Emeritus and Vassar College Historian. I was lured by a paper trail. The paper trail of Vassar College, stretching from the past […]

Adella Prentiss as a student

Adella Prentiss Hughes ’1890

Adella Prentiss Hughes enjoyed telling how her maternal grandparents met. Her grandfather, Benjamin Rouse, lived in Boston. Paying a visit to his grandmother one evening, he was about to enter her house when he was struck by a woman’s voice coming from inside. Entering the house, he met the owner of the voice, a young […]

John Houseman

After a controversial three-month engagement with the Federal Theatre Project in 1937, which culminated in the giant success of “The Cradle Will Rock,” an avant-garde musical with a pro-Union political slant, John Houseman, the director of the musical, found himself without a job. Hallie Flanagan, the leader of the Roosevelt Administration’s Federal Theatre Project and […]

Norris Houghton

“The arts are not for the privileged, but the many…. Their place is not on the periphery of society but at its center…. They are not just a form of recreation but are of central importance to our well-being and happiness.” So wrote Norris Houghton in a 1967 essay entitled “The Arts and Government” that […]

Grace Murray Hopper ’1928

Computer pioneer, mathematician and teacher Grace Murray Hopper recalled seeing her first computer, the UNIVAC “thinking machine”: “When I walked in and saw that monster, I was scared to death!” She had every right to be frightened; the machine consisted of 200 miles of wiring and 5000 tubes, stood eight feet high, was fourteen feet […]

Gladys Hobby ’1931

Responding to an alumnae survey in 1981 at the age of 71, Gladys Lounsbury Hobby, said “as I turn from the journal and see the book nearing completion, I am beginning to think about ‘what next?’ I do not plan to be idle.” Mentioning that she had “made the first penicillin in the USA,” she […]

Prospectus of the Vassar Female College, Poughkeepsie, NY

A History of the Curriculum 1865-1970s

The curriculum which makes Vassar rare among colleges today was not always the kind of curriculum Vassar had in place. From the first steps of the founders, setting off on the path of women’s education where few had gone before, to the major reforms of the twentieth century, the evolution of the Vassar curriculum has been an intricate process.

A History of Coeducation

Since the late nineteenth century, Vassar had seldom suffered financially or experienced any problems concerning the qualifications of its applicants. By the late 1950’s, however, the college’s single-sex environment became increasingly unattractive to active and socially conscious young women. Due to many factors, including the 1950’s mainstream media’s emphasis on the importance of marrying early, […]

Thomas Hills

Between 1920, when he arrived at Vassar, and his retirement in 1948, professor of Geology and Chairman of the Geology Department Thomas Hills became one of the most popular professors at Vassar, known as “Uncle Tom” and renowned across campus for his teaching ability. He modernized the Geology department, expanding the physical collections in the […]

Mary Virginia Heinlein ’1925

On June 25, 1954, Professor of Drama Mary Virginia Heinlein ’25 received a hand-written poem from her student Kuni Marcus ’54. The piece—an assignment turned in very late, perhaps—concludes thus: Professor! Do I know because I know?Or, do I know because you told me so? Heinlein began teaching at Vassar in 1942, returning to her […]

Heating Plant

The Heating Plant (1864) The Houghevont Company The Heating Plant, completed in 1864 and located behind Main Building, was among the first central heating plants constructed in America and probably unique in its incorporation of equipment for the generation and distribution of not only heat but gas to Main Building. Main, for a brief time […]

Bernadine Healy ’1965

In 1985, Dr. Bernadine Healy ’65 told a Vassar audience: “Live in the present. . . .be committed and intense about what you’re doing today. . . . I’d like to quote an anonymous Spanish poet: ‘Traveler, there is no path. The path is made by walking.’” Dr. Healy dedicated her life to two things: […]

Elizabeth Hazleton Haight '94 (1872-1964)

Elizabeth Hazelton Haight ’1894

A consummate student and heralded classicist, Elizabeth Hazelton Haight ’94 was an important part of Vassar from the time of her matriculation in 1890 until her death in 1964. Described in the New York Times at the time of her death as a “great and gracious woman” who was the “master of every situation she encountered,” […]

Charles C. Griffin

Professor Charles Carroll Griffin passionately believed in Pan-Americanism, the expediency of having a political voice and the efficacy of higher education, sentiments that he expressed succinctly in his address at President Simpson’s 1964 inauguration. “In an age in which all positive and creative forces are working toward the creation of an Atlantic civilization that shall […]

Greek Plays

In 1893 a group of Greek students, led by Professor Abigail Leach, set out to do what no one had attempted in over two millennia—produce Sophocles’s “Antigone” in the original tongue. Students at Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, and Smith College had staged Greek plays before, but not on the scale that the Vassar girls […]

Nancy Graves ’1961

One of the two daughters of Walter L. and Mary Bates Graves, Nancy Stevenson Graves’61 was born on December 23, 1939, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. She attended Miss Hall’s School in Pittsfield and the Northfield School for Girls. Her interest in art arose early through visits to Berkshire Museum, where her father worked as assistant to […]

Goodfellowship Club

Goodfellowship Club (1908) Lewis Pilcher Carol and James Kautz Admissions House (1995) Linda Yowell ’73 The Goodfellowship Club was established in 1901 to provide employees of the Vassar housekeeping department with social, recreational and academic opportunities. In the spring of 1901 a group of Vassar students representing the College Settlements Association, a service and education […]

Patricia Goldman-Rakic ’1959

Imagine you are a student of classical music, and discovering in your sophomore year that you attend the same school that trained Mozart. Or imagine you are a student of art, and learning that the very school that is shaping your talent, once helped to shape the talent of Picasso. Now you can understand what […]

William Gifford

William Wallace Gifford devoted much of his time to students who were literally no longer his. A professor of English at Vassar College for over forty years, from 1955 to 1996, he maintained a close correspondence with some graduates that  lasted even longer. Though years past graduation and advancing in literary careers of their own, many […]

Gertrude Garnsey ’1926

“Though it was a far cry from her original plans,” said an article about Gert Garnsey in The Miscellany News in 1944, “her work has had its adventures.”  “One could say,” the article teases, “she was vaguely involved in a murder and one could say that she…roomed with a former editor of the Misc and lived over a speakeasy. […]