Skip to content Skip to navigation
Skip to global navigation Menu

February 8, 1913

Speaking in Cleveland at the annual luncheon of the Associate Alumnae of Vassar College (AAVC) Maria Dickinson McGraw ’67, one of the college’s four first graduates offered a lively account of the earliest days of the college, beginning with her inquiries in 1863—along with her Detroit classmate Harriet Warner ’67—about “the Vassar College of which we occasionally saw newspaper mention. The answer was that the buildings were not erected yet, so we settled down again, and took our school’s one-year English course.” Admitted to Vassar in 1865, along with Miss Warner, she arrived in Poughkeepsie the day before college was to open. “By this time,” she told her fellow graduates, “I was nearly twenty-two years old, and engaged to be married. My fiancé was my escort to Poughkeepsie.”

Looking back nearly 50 years, Mrs. McGraw recalled the young couple’s first view of the campus—the porter’s lodge, the observatory, the steam and gas house and Main Building: “We caught no glimpse of the college until after passing the north boundary of the estate, and then the four buildings were in full view—dark and grim as they faced the high September sun. My companion groaned, “O the prison walls!”—a bit supersensitive—likely due to an enforced and protracted visit to Libby Prison in the city of Richmond—three years earlier. There was no mistaking the place: for, high above th portal, in gleaming letters, on bands of white stone, we read VASSAR FEMALE COLLEGE.”

After vivid sketches of President Raymond, the lady principal Hannah Lyman and Professor of Astronomy Maria Mitchell, of the first students—“more than three hundred female persons ranging between fourteen and twenty-four, or more, years of age: they were strangers to each other and to the teachers”—of the first Christmas at college with its sereptitiously acquired Christmas tree and of the students’ first, quiet revolt against President Raymond’s absolute authority, Mrs. Warner described how the graduating class—at first, a class of one, her friend Harriet Warner—was determined and with the story of the first class’s motto, translated from its original Greek as “Let us run well the race that is set before us.” “You would doubtless catch the full significance of the Greek, but I give you the English rendering, because I wish to assure you that we chose the motto with no reference whatever to the fact that Vassar campus was formerly and originally the famous Dutchess Country Race-course!”

The Vassar Miscellany

The Years