The New York State Legislature passed "An Act to Incorporate Vassar Female College," with the "object and purpose" of "the education of young women in literature, science, and the arts." The charter listed as trustees: Matthew Vassar, Ira Harris, William Kelly, James Harper, Martin B. Anderson, John Thompson, Edward Lathrop, Charles W. Swift, E.L. Magoon, S.M. Buckingham, Milo P. Jewett, Nathan Bishop, Matthew Vassar, Jr., Benson J. Lossing, E.G.Robinson, Samuel F.B. Morse, S.S. Constant, John Guy Vassar, William Hague, Rufus Babcock, Cornelius Dubois, John H. Raymond, Morgan L. Smith, Cyrus Swan, George W. Sterling, George T. Pierce, Smith Sheldon, Joseph C. Doughty and A.L. Allen.
The Confederate States of America was formed, with Jefferson Davis as its president.
On a pre-inaugural tour from Niagara Falls to New York City, Abraham Lincoln told the people of Poughkeepsie the American people were "a great, and intelligent and a happy people." Conceding that the frequent cheers of affirmation were meant not for himself but for "the man who at this time humbly, but earnestly, represents the majesty of the nation," the President-elect declared his warm reception "indicates an earnest desire on the part of the whole people, without regard to political differences, to save—not the country, for the country will save itself—but the institutions of the country—those institutions under which, in the last three quarters of a century, we have grown to a great, and intelligent and a happy people—the greatest, the most intelligent and the happiest people in the world." Abraham Lincoln, Complete Works, Comprising His Speeches, Letters, State Papers and Miscellaneous Writings, John G. Nicolay and John Hay, eds.
The first meeting of the Board of Trustees of Vassar Female College was held at the Hotel Gregory in Poughkeepsie. Milo P. Jewett was elected president. Dr. Jewett, a graduate of Dartmouth College and Andover Theological Seminary, was Professor at Marietta Collegiate Institute in Ohio, 1833-38. In 1838 he established Judson Female Institute at Marion, Ala. He came to Poughkeepsie in 1855 to reopen the school founded by Lydia Booth.
At this meeting, Matthew Vassar presented to the newly organized board of trustees a small tin box containing the funds appropriated for the founding of the college, in the form of securities amounting to $408,000, and a deed of conveyance for two hundred acres for the college site and farm. "It occurred to me, that woman, having received from her Creator the same intellectual constitution as man, has the same right as man to intellectual culture and development."
"It is my hope to be the instrument in the hands of Providence, of founding and perpetuating an institution which shall accomplish for young women what our colleges are accomplishing for young men."
Matthew Vassar, Communications to the Trustees of Vassar College by its Founder, February 26,1861
Lincoln was inaugurated as 16th President of the United States of America.
Fort Sumter was fired upon. In his communication to the trustees on April 13, 1865, Matthew Vassar noted, "Just four years ago tomorrow, we staked out the ground for the foundation of our College, a day which was made singularly memorable by the fall of Fort Sumter."
Matthew Vassar dug the first spadeful of dirt for Main Building on the site of a former racetrack, the land purchased in 1860. James Renwick, Jr. was the architect and William Harloe the builder. "Mr. Vassar in the presence of Executive Committee, Mr. Harloe, and a few other spectators removed the first spadeful of soil from the NE corner of the proposed building.... Remarks were made by Mr. Vassar and the Reverend Doctor Howard Malcom of Philadelphia and the latter invoked the Divine blessing. A single furrow was then plowed about the outlines of the entire structure and the work left to the builder." trustee executive committe minutes, June 24, 1861.
A prominent Baptist minister and missionary,Howard Malcom was the former president of The University at Lewisburg in Pennsylvania—subsequently Bucknell University. He served as president of Hahnemann Medical College in Philadelphia from 1874 until his death in 1879. William Harloe’s eventual bankruptcy obliged Matthew Vassar to donate an additional $75,000 to the complete the building.