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Vassar Encyclopedia

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

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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.

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 […]

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 […]

School of Art & Music

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

Teaching Evolution at Vassar College

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

Vassar Students’ Study Abroad

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

Vassar’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 […]