Designed by John. A. Wood, a prolific Poughkeepsie architect, the Calisthenium and Riding Academy, Vassar’s first gymnasium, was completed. Matthew Vassar endorsed physical education as propounded by the early physical educator Dr. Dio Lewis and his colleague, the advocate for female education Catherine Beecher. The college’s 1865 Prospectus declared that “our plan of education. . . must include Anatomy. . . Physiology. . . Hygiene, by which we are taught the laws of health and the art of preserving it.” Accordingly, Lewis’s “calisthenics”—"training calculated to develop the beauty of the human figure, and to promote elegant and graceful movement"—was a required activity for all students.
Instruction in riding was given by Baron Leopold von Seldeneck, who had been a cavalry officer in the Prussian army and had served in the same capacity in the Civil War. The riding academy proved too expensive and was closed in 1872.
After the opening of the Alumnae Gymnasium in 1889, the Calisthenium was used as a museum, an assembly hall and for many years the home of the departments of classics, drama and English. It was renamed Avery Hall in 1931, in honor of Dr. Alida Avery, Vassar's first professor of physiology and hygiene and its first resident physician.
Avery Hall was razed in 2003 to make way for the Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film, but the center’s architect, Cesar Pelli, retained the Calisthenium’s façade and front section, which serve as the entrance and lobby of its main proscenium theater.
The first Vassar College catalogue of courses, for 1865/1866, was published.
The Faculty voted that April 29, Matthew Vassar's birthday, be "entered on the calendar as a holiday to be annually observed by appropriate commemoration exercises and that it be known as Founder's Day." It was further voted that the celebration be on April 30th that year, as the 29th fell on Sunday.
Annie Glidden ’69 wrote to her brother what is believed to be the first reference to American women playing baseball. “They are getting up various clubs now for outdoor exercise,” she wrote. “They have a floral society, boat clubs and baseball. I belong to one of the latter, and enjoy it hugely, I can assure you.”
Arriving at the college for the first Founder's Day celebration and escorted by President Raymond, the unsuspecting Matthew Vassar drove under a triumphal archway of evergreens designed by Henry Van Ingen, professor of art. Lines of students on either side of the driveway greeted the Founder. The literary program which followed included an original song, "Our Father and Our Friend," with music by Professor of Music Edward Wiebé, and words by Julia S. Tutwiler, special student, 1865-66. The celebration was a complete surprise to Matthew Vassar, who is reported to have said to Dr. Raymond "This one event has repaid me for every cent I have spent for the college."
A student’s letter home noted President Raymond’s announcement that Sunrise Hill was in bounds for “all seniors, juniors, and all over twenty,” adding “[the] last was an important addition as no mortal persons know whether they are in the Freshman or Senior year.”
Her reference was to the impossibility of determining the first group of students’ class years. “For the first year, no attempt was made to grade the students by any common standard. It would hardly have been possible to do so, so dissimilar had their previous plans of study been. Their individual wants were, therefore considered only; and they were classified in the several departments of instruction separately.” John Howard Raymond, Vassar College: a college for women, in Poughkeepsie, N. Y.
Matthew Vassar wrote Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book and a persistent opponent of “Female” in the name of the college, that the trustees had at last approved the word’s deletion: "I hasten to inform you that the great agony is over—your long cherished wishes reilised—Woman stands redeemed, at least so far as 'Vassar College is concerned from the degrading vulgarism in the associated name of 'female', that has long and extensively grown up in our society..." Elizabeth Hazelton Haight, ed., The Autobiography and Letters of Matthew Vassar
The Vassariana, the first student publication, appeared, listing the following clubs: the Philalethian Society, the Floral Society, the Laurel Base Ball Club, the Abenakis Base Ball Club and the Light Croquet Club. The four-page newspaper contained also "an account of the inauguration of Founder's Day, at which Matthew Vassar was present, and editorial comment upon the happenings of that opening year."
The Vassariana was succeeded in 1867 by The Transcript, an eight-page paper which began with "the college song 'Three Cheers for the Rose and the Grey':
'When the daughters of Vassar were toiling
O'er "Morals" and Greek in dismay,
Hope came robed in the colors of morning,
Our banner of rose-hue and grey.'" [Sung to the tune of "Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean"]
The Transcript was succeeded in 1872 by The Vassar Miscellany. Florence Hotchkiss, 1897,"An Unnoticed Record of College History," The Vassar Miscellany, October, 1896
As President Raymond later observed, for Vassar’s first year, “no attempt was made to grade the students by any common standard. It would hardly have been possible to do so, so dissimilar had their previous plans of study been.” Nonetheless the college observed “closing ceremonies” for the 1865-66 academic year.
A reporter from The New York Times, under the pseudonym “Diabolus,” wrote at length about the new college and “the exercises of the evening…before a large and brilliant assemblage of youth and beauty, wit and worth…. The ‘papers’ were cleverly written and carefully read; the singing was really admirable, and the closing dialogue between Truth, Peace, Discord and a number of angelic friends, was not only instructive, as such matters always are, but likewise entertaining, as they very rarely are.”
Having told her diary on March 27, 1863, of the "glorious emancipation for woman...the Vassar female college that is to be," 19-year-old Christine Ladd told it of the argument she constructed to convince her family to send her to college.
"I have gained an important point with my grandmother. She says she thinks Auntie ought to send me to Vassar. She objected that at the end of four years I should be too old to get married. I assured her that it would afford me great pleasure to entangle a husband but there was no one [in] the place who would have me or whom I would have and out of this place I was destined never to go, gave her statistics of the great excess of females in New England and proved that as I was decidedly not handsome my chances were very small. Therefore since I could not find a husband to support me I must support myself and to do so I needed an education. Grandma succumbed." Christine Ladd, in her diary
A graduate in the Class of 1869, Ladd was, in 1878, among the first women allowed to attend lectures at Johns Hopkins University. She married Johns Hopkins mathematician Fabian Franklin in 1882, and Ladd-Franklin's invention of the "antilogism" solved a problem in symbolic logic that dated back to Aristotle. Her fascinating career is described in the VCencyclopedia.
The yearly fee for tuition and residence was raised from $350 to $400, where it would remain until 1905. Towards the end of his life, on June 10, 1868, the Founder wrote to President Raymond: "My maxim or motto is now the same as at the beginning of our enterprise - Do all things Intelecturall and Material the best, and make your prices accordingly... .I go for the best means, cost what they may, & corresponding prices for tuition in return…." Elizabeth Hazelton Haight, ed., Autobiography and Letters of Matthew Vassar
The feminist writer, lecturer and social reformer Caroline Wells Healey Dall visited Vassar in preparation for her influential book, The College, The Market, and the Court: or Woman's Relation to Education, Labor, and Law, a collection of her lectures, given over a number of years and published 1867. Although still thinking that the best hope for the education of women might be coeducation, she was very favorably impressed by the college and by the thoroughness with which it had been planned. “Ten Years,” an appendix to her book, surveyed the improvement in women’s education over the preceding decade, devoting nearly ten pages to Vassar. "The art gallery," she wrote, was “such as no college in the country possesses,” and the “curriculum is such as we find adopted at all colleges, except that far more time is devoted to science than is usual at Yale or Harvard, and room is left for music.”
On this visit, Dall noted, Matthew Vassar asked her “to talk with him about a culinary and household college for the proper training of housewives, which he still wishes to erect.” Caroline Wells Healy Dall, The College, The Market, and the Court: or Woman’s Relation to Education, Labor, and Law
"I have had the pleasure of hearing a lecture from Mrs. Dall on 'Sunshine.' The lecture was not particularly original, but I was pleased with the lady and glad to have seen her." Christine Ladd '69, in her diary
Preparing the education section of her The College, The Market, and the Court: or Woman's Relation to Education, Labor and Law (1868) the Boston feminist writer and Unitarian preacher Caroline Wells Healy Dall closely studied Oberlin, Antioch and Vassar, which she visited in October 1866. "It was pleasant," she reported, "to see four hundred young women of the highest health, the best breeding, of good social standing, and abundant means, blossoming like so many tulips at Vassar,—we must add, also, of good ability, and more than average education; for only good scholars could pass the rigid examination required of those who enter. It was plasant to see that between between the ages of seventeen and twenty-two, when society offers its greatest allurements, four hundred wealthy girls could be found, ready to devote themselves in seclusion...to higher things."
Impressed by Vassar's Main Building and by the reputation and qualities of the three principle women on the original faculty—Maria Mitchell, Alida Avery and Elizabeth Powell—and of the lady principal, Hannah Lyman, Dall also noted, "besides these women, Vassar employs twenty others, in whom, it would be hard to find a fault." Dall's assesment of the founder, with whom she spoke at length, was equally high:
"Could you see him meet the scholars in the grounds, you would think them all his children. I had interviews with the president, trustees, and the teachers; but was most attracted to this noble old man. Matthew Vassar's "last gift to the college," she observed, was the exceptionally complete Mineralogical and Geological Cabinet, over 4000 specimins purchased from the eminent collector Henry Augustua Ward and installed by Ward next the the Art Gallery in the top floor of the Main Building— a "magnificent cabinet of stones and rocks."
"He told me," she said, "that he meant to go on endowing the college until he died. 'Then,' he said, 'I shall leave nothing for the executors to quarrel about: money will be safe in brick and stone.'" In this particular, Dall's prediction was only partly correct. Matthew Vassar died at a meeting of the trustees on June 23, 1868. There ensued no quarelling among the executors, bu in his will he forgave a $75,000 loan he had provided to complete the college buildings and bequeathed $50,000 for a lecture fund, $50,000 for an auxiliary fund to aid students of superior promise $50,000 for a library, art and cabinet fund and the residue of his estate, amounting to about $125,000, for a repair fund. Caroline Wells Healy Dall, The College, The Market, and the Court: or Woman’s Relation to Education, Labor, and Law
In a letter to President Raymond, the Founder wrote: "...Please to give my best regards to our dear young Ladies and Teachers, and say to them, that, I deeply regret that my health will not permit my joining them today, that I wanted to say to them, that the 'Vassar College' is now thiers, thiers to elevate, thiers to beautify, thiers to honor, and thiers to adorn, by its fruits, and I trust God in his Providence will bless, prosper and sustain it to the glory of his name, and to the praise and admiration of the world, and I hope therefore that all voices and hearts will arise and join in one glorious anthem and Sing the DOXOLOGY, today..." Elizabeth Hazelton Haight, ed., Autobiography and Letters of Matthew Vassar