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Vassar Encyclopedia

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

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.

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 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 […]

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 […]

Mastodon

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

“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 “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 […]

Tapestries

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, […]

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 […]

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 […]