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Vassar Encyclopedia

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

Gorham Abbott and Vassar

“Where is the Yale, or Harvard, or Princeton for the education of females?” demanded Gorham Dummer Abbott, a clergyman, author, and the three-time founder of short-lived women’s colleges. He apparently spent his final years advising someone who also wished to take up the mission: Matthew Vassar.

Ruth Adams ’1904

In 1903, during her junior year at Vassar, Ruth Adams assessed her room in a letter home: [My room] is on the 4th floor—it is a north room wher[e] I won’t get any sun, but it has a good big window so it isn’t very dark … it hasn’t a very pretty wall paper—a sort […]

The Jeh Vincent Johnson ALANA Cultural Center

The ALANA Center (1993) Jeh Vincent Johnson The precursor to Vassar’s main organization for resources and programs to support students of color, what is now the ALANA Center, was once located in the basement of Lathrop House, a residence hall. The Center, however, introduced an integral—and, from its present location, visible—addition to the college’s campus […]

Alumnae Gymnasium (Ely Hall)

Here’s to the new gym-na-sium Built by the enterprising alumDid we assist them?We’ll guess so-someHere’s to the new gym-na-sium. —1889 Student Yell Alumnae Gymnasium (1890) William Tubby Athletics may not come first to mind when Vassar is mentioned, but it has been well served in the history of the college’s buildings. The Calisthenium had been […]

Alumnae House

Blanche Ferry Hooker, VC 1894, and Queene Ferry Coonley, VC 1896, were devoted Vassar sisters whose beneficence and sense of loyalty to Vassar shaped the future of alumnae relations with the college. Their early responses to Vassar’s financial and planning needs, and their support of President Taylor (1876–1914) and President Henry Noble MacCracken (1915–1946) were […]

An Overview of Vassar Traditions

In her inaugural speech, president Sarah Gibson Blanding (1946-1964) observed that one time-honored Vassar tradition is “the tradition of changing with the changing times.” Very few of the original college traditions are still practiced today, and none are practiced in the same manner. Founder’s Day, for example, the oldest Vassar tradition, was first celebrated in […]

Jean Anderson ’1933

Jean Anderson ’33 enjoyed two successful careers, first as a cartoonist who drew upon her experiences at Vassar and later as an obstetrician who was influential in popularizing the Lamaze method in the United States. Born on June 3, 1913, in Morristown, NJ, Anderson attended University High School in Ann Arbor, MI. A Presbyterian minister, […]

Julia Coburn Antolini ’1918

At Vassar, Julia Coburn Antolini ’18 was known as much for her dedicated work as editor-in-chief of the Miscellany News as she was for her lighthearted practical jokes—on professors and then-president Henry Noble MacCracken. Her playful attitude as well as her reputation for outspoken journalistic rigor, sometimes used in critiquing the college, eventually earned her […]


More than 230 species of trees now comprise the vast arboretum of the Vassar campus which began with the first plantings laid out by Matthew Vassar in 1865. The formal creation of the Vassar arboretum came from a gift from the Class of 1875.


The village of Arlington, an approximately one-square mile neighborhood in the Town of Poughkeepsie, was originally called Bull’s Head, after a local tavern dating from the Revolutionary War era. When Vassar opened in 1865 on the grounds that had formerly been the Dutchess County Club Horse Race Course, a variety of small shops that served […]

Interview with Winifred “Tim” Asprey ’38

S. Riane Harper ‘09 interviewed Professor Emeritus of Mathematics Winifred Asprey on July 30, 2007 SRH: Ms. Asprey, thank you for agreeing to speak with me about your work and your career in teaching.  I know that you were raised in Iowa and that you graduated from Vassar in 1938.  Tell me a little about […]

Athletics, 1865–1945

In the Beginning. . . Vassar’s athletic tradition began with the college’s foundation. In the nineteenth century, common speculation maintained that college attendance would lead to female infertility. Because the human body was a closed energy system, the theory ran, if women devoted too much energy to thinking, it would detract from their ability to […]

Athletics, 1945–Present

Mid-Century Stagnation Field Hockey, 1970 Henry Noble MacCracken retired from the presidency in 1946. Sarah Blanding became the next president, and despite her history as a physical education teacher, under her tenure interest in athletics waned. Both the number of teams and the number of students playing on them dropped significantly. While in 1953 the […]

Autograph Books & Scrapbooks

Students pasted a wide variety of materials into their scrapbooks; newspaper articles about Vassar, programs from plays or concerts, and invitations to social events were some of the most common items.

Dr. Alida Avery and “Vassar Thirty Years Ago”

In retirement in San Jose, California, in 1895 Dr. Alida Cornelia Avery, one of Vassar’s first two women to serve on the faculty, recalled the college’s opening days in the Los Angeles Herald. VASSAR THIRTY YEARS AGO (By Vassar’s First Resident Physician) It seems a far cry from the Vassar field day on November 9, […]

Leila Cook Barber

Born in Chicago, Illinois, on January 4, 1903 to Courtenay Barber and his wife, Leila, Leila Cook Barber received a B.A. from Bryn Mawr and a M.A. from Radcliffe. She joined the Vassar faculty as an art instructor in 1931, and during her time at the college, she served as a member of the board […]

Violet Barbour

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on July 5, 1884, to Thomas and Elizabeth Barbour, Violet Barbour received her B.A., M.A., and Ph.D from Cornell University. In 1914 she was appointed to the Vassar faculty as a professor of English and European history. Initially an English history scholar, Barbour changed course midway through her career and became […]

The Barefoot Fireflies

Most Vassar students recognize the sight. They walk on the Residential Quad, near Ballantine Field, or into the Villard Room and see some of their fellow classmates juggling, spinning fire, or doing acrobatics. A common presence on campus since the mid-1990s the Barefoot Fireflies established themselves as a Vassar staple in the 21st century. Known […]

Louise Seaman Bechtel, ca. 1920

Louise Seaman Bechtel ’1915

In an alumnae questionnaire circulated in 1952, Louise Seaman Bechtel was asked if she supported herself. Seaman Bechtel checked “no,” although she scribbled into the margin “but could!” The answer was befitting of Seaman Bechtel, for though she always took a large amount of pride in her role as a wife, she also ensured that […]

Martha Beckwith

In 1920, Martha Beckwith became the first person to hold a chair in Folklore at any college or university in the country. The Folklore Foundation, established at Vassar with an anonymous donation by the naturalist, Annie Alexander, was an unprecedented institution. With its establishment, Vassar College suddenly became a center of research in the almost […]

Ruth Benedict ’1909

From an early age, Ruth Fulton Benedict was an acute questioner of the world around her. In an early journal, the young Ruth wrote: The trouble with life isn’t that there is no answer, it’s that there are so many answers. There’s the answer of Christ and of Buddha, of Thomas à Kempis and of […]

Benjamin Franklin Statue

The plaque below the statue of Benjamin Franklin in front of Sanders Physics Building reads “Given to Vassar College by J.P. Morgan at the request of Burges Johnson, Professor of English, 1915-1926.” The story of how Franklin’s likeness came to stand here is linked to how Burges Johnson came to Vassar. In 1914, working as […]

Elizabeth Bentley ’1930

In the late 1940s, Elizabeth Bentley ’30 appeared in headlines across the country as she testified in front of the Committee on Un-American Activities at numerous investigations of alleged communists. Disregarded by some at the time as a pathetic, attention-seeking, and relatively insignificant figure, “something about her,” claims her biographer Kathryn Olmsted, “touched the fears […]

The Morris and Adele Bergreen Albert Einstein Collection at Vassar College

The Friendship of Albert Einstein and Otto Nathan One of the greatest waves of emigration from Germany occurred during the 1930s when Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party came to power. Nearly 500,000 citizens fled their homeland, where the specters of militarism and Antisemitism loomed large. Jews, artists, professors, and others sought toleration abroad, particularly […]

Alison Bernstein ’1969

A woman who came of age in the turbulent 1960s, Alison Bernstein was very much a product of her time—a woman who recognized the world’s problems and actively sought to fix them. Bernstein used her keen intellect and the tools she acquired in her time at Vassar to help others. From her time working in […]

Bishop in the 1934 Vassarion, which she edited.

Elizabeth Bishop ’1934

The only child of William T. Bishop and Gertrude May Bulmer Bishop and born in Worcester, Massachusetts, on February 8, 1911, Elizabeth Bishop suffered a difficult childhood. Her father died when she was eight months old, and her mother was institutionalized in 1916 with mental illness. When her mother died in May 1934, as Bishop […]

Sarah Gibson Blanding

Sarah Gibson Blanding, Vassar’s sixth president and first female president, was a spirited figure who strongly advocated the professional, political, and academic place of women in the world. Her matter-of-fact views were sometimes controversially conservative; she once said: “The Vassar post is such a challenging job. I’m no feminist, but I’ve always had faith in […]

Harriot Stanton Blatch ’1878

One of the most prominent Vassar suffragettes was Harriot Stanton Blatch (1878), the daughter of pioneering suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Blatch began her work on women’s voting rights in the U.S. after living in England for 20 years—where she worked with the Women’s Franchise League—forming the Equality League of Self-Supporting Women to help recruit working-class women to the movement.

Blodgett Hall

Blodgett Hall (1929) York and Sawyer More than most buildings on Vassar’s campus, Blodgett Hall has been a focal point of controversy. Built in 1929 with funds supplied by Minnie Cumnock Blodgett ’84 and her husband, the hall was intended to house Vassar’s new—and already contentious—euthenics program. Broadly defined as the “science of the controllable […]

Blood and Fire

Vassar’s ad hoc Committee to End the War in Vietnam immediately embraced the moratorium. Sophomore Carla Duke ’71, along with Julie Thayer ’71 and Carolyn Lyday ’72, published four editions of a pro-moratorium “spontaneous publication,” Blood & Fire. The mimeographed two to four page issues had a small distribution, but they embodied the fervor and […]

Lydia Booth

While Milo P. Jewett has received most of the credit for inspiring Matthew Vassar to establish a women’s college, it was Lydia Booth, Vassar’s niece, who originally suggested the idea. Born in Poughkeepsie on March 17, 1803, Booth was the daughter of George Booth, a wool manufacturer, and step-daughter to Maria Vassar, Matthew Vassar’s sister. […]

Mary Borden ’1907

A novelist and wartime nurse, Mary Borden ’1907 was renowned for her successful literary career and service during both World Wars. Born in 1886 in Chicago, Mary was the daughter of businessman William Borden, who had fortunes in real estate, mining, and dairy products. Her mother, Mary Borden, was a devout evangelical Christian. In 1904, […]

Marcella O’Grady Boveri

Marcella O’Grady was born on October 7, 1863, in Boston, Massachusetts, into an affluent and liberal-minded family. Her parents, Thomas and Anne O’Grady (the former, a renowned Boston architect), strongly believed in the right of women to pursue an education and were a constant source of support and encouragement to Marcella, as well as to […]

Marvin Breckinridge ’1927

Mary Marvin Breckinridge Patterson ’27 was born on October 2, 1905, to John Cabell Breckinridge, the grandson and namesake of Kentucky Senator John C. Breckinridge—Vice President in the Buchanan administration—and Isabella Goodrich Breckinridge, the daughter of American industrialist B. F. Goodrich. “My father,” she said later, “wished I would have been more conventional…. But my […]

A Brief Guide to Vassar’s Charter Trustees

Augustus L. Allen, a Poughkeepsie resident, served on the Board of Trustees until 1902. Martin Anderson, an editor and college professor, was born in 1815. Having studied at both Newton Theological Seminary and Waterville College (later Colby College), Anderson became a classics instructor in 1841. He served for two years as the editor of the […]

Gertrude Buck

Born on July 14, 1871, in Kalamazoo, Michigan, to Judge George M. Buck and his wife, Annie, Gertrude Buck received all her higher degrees from the University of Michigan: a B.S. in 1884, M.S. in ’95, and a Ph.D in rhetoric and composition in ’98. She joined the Vassar faculty in 1897 as an English […]

Henry Buckham

Vassar’s first English Professor, Henry Barmby Buckham, taught rhetoric, belles-lettres, and English language in the college’s first year, 1865–1866. Although his time at Vassar was brief, Buckham proved to be a challenging professor who gave many of his students a strong foundation in writing and grammar. Born in March 1827 in Hinckley, County of Leicestershire, […]

Lucy Burns ’1902

Co-founder for the National Woman’s Party, Lucy Burns ’02 was a leader of the militant-wing of the women’s suffrage movement. Known for her vehement fight for women’s right to vote and her resilience under opposition, Burns is also remembered as one of the early trailblazers in the movement for gender equality. Lucy was born on […]

John Burroughs

The renowned naturalist John Burroughs had a close, although informal, relationship with Vassar College. Burroughs, who lived from 1837 to 1921, was one of the “big five” of American naturalists. The others were Louis Agassis, John James Audubon, John Muir, and Henry David Thoreau. For more than thirty years he served as adviser and mentor […]

A Bust of Mary Somerville

COLLINGWOOD, Nov. 14, 1857. MY DEAR FATHER: This is Sir John Herschel’s place. I came last night just at dusk…. This declaration to her father had special meaning for Maria Mitchell. A decade after achieving sudden fame in 1847 with her discovery of a “telescopic” comet and her subsequent receipt of a gold medal from […]

Mary Steichen Calderone ’1925

“What is a four letter word that ends with a “k” and means sexual intercourse?” Calderone liked to challenge young audiences. She answered the question: “It’s ‘talk.’” Nicknamed “the Grand Dame of sexual enlightenment,” Calderone was a charismatic and tireless advocate of sexuality education and promoted the principle that sexuality, as a vital part of […]

Samuel L. Caldwell

When President John Raymond died in the summer of 1878, Samuel L. Caldwell was asked to step in from the Board of Trustees to become the third president of Vassar. Caldwell was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts in 1820. After graduating from Waterville College (now Colby College) in 1839, Caldwell became the director of an academy […]

Calisthenium and Riding Academy (Avery Hall, Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film)

The Calisthenium and Riding Academy (1866) John A. Wood As Vassar has expanded over its long history from a single, all-inclusive building to a campus of over 100 specialized structures—classroom buildings, residences, laboratory and recital spaces, libraries—it has demolished only two significant structures: Silliman and Farnsworth’s Vassar Brothers Laboratory (1880-1938) and Renwick’s entrance lodge (1865-1914). […]

Chairs of the Board of Trustees

The chair of the board shall be elected from among the trustees at the annual meeting for a four-year term and may be elected to a second consecutive term. Except as otherwise provided herein, the chair of the board shall preside at all meetings of the board and the executive committee of the board. The […]

Elizabeth W. Champney

Elizabeth Williams Champney ’1869

Elizabeth Williams Champney, a graduate of the Vassar class of 1869, gained fame for her “Three Vassar Girls” novels. Born in Springfield, Ohio in 1850 to abolitionist parents, Champney moved to Kansas before the start of the Civil War. A member of Vassar’s second graduating class, she began her literary career with a mock-biblical account […]

The Chapel

The Chapel (1904) Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge The Vassar Chapel, built in 1904 as a home for religious life on campus, represents a component of Vassar education from the college’s founding. Although the college was non-sectarian, religious observance at Vassar began in 1865 on the third and fourth floors of Main Building, where a portion […]

Clarence K. Chatterton

Clarence Kerr Chatterton, the creator of Vassar’s Applied Art (studio art) program, was born in Newburgh, NY, on September 19, 1880, to Charles L. Chatterton, a lawyer born of English parents, and Julia Lendrum Chatterton, the daughter of a mayor of Newburgh. Although they allowed him to study art in school, his parents did not […]

The Chronicle

The paper quickly gained a respectable readership, though former student and faculty member Elizabeth Daniels ‘41 recalls that the Chronicle “was thought of as a paper for conservatives.” In an editorial on March 17, 1944, the editors addressed this widespread belief, saying, “We shall deal with each issue according to our opinions at the time, […]

The Chronicle of the 1970s

For four years the magazine sought to serve “the internal life of the community, its values, intellectual involvement, poetry and prose.” However, by 1978 the opinion articles had steadily diminished, replaced by more literary submissions. The staff decided in February of that year to forgo further journalistic ventures and turn The Chronicle into a monthly […]

Emma Church

The case of Emma Church is a curious glimpse into the early history of Art at Vassar College. Not much is known about this mid-nineteenth century American artist. Before 1862 she emigrated to Rome, where she studied painting and earned a living by copying the works of the Old Masters which could be seen in […]

Civil War

Vassar College opened its doors in the fall of 1865, just five months after Robert E. Lee surrendered his troops at Appomattox Courthouse. As Vassar’s first students entered Main Gate, the country nursed its wounds and took the first steps toward national unity and the total emancipation of slaves. The Civil War and it repercussions […]

Eleanor Clark, ca. 1950

Eleanor Clark ’1934

In “The Art of Adventure” published in Vogue in 1953, Eleanor Clark wrote: “It seems safest to start by sticking one’s neck out and sounding as foolish as possible, which on this subject means confessing to an unalterable weakness for the word adventure.” Clark—an enterprising Vassar graduate, radical supporter of labor and leftist politics and […]

Evalyn A. Clark ’1924

Historian and professor Evalyn A. Clark was one of Vassar’s most renowned and loved teachers. Her life, which spanned the twentieth century, was devoted to probing and understanding the history within her lifetime and innovatively sharing her knowledge with generations of students who found her a challenging and devoted teacher and mentor. Vassar played an […]

The Class of 1951 Observatory

The Class of 1951 Observatory (1929) William Tubby Over the course of seven years, a fundraising event called the Campaign for Vassar raised $206,280,277. The largest fundraising campaign ever for a small liberal arts college, the solicitation was completed on June 30, 1996. Funds from the campaign would go to such projects as the Frances […]

Class Trees

A visitor driving through Vassar’s Main Gate today is likely to be as awed by the magnificence of the landscape as by the grandeur of Main Building, but this wasn’t always the case. The largest building in the country when it was completed in 1865, Main was set on an open, treeless plain, the site […]

Anne Cleveland ’1937

With a keen wit and distinctive visual style, Anne Thorburn Cleveland’s cartoons of life at Vassar during the 1930s give vibrant insight into college life in the mid-twentieth century.

Con Spirito

In early 1933, Mary McCarthy ’33, Elizabeth Bishop ’34, Frani Blough ’33 and sisters Eleanor ’34 and Eunice Clark ’33, created a rebellious, anonymous literary newspaper called Con Spirito. “It is really going to be good,” Blough prophesied before its publication, “a little shock at the Review! Nothing tame, arty, wishy-washy, ordinary or any of […]

Ruth Conklin

Ms. Conklin’s research focused on circulation and respiration, especially in reference to the lymphatic system. When she returned to Vassar, she became Assistant Professor of Physiology, and continued to make contributions to her field. In the summer of 1931, Ms. Conklin traveled to Copenhagen on a Vassar Faculty Fellowship to study osmotic control of animals […]

The Conservation Division

Founded in 1941, Vassar’s conservation division, an interdisciplinary graduate program, was funded by a generous gift from Dr. Helen Cordelia Putnam ’78, a pioneer in women’s and children’s health and in physical education. Professors from the botany, zoology, psychology and geology departments directed the program collaboratively, with five major goals: training graduate students in the […]

Conversations about Vassar History with Historian Elizabeth A. Daniels

In 1995, Elizabeth Daniels asked me if I would be “willing” to engage in a series of video recordings in which she would tell me “all I’ve learned about Vassar.” I was both willing and honored to be asked, and we started that fall a series of taped interviews, patiently recorded by John McCormick, ranging […]


In 1865, President John H. Raymond gave a sermon in honor of the college’s opening. Such services continued to be held every September until 1914. Then, at the suggestion of Lucy Maynard Salmon, a convocation ceremony, with a procession of the faculty in academic regalia, was organized to formally open each academic year. The ceremony […]

Cooperative Living Projects at Vassar

In the fall of 1933, Vassar College initiated two experiments in cooperative living. These initiatives, one in existing residence halls (Raymond and Main) and the other in a reconfigured Blodgett Hall, were part of an effort to help students lower their costs during the financial crisis of the Depression. Many Vassar girls were determined to […]

Photo of Adelaide Crapsey

Adelaide Crapsey ’1901

In poetry, perhaps more than any other genre, it is always tempting to merge the personal and the persona. This is particularly true in the case of Adelaide Crapsey, given that her work was published posthumously—thanks in large part to the diligence of her devoted colleagues, family, and friends.

Cupid and Psyche

The Neglected Psyche The real Venus was angered by the neglect of her altars and the attention given to this mere mortal. She summoned her son, Cupid, and bid him punish this upstart. As a result, when suitors came to seek the hands of the young girls, none came for Psyche. All the men were […]

Florence Cushing ’1874

Born on April 24, 1853, Florence Maria Cushing was the first of the five children of Boston merchant Hayward Pierce Cushing and his wife, Harriet Maria Pierce Cushing, and also the first of the three Cushing sisters to graduate from Vassar.  Jennie Cushing graduated in the Class of 1880, and Ida in 1883. Graduating in 1874, […]

Cushing House

Cushing House (1927) Allen and Collens In a letter to President Henry Noble MacCracken in February 1926, the college warden, Jean Palmer ‘93, wrote, “Vassar is appearing as an exponent of euthenics and the present living conditions seem inconsistent….” The concept of Euthenics was defined by Ellen Swallow Richards ‘70 in The Cost of Shelter […]

Daisy Chain

Perhaps the most famous of Vassar traditions, the annual Daisy Chain is also one of the oldest. Every year, a group of sophomore women, chosen for their leadership skills, class spirit, and eagerness to volunteer their time, are chosen by a committee of the senior class council to carry a 150-foot chain of daisies and […]

Dance at Vassar

“Among other physical exercises claiming consideration, dancing has been presented to our Executive Committee for their considerations and has been urged by many citizens. The attention of the Christian community has been awakened by recent writings pro and con on these questions. The latest…on the ‘Incompatibility of Amusements with Christian Life.’…Years ago I made up […]

Dr. Katharine Bement Davis ’1892

On January 1, 1914, Vassar alumna Dr. Katharine Bement Davis became New York City’s first female Correction Commissioner. She was the first woman to head a uniformed agency, and one of the first women to head a major bureaucratic organization in the United States. Davis was born in Buffalo, N. Y. on January 15, 1860. […]

Hallie Flanagan Davis

Hallie Ferguson was born in Redfield, South Dakota, on August 27, 1890. As a young child, she and her siblings would stage dramatic productions in the family living room. Little did anyone suspect that the tiny Irish girl from the Midwest would grow up to become one of the leading forces in early 20th century […]

Carl Degler

“History,” Carl Degler wrote in 1981, “is heavily concerned with values, and just because it is concerned with values…history cannot have any breakthroughs comparable to those in physics, biology, or any other science.” That Degler viewed history as a modest subject would not surprise those who knew him; he was a modest man who often […]

Carl N. Degler: “Vassar College”

Carl N. Degler, the emeritus Margaret Byrne professor of American history at Stanford University, taught in Vassar’s history department from 1952 until 1968. His essay, “Vassar College,” appeared in American Places: Encounters with History, edited by William E. Leuchtenburg. Its inclusion in the Vassar Encyclopedia is courtesy of Professor Degler and by permission of Oxford […]

“Diabolus”: “Commencement at Vassar Female College”

The closing ceremonies events in 1866 were reported in The New York Times on June 28, 1866. The paper’s “Special Correspondent” for the event was the pseudonymous “Diabolus,” who gives a peculiarly effective picture of the energy, hope, and potential in the new college. Article reprint included.

George Sherman Dickinson

George Sherman Dickinson, affectionately known as “Dicky,” served as Professor of Music, Music Librarian, and Chair of the Music Department during his thirty-seven years at Vassar. Born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1888, Dickinson went on to attend Oberlin College as an undergraduate. In 1909, he received an A.B. from Oberlin, and one year later […]

The Disappointing First Thrust of Euthenics

THE STORY OF THE IMPACT of a group of Vassar women trustees and professional social scientists on the vulnerable, receptive, and eager Henry Noble MacCracken between 1915 and 1925, in his early stage of formulating and executing his forward-looking academic policies, revolves around a floating, much misunderstood, and (to some on the faculty at the […]

Distinguished Displaced Scholars

Following in the footsteps of his father, Henry Mitchell MacCracken, Chancellor of New York University, Henry Noble MacCracken, Vassar’s president from 1915 to 1946, worked in various ways for peaceful problem-solving and international understanding during his time at Vassar. Two seminal contributions to Vassar’s liberal arts education were two programs aiding established European scholars who […]

Interview with Elizabeth Moffatt Drouilhet

Introduction Elizabeth Moffat Drouilhet was a member of the Vassar Class of 1930. She served as Acting Warden of the College from 1940–1941 and was appointed Warden in 1941. She retired from the post in 1976. She returned briefly to assist Acting Dean of the Faculty Elizabeth Daniels during a crisis in the late 1970s. […]

Elizabeth M. Drouilhet’s Convocation Speech, 1976

The Fifty Years of Vassar I Have Seen: Remarks made at Senior Convocation, April 28, I976 Mr. President, Members of the Faculty, the Senior Class, and all of you with whom I have worked so closely these many years. Rarely have you had so reluctant a speaker. Having carefully avoided making a speech for the […]

Crystal Eastman ’1903

“Life [is] a big battle for the complete feminist,” wrote the radical feminist, activist, and civil rights advocate Crystal Eastman, and few have been better equipped for fighting the battle than Eastman herself. Crystal Catherine Eastman was born on June 25, 1881, to Rev. Samuel Eastman and Annis Ford Eastman. Although the family lived in […]


The introduction of electric lighting during the 1880s attracted attention everywhere. On January 27, 1911, a group of Vassar trustees met in New York City at the home of the naturalist and Vassar trustee, Albert S. Bickmore, for a special meeting to evaluate the condition and the future of Vassar’s heating and lighting system. When […]

The Experimental Theatre of Vassar College

Perhaps fittingly, what was to be the Vassar drama department emerged from the basement of the Assembly Hall, the former Calisthenium and Riding Academy and the home of the English department. Before a woman who would change it forever arrived from Cambridge, Massachusetts, drama at Vassar had been considered a child of that department, but […]

Faculty Shows

What could be better than to see your professors check their scholarly personae at the door and sing and dance with the sole purpose of entertaining you? In the Vassar tradition of faculty shows, for many decades professors put on a play, usually of the comedic variety, solely for a student audience. “It never fails […]

Frances Daly Fergusson

Frances Daly Fergusson became the ninth president of Vassar College on July 1, 1986. Her inauguration coincided with the 125th anniversary of Vassar’s founding. During her term as president, Ms. Fergusson has inspired philanthropy unprecedented in the history of the college. She has been a passionate advocate for education, and particularly liberal education, both here and abroad, […]

Dexter M. Ferry Jr. Cooperative House

Dexter M. Ferry Jr. Cooperative House (1951) Marcel Breuer On October 5th, 1951, trustees, students, faculty and other members of the college community gathered for the presentation to the campus of a new building, one quite unlike anything they had seen before at Vassar: the Dexter M. Ferry Jr. Cooperative House. Donated by Dexter M. Ferry […]

Field Day

On a rather cold, rainy November 9, 1895, Vassar became the first women’s college in the United States to hold a field day. Approximately seventeen girls, supervised by the Classics professor L. J. Moore, participated in five track events: the hundred-yard dash, the running broad jump, the running high jump, and the two-hundred-and-twenty-yard dash. Events […]

Fire of 1918

On February 12, 1918, the student residents of Main Building were seated at dinner when the fire alarm rang. The girls filed outside quickly and calmly, obeying the procedures for what they thought was a drill. Within a few minutes, smoke began rising from the back of the building, and then, suddenly, part of the […]

The First in the World?

The longstanding claim that Vassar’s original heating and gas generation system was the first centralized system in the country, and perhaps, the world, is a widely echoed piece of college lore.

The First Students

Introduction Preparing in 1873 an account of its brief history, John Howard Raymond, the president of Vassar Female College and the professor of moral philosophy when it opened in September 1865, recalled the well over 1,000 first applicants for admission. “A large number, between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four,” he wrote, “from all parts […]

First Women Trustees

The trustees did not respond to the request for alumnae representation on their Board until June 7, 1887, when, presumably under President Taylor’s influence, they permitted the alumnae to nominate three of their own to fill vacancies on the Board. The alumnae elected from among themselves Florence M. Cushing, Elizabeth E. Poppleton, and Helen Hiscock Backus.

Portrait of Emily Jordan Folger

Emily Jordan Folger ’1879

The editors of the Vassar Encyclopedia are grateful to Dr. Stephen H. Grant for this article on a distinguished member of the class of 1879. 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 […]

The Folklore Foundation

The Folklore Foundation arrived at Vassar in 1920 with Martha Beckwith, a folklorist who studied under Franz Boas, the famous anthropologist, at Columbia. Considered remarkably progressive at the time, the project studied and examined all “folk” elements of culture from folk tales, to folk dancing, to slang. While the foundation conducted research on a wide […]

Joseph K. Folsom

Sociologist, economist, psychologist, anthropologist and therapist: Joseph Kirk Folsom, a member of the Vassar College faculty from 1931 until his retirement in 1959, embraced and practiced these varying and often differing fields of study. His prolific and thought-provoking writing, primarily about the family in modern society, earned him awards and honors during his long career […]

Founder’s Day

There’s a day in the springtimeAs the campus knows wellWhen the book is laid upon the shelfAnd silent’s the bell.– from a Founder’s Day “Traditional” On April 29, 1866, around four in the afternoon, President John H. Raymond arrived at Matthew Vassar’s Springside residence, and invited him for a leisurely ride to the college. En […]

The Founders of Vassar

THE FOUNDERS OF VASSAR. Mary W. Whitney, ’68. ADDRESS DELIVERED AT VASSAR COLLEGE ON FOUNDER’S DAY, APRIL 26, 1895. A few of us present this afternoon, a very few, were at Vassar in the days when Matthew Arnold, standing where I stand, gave us his lecture upon Emerson. In his peculiar but characteristic manner he […]

The Founding of The Seven Sisters

Nicknamed The Seven Sisters, the consortium of women’s colleges— Barnard, Bryn Mawr , Mount Holyoke, Smith, Radcliffe, Vassar, and Wellesley—was officially formed in 1926 in order to combat “the…crisis which the women’s colleges [were] facing,” namely, the difficulties women’s schools were having in raising endowment money sufficient for the desired caliber of education for these […]

The French Tank

Vassar’s relationship with France has been long and affectionate, going back to the construction of Main Building, modeled on the Tuileries Palace. Since that structure was so severely damaged in the fighting during the Paris Commune in the spring of 1871 that it had to be demolished, architectural historians look to Main Building to get […]

Caroline E. Furness

Caroline E. Furness ’1891

Caroline Furness was professor of astronomy and director of the observatory at Vassar for 20 years. Vassar president Henry Nobel MacCracken identified her course on variable stars as the first of its kind offered in any American college, and her book, Introduction to the Study of Variable Stars (1915), became a standard in the field. […]

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. […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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,” […]

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: […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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, […]

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.

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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, […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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, […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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.”

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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: […]

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.

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, […]

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 […]

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.

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 […]

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 […]


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 […]

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, […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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, […]

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 […]

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 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 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 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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

“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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

James Orton

“In this day of many voyages, in the Old World and the New, it is refreshing to find an untrodden path.” The first sentence of Professor James Orton’s preeminent work, The Andes and the Amazon, is a perfect introduction to Orton’s life, work and personality. Orton was born on April 21, 1830, in Seneca Falls, […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]


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.

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

“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 […]


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 […]

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, […]

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.