Beginning in the early years of the college, students used store-bought blank books—often intended for the purpose—to make autograph books and scrapbooks. Autograph books were signed by classmates, professors, or officials of the college—even Matthew Vassar wrote in a number of them. An inscription might simply consist of the individual’s name and the date, but in many cases, this was accompanied by verses or well-wishes for the book’s owner. Some signers wrote a lengthy personal note or drew a picture to accompany their message.
The books were most often circulated in the spring, just before graduation. Popular verses often included the admonition to “forget-me-not.” Quotations from Shakespeare were also commonly used, as were phrases from the Bible or simply “God bless.” By the 1880s, humorous rhymes were more popular. Mary Van Etten Chase, for example, wrote to Marou S. Brown, “Poetry I cannot write / So will only in this book / Place my name tonight.”
While the tradition of autograph books had largely faded by the turn of the century, scrapbooks remained popular for some time thereafter. 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. Compiled throughout the owners’ time at Vassar, a few of them were supplemented with news items about classmates after graduation, most frequently wedding announcements.
Although the earlier scrapbooks included mainly clippings and programs, toward the turn of the century, the mementos became increasingly personal. Students often placed notes from friends and pressed flowers in scrapbooks, sometimes alongside essays or exams from a memorable class. By the early 1900s, the young women might have a few photographs of their college years to include in their scrapbooks. It was not uncommon for them to fill several scrapbooks before they graduated. Although the enthusiasm for scrapbooks seems to have died down by 1920, some students did continue the tradition well into the twentieth century. Many scrapbooks and autograph books have been donated to the Vassar Special Collections by alumnae and their descendants.
Vassar Libraries Digital Collections
The Student Scrapbooks collection provides access to scrapbooks from Vassar students from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The Student Diaries collection provides access to more than fifty diaries from Vassar students from the nineteenth century.
The Student Photo Album collection contains material from Vassar students primarily during the nineteenth century.
The Student Letters collection contains letters from Vassar students primarily during the nineteenth century.