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April 29, 1876

Thomas Wentworth Higginson, minister, abolitionist and Civil War Colonel, gave the Founder’s Day address, “Common Sense in the Study of History.” “First premising,” said the Vassar Miscellany, “that History should be the most absorbing of studies…Col. Higginson deplored that characteristic dryness of the average History which makes it so tame and unsatisfactory. Life is man’s most absorbing study, but the historian robs it of all vitality.” He offered “three all-important rules” for correcting this situation: “First, cultivate exactness. The love of facts and the capacity for fixing them is common to all minds; the mistake is made in trying to master too many…. Fix your dates and—equally important—fix very few of them. Secondly, if History is to be a profitable study—cultivate the imagination, the power of forming an image, of seeing the past as present; of bringing together fragments of a whole, found here and there in reading, and of forming a vivid picture in the mind, of the times and people. Thirdly, let the student of History bring to his reading a free, comprehensive, fearless, unbiassed mind. Cultivate impartiality…. Finally, let the American student devote himself especially to the history of his own country.

“As his last words the speaker left us an expression of the hope that in this our Centennial Year, when study of our own History is peculiarly appropriate, we would mark out for ourselves a course of reading that would make us all more truly American than before.”

Vassar Miscellany

During the war Higginson had commanded the 1st South Carolina Volunteers, the first African-American regiment. After the war, he devoted much of his time working for recognition of the rights of freed slaves and women.

The Years