Having begun her formal education at 16 and entered Vassar at 26 as a third-year student, Ellen Swallow '70 provided her family with reflections of life at the college in its earliest days.  Selections from her letters, edited by Georgia Avery Kendrick, Lady Principal at Vassar between 1891 and 1913, appeared in The Vassar Miscellany in January and February 1899.

Early in September 1868, Swallow wrote, "Miss Lyman [the Lady Principal] said yesterday, 'You know people will persist in calling this a school, with it is not a school at all, but a college really.'  She also said, 'The Faculty do not consider it a mere experiment any longer that girls can be educated as well as boys.'"

On September 6, she reported, "The only trouble here, is that they won't let us study enough.  They are so afraid we shall break down, and you know the reputation of the College is at stake, for the question is can girls get a college degree without injuring their health?"  The Early Days of Vassar, Series I," The Vassar Miscellany, January 1, 1899

Graduating from the college in 1870, Swallow was the first woman to be granted provisional student status at the Massachesetts Institute of Technology. The recipient of the bachelor of science degree from MIT in 1873 and, simultaneously, Vassar's master of arts degree, she was the country's preeminent water scientist at the time of her graduation.  Continuing at MIT in the laboratory of Professor William Ripley Nichols, the head of the chemistry laboratory, in 1876 she joined the staff of the institute's new laboratory for women.  She is credited as the founder of the field of home economics, being, in the words of Vassar's Professor History Lucy Maynard Salmon, "among the very first to realize that the home affords an opportunity for scientific investigation and she became our first great pioneer home missionary."     Lucy M. Salmon, "Ellen Swallow Richards," Journal of Home Economics, January, 1915