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Vassar Encyclopedia

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

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 […]


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.

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 […]

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). […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]


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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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. […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 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 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’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 […]

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. […]