When it opened, Vassar had no history department.  Instead, some of the professors—particularly the professors of mental and moral philosophy, ancient and modern languages, and English—offered historical lectures and incorporated some history into their teaching.  In 1887 the college appointed Lucy Maynard Salmon to teach economics, political science and history and, specifically, to establish the college’s history department.  Hired as an Associate Professor of History, she gained full professorship at the end of her second year. 

Salmon received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Michigan, and she attended Bryn Mawr on a history fellowship, studying there under Woodrow Wilson. As a member of the "new social history" school, she believed that traditional methods overemphasized political histories, while dismissing other important aspects of the past, thus discouraging students from questioning scholarly authorities. Her courses were designed less to convey historical facts than to train students in the process of historical investigations. She taught her students how to discriminate, judge and analyze sources and to produce independent work.

Salmon’s innovative approaches and her unique combination of intellect, innovation and energy made her a legend at Vassar and a major influence in the development of modern social science.  She died suddenly, in Poughkeepsie, in 1927.