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 falsified the whole question, has been found full of good for the average student. With a room to every student, the large building bears well the tests of comfort, quite, and health. It renders the gathering of the body of students easy, and access to libraries, lectures, concerts, chapel, comfortable.”President James Monroe Taylor, speaking at the 25th anniversary of Vassar College, June, 12, 1890
In his remarks, President Taylor addressed the difference between his college’s founding decision to enclose virtually all activities, especially students’ residences, in the enormous Main Building and the current discussions of whether the “cottage” system of residence adapted by Smith College, founded in 1875, or if another might be better. Strong Hall, the first student residence outside of Main, opened in 1893. Partly funded by Trustee John D. Rockefeller and named after his eldest child, Elizabeth Rockefeller Strong, a special student in 1866-68, Vassar’s commitment to the construction of individual residence halls was an immediate success. By 1895, applicants for admission again exceeded residential accommodations, prompting the trustees to agree the following year on a second residence hall. To ensure architectural continuity, the architect of Strong, Francis R. Allen, was hired to design this new building. College funds solely supported this project, and it was thus decided to name it in honor of John Raymond, Vassar’s president when it opened in 1865 and the man principally responsible for the college’s scholastic foundation. Planning for a lecture hall, Rockefeller Hall, an outright gift ($100,000) from Rockefeller, was underway, and the two buildings were built at the same time.
Raymond House’s opening for the 1897-98 academic year increased the popularity of the individual “halls” or “houses,” as the new residences were—and continue to be—alternately called. The new element of choice was reflected in a poem, “Before and After,” in Vassar Miscellany for May 1898: “Now shall we go to Raymond House,/Or live in Strong again?/I’m very sorry for those girls/That have to be in Main.” The student residences began the long Vassar tradition of residential variety. In 1933, for example, Raymond differentiated itself with its cooperative living plan, in which students received fee deductions for performing housework, until the plan’s discontinuation in 1942-43. And, with the advent of coeducation and coeducational residences in 1969, Strong House remained an all-woman hall.
With the construction of Raymond and Rockefeller Hall, the college created half of what became the residential quadrangle, and it was planning for the other half. Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., whose famous father had consulted briefly on the original layout of the college grounds, suggested an “echelon formation,” with paths that widened towards the campus’s north end, to promote a sense of open space. But Francis Allen and the architects of Rockefeller Hall, York and Sawyer, opted instead for two unbroken, parallel lines of buildings on the bias, and it was to this plan the rest of the quad was completed. In December 1900, Vassar Miscellany announced the construction of a third quad hall “similar to Strong and Raymond,” to be built the next year from a design by Allen’s firm, Allen and Vance.
Again funded by the college and named for Dr. Edward Lathrop, a charter trustee, Lathrop Hall opened in 1901. The fourth and final of the initial quad residence halls, Davison Hall, also designed by Allen and Vance, was built almost immediately after Lathrop. John D. Rockefeller gave $110,000 for its construction in the spring of 1901, and the building was opened on March 10, 1902. Rockefeller chose to name the new house in honor of his mother, Eliza Davison.
Davison, Raymond, Lathrop, and their predecessor, Strong, traditionally identified—counterclockwise from the southwest corner of the quad—by the mnemonic “Dear Robert Louis Stevenson,” were instrumental in Vassar’s development. By the late 19th century, schools housed in a single building were out of fashion, and the residence halls brought the college into the modern era while allowing it to greatly increase its enrollment. Two similar residence halls—each more innovative than the original four—Jewett House (originally, North Hall) in 1907 and Olivia Josselyn House in 1912—completed Vassar’s early residential complex.
Daniels, Elizabeth. Main to Mudd and More. Poughkeepsie: Vassar College, 1996.
Karen Van Lengen and Lisa Reilly, The Campus Guide: Vassar College, Princeton Architectural Press, 2004
Addresses at the Celebration of the Completion of the Twenty-Fifth Academic Year of Vassar College, 1890.
“Before and After,” Vassar Miscellany, vol. XXVII, no.8, 1 May 1898.
“College News,” Vassar Miscellany, vol. XXX, no. 3, 1 December 1900.
Vassar College Special Collections Library
TF 2013, CJ 2017