A Documentary Chronicle of Vassar College
For the centenary of Vassar’s charter in 1961 the centennial’s executive director, George Dowell, and Dorothy Plum, the Library’s bibliographer, compiled a Vassar chronology. First published in 1961 as The Great Experiment, the chronicle appeared later that year in a modified and more elegant form as The Magnificent Enterprise, edited by Dowell, Plumb and Constance Dimock Ellis ’38. Those volumes, along with an online update to the mid-1970s done by student researchers under the direction of college historian Elizabeth Daniels ‘41, are the models for A Documentary Chronicle of Vassar College. As did they, the documentary chronicle records facts—dates, names, events, remarks, reports—in chronological order, with little analysis, conjecture or opinion.
Expanding, updating and where necessary correcting its predecessors, the chronicle also differs from them in two significant ways. This version adds a good deal more documentary content—quotations from memoirs, addresses and lectures and contemporary publications, etc.—verbal texture to provide a larger sense of the periods and the personalities involved in the events it chronicles. It also takes more notice than the earlier works of historical events that lay in the background of what was happening at Vassar. The intent is to supply a rich and accurate account of the times and events, great and small, as information and perhaps as encouragement to others to investigate further and to speculate or analyze.
The chronicle follows the practice of its predecessors in identifying the sources of quotations or extended specific detail—statistics, descriptions, specifications, etc.—in a general rather than a scholarly format. Quotations or specifics for entries before 1962 not so attributed may be assumed to be from The Great Experiment and/or The Magnificent Enterprise.
Introduced on Matthew Vassar’s 219th birthday, April 29, 2011, A Documentary Chronicle of Vassar College was completed to the end of 2001 during the sesquicentennial year, 2011. It will continue by 10-year increments into the future.
In 2011, any historical study of Vassar must recognize a fundamental indebtedness to Elizabeth Adams Daniels ’41, the first official college historian. Her contributions to the discovery and telling of Vassar’s story rival those of such distinguished predecessors as Presidents John Howard Raymond, James Monroe Taylor and Henry Noble MacCracken, of Professors Elizabeth Hazelton Haight ’91 and Constance Mayfield Rourke ’07, of founding trustee Benson Lossing and of Cornelia Raymond ’83, who came to Vassar in 1865 at the age of four and published Memories of a Child at Vassar in 1940. Betty’s tireless collection, preservation and—through her writings—creation of the Vassar record constitute an abundant and invaluable resource. Her guidance of the chronicle project has been indispensable.
In addition to The Great Experiment and The Magnificent Enterprise, the archival files of The Miscellany News, The Poughkeepsie Journal and The Vassar Quarterly and their predecessors, have been very useful in the compilation of the documentary chronicle. The files of The New York Times have been especially helpful, starting with coverage in 1866 by the pseudonymous “special correspondent,” Diabolus, of the end of Vassar’s first year of existence.
Ron Patkus and Dean Rogers in the Vassar Special Collections Library, James Mundy and Joann Potter at the France Lehman Loeb Art Center, Registrar Colleen Mallet, Music Librarian Sarah Canino, Melissa Naitza, coordinator of academic administration in the office of the dean of the faculty, and Diane Sauter, director of donor relations in the office of alumnae/i affairs and development, have provided kind assistance as this project has gone along. From the communications office Carolyn Guyer, director of web development, Megg Brown, assistant director, web developer Morgan Gange and designer Chris Silverman supplied excellent web support. Generous access to the online directory of the Associate Alumnae/i of Vassar College (AAVC) greatly aided our work, which could not possibly have been done without the diligent research, writing and data entry of our student colleagues Dana Cass ’11, Mallory Easton ’11, Violet Edelman ’12, Daniela Weiner ’12 and Madeleine Boesche ’13. Their study of Vassar’s past will inform the interpretation of its future.
April 27, 2011