Vassar’s college colors were chosen: The rose of sunrise breaking through the gray of women’s previous intellectual life.
Frederick Louis Ritter succeeded Edward Weibé as professor of music and head of the School of Music. Weibé, who was the first college professor of music in the United States, accepted a position at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary.
An accomplished composer and conductor, Ritter expanded the already unique curriculum of the music school. He also strengthened the Vassar Library’s collection of music materials.
The Missionary Society of Vassar College was founded. In June 1867 the name was changed to the Society for Religious Inquiry. The society conducted extensive correspondence with foreign and domestic missionaries, often requesting and—after supplying sufficient postage—receiving artifacts for their cabinet of curiosities. In December, 1870, Justus Doolittle, a missionary in Foo Chow, China, wrote to the society: “...I’m afraid that there are few things here that are interesting. Though some things are funny if you understand them.”
In 1872 the society began correspondence with African American students at the Hampton Institute in Virginia, sending also from time to time contributions to help with their expenses. In December of 1874 the society’s secretary Jeannie Price heard from Robert Kelson, a Hampton student: “…I am trying to do the best I can because I feel that it is here we are to be made men and women, who can assist in educating our race, and doing other good which is needed in our country.”
The society was reorganized in 1885 as the Young Women's Christian Association of Vassar College and for many years was popularly known as "Christians."
Following an act of the New York State Legislature, by which the word "female" was removed from the name of the college, the trustees voted to remove from the front of Main the marble slab containing this word.
Professor Charles Farrar and his class successfully repeated Foucault's demonstration of the rotary motion of the earth. The pendulum used, a sphere of lead weighing forty-six pounds, was suspended from the roof of Main by a wire sixty-four feet long, over the open space within the north central stairway.
United States Secretary of State William H. Seward agreed to purchase Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million.
Founder’s Day was observed for the second time. The Muse of the Past, the Genius of Progress and her attendants, Science, Art, Religion and Music appeared in a student pageant, and "as the Genius of Progress alluded to Vassar College and spoke of the Founder she exclaimed, ‘Behold his features!’ the signal for the curtain at the rear of the stage to be parted, revealing [his marble] bust against a background of evergreens.” Frances A. Wood, Earliest Years at Vassar
The faculty made, in President Raymond’s words, “the first attempt to arrange a portion of the students (about one third of the whole) in college classes.” Of the 352 students, 116 were distributed as follows: seniors, 4; juniors, 18, intermediate between juniors and sophomores, 9; sophomores, 27; intermediate between sophomores and freshmen, 13; freshmen 45. Of the remaining 236 students, 71 were in the “regular preparatory course” and 165 were pursuing “irregular courses”—that is, completing specific course requirements for placement in the collegiate classes. John Howard Raymond, Vassar College. A College for Women, in Poughkeepsie, N. Y.
Mary Harriot Norris ’70 attended a lecture by Ralph Waldo Emerson: "His first remarks placed a gulf between us…. He feared, seeing who were to be his hearers, that he had brought the wrong lecture with him. There were portions of the lecture before him we might not be able to understand. He would omit such passages as far as possible.
“Abashed, yet indignant, we settled ourselves to hear what he was willing to say to us. …every now and then, Emerson would glance down at us with a gentle, winning apology of expression, then proceed with the greatest deliberation to leaf over several pages and set them aside, and, more than once, as it seemed to us, abstract whole sections, then proceed again, quite regardless of the broken sequence of thought.
“There was considerable indignation, after the lecture, on the part of the students, that Emerson had thought us incapable, to paraphrase his own language, of ‘aiming our arrows at a star.’” Mary Harriot Norris, The Golden Age of Vassar
Vassariana, the student magazine, changed its name to The Transcript. The issues for 1869 and 1870 were called The Vassar Transcript.
The first graduation exercises were held in the Chapel. Four members of the Class of 1867, Harriet Warner, Maria Dickinson, Elizabeth Geiger and Helen D. Woodward received the first Vassar baccalaureate degrees. Certificates of completion were awarded in place of formal diplomas, pending the resolution—which happened the next year—of the question of awarding “bachelor’s” degrees to women.
The New York Times marked the event in two paragraphs:
“The Vassar College Commencement took place this morning. The weather was beautiful. Four young ladies graduated. Original compositions were read in Latin and French; also an English poem and a valedictory.
“Among the distinguished visitors were Hon. Wm. Kelly, James Harper, Jerome Hopkins, Benson Lossing, and others.”
Frequent visitors to the college in later years, two Detroit classmates, Maria Dickinson McGraw and Harriet Warner Bishop attended the college's 50th anniversary in 1915, and Mrs. Bishop attended the 75th in 1940.
The New York Times published an account of the observation from the Vassar Observatory of the great meteor shower, the Leonids:
"Observations at the Vassar College at Poughkeepsie
"Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, Wednesday, Nov. 14—1. A.M.
"The observations began at 10:20 P. M. The light of the moon makes it impossible to see faint meteors, but he number of brilliant ones is unusually large. In the hour from 11:20 to 12:20 about six of these were seen in the neighborhood of the Great Bear and Leo.
"About 12 o'clock two very bright ones passed directly across the Great Bear.
"Between 12 and 1 o'clock five were seen to pass among the stars of Orion, with long trains; one in the Constellation Cygnus, and one brighter than Syrius, without train, was seen near the northern horizon, while one near Castor left a train which remained a minute, and another in Cassiopea was accompanied by a very broad train."
The association of the Leonids, observed for nearly a thousand years, with the Comet Tempel-Tuttle was under discovery at the time of this observation.
American orator and pioneer abolitionist Wendell Phillips, president of the Anti-Slavery Society, delivered his popular lecture on "Street Life in Europe" under the auspices of the Philalethean Society. On December 10, 1867, Matthew Vassar wrote to Sarah Stilson '69, a student whose poem "Hill-Top Idyl" had pleased him at the original Founder's Day and who was absent from the college for the term, "We have lately had several distinguishd Lecturers at our College among them Revd Newman Hall of England, Wendell Phillips, Vincent & others." Elizabeth Hazelton Haight, ed., Autobiography and Letters of Matthew Vassar
The first Musical Soiree was given by Vassar students under the direction of Professor Frederick L. Ritter.