Aided by a grant from the Pew Memorial Trust, Vassar purchased the journals of naturalist John Burroughs.  Burroughs was a frequent visitor to the campus in the later 19th and early 20th centuries, and student groups visited him frequently at his Catskill retreat, Slabsides. Vassar’s first nature club, the Wake Robin Club, took its name from Burroughs’s “invitation to study Ornithology,” his book Wake-Robin (1871).

The 53 notebooks covered the period from May 13, 1876 until February 4, 1921, seven weeks before Burroughs's death at the age of 84. Although the notebooks were devoted principally to Burroughs's observations of nature, they also contained a wealth of literary comment. During his long life he was a friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Thomas Carlyle, Oscar Wilde and Theodore Dreiser.

His notebooks also contained comments, sometimes caustic, on the political scene. In 1920, expressing his disappointment at the Senate's vote to keep the United States out of the League of Nations, Mr. Burroughs wrote in his daily log, "I am so intolerant of that gang of reactionaries in the Senate, led by Borah and Lodge, that more than ever I would like to see the Senate abolished. Let the House make the laws."     The Vassar Encyclopedia