Poet, editor and ardent abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier wrote to his friend and fellow Quaker, Professor Maria Mitchell, from Danvers, MA. "My dear Friend— I hear thou art raising funds for the Vassar Observatory. I enclose check for ————, just to show my good will, as I am unable to make a subscription in accordance with my wishes. Hoping that thy efforts will be successful, I am thy sincere friend, John G. Whittier." Mitchell had met Whittier in August 1882, and the two apparently enjoyed each other's company.
Obliged in her later years, to seek funding where possible to support the work of the Vassar Observatory, Maria Mitchell was somewhat uneasy with the task. On January 25, 1876, she had written to a friend, "It has become a serious question with me whether it is not my duty to beg money for the observatory, while what I really long for is a quiet life of scientific speculation. I want to sit down and study on the observations made by myself and others." Shortly before receiving Whittier's letter, she had written, "I have been in New York quite lately, and am quite hopeful that Miss———will do something for Vassar. Mrs. C., of Newburyport, is to ask Whittier, who is said to be rich, and ———told me to get anything I could out of her father. But after all I am a poor beggar; my ideas are small!" Phebe Mitchell Kendall, ed., Maria Mitchell: Life, Letters, and Journals
James Monroe Taylor, pastor of the Fourth Baptist Church in Providence, was elected unanimously to the presidency of the college. Dr. Taylor, 38 at the time of his election, was a graduate of the University of Rochester, with a Doctor of Divinity degree from the Rochester Theological Seminary. His sister was Dr. Mary Taylor Bissell ’75.
On April 15, Dr. Taylor wrote to the board, accepting the position:
“Gentlemen: Your communication notifying me, on behalf of the Board of Trustees, of my election to the Presidency of Vassar College is received. I accept the honorable place thus offered me with the most exalted conception of the responsibilities involved in it, and pledging to its service all the powers I possess. Permit me further to express my appreciation of the cordial unanimity to which you refer. I am, very truly yours, James M. Taylor” The New York Times
The 21st Founder’s Day was celebrated in the Chapel. Dr. Kendrick began the program with a prayer and Edward Everett Hale, prolific writer and lecturer and pastor of South Congregational Church in Boston, gave the main address. A promenade concert was followed by dancing in the Main dining room, where “the young people were whirling over the floor in the lanciers, quadrilles, and Virginia reels.”
The graduating Class of 1886 subsequently elected Hale to honorary class membership, the first such honor at Vassar. In accepting the honor, he promised to join the class at their reunions and at such other times as they gathered and his other duties permitted. The New York Times
Playing before "a large, appreciative audience" in the first Annual Lawn Tennis Tournament, Adeline McKinlay '88 won gold medals "of dainty design" for the singles title, and, with Belle Skinner '87, for the doubles championship. "The playing began promptly at half past eight o'clock in the morning and continued until 6 o'clock in the evening.... Most of the players were at their best and showed a considerable degree of skill. Gold medals of dainty design were awarded to the winners." Vassar Miscellany, July 1886.
Dr. Kendrick delivered the baccalaureate sermon to the Class of 1886 and their parents and friends in the Chapel. Taking his text from Romans 14:7, “For None of us Liveth unto Himself,” he noted its similarity to the class’s motto, taken from the heathen Lucan, “Non nobis solum.” His theme was the power of influence in development of character, and in this regard, he urged that the peculiar power of women—whose tendency, he said, was to work though the silent processes of influence rather than through specific exercises of force—was of great importance in the domestic and social spheres.
His remarks to the class spoke to his cordial feelings towards the college and his pleasant memories of his associations with the Class of 1886.
The annual commencement soirée musicale was well-attended and well-received. Students presented a varied program that included music by Robert Schumann, Richard Wagner, Moritz Moszkowski, Frédéric Chopin and Felix Mendelssohn, among others.
The Classes of 1886 and 1887 and their guests entered the Chapel to the music of Brooklyn’s 23rd Regiment Band for Class Day. The large audience appreciated the class oration given by Nellie Patton Moonell ’86, the class history recalled by Eleanor Ferris ’86 and the class prophecy foretold by Caroline Lingle. The significance of some details in the presentations by Miss Ferris and Miss Lingle escaped the general audience, but they were apparently not lost on members of the graduating class, who, according to The New York Times “greatly relished them.”
At the class tree, Emma Raymond Foster ’86 made the senior charge and Adaline Jenckes ’87 offered the junior reply.
30 members of the Class of 1886 received the baccalaureate degree from Acting President J. Ryland Kendrick at Commencement, among ferns, palm leaves and hothouse plants in the Chapel. Among the student addresses, Carrie Borden ’86 spoke on “Conversation as a Fine Art,” Helen Culbertson ‘86 and Emma Nelson ’86 complementarily explored “Fair Treatment of the Indian a Point of Honor” and “Fair Treatment of the Negro a Necessity” and Margaret Sherwood ’86 investigated “Iago’s Opinion of Himself.” Opposing orations on the question “Should Religious Instruction be Given in the Public Schools” found Lillie Sweetser ’86 in the affirmative and Frances Southworth '86 in the negative.
Before concluding the ceremonies, Acting President Kendrick introduced President-elect James Monroe Taylor, wishing him every success and cautioning him, “nothing succeeds like success.” A representative of the alumnae assured the incoming president that they were ready and willing to help the new administration of the college, and a student representative welcomed Dr. Taylor to Vassar. In a substantial response, Taylor spoke of positions he expected the college to take on a range of questions facing education and declared that the college must not accept a merely high standard, but that there must be none higher than Vassar’s. The New York Times
The author of Rudder Grange and “The Lady, or the Tiger,” American writer and humorist, Frank R. Stockton, and his wife spent Saturday and Sunday at the College.
The faculty adopted a new curriculum. “Harvard had set the example of a very free elective course…. At is regular meetings and at special evening meetings the faculty debated the issues…and prepared a course of study which emphasized the need of continuity of studies, opened electives in a small degree in the latter half of the sophomore year, and made the last two years almost wholly elective. A course in history was planned with hope for a new chair the following year….
“At the end of the first year of his work the president’s report urged two special recommendations of great consequence and suggested that ‘we must strike boldly, or lose our lead.’ One was the immediate foundation of a chair in history. Of even greater importance was the recommendation that the preparatory department be abolished.” James Monroe Taylor & Elizabeth Hazelton Haight, Vassar
The Alumnae Maria Mitchell Chair of Astronomy was established through subscriptions from graduates. It was first held by Mary W. Whitney '68, professor of astronomy and director of the observatory, 1886-1912.
Speaking at Founder's Day, Professor of English Laura Johnson Wylie '77 rememberd "Professor Mitchell, whose home in the observatory was for many years a vivid center of college life. First on the faculty in reputation, and second to none in power, she stood for belief the most absolute in the cause of woman's education. The directness of her sincerity ignored all formal boundaries of intercourse, and brought even those who saw her but briefly into the circle of her vital personality. Stories of her oddities, her kindlinesses, her paradoxes, her unconventional sincerities, were rife in the college during the happy years of her service. But what remains of it all is the memory of a life of high seriousness of purpose, and of a direct and most human comradeship." Vassar Alumnae Monthly, June 1911.
The Reverend Dr. Elias Magoon died in Philadelphia. A founding trustee of the college and the originator of the Magoon Collection, the extensive group of paintings, prints and art publications which formed the basis of the Vassar art collection, Magoon was 76 years old and until recently had been pastor of Broad Street Baptist Church, in Philadelphia.