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Vassar Encyclopedia

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

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 […]

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 […]

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 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 […]

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 […]

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, […]

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, […]

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 […]

The Vassar Summer Institute

June 1926 marked the commencement of the first session of the Vassar Summer Institute of Euthenics. The Institute was started by President Henry Noble McCracken as a “…graduate program designed to supplement the undergraduate curriculum along the lines of euthenics.” The Summer Institute was an offshoot of the controversial euthenics major, which had been established […]

The Vassar-Yale Study

In the 1960s, the elite colleges and universities of the East Coast were going through an identity crisis, finding that their single-sex traditions threatened to drive away the best students who wanted a coed undergraduate experience. Liberal arts colleges like Vassar found the lack of graduate programs and specialized facilities made it harder to attract […]

Vassar’s First Intercollegiate Debate

On April 26th, 1902, Vassar participated in its first intercollegiate debate. The debate was held at Wellesley College on the topic “Resolved: that the United States should subsidize a merchant marine.” Prior to this occasion, the students were repeatedly denied requests to debate with other colleges, as it was thought such rigorous extracurricular activity would […]