The first endowment fund campaign, started in 1887 by President Taylor, was completed, bringing the general endowment fund up to $100,000.
After the customary soirée musicale on the evening of June 9th, Class Day for the Class of 1890 began in the Chapel where, according to The New York Times, “the colors of the Senior Class, olive and brown, were artistically placed.” Helene Bergman ’90 delivered the class oration and class historian Katharine Smith ‘90and class prophet Carrie Fox ’90 amused and enlightened classmates and their guests with their looks into the past and the future.
Led outdoors by the West Point Band, the seniors, juniors and invited guests proceeded to the class tree where Grace Roseburgh Kelly ’90 and Florence Halliday ’91 engaged in “pleasant sarcasm” as Matthew Vassar’s spade was passed from the seniors to the juniors. The afternoon activities concluded with the singing of the class song, composed by Harriet Haskens ’90.
Dancing and refreshments were enjoyed in the evening.
At their annual June meeting, the board of trustees elected S. D. Coykendall of Kingston and Rev. James M. Bruce to seats on the board left vacant by the deaths of Rezin A. Wright and the Rev. Dr. J. Ryland Kendrick. Dr. Kendrick served as acting president between the presidencies of Samuel Caldwell and James Monroe Taylor. The New York Times
The 24th Commencement began in the Chapel at 10:30 am. Among the senior addresses were an analysis of “Lady Macbeth,” by Mary Dunham ’90, one of “Psychology and Evolutions of Mind,” by Cora Scofield ’90 and an essay on “Some Mistaken Ideas of Mathematics,” given by Hannah F. Mace ’90. The custom of a valedictory oration, abandoned a few years earlier, was revived with an address by the class valedictorian, Emily E. Morris ’90.
During the exercises, Rhinebeck neighbors, Vice President of the United States Levi P. Morton, Mrs. Morton and their three daughters, entered and were given appropriate seats. The Mortons joined the 47 new bachelors of arts at a reception in the Main Building.
Adding a day to the annual commencement week, the college celebrated its 25th year of academic life. A commemorative volume, Addresses at the Celebration of the Completion of the Twenty-Fifth Academic Year, preserved the events and addresses that “delegates from many universities and colleges, large numbers of former students and hundreds of other guests" assembled to witness. The festivities concluded on Thursday, June 12.
In his “Address of Welcome,” President Taylor said, “Twenty-five years in the life of an institution is but infancy; but this twenty-five years in the great movement of woman’s education marks an era in all educational history. That which many of our mothers and fathers had longed to see, and never saw; that which good men and women had tried to realize in the face of unbelief and an unprepared world, was at last made possible by a woman’s word and Matthew Vassar’s splendid gift.” Taylor’s reference, presumably, was to Vassar’s niece, Lydia Booth.
Benson J. Lossing, a founding trustee of the college, recounted the “Genesis of Vassar College” in his “Historical Address,” giving towards the end, a vivid last description of his friend, the Founder:
“At the time of Mr. Vassar’s departure he was seventy-six years of age. In person, his stature was a little less than medium height. He was well proportioned and compactly built. His complexion was fair, with lingerings of the ruddiness of good health on his cheeks. The brown hair of his earlier years was plentifully mingled with the hoary tokens of age. His dark gray eyes beamed with the lustre of vigorous middle life and the radiance of unextinguishable good humor. His nose was of the Roman type and firmly set, and the general expression of his face was exceedingly pleasant to both friends and strangers, for in his countenance whether in action or repose, was ever seen the perpetual sunshine of a gentle, cheerful nature.”
After the orchestra of the German Opera Company of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York and a chorus of 80 students, directed by Frederick Ritter, performed the solo and chorus from Mendelsohn’s Second Symphony, “The Hymn of Praise,” George William Curtis, the newly appointed Chancellor of the University of the State of New York, gave the main address. Recounting the important role of the Hudson Valley and of the river itself in “the experiment of American independence” and invoking the influences of Cooper and Irving on the development of an American literature, Curtis pointed to the progressive impulses in several social spheres that influenced and matured Matthew Vassar’s “vague desire and tentative groping toward a complete opportunity for the equal higher education of women.”
Curtis traced the growth of educational innovation outward from Emma Willard in Troy to Mary Lyon in Holyoke and Catherine Beecher in Hartford, Oberlin in 1834, and Horace Mann in 1853 at Antioch, and he revealed to his auditors “Lombard University, in Illinois…chartered with absolute equality of its privileges between the sexes,” in 1852. He then turned south to inspect Georgia Female College and Mary Sharp College in Tennessee, and came north again to Elmira Female College, which “graduated its first class in 1859.”
All these precedents, Curtis assured his audience, were adduced not to discuss “priority” but “as indications of a changing public sentiment.” Quickly reviewing the history of such sentiments about women and learning—going back to the time of Charles II in England—Curtis returned, again, to New York, New England, and the nineteenth century. His peroration grouped Matthew Vassar’s untutored sagacity with that of Ezra Cornell and found in Vassar’s accomplishment the realization of Margaret Fuller’s “Woman in the Nineteenth Century.” “…she seems to me still the figure of Woman in the nineteenth century, which was the title of her best known paper.
“Daughters of Vassar, such is the woman, I doubt not, whom Matthew Vassar vaguely foresaw when his generous heart inspired him to his noble task. It is the woman that as a lofty ideal presides over the studious hours and quite meditations of these halls. It is the woman of the nineteenth century whom the other centuries foretold. The old times, indeed, were good, but the new times are better. …in the enlightened American daughter, wife, and mother, in the free American home, we find the fairest flower and the highest promise of American civilization.”
The program concluded with a performance by the chorus and orchestra, under Dr. Ritter’s direction, of a cantata he had composed for the occasion on the text of Psalm IX: “I will praise Thee, O Lord, with my whole heart.”
In anticipation of the opening of the school year, the college announced several curricular refinements. The department of natural history became two new departments, biology and geology/mineralogy, and Marcella O’Grady, who had joined the faculty in 1889 as a teacher of botany, became associate professor of biology and the only member of the new department. Herbert E. Mills was appointed associate professor of history and political economy, the college’s first appointment in economics. The New York Times
"Mr. John D. Rockefeller has kindly furnished the means for the erection of a skating-rink. The building has been put up east of the lake and it is supposed that by means of it the number of skating days will be increased. Two years ago Mr. Rockefeller provided the means for the hydrants about the lake." Vassar Miscellany
Four houses for professors were built by the college, Cottages A, B, C and D, now 87, 85, 83 and 81 Raymond Avenue. Francis R. Allen was the architect. With the exception of Maria Mitchell’s apartment in the observatory, these were the first faculty residences outside of Main Building.
Author, painter and engineer F. Hopkinson Smith spoke at a gathering sponsored by the New York Vassar Students Aid Society. It was announced that branches of the society now existed in New York, Boston, Brooklyn, Poughkeepsie, Orange, NJ, Louisville, KY, and St. Paul, MN.
Lucy Maynard Salmon wrote to friends: “The new associate professor goes on his way like an historical comet….” Louis Fargo Brown, Apostle of Democracy
Joining the faculty in 1890 with an appointment to teach economics in the history department, Herbert E. Mills was a full professor by 1893 and first chair of the economics department. He “prodded, goaded and inspired his students to become leaders in the crusade for social betterment” for 41 years. Dorothy A. Plum, George B. Dowell & Constance Dimock Ellis, The Magnificent Enterprise
The John Guy Vassar Chair of Modern Languages and John Guy Vassar Chair of Natural History were established through the bequests of John Guy Vassar, nephew of the Founder and a charter trustee. These chairs were first held by Jean C. Bracq, Professor of French, 1891-1918, and William B. Dwight, Professor of Natural History and Curator of the Museum, 1878-1906.
John Guy Vassar’s will restricted the named chairs—as did that of his brother, Matthew Vassar, Jr.—to male occupants, a fact that had troubled Maria Mitchell.“ Poor Mr. Vassar!” she had written to a friend when she learned of Vassar, Jr.’s proviso, “I pity him that he could leave no more generous-spirited legacy; but he wasn’t born to be generous. We wonder if John [Guy] will do the same.” MS letterThe John Guy Vassar Art Fund was also established at this time.
A founding trustee of the college and the first biographer of the Founder, historian and illustrator Benson J. Lossing died at the age of 78.
The Class of 1891’s Class Day was marked by perfect weather. The class orator, Julia Ober ’91 based her address on the class motto, Carpe Diem, and the class historian, Juliet Tompkins ’91 wove poetry into her essay on the class’s history. The prophecy was given by Dora Taylor ’91.
Proceeding to the Class of ’91’s tree, the assemblage applauded as Eleanor H. Haight ’91 gave the senior charge and passed Matthew Vassar’s spade to Sarah Tunicliffe ’92, who gave the junior reply. Singing of the senior class song ended the afternoon’s events.
In the evening, a reception and promenade concert was given.
Georgia Avery Kendrick, wife of J. Ryland Kendrick—a trustee from 1875 to 1889 and acting president after the resignation of Samuel Caldwell—became Lady Principal, succeeding Abby Goodsell ’69. She held this office until it was discontinued in 1913.
Professor of music and director of the music school Frederick L. Ritter died suddenly in Antwerp. “He was a thorough musician, and as a writer on musical topics took a high position. Indeed, his literary works have made a deep impression upon the musical growth of this country.
“Personally, he was singularly genial and cheerful, and none but pleasant memories of him are cherished by all with whom he came in contact.” Vassar Miscellany
The new academic year saw the largest entering collegiate class, 119, and the largest number of entering students, 172, in the history of the college.
Planning was begun for the Frederic Ferris Thompson Annex, a new library with a space for 80,000 volumes to be added to the front of Main Building.
Professor Edward Morris Bowman, founder, in 1883, and president of the American College of Musicians, succeeded Frederick Ritter as professor of music and director of the school of music. An accomplished organist, pianist and theoretician of music, Bowman, who left Vassar in 1895, was later a teacher at Steinway Hall in New York and organist and musical director of the celebrated choir at the Baptist Tabernacle in Brooklyn.
240 students—over half of the student body—attended the concert by the New York Philharmonic, directed by Anton Seidl, in Poughkeepsie. The New York Times
Frederick Ritter’s death forced attention to the lingering question of the viability of the schools of music and art. “In a special report, printed and sent to the trustees, the president urged that college professorships of the arts be at once established, abolishing the ‘schools;’ that instruction be offered in the theory of the arts as part of the College curriculum, and that practice be provided for, though not as belonging to the College course; that [music and art school] diplomas be no longer offered, and that the standards of admission required of all ‘specials’ be the same as those enforced for entrance to the freshman class…. The trustees adopted the recommendation at once, and a second great step was taken toward making Vassar a homogeneous college of liberal learning.” James Monroe Taylor & Elizabeth Hazelton Haight, Vassar
Professor of Greek and Latin Abby Leach told the Young Women's Christian Society that in its first two years the Vassar Students’ Aid Society had grown to over 500 members in 13 separate branches. The vice president of the society, she explained that scholarships were offered as loans that bore no interest but were expected to be repaid when the recipient was able to do so. In addition to scholarships offered by the several branches, the general society had offered duirng the year two $200 scholarships for competitive examinations. She said also that the society would be interested in erecting a building near the campus where scholarship students could live during term and, tending their room and performing like duties, could reduce the costs of their education. The New York Times
The granting of credit toward the collegiate degree for theoretical study in art and music, coupled with the earlier discontinuation of the preparatory school, discouraged less-serious students and improved the intellectual tone of the college. Bringing Vassar’s practices thus in line with those at Smith and Wellesley raised student and faculty morale.
“Side by side with many exceedingly valuable preparatory and art students, there had always been a certain number of relatively frivolous spirits whose presence made difficulties for the college executives.” “The Social Life,” Frances T. Marburg ’15, The Vassar Miscellany, Vassar 1865-1915, From the Undergraduate Point of View, Fiftieth Anniversary Number
A rear addition to the Vassar Brothers Laboratory was completed.
When some 200 alumnae gathered in New York City for the annual winter meeting of the alumnae association, the largest concern—with the possible exception of salaries for women that were equal to those of men doing the same work—was the treatment of Vassar students in the popular press. “Indignant protests were made against the alleged humorous paragraphs and the sensational stories which purport to depict the life of the girls at Vassar…. The articles were a direct injury to the institution. It was decided to appoint a press committee, whose duty it should be to furnish the truth to newspapers on college affairs. The alumnae, it was said, better than any one else, could tell to the public how the girls behaved and what their studies and amusements were.” The New York Times
Class Day exercises were held, and the trustees elected United States Vice President Levi P. Morton to the seat of the late Benson Lossing and Poughkeepsie mayor Edward Ellsworth to replace Henry L. Young, who had recently resigned.
President Taylor conferred the bachelor’s degree on 54 members of the Class of 1892 at Commencement in the Chapel. Six seniors delivered essays and two contributed musical interludes at the pianoforte.
Two graduate students received master’s degrees: Anna C. McFadden ’80 and Cora Angeline Start ‘90.
President Taylor announced that John D. Rockefeller had subscribed $33,000 to complete the construction of new student residential space. The building was Strong House, named in honor of Rockefeller’s daughter, Elizabeth “Bessie” Rockefeller Strong, who was a special student (1886-88) and who married philosopher and psychologist Charles Augustus Strong in 1889.
Rockefeller’s contribution eventually totaled $35,000.
Anticipating the largest entering class in Vassar’s history, about 175 new students, the college faced a severe shortage of space. Pending the opening of the new residence hall in December, about 75 students were housed at the Windsor House, a hotel some two miles from the college. A matron and several college staff lived with the students, chapel service was held at the hotel every evening and private conveyances brought the students to and from the campus. While on campus, they used Gymnasium Hall in the Alumnae Gymnasium as a study hall.
A happier innovation for the new school year was the transfer of the dinner hour from noon to six o’clock in the evening, thus facilitating more leisurely and sociable dining. “The fact that the students have been urged,” observed The New York Times, “ to pass an hour at dinner and in social enjoyment is in itself trivial, but shows that the college aims to develop more than one side of woman’s nature.”
The October issue of The Vassar Miscellany reported on several alumnae pursuing graduate work: at the University of Chicago, Myra Reynolds ’80 and Eva J. Daniels ’92; at Yale, Mary Augusta Scott ’76, Laura Johnson Wylie ’77, Charlotte C. Barnum ’81, Margaretta Palmer ’87 and Anna Owens ’92; at Cornell, Margaret Floy Washburn ’91 and Laura C. Sheldon ’87. Penelope Flett ’92 was at the University of Michigan Medical School. Two of these graduates returned to Vassar as members of the faculty—Laura Johnson Wylie in the English department and Margaret Floy Washburn in psychology.
Grover Cleveland was elected President of the United States, defeating President Benjamin Harrison. Vassar voted for Harrison.
Woodrow Wilson, Professor of Politics and Jurisprudence, Princeton University, lectured in the Chapel on "Democracy." "A large number of students," reported The Vassar Miscellany, "heard and enjoyed" his proposition that democracy's "fundamental idea is that the people are sovereign." Admitting that "history shows that the concurrence of majorities does not always express the general will," Wilson proposed, "by the sovereignty of the people...we mean tha tthe people agree to be governed by individuals chosen from themselves; the people govern well when they use discrimination in this choice."
The annual catalogue of the college, which appeared between semesters, compared student numbers between the current year—the first since the abolition of the schools of music and art—and the previous year: senior class, 53, 2 less than ’91-’92; junior class, 71, a gain of 20; sophomore class, 111, a gain of 35; freshman class, 140, a gain of 21; collegiate specials, 52, a gain of ll.
A Conference on Teaching English in Secondary Schools was held at Vassar, one of ten conferences held simultaneously by the National Education Association.
Strong House, the first student residence outside of Main Building, was completed, Francis R. Allen, architect. It was named in honor of Bessie Rockefeller Strong, special student 1886-88, the daughter of trustee John D. Rockefeller. Mr. Rockefeller contributed $35,000 toward the expense of construction.
The Windsor Hotel in Poughkeepsie was rented for three months to accommodate students planning to live in the new dormitory until it was completed, in December.
The enrollment for 1892/93 was 427, and the enrollment for 1893/94 was 475.
The Thompson Annex to the front of Main Building was completed, Francis R. Allen, architect. A gift of trustee Frederick Ferris Thompson, the three-story wing was popularly known as "Uncle Fred's Nose," and later, “The Soap Palace,” for the heavy use of white, veined marble in its entrance hall.
The annex made space for the expanding library and, after the Frederick Ferris Thompson library opened in 1905, for administrative offices. The annex was razed in the spring of 1960.
President Taylor reported that the exhibition sent to the World's Columbian Exposition at Chicago included photographs, a plan of grounds, building plans, blanks showing business methods and admissions, an exhibit of library methods, a statement on the curriculum, lantern slides and a set of the Vassar Miscellany.
Ella McCaleb ’78, who had returned to Vassar in 1885 as secretary to President Taylor, was named the first secretary of the college. In this role she functioned as a senior officer, overseeing with the president Vassar’s academic affairs and its correspondence. Attaining the rank of professor, she was named the first dean of the college in 1913. An important link the college’s early days, she served President MacCracken as dean until her retirement in l923.
Jane Addams spoke at Vassar on the work of Hull House in Chicago and about the settlement movement in general. Although the focus of the Vassar Settlement House Chapter was on the college settlement on Rivington Street in New York, she hoped that students from the Midwest might be moved to help with Hull House, which was in its fourth year. The New York Times
Jane Addams visited Vassar again in 1902, but, despite appearances at Smith, Bryn Mawr and Wellesley, President Taylor refused to invite her to Vassar in 1907, as a representative of a committee promoting woman suffrage which Taylor considered a political rather than an educational organization. In October, 1915, both Addams and ex-president Taylor spoke at the college on "the social and political status of the educated woman." The Berkeley Daily Gazette
At their annual winter meeting the Associate Alumnae of Vassar College toasted trustee Frederick F. Thompson for his generosity to Vassar—including the new library annex. President Taylor informed the alumnae that $12,000 had just been secured for two scholarships and that the endowment towards the Maria Mitchell fund had reached $34,000. He thanked the association for its work.
The association’s first task had been the scholarships of $6,000 each in memory of John H. Raymond and Hannah Lyman, and its most recent was $28,000 for the Alumnae Gymnasium. The Vassar Students’ Aid Society had disbursed $6,000 to deserving students in just two years, and the total to date raised by the alumnae association since its founding was over $100,000.After the business of the day, the Vassar Glee Club entertained the assembly. The New York Times
The 101st anniversary of the Founder’s birth was celebrated at Vassar. Author and onetime member of the faculty Helen Dawes Brown ’78 gave the Founder’s Day address, speaking on “George William Curtis,” the late chancellor of New York University, who had spoken at Vassar in 1870 and again as the main speaker at the college’s 25th anniversary observances in 1890.
Following her address, the assembled group retired to the elegantly decorated and lit museum for refreshments, music by the 21st Regiment Band and the Vassar Glee Club, and several promenades. The New York Times
Vassar students presented the first American performances in the original Greek of Sophocles’s Antigone, under the auspices of the Greek department. Two performances of the production, conceived and directed by Professor Abby Leach ’85 with the assistance of voice and musical coach Max Dessauer, were given in the Collingwood Opera House.
The production drew advance coverage from The New York Times, which said of the players and the production: “…they have at last realized the expectations of their ‘coachers.’ For months they have carefully practiced their parts and mastered every incidental detail. The result will be an entertainment entirely unprecedented in its way in this country.”
Careful attention was paid to the authenticity of the staging and costumes and to the adaptation of the Greek to the music of Mendelsohn. Franklin Haven Sargent, founder of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, assisted in the training of the principal players, and the orchestra for the production was drawn from the leading players in the New York City concert bands of Walter Damrosh and Anton Seidl.
Nearly four-dozen students were in the cast, which also included President Taylor’s son, Morgan, as one of the “attendants.” Classicists from several Eastern colleges and universities attended the sold-out performances, including seven from Harvard and three each from Yale and Columbia. A special train returned audience members to the city after the evening performance.
In his baccalaureate sermon, President Taylor took as his text Matthew xiii. 33, “The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till the whole was leavened. The president noted the many paths the seemed to lead to success, and then he touched on four modern tendencies that frustrated real success —dependence on organizations rather than individuals, impatience for immediate results in spite of opposition, caring more for external show than reality and self-centered exaltation of “the worker over the work.” Showing how Christ’s success opposed these false measures, he told the Class of 1893 to “strive for what was real, to avoid all sham, and to follow Christ’s method, the simple, patient, leavening, slow, but eternal” The New York Times
Class reunions were held by ’68, ’73, ’81, ’88 and ’91 on Class Day, as the Class of 1893 and their guests heard latest versions of traditional addresses. Class orator Adele Whitcomb ’93 explained the significance of the class motto, “Per Augusta ad Augusta,” and Eliza Cobb ’93 and Edith Neil ’93 read the class poem. At the class tree, Ethel R. Evans ’93 gave the senior charge, to which Elizabeth Gillmer ’94 gave the junior reply.
At their annual meeting, the board of trustees voted to appropriate $10,000 from the general fund to complete the $50,000 Maria Mitchell Fund. Correspondence was reported to be under way with an eminent philosopher with a view to establishing a new chair in philosophy, and a committee of five was formed, President Taylor presiding, to consider and report on whether Vassar should become a university.
"The report," President Tayor recalled, "showed that the consensus of opinion favored the view that the better work would be done for the undergraduate where his or her interests were paramount, that greater singleness of aim would be encouraged, that the best interests of education in the country certainly did not demand that every college should aspire to be a university, and that Vassar would do well to declare itself for an independent policy and sphere. The board adopted the report, withdrew the offer of courses leading to the Ph.D. degree (1894), and deliberately declared Vassar an undergraduate college.... Perhaps with pardonable inconsistency the College continued for several years to grant scholarships to recent graduates for one year of work at Vassar. Many were thus encouraged to go on to higher studies in the universities. The results of this policy have amply justified it." The New York Times; James Monroe Taylor and Elizabeth Hazelton Haight, Vassar
Commencement began with an organ voluntary, followed by a prayer from President Taylor, and several senior essays, on topics ranging from “Mediaeval and Modern Charity,” by Frances Spaulding Beecher ’93, and “Spiritualization of Thought in France,” by Elizabeth Kemper ’93, to “Shakespeare’s Influence Upon German Literature,” by Elizabeth Sophia Bradley ’93, and “Modern Prison Methods,” by Mary Vida Clark ’93.
Fifty-three members of the Class of 1893 received the bachelor’s degree, and two women with bachelor’s degrees from the University of Nebraska, Anna Rogers and Isabella Rogers, received master’s degrees. Margaret Floy Washburn ’91, currently studying for her Ph.D. at Cornell, also received a master’s degree.
In his remarks, President Taylor spoke of the great progress of the college during the last year. He pressed the need for a new recitation hall, and observed that, of the 190 applicants already requesting a place in the college next year, only 115 could be offered a place. The New York Times
Turning to the great desire of the alumnae to do university work, he noted that, in the last two years, 20 alumnae weres pursuing advanced degrees in America and Europe.
Although in July she had delivered a paper on the Union of Utrecht (1579) during the "Literary Congresses", an extraordinary scholarly gathering at the World’s Columbian Exhibition, it was her appearance at a later meeting that earned Professor Lucy Maynard Salmon a notice in The New York Times “Personals” column:
“Among the many notable speakers at the Labor Congress of the World’s Fair is Miss Lucy M. Salmon, Professor of History at Vassar. For many years past Miss Salmon has concerned herself with the labor question as specially connected with domestic service. In person she is tall and slender, with brown hair brushed abruptly back from a finely-featured face of unusual strength and sweetness.”
The college opened with an enrollment of 460 students, and a few more were expected. Among the newly appointed faculty members was classicist Grace Harriet Macurdy, whose distinguished career at Vassar spanned 44 years.
Four members of the Class of 1897 were daughters of alumnae. They thus joined the informal Society of Granddaughters of the College, begun but not publicized in 1892, when Helen Bishop ’96, the daughter of Harriet Warner Bishop ’67, and Marie Champney ’96, whose mother was Jane Wells Champney ’68, matriculated. The new “members” were Mary Evans Baille ’97, Elizabeth Loraine Bishop ’97, Emma Baker ’97 and Clara Tuttle ’98.
Eventually adopting the motto “The condition of your birth/Is the measure of your worth,”the society persisted for several years, raising funds and collecting college memorabilia, but it phased out as the distinction it recognized attenuated.
“We had fudges. Fudges is a kind of candy, made of 2 glasses of sugar, ¼ cake of chocolate, one glass of milk and a little butter….” MS letter
Fudge was known as “Vassar fudges” for many years. In 1912, Emelyn Hartridge ’92 wrote Professor of History Lucy Maynard Salmon that she had introduced the confection to Vassar in 1888, having learned of it in Baltimore: "Fudge, as I first knew it, was first made in Baltimore by a cousin of a schoolmate of mine. It was sold in 1886 in a grocery store for 40 cents a pound.... From my schoolmate, Nannie Hagner...I secured the recipe and in my first year I made 30 pounds for the Senior Auction, its real introduction to the college, I think." Within a few years, a fondness for fudge had spread to other women's colleges. Lee Edwards Benning, Oh Fudge: A Celebration of America's Favorite Candy
Harriet Ballintine, professor of physical education, 1891-1930, introduced basketball to Vassar. A pioneer in physical education for women, Miss Ballintine attended the first class in athletics for women at Harvard, in the summer of 1889, and studied physical education abroad. In 1901, she and the English athelete and innovator Constance Applebee founded the American Field Hockey Association.
Every six weeks, each student was required to submit an essay to the English department. “For our essays we were given six general topics from which to choose: Madame de Sevigne’s Letters, The Connotative Power of Words, The Salvation Army, An Old Testament Story, or a Fairy Story….” MS letter
Lecturing on "Chaucer as Seen in His Works," Assistant Professor of English George Lyman Kittredge from Harvard University "told us nothing new," observed The Vassar Miscellany, but "we enjoyed hearing him demolish the long accepted Chaucer legends." Professor Kittredge reviewed the scant evidence available, finding that Chaucer, while not a scholar, was learned in Latin, French, Italian, mathematics and chemistry and that he "was not in sympathy with the alchemists and astrologists of the time; he was a reverent son of the church though not a devotee—by no means Paganist as is claimed.... As to his wife, we know that she was named Philippa and was some time lady of the Queen's chamber. She might have been a shrew or a saint. All is conjecture."
A leading Shakespeare scholar and editor, Kittredge was credited with the establishment of Chaucer in the American college curriculum through such works as Observations on the Language of Chaucer’s Troilus (1894), Chaucer and Some of his Friends (1903) and Chaucer and his Poetry (1915.) He spoke at Vassar on several occasions, and in October 1915 he spoke on "The Scholar and the Pedant" at the inauguration of his former student, Henry Noble MacCracken, as Vassar's fifth president.
The "entire college," according to The Miscellany News, turned out and overflowed in Avery Hall when, in May 1937, Professor Kittredge gave a "brilliant address" on Shakespeare's Villains." This last visit was also marked by a minor domestic catastrophe. Reported by The Misc under the headline "'Mechanics' of Faucets on Tub Baffle Kittredege," the distinguished visitor awakened his hosts, President and Mrs. McCracken, on the morning after his lecture, with cries for help. Bathing, he had be unable to turn off the water and had flooded a bathroom. Rescued by Mrs. MacCracken, "said the eminent Shakespeare scholar, 'Well, I never was any good at anything mechanical.'"
Harriot Stanton Blatch ’78 addressed economics classes on “The Industrial Condition of Women in England.”
17 new courses were announced for the next academic year: two in Greek; two in French; two in German, one of them in scientific German; one in physiographic geology; seven in mathematics, including two in solid analytical geometry, two in modern geometry and one each in determinants, calculus and theory of equations; one in English in modern literature; one in economics in money and banking. The New York Times
In his baccalaureate sermon to the Class of 1894, President Taylor, drawing from Luke xvii. 21, “The kingdom of God is within you,” urged the application of Christ’s philosophy to practical problems and to the advancement of the kingdom of God. The kingdom would not advance, he said, through speculative philosophy but through good works. He urged the class to be rich individually so as to be rich to others and to live an objective life of service.
The baccalaureate hymn was composed by Leonora Howe ’94. The New York Times
Two seniors, Lil Beers ’94 and Lillie Hench ’94, were among the students presenting the Commencement concert in the Chapel. Nearly 100 alumnae joined other guests for a program that included works by Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Wagner, Gounod and Handel.
“The concert was in every way successful and was enjoyed by all who were present.” The New York Times
Nearly 200 alumnae attended the alumnae reunion on Class Day, joining the Glee Club in Strong Hall to sing Vassar songs at a reception and luncheon. In the afternoon class day exercises were held in the Chapel. Class president Blanche Ferry ’94 gave the address of welcome, which was followed by the class oration by Ellen Chater ’94 and the class history by Leonora Howe ’94, who was also the author of the class song.
At the tree-planting ceremony in front of Main Building, the records of the Class of 1894 were buried and the senior charge was given by Melvina Van Kleeck ’94. Anna Jeanette Graham ’95 received Matthew Vassar’s spade and gave the junior response.
The seniors’ promenade concert took place in the evening, after the president’s reception.
The college’s 28th Commencement was held in the Chapel. President Taylor presided and Emily Jordan Folger ’79 marshaled the procession. Presentations by graduating seniors included: “An Instance of Literary Evolution,” Mary Blanche Mumford ‘94; “Relief for the Unemployed,” Caroline Cowan ‘94; “Scottish and Negro Songs,” Alice Sarah Hussey ‘94; “Shakespeare’s Fatalism,” Elizabeth Hazelton Haight ‘94; “The Half is Better than the Whole,” Emeline Barstown Bartlett ‘94; “Philanthropy and Natural Selection,” Mary Margaret Macauley ‘94.
16 of the 71 students receiving the bachelor’s degree received honors, the highest percentage yet granted under the revised curriculum, and Emeline Bartlett was awarded a fellowship in Greek for postgraduate study at the University of Chicago. She also gained the first scholarship offered by the Student Aid Society both in a general competition and for her acting of King Creon in Antigone. Two master’s degrees were awarded to Mrs. Harriot Stanton Blatch ’78 and Mary Rawson Botsford ’78.
At the trustees’ meeting President Taylor announced that a chair in philosophy had been established and that the department of physics and chemistry had been divided. He also assured the trustees that the financial turmoil of 1893-94 had not seriously affected Vassar’s endowment funds, and he was pleased to announce over 200 applications for the 100 available places in next year’s entering class. He closed his remarks with an appeal to the supporters of women’s education. The New York Times
In its October issue, The Vassar Miscellany reported on alumnae pursuing postgraduate work. Nine recent alumnae were at the University of Chicago, and three, Margaretta Palmer ’87, Mary Augusta Scott ’76 and Laura Johnson Wylie ’77 had taken their Ph.D degrees at Yale. Yale had published “Evolution of English Criticism,” the thesis by Wylie, who was head of the English department at Packer Institute.
Lillie J. Martin ‘80 was in the experimental psychology department at the University of Göttingen, the first woman admitted to that institution, and three recent graduates were enrolled in the newly-chartered Radcliffe College in Cambridge.
Georgiana Sands ’90 and Delia O’Connell ’93 were in the Medical School at Johns Hopkins.
The academic year began with 447 students. Only 12 special students were enrolled, and several of them were expected to join the collegiate program during the year. The freshman class, with one more member than in 1893, numbered 131. Several applicants had withdrawn for the present year because there was no room for them on campus.
Sophia Richardson ’86, an instructor in mathematics, was granted a semester’s leave for study in “a special course” at the University of Chicago. The New York Times
Electric cars replaced the horse-drawn cars that ran from Poughkeepsie out to the college.
The New York Times reported that a recent petition by “over 400 students” for the wearing of caps and gowns at Commencement had been rejected by the faculty, “on the grounds that the custom is too mediaeval in spirit and that the cap and gown tend to separate the student from the world.”
The college announced several changes made by the faculty in the curriculum and one in the entrance requirements. Study of hygiene was required in the first semester only, and the time previously allotted it in the second semester was given over to extended study of mathematics. Required study of mathematics and foreign languages was reduced from the first three semesters to the first year, with extensive opportunity for further, elective study.
Study of history was extended through the entire sophomore year and instead of a limited study of the mediaeval period, its subject matter became the history of European civilization. A new requirement was a year’s work in either chemistry or physics.
For entrance to the college, to a thorough knowledge either of Latin or Greek and of French or German was added the “ability to read easy prose,” the equivalent of a year’s study, in a third language, either French or German. The New York Times
The New York Times published a letter from “An Occasional Correspondent” dated “Gentilly, France, Nov. 29, 1894”:
“The New-York Times has already noted in its columns the work done by Miss Ida Welt, a young Vassar girl, at the University of Geneva, Switzerland. Miss Welt there devoted herself to chemistry, and, after passing the best examination, began some theoretical work which seems to have made her prominent not only in the small Swiss metropolis, but also in the great French one.
“Miss Welt continued her researches under Prof. [Charles] Friedel, the foremost French chemist at the University of Paris, and has lately published, under the auspices of the Académie des Sciences, in the October and November numbers, the result of her investigations under the title, “Researches on Dissymetrical Hydrocarbons.” Miss Welt is the only woman chemist in Paris, and is attracting much notice on account of her thoroughness in the most abstruse departments of theoretical chemistry. Her Alma Mater, as well as all her countrywomen, may be justly proud of the distinction won by an American girl in the centre of European intellectual life.”
The youngest of four sisters, the elder three of whom were physicians, Ida Welt ’91 continued her researches, holding one of the first privatdozent appointments granted to a woman at the University of Geneva and carrying out research on the preparation of olefins and acetylenes at the University of Heidelberg laboratories of Friedrich Kraft.
She returned to New York in 1899, joined the American Chemical Society, and taught for many years before returning, before the Second World War, to Geneva.
Thomas Cochran, Yale ’94, assisted by Ralph Reed Lounsbury, Yale ’94, gave a lecture on “Scientific Football.” The lecture was illustrated with stereopticon views. The New York Times, The Vassar Miscellany
An addition to the rear of the Observatory was completed.
Recent curriculum changes appeared to bring to an end a long Vassar tradition, the “trig ceremonies” which marked the mid-year liberation of the sophomore class from trigonometry, the conclusion of the mathematics requirement. The custom of presenting an original play in honor of the sophomore’s escape was observed by a presentation called “Ye Last Dayes of Vassalem Wytchcraft,” in which Trigonometry was burned at the stake.
The annual celebration of George Washington’s birthday was, according to The New York Times, rendered much more somber by the fact that the students were allowed no holiday from classes. “At the evening dinner the entire line of senior tables was in mourning for the memory of George Washington, which seemed to have died out in the hearts of the college authorities. The seniors marched in, dressed in black and white, chanting a funeral dirge, appropriate to the occasion. A colonial ball was held in the evening.”
The ballroom of the Brunswick Hotel in New York City was “illuminated with hundreds of small electric light, with red, white, and blue shades” for the annual luncheon meeting of the Associate Alumnae of Vassar College (AAVC). Some 200 alumnae attending the meeting heard President Taylor cite three recent major accomplishments. “We have advanced the entrance qualification, we have broadened the curriculum, and we have established a number of graduate scholarships.”
In addition to these accomplishments, he pointed to a serious lack. “In various ways,” he said, “we have received pecuniary aid, but the $100,000 for a recitation hall and the $100,000 for a residence hall I have as yet heard nothing about. During the last year we have turned away scores of students, simply because there was no place to house them. We cannot hope to bring the number of students at Vassar up to 500 if we do not provide accommodations for them.”
A decision to discontinue the recently established capability to offer the Ph.D. degree was made, he said, “not because Vassar could not give as thorough a course as her sister colleges, but because she could not give the best. I believe that that degree should be given only by the universities, the colleges that are equipped in every direction.” The New York Times
The Wake Robin Club was founded under leadership of Professor Mary W. Whitney '68. Students studied the birds of Dutchess County and made a yearly pilgrimage to Slabsides, the home of naturalist John Burroughs, near West Park, New York. A frequent visitor to Vassar, Burroughs served as advisor and mentor to the club for the next two decades.
In 1982, the Vassar Library acquired Burroughs’s manuscript journals, 53 notebooks compiled by the great naturalist between 1876 and 1921, the year of his death.
“In view of the great interest in athletic games which is prevalent in the College,” the students petitioned the faculty for permission to organize their teams and clubs into an athletic association.
"The founding of the Athletic Association marked the beginning of the period in which athletics have become organized sports!" Vassar Miscellany, Oct. 1915.
Vassar students were among the first to take up a new sport, battle ball, devised the previous summer by the director of Harvard’s gymnasium, Dr. D. A. Sargent, who described it as a combination of bowling, baseball, cricket, football, handball and tennis. Played on a field 50’ by 25’ (or any larger field of similar proportions) and by two teams of five players (or of any equal number on each side up to 20) the game involved stretched cords, three pairs of Indian clubs or bowling pins on the two goal lines and a leather ball weighing two pounds. The game could be played for any pre-agreed period, and a judge watched for fouls—apparently only one possibility, stepping across the field’s centerline—and kept each side’s score according to a complex scoring system.
“Gymnasium directors who value competitive exercise,” The New York Times suggested, “will welcome battle ball for reason of its very simplicity…. The entire separation of the opposing sides, excluding all roughness, and the lighter character of the game make it more suitable than basket ball for women.” Although the sport never caught on, it was a feature of the first women’s field day, held at Vassar later in the year.
An exhibit of various items from the early days of the college, presented by the Society of Granddaughters of the College, was a novel feature at the 30th Founder’s Day celebration. Awakened by the sophomores’ chanting of three cheers for Matthew Vassar, the college celebrated with literary exercises, songs and a promenade concert in the evening.
Professor of Astronomy and Director of the Observatory Mary W. Whitney ’68 spoke, in her address, of the founders of the college—MatthewVassar, Founding President John Raymond, Maria Mitchell and Hannah Lyman, the first lady principal—all of whom she had known. The New York Times
The New York Times confirmed President Taylor’s warning at the alumnae association meeting in February. Under the headline “Vassar is Overcrowded,” the newspaper reported that with more than 230 applications for the fall and no prospects of new residential space, Vassar would be able to house no more than 100 new students on campus.
College authorities planned on a long-term lease of the Windsor Hotel, renovation of its plumbing and heating and connecting it to the trolley line.
Mr. and Mrs. Harris S. Reynolds of Poughkeepsie and President and Mrs. Taylor held a reception at the Reynolds’s home on Washington Street for the senior class and the visiting crew teams from Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania. The New York Times reported that 96 seniors and some 40 crew men attended.
“The Pennsylvania men wore their college colors, but in some mysterious way they changed owners, and when they left the Vassar girls were wearing them.”
President Taylor drew the baccalaureate sermon for the Class of 1895 from Proverbs xxix, 18, “Where there is no vision the people perish,” telling the class that idealism is the only reality. Tracing the power of vision in science, philosophy, education, art, literature and religion, he rejected the notion that cultures and nations mature and inevitably decline, claiming instead that this happens only through the loss of high ideals.
In conclusion, he urged the class to find a unity in life through a strong personality and to be led in all ways by the vision that lies within that personality. The New York Times
In addition to commencement guests, a large number of Poughkeepsie residents attended the last commencement concert to be directed by Professor E. M. Bowman, who had announced his resignation at an earlier date. Half of the program was given by seniors, and the remainder was performed by students of the former school of music who were finishing their studies.
Professor Bowman was succeeded by George Coleman Gow, who was professor of music until his retirement in 1932.
In perfect June weather, Class Day was held entirely out of doors for the first time. A platform and an amphitheater of seats were set up in the northeast corner of Main Building, where the ivy-covered walls shaded the audience, served as a sounding board for the speakers and provided an attractive contrast to the light gowns of the assembled seniors. Class president Juliette Greer ’95 introduced the class historian, Anne Laziere Crawford ’95, whose “spicy history” was “enlivened with class songs.” The Glee Club offered a musical interlude, and after the class prophecy envisioned by Anna Jeannette Graham ’95, the assembly moved to the class tree, where Ida Poppenheim ’95 gave the senior charge and passed Matthew Vassar’s spade to Susanna Chamberlain ’96, who delivered the junior response.
Some 200 alumnae reunited for Class Day. The toasts at their luncheon included that of the president of the Associate Alumnae of Vassar College to “The Students and Society.” Professor Abby Leach ’85 toasted “The Progress of the College,” and “President Taylor” was hailed by Mary V. Clark ’93.
At their annual meeting, the trustees granted President Taylor a six-month leave of absence, during which he planned to travel abroad. They also authorized the seeking the funding, $100,000, for a new residence hall, to be ready, if possible, in the fall. The New York Times
The trustees also commissioned a residence to be built for President Taylor on the campus. The President's House, designed by New York City architects Rossiter & Wright, was completed in late 1895. Built with funds bequeathed by John Guy Vassar, charter trustee and nephew of the Founder, the house marked Taylor’s first decade of service to the college. One of his priorities during that time was housing that would allow faculty members with families to live elsewhere than in Main Building, and the new home allowed him the same opportunity.
In addition to the appointment of Professor George Gow, from Smith College, to succeed Dr. Bowman as director of the music department, the trustees announced the appointment of Laura Johnson Wylie ’77, who had received her Ph.D from Yale in 1894, as assistant in English. She and Gertrude Buck, appointed in 1897, introduced in their teaching the idea that the arts must be experienced in order to be known; for the first time students of English practiced creative writing—poetry, narrative, description—as well as exposition and criticism. At the basis of Miss Wylie’s teaching was her belief that literature is essentially social in nature and function.
President Taylor opened the college’s 27th Commencement with an invocation, and several senior addresses followed. Laura Brownell ’95 spoke on “Mars,” Grace Alden Beard ’95 inspected “One Factor of the Labor Problem,” Elizabeth Boyd ’95 revealed “A Few Items to the Credit of Bacteria” and Anna Adele Monsch ’95 discussed “Degeneration.” Elizabeth Updegraff ’95 balanced “Individualism and Societism,” and Katherine Campbell Reilly ’95 explored “The Foundations of a Free Press.”
The “youngest member of the senior class and the finest musician,” according the The New York Times, Rose Gruening ’95 graciously offered an encore after playing Frédéric Chopin’s Berceuse, Opus 57, and President Taylor conferred the bachelor’s degree on 100 members of the Class of 1895. The program noted that the second degree in arts, the master’s, had been conferred on Sophia D. Storke ’70 the previous November.
In his closing remarks, President Taylor again made the case for a new recitation hall. He said that of the 250 applications for admission in the fall, room for no more than 75 new students could be found and that, if the $100,000 needed for a new recitation hall were secured, the trustees would construct another residence hall of equal value. The New York Times
James Renwick, Jr., the architect of Vassar’s Main Building, died at the age of 77.
The college announced that it had bought the Vassar Hospital Farm, 200 acres adjacent to the college property on the west side of Hooker Avenue, for $14,500 and that the site would be used for a new plan for disposing of the college’s sewage, called intermittent filtration. A few days earlier, the Town of Poughkeepsie had given the college six months to build a sewer, at the probable cost of $40,000, to take its sewage to the Hudson River. Heretofore, it had been dumped in the Casperkill, which ran through the college grounds.
The new plan, which proved to be only a bit less expensive but was far more sanitary, had been urged on the board by the new alumna trustee, Ellen Swallow Richards ’70, a preeminent water scientist and head instructor at the MIT laboratory for women, which Richards called her laboratory for “sanitary chemistry.”
As it began a new academic year, the college was again filled beyond its capacity. In four years, the entering class had nearly doubled, from 120 in 1891 to over 200, of whom about 80 could be accommodated on campus. The renovated Windsor Hotel was to be home for another 80, along with a matron and several teachers, and some 40 other freshmen were housed in homes near the college.
No funding for a new recitation hall or a new residence hall was yet in sight. The New York Times
The eminent actor Joseph Jefferson, famous among many other roles for his portrayal over many years of Rip Van Winkle, lectured under the auspices of Philaletheis, the student dramatic society. "He was a very interesting speaker—most of what he said being in the line of reminiscence.” MS letter by a member of the Class of 1897
In the evening some 300 Vassar students were among the audience of 3,000 for Jefferson’s double bill, Boucicault’s Cricket on the Hearth, and J. M. Morton’s farce, Lend Me Five Shillings. As an expression of their appreciation, the students presented the actor with “a huge bunch of white chrysanthemums, with the letter V in the center, formed of yellow chrysanthemums.
“The flowers were tied with wide yellow ribbon to which was attached a card inscribed: ‘For Mr. Joseph Jefferson, from his Class of ’97 and his Class-to-be ’99.’” Jefferson broke with his customs of receiving no flowers and making no curtain speeches: “I never felt so like a prima donna in all my life. As you have honored me so by this brilliant audience and this magnificent reception, allow me…to say that I can never forget your kindness and am very thankful and exceedingly grateful to you for it.” The New York Times
The next year Jefferson visited Vassar again "to see his friends the Vassar girls."
In spite of "unpropitious weather" the first woman's field day in America was held in "the oval in the garden" which had been laid out for the track events, under the supervision of Professor J. L. Moore. Events included the hundred yard dash, the running broad jump, the running high jump and the 220 yard dash. "All this time the rain had dripped down slowly but surely. Even the cartridges for the starter's pistol grew so damp that they would not go off."
The Field Day was not open to outsiders. '97 won the banner presented by the Athletic Association to the class with the most points in the track events. They also won the basketball game in the afternoon. "That meant another banner, and '97 was filled with joy!" Poughkeepsie Eagle, Nov. 11, 1895.
An exceptionally cold winter reached a new low: 20º below zero on the campus, one of many record lows in the state. The New York Times reported, "the temperatures from several localities is the lowest ever known."
Lecturing on "Psychology and Relaxation," Harvard psychologist and philosopher William James said Americans were too excitable, a "characteristic," reported The Vassar Miscellany, "which is not a sign of great strength." "Professor James," the journal added, "is a speaker to whom one can listen without any of the nervous tension which he regards as a great defect in the American character."
“He said that college girls wore themselves out by trying to wear ‘a bright and interested expression’ all the time, and should cultivate more than they do, ‘the stolid expression and codfish eye’ of their European sisters.” MS letter
“We have a queer thing to do for History tomorrow: That is, find out all the rigmarole which would have to be gone through with in order to get ourselves appointed postmistress of the town in which we live….I cannot find out much about it from any books that I have consulted yet….” MS letter
Brought to Vassar in 1887 to establish Vassar's history department, Lucy Maynard Salmon's assignments often reflected her interest in social history, as well as her advocacy for woman suffrage and her insistance on the value of primary sources.
The senior class petitioned the faculty and trustees for a change in Commencement format. Instead of the reading of essays by a number of honors graduates, they asked for an address by some prominent educator. It was thought that, particularly as President Taylor was still abroad, the question would go no further.
Soprano Villa Whitney White gave two lecture recitals. In her afternoon appearance she sang and spoke about German songs starting the 14th and 15th centuries, explaining and singing examples from the Minnesingers and the Meistersingers. "The early songs," reported The Vassar Miscellany, "were were simple in melody and harmony, but the gradually acquired a more complex character until about 1600, when the Italian influence was introduced by Hasler.... This influence continued until about 1780, when the...poets, Goethe, Schiller, Lessing and other introduced the poetry of art.
On the following evening, the second lecture recital was "devoted to Schubert, the greatest of song writers.... Schubert above all others has united words and music to express the inner meaning of a poet. Miss White illustrated with a variety of songs. She has a mezzo-soprano voice, beautifully trained and under perfect control. Her simplicity was her greatest charm, showing her to be a thorough artist in that she concealed her art, and gave free and spontaneous expression to the meaning of the songs."
Villa Whitney White appeared again at Vassar on December 11th, singing and lecturing on German ballads as reflected in Romantic songs and offering Advent and Christmas songs.
President Daniel Coit Gilman of Johns Hopkins was the speaker at the 31st Founder’s Day. Speaking on “Some Forgotten Chapters of Our History,” he revealed unknown or forgotten institutions, forces and events in the evolution of American higher education.
After a reception at which President Gilman and Estelle McCloskey ’86, president of the student association, received, there was promenading in the corridors and square dancing in the dining room. At midnight, the Glee Club sang the “Good Night” song and all joined in singing the Alma Mater. The New York Times
The college announced that trustee John D. Rockefeller had agreed to give Vassar $100,000 toward the construction of either a new recitation hall or a new residence hall. Both facilities had been badly needed for some time, as President Taylor never failed to remind his many audiences. President Taylor, recently returned from his six-months leave of absence, planned to meet with Rockefeller to discuss the competing needs. The New York Times
It was announced that, in their meeting about Mr. Rockefeller’s recent gift, John D. Rockefeller and President Taylor had agreed that the $100,000 gift would go toward a new recitation hall and that the college would meet its other urgent need, a new residence hall, by drawing an equal amount from college funds. The New York Times
Vassar held its second annual field day on the college oval.
Students in Moorish costumes clanged brass bells to draw attention to the senior bazaar, where seniors annually divested themselves of items no longer needed. Autograph letters from President Cleveland and actor Joe Jefferson—a Vassar favorite—brought $4 each, and one from naturalist and friend of the college John Burroughs was bid in at $2.75. The New York Times
The Jacob P. Giraud Jr. Professorship of Natural History was established through the bequest of Jacob P. Giraud, who had earlier presented his collection of North American birds to the college. The chair was first held by Elizabeth E. Bickford, Associate Professor of Biology, 1895-1899.
Professor of Mathematics Achsah M. Ely ’68 was robbed as she was leaving the college to board the trolley to go to the train station. A man hiding in the cedars at the gatehouse stole her satchel, which contained her railway ticket and some papers. “Miss Ely was almost prostrated by the shock, and had to postpone her trip to New York.” The New York Times
Raymond House, a residence hall, was completed, Francis R. Allen, architect. It was built with college funds and named in honor of Vassar's second president,. John Howard Raymond.
Speaking at the first annual meeting of the Vassar Alumnae Historical Association, Professor of History Lucy Maynard Salmon reviewed the ten years' history of Vassar's history department and the aims of the association, founded on commencement morning, June 9, the previous year: "increasing the appliances for the historical department, the preservation of historical material and the introduction of more scientific methods into the work done by local societies." "A chart had been prepared," noted The Vassar Miscellany, "giving the number of historical societies in the various States and Territories, illustrating the amount of unoccupied territory, the development of whose historical material might furnish inspiration to the members of the Vassar Association." The main feature of the meeting were the comprehensive reports from alumnae on "State and Local Historical Interests," ranging from the Catholic historical societies, the City History Club of New York and "the account of the collection of Dutch documents made by the Troy Society" to state reports from Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, more local reports of historical work in Dutchess County, Cayuga County, Kingston and Charleston and "the Southern States," which offered "a rich field but little worked."
Beginning almost a year earlier with 41 charater members, the association's membership numbered 127, 39 of whom were able to attend the first annual meeting. The group had purchased for the college The Jesuit Relations, The Virginia Historical Society Collections, Brown's Genesis of the United States and Force's Tracts, expending $58.55 of its $199 in annual receipts.
In perhaps the first mass student protest in the history of the college, students challenged the faculty’s decision, taken two years earlier, that George Washington’s birthday would no longer be a holiday from classes at Vassar.
In contrast to their response in 1895, when the seniors came to dinner in mourning for the death of the faculty’s patriotism, this year’s protest was loud and long. Before breakfast, students swarmed the corridors of Main Building shouting “Rah! Rah! Rah! George! George! George! First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen!” Singing “America” and “Yankee Doodle,” the procession headed to the President’s House, where they “saluted President Taylor’s windows” with more singing and cheers for the “Red, White and Blue.” Returning to Main, the hundreds of students entered the dining room, quickly festooning the student tables with patriotic colors and drawing a white chalk line around the faculty tables. Many students came to breakfast in their finest clothes, as if dressed for a grand event.
Faculty entering their classrooms found appropriate posters behind their desks: “Qui entre ici laisse le patriotisme dehors” for the French teacher; in algebra, a formula computing the removal of patriotism from the faculty and adding it to the students; in Greek, a poster proclaiming the Greeks’ love of freedom and country; in psychology, a few lines about the mental strain of deprivation of celebration. In the morning mail faculty members received a notice of a production of “A Revised Edition of Shakespeare’s Tragedy, ‘George Washington.’” On the bulletin board in Main, notices were posted cancelling meetings of the Student Association, the Dickens Club, Federal Councils, and the Wake Robin Club. In contrast, another notice said “The Faculty will meet as usual to-day.”
In the evening, at a “Colonial Ball,” the seniors came dressed as George Washington. The New York Times
Scientists from Columbia, Cornell, Yale, Harvard, Union, Vassar and the United States Geological Survey participated in the fourth annual exhibition of the New York Academy of Sciences, at the American Museum of Natural History. A highlight of the exhibit was the device perfected over many years by Professor of Geology William Buck Dwight for preparing transparently thin specimens of rocks and fossils. Using a series of tin discs edged with diamond dust, Dwight was able to prepare consecutive parallel slices of geological materials up to eight inches in diameter to a thickness of one fiftieth of an inch.
Speaking at Founder’s Day Columbia University professor Nicholas Murray Butler told his audience that the newspaper was losing its moral influence. “It comes out daily and appeals to the mind like a highly-seasoned dish to the human system. As 95 per cent of our reading is in the newspaper, it is easy to see what a tremendous influence the press would wield if its moral influence could be sustained.” The New York Times
A sneak thief caused a stir at Vassar. Around 3 pm a well-dressed young woman entered Main Building and began asking students for directions to “Miss Nolan’s room.” One of the students became suspicious and, seeing the woman leave the college grounds, she notified college authorities. A search of the rooms she had visited revealed that an Elgin watch, numbered “126,553” and with the monogram “H. B. L.”, and a purse containing 50 cents had been taken.
“President Taylor rode into town on his wheel and notified police. Officer Leroy reported having seen a woman of the description given board a train for New York about 5 o’clock, and the police believe that she was the thief.”
The thief was apprehended in Kingston on October 7 and was identified as Ruby Livingston—also known as Cora or Catherine Simmonds—a former worker at the college. An official at the college had seen her in May as she left the college grounds and notified the police.
The watch was found in Livingston’s possession and was identified by its owner, Harriet Bickmore Long ‘00. The accused thief had left the college’s employ but had returned from time to time to visit acquaintances. In retrospect, it was recalled that items were found to be missing after these visits.
On December 14, Livingston, who pleaded guilty, was sentenced to three months in the county jail. The New York Times
President Taylor drew the theme of his baccalaureate sermon for the Class of 1897 from I Timothy, vi, 20, “Keep that which is committed to thy trust,” telling the class to go forth from the college simply and modestly, shunning sensationalism and the so-call new womanhood. “Our age,” he said, “radical in its tendencies, calls for restraint. The state, marriage, home, religion, have all been attacked during the past twenty years. ‘Away with the old’ has been the cry, but nothing new has been offered. It is the duty of educated men and women to work continually for a healthful conservatism.” Taylor condemned the pulpit and the press alike for catering to a rising taste for the sensational.
In concluding remarks to the class, he said, “You will find temptations to low ideals in social life and in personal life, tendencies to publicity and to notoriety, false ideas of a new womanhood. Keep the trust of high endeavor, of faith in human nature, of a noble purpose, of a simple, pure, and honorable life, and may God be with you.” The New York Times
Class Day, held outdoors in the last two years, was forced back into the Chapel by heavy rains. Class President Mary Elizabeth Chambers ’97 welcomed the largest crowd ever for this event, and two class historians, Marie Reimer ’97 and Grace Margaret Gallaher ’97, thoroughly reviewed the 1897’s time at Vassar.
Although the tree ceremony and the burying of the class records were postponed because of the weather, the senior charge was given in the Chapel by Elizabeth Atkinson ’97, who passed Matthew Vassar’s spade to Mary MacColl ’98, who gave the junior response. The New York Times
The rainy weather continued, but it failed to dampen the enthusiasm of nearly all of the 104 members of the Class of 1897, the largest class to graduate in the history of the college. The traditional senior essays were read, covering such topics as: “The Religious Melancholy of the Greeks and the Hebrews” by Marion Schibsby ’97; “The Sonata as an Art Form” by Grace Hannah Landfield ’97; “Practical Socialism” by Rachael Schauffler ‘97 and “The Romanticism of Ruskin and Morris” by Nancy Vincent McClelland ’97. Helen Peters ’97 sang “Hymn to the Angels,” by Berthold Tours. The New York Times
Among the graduates was Anita Florence Hemmings '97, the college’s first alumna of African American heritage. Her racial background was unknown up until a few days before graduation when, under pressure from a classmate’s family’s investigation of her, she disclosed it to a professor. The college found no reason to interrupt her graduation, but the excellent student, active in many college groups, was reportedly under great stress in her last days at the college. Hemmings’s daughter, Ellen Parker Love, graduated from Vassar in the Class of 1927, also without acknowledging her racial origins. The first acknowledged African American graduates of Vassar were Drs. Beatrix McCleary Hamburg '44 and June Jackson Christmas '45/4.
Mary Secord Packard ’92 and her 14 male classmates were the recipients of the first M. D. degrees to be given by Johns Hopkins University.
“She bore her honors blushingly but proudly, and received the congratulations of all present with becoming modesty.” The New York Times
In its annual fall commentary on the status of colleges and universities in the Northeast, The New York Times found that enrollments had generally increased from the previous year. Ella McCaleb, secretary of the college at Vassar, reported: “The total enrollment of students at Vassar College this fall is 600, an increase of 55 over the whole number enrolled during last year. Of the 600, 205 are freshmen.”
College physician Dr. Elizabeth Thelberg and her assistant, Dr. Grace Kimball, reported that the 60 students who had taken ill from eating improperly cooked veal were all out of danger.
Dr. G. Stanley Hall, founder of The American Journal of Psychology, first president of the American Psychological Association and President of Clark University, spoke on “A Few Tendencies in College and University Education” at the dedication of Rockefeller Hall, a much-needed recitation hall. York & Sawyer were the architects. The gift of John D. Rockefeller, a trustee from1888-1905, the building’s total cost was $99,998.75, thus falling within the $100,000 given by Mr. Rockefeller.
Vassar hosted the 11th annual convention of the Association of Colleges and Preparatory Schools of the Middle States and Maryland, welcoming over 400 educators from the region. Cornell president Jacob Gould Schurman presided over the two-day meeting.
Some representatives of smaller, liberal arts institutions, encouraged by Melvil Dewey, secretary of the University of the State of New York, discussed at this meeting forming a college league devoted to promoting, in the words of one of the organizers, “conference and cooperation among the distinctly literary colleges” and to keeping “before the public the proper function and the claim to popular support of the so-called small college.” Failing to satisfactorily define a “small college,” this effort failed.
The more general issues before the conference were “Problems of Preparatory and College Education” and “the Place of Science in the Preparatory School.” Both principal speakers on the latter topic, Ralph S. Tarr, professor of geology at Cornell, and C. C. Wilson, principal of Lincoln High School in Jersey City, NJ, “took the position that the teaching of science had been greatly improved and its claim to a definite place in the curriculum was established, but that there was no general consensus of opinion as to its exact place.” The New York Times
The endowment committee announced to the 250 attendees at the annual New York meeting of the Associate Alumnae of Vassar College that a longstanding goal, $50,000 for the Maria Mitchell chair in astronomy had been achieved.
The U.S.S. Maine exploded in Havana Harbor.
Gertrude Buck, recently appointed in the English department, spoke to the Confraternity of the School of Pedagogy of New York University on “Culture Epics in Education.” Her remarks centered on the theories of education developed with Harriet M. Scott at the Detroit Normal School, where Buck taught before coming to Vassar.
Scott’s father, Fred Newton Scott, and John Dewey had been Buck’s mentors during her Ph.D. work in rhetoric and composition at the University of Michigan. Buck and Harriet Scott published Organic Education: A Manual for Teachers in Primary and Grammar Grades in 1897, and Buck’s dissertation (1898) appeared as The Metaphor: A Study in the Psychology of Rhetoric in 1899.
After several weeks of discussion among themselves and with the faculty, students were told that the “10 o’clock rule” for turning out all lights—in force since the college opened—was suspended indefinitely. Students had argued that the rule forced those behind in their work for whatever reason to fall further behind or to become, instead, lawbreakers.
The U.S. Congress’s Joint Resolution for war with Spain over the independence of Cuba and other Spanish colonies launched the Spanish American War.
The American fleet, under the command of Commodore George Dewey, destroyed the Spanish Pacific Squadron in Manila Bay, the Philippines.
British Fabian socialist leaders Sidney and Beatrice Webb visited the college and spoke informally on "The Scope of Democracy in England." They were the guests of Professor Herbert E. Mills. Beatrice Webb and Harriot Stanton Blatch ’78, who lived in England during this period, were considered the two most effective women speakers on Fabianism.
President Taylor’s subject in his baccalaureate sermon to the Class of 1898 was America’s war with Spain. Acknowledging that war might bring out “the noble, heroic elements in the human character,” he declared that this does not mean that war is ever right. “An eminent jurist,” he added, “told me that this war was brought on by the press and the pulpit. I do not agree with him, but enough of his statement is true to make it proper to say that the pulpit should uphold the Gospel of Jesus, which is peace and not war.” The New York Times
85 members of the Class of 1898 received their bachelor’s degrees at Commencement in the Chapel. Topics for the senior essays ranged from the broadly theoretical, such as “The Modern Idea of a Nation” and “The Place of Color in Modern Art,” by Laura Owen Rice ’98 and Eleanor Belknap’98, and the socially relevant, such as “The Problem of the Delinquent” and “State Control of Sanitation” by Amy Wentworth ’98 and Phebe Annette Hatfield ’98, to the closely analytical, as in “Matthew Arnold’s Heritage from Wordsworth,” by Alice Kauffman ’98. The New York Times
The Spanish-American War ended with the signing of a peace protocol in Washington DC.
President Taylor announced that the Phi Beta Kappa Society had granted a charter for Mu Chapter at Vassar, the first chapter at a college for women. Other institutions granted charters at this time included Boston University, the University of California, Princeton, Haverford, and the University of Wisconsin.
The chapter was instituted by the president of the society, the Honorable John A. DeRemer, on April 8, 1899.
Reubena Hyde Walworth, '96, the first and only woman nurse in the Army Detention Hospital of Camp Wykoff, on Long Island, died of typhoid. A member of a prominent upstate New York family and the granddaughter of the last chancellor of New York State, the Red Cross nurse ministered to Spanish American War veterans returning from Cuba, of whom some 200 died of typhoid contracted there. Shortly after the last of her charges were released, she was found to have contracted the disease.
Buried with full military honors by some of the veterans she served, Walworth was memorialized on October 18, 1899, by a 41-foot granite monument erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution in Greenridge Cemetery in Saratoga Springs, NY. Governor Franklin Roosevelt, members of the Vassar faculty, President MacCracken and the philantropist and future mayor of New York City, Seth Low, were among the invited guests at the memorial's dedication. The New York Times, Proceedings of the New York Historical Society (vol. 5, 1905)
An enthusiastic audience filled the Chapel for a concert by New York concert singers, a gift of trustee John D. Rockefeller. The group—American soprano Mrs. Seabury Ford, British tenor Mackenzie Gordon, Marguerite Hall, and American baritone David Bispham—reprised a concert they had given the previous April at the Mendelssohn Glee Club hall in New York. The highlight of the evening was the group’s performance of British composer Liza Lehmann’s “In a Persian Garden,” taken from The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. The group’s accompanist was Victor Harris.
President Taylor, lecturing on “The Education of Women” at Cooper Union, looked back over the past 30 years and proclaimed the question of the practicability of Matthew Vassar’s project soundly and affirmatively answered. More recent concerns, such as the claims that their education might be leading women away from marriage, he said, were valid only insofar that it was true that education, whether for women or me, opened possibilities that remain largely closed to those who have no broad, liberal education. Taylor also dismissed notions that special and specific courses of study might be more appropriate for women. “Colleges,” he said, stood “for a liberal education, and young women as well as young men would be amply equipped for the ordinary demands of life if they secured a practical education of broad and liberal scope.” The New York Times
In his annual report President Taylor urged the formation of a campaign for a million dollar endowment fund. He had previously declared that "Educational endowment is our greatest need."
United States Senator-elect Chauncey M. Depew and President Taylor were the main speakers at the 23rd annual meeting of the Vassar Alumnae Association of New York—a meeting open by tradition to any alumna. In his remarks, Taylor forthrightly addressed two current issues: Vassar’s “wealth” and whether the traditional liberal arts remained appropriate to a college curriculum. Protesting reports in the press that Vassar was “a wealthy college,” Taylor declared “It is not a wealthy college in any sense, and the report that it is rich is a slander that no one connected the college ought to submit to. The interest on our funds is decreasing every year. When money drops from 7 to 4 per cent, as it has in recent years, and when our investments are limited by State law, we cannot do what we formerly were able to accomplish. We must have $1,000,000 for endowment, we must have much-needed buildings on the campus, and it depends largely on the alumnae whether these needs be met or not.”
As to the curriculum, the president stated, “We want Vassar to be judged as a college, not as a university. We want no woman’s university. We have faith that the public will judge us from the standard of our college work, which fits out girls to compete with university graduates…. To make every student a scholar is a Quixotic, an impossible, idea, but to make those who come under the influence of a college scholarly in taste, to imbue them with respect for learning in one of the ideals of a college.”
In his brief remarks, the senator-elect and former president of the New York Central railroad told the some 250 alumnae a Vassar-related story in support of his declaration that “girls were much more self-reliant than boys.”
“And talking about the enterprise of girls…some years ago I went up to deliver an address. I didn’t intend to go, but it happened this way: A deputation of Vassar girls came to me in my office and invited me to the college. I am a busy man, and I said no. I repeated the refusal gently, but with that firmness which characterizes me. Whereupon a business-like little girl drew her companions into a corner, and in a stage whisper said: ‘Girls, you must go out of the office. You can’t get a man to do anything by college methods and tactics. I understand men; you don’t.’
“Her companions went out, and, shutting the door, she turned to me and said:
“Now, look here, Mr. Depew, we can raise $100, but not another cent.’“Of course, I went….” The New York Times
At a special meeting in New York City the Vassar board of trustees adopted a resolution urging President Taylor to remain at Vassar and to reject a unanimous vote in his favor, which was reported to him on February 8 by a presidential search committee at Brown University. A second resolution pledged the trustees’ “cordial co-operation in seeking to meet the pressing needs of the College, that it may hold its place as the leading educational institution for women in our country.”
Taylor received and considered similar entreaties from faculty, alumnae, and students, and on March 1, he wrote to Rev. Alvah Hovey, the search committee chairman, declining the position.
“This conclusion has been reached slowly under the influence of a weight of assurance from the trustees, faculty, alumnae, and students of Vassar, and friends of education unrelated to Vassar, that I cannot set aside. I have been made to feel that the resignation of my duties here would be construed by most observers, despite my own honest protest, as an assertion that the type of work for which Vassar stands is of less importance than that of a college devoted mainly to men. I have been convinced, against my earlier judgment, that the chances of disintegration which come with every change would be very grave, just now, for Vassar, and that her work might be hindered for years, at least till a new leader should have gained the confidence of the College and its alumnae…. I have been convinced, also, that the position offered me would present no greater opportunity for usefulness than that I now hold.” Elizabeth Hazelton Haight, The Life and Letters of James Monroe Taylor
Writing to The New York Times on February 4, 1915, a few days after Henry Noble MacCracken assumed the presidency of the college, Elizabeth Hazelton Haight ’94 called Taylor’s letter perhaps “the most significant document of his twenty-seven years of service” and Taylor’s decision “in itself a triumph for the cause of woman’s education.”
American writer and suffragist Harriot Stanton Blatch '78, gave a series of five lectures on "The Economic Position of Women." Resident in England, Mrs. Blatch—the daughter of feminist pioneer Elizabeth Cady Stanton, with whom she and Susan B. Anthony collaborated on History of Woman Suffrage (1881)—conducted a statistical study of the working condition of rural English women which was submitted in 1893 as part of her work towards her Vassar masters degree.
"The first lecture," reported The Vassar Miscellany, "on "Women in Politics" was followed by a general consideration of the woman's labor question. After stating the general economic laws which woman's work follows and the reasons for their low wages, Mrs. Blatch traced the evolution of modern organized labor from the unspecialized labor of the primitive worker, and in her concluding lecture laid much emphasis upon the need of the same, general manual education for women as well as for men."
Harriot Stanton Blatch lectured again at Vassar in January 1902 on "Handicrafts of England," emphasizing the social and physical benefits of hand work and amateur industries.
The Class of 1902 dealt a blow to both the Class of 1901 and a Vassar tradition. By long custom, classes selected their class trees secretly in the sophomore year, revealing its location as graduation approached. But as ’01 came to the secret site, they found themselves suddenly passing between two lines of jeering freshmen.
Adding insult to injury, the freshmen had also discovered the location of the celebration to be held after the consecration of the tree and had carried ‘01’s ice cream off to Strong, where they had a party of their own. The New York Times
Ellen Swallow Richards '70, MIT chemist and coiner, in 1892, of the term, "ecology," spoke on "The Education and Occupations of the Twentieth Century Woman," calling for more general and thorough study of science in women's colleges. An instructor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an alumnae trustee, Richards, said The Vassar Miscellany, "introduced her subject by tracing women's occupations and opportunities to the present day." More thorough scientific education for women was important, The Miscellany reported, "especially in consideratioin of the important position in the world to be occupied by the twentieth century woman."
Three Vassar alumnae were among the women named in the annual announcement of fellowships and scholarships at Bryn Mawr College. Lida Shaw King ’90 and Annie Lyndesay Wilkinson ’97 were awarded resident fellowships for the next year in Greek and mathematics, respectively, and Winifred M. Kirkland ’97 was awarded a graduate scholarship in English.
At the 34th Founder’s Day, President Taylor announced that two alumnae, Mary Thaw Thompson ’77 and Mary Seymour Pratt ’80, had written to the college to say that they would fund the building of a new Chapel on the campus. Josiah Royce, Professor of History and Philosophy at Harvard University, gave a lengthy Founder's Day address on "Some Limitations of Our Thinking Public. " He lectured again at the college in 1907 and 1909.
In the evening, a reception was held and hundreds of visiting young men danced with their Vassar hostesses in the Main dining room. Such dancing was permitted on two occasions, Founder’s Day and the annual anniversary of Philaletheis, in December.
In his baccalaureate address, President Taylor urged the 118 members of the Class of 1899 to use their influence as women to counteract "the desire to secure immediate gratification." Social ills ranging from the exploitation of "helpless tribes of Indians" to heedless national expansionism—"as if everything American must be right"—were, he said, examples of "the curse of the social world..the desire to secure immediate gratification.... Women, on account of their great influence in this age, must set their faces against this social laxness which now stands in grim contrast to the godly spirit which is to save society from...ruin."
Among the guests in attendance were the varsity and freshmen eights of the Columbia crew, in Poughkeepsie for a regatta. Several members of the class attended a racing demonstration and tea given by the crews the following afternoon. The event was chaperoned by Mrs. J. W. Hinkley, the wife of a Poughkeepsie industrialist, and the wife of the crew's coach, Dr. Walter Peet. The New York Times
Benjamin Ide Wheeler, professor of Greek and comparative philology at Cornell University, delivered Vassar's first Phi Beta Kappa Lecture, "Language and Life." "Man's character, Professor Wheeler said," reported The Vassar Miscellany, "is the result of all the conscious choices of life. Language is lik character and every speaker has helped to build it. Words are not words without context and life—they must be warm with the life blood of living speech.... Every word with its subtle coloring and personal characteristic carries its character with it. Language is a social product."
"At the close of the address," The Miscellany noted, "Professor [Mary Watson] Whitney ['68], as Vice-President of the Mu Chapter, read the names of all graduates since '67 who were eligible to Phi Beta Kappa, and asked those we were present to remain for the initiation."
Mu Chapter, the first Phi Beta Kappa chapter at a college for women, was installed at Vassar by the president of the Phi Beta Kappa Society on April 8. Professor Wheeler became president of the University of California in 1899.
Class Day ceremonies began with a procession—seniors in brightly colored gowns followed by sophomores and juniors in white and by the 12 members of the daisy chain—to a platform erected at the rear of Main Building. Elsie Nichols '99, president of the class, welcomed the gathering, and class historians Annie Calvert Jones '99 and Alice Taggart '99 "humorously told," respectively, highlights of the class's first two years and the last two years at Vassar. The class song, with words by Miss Taggart and music by Louise Jacobs '99, was sung to an orchestral accompaniment, and as the singing progressed the Daisy Chain led the gathering to the class tree. The senior spade orator, Eleanor Ray '99 handed Matthew Vassar's spade to her sister, Maude Louise Ray '00, who "responded in a happy speech."
A holiday from classes was given for the naval parade in New York City in honor of Commodore George Dewey, the hero of the Battle of Manila Bay. The College arranged for the side-wheeler Mary Powell to take students to New York.
On September 30th, the Commodore visited Vassar on his tour up the Hudson.