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The Laundry, Main Building kitchen and dining room extension, designed by a local architect, James S. Post, were completed. 

The American orator and abolitionist leader Wendell Phillips lectured on “The Lost Arts.” Although Matthew Vassar himself was proud that Phillips had spoken at the college in November 1867, the trustee lecture committee refused the Students’ Association’s request in December 1869 that Phillips be invited to deliver this address—part of his repertoire for nearly two decades. In a letter to her mother Ellen Swallow ’1870 surmised that the committee “thought that a man so identified with extreme views ought not to come here as we were not to be exposed to radical doctrines of any sort. ‘The sacred trust of fathers and mothers,’ etc…. We are about tired of poky lectures.” Caroline Louisa Hunt, The Life of Ellen H. Richards

The editors of the first issue (April 1, 1872) of the Students’ Association’s publication, The Vassar Miscellany, called Phillips’s appearance a “long cherished wish of the students,” and noted that the speech—a detailed comparison of the arts of ancient civilizations with contemporary ones, with the conclusion that “democracy” was the current civilization’s uniquely fine creation—“is too well known and too generally appreciated to need comment.”

Special German language tables were set up in the dining room.

In the first issue of The Vassar Miscellany, published by the Students’ Association and “Edited by Members of the Senior and Junior Classes,” the editors acknowledged “our exceeding newness frankly and fearlessly, without apology for the past or promise for the future.

“While we make no promises for the future, it may be well to look at what is lying before us…. It is no slight responsibility to meet the confidence reposed in us by the Faculty in consenting to give us what we have so long asked for, a college periodical under our control…. We have had, heretofore, no means of expressing our opinions, and much that we have often considered unfairness in our instructors has been, probably, ignorance of our real wants. Our columns will always be open to the Faculty, and we hope for their advice and opinion on matters of common interest.… [W]hile we intend always to advocate the cause of the students, we wish every question to be considered fairly, and we feel as jealous for the honor of our Alma Mater and our instructors, as for our own.”

In “Hints to Graduates,” Professor Maria Mitchell—writing as “M. M.”—used the new publication to urge her former students to heed the call of the Astronomer Royal of England for telescopic study of the fourth satellite of Jupiter, noting “it is on that satellite that observations must be made for determining the mass of Jupiter.”

“Would it not be well,” she asked, “for the graduates of Vassar College who are in possession of good telescopes, to combine in their work, and, connecting with the observatory at Vassar, keep up a series of observations?”

“The Vacancy in the Board of Trustees,” by “A Member of the Class of ’70,” declared it “eminently fit” that a woman be selected to fill the vacancy created by the death of founding trustee William Kelly. “When, in 1861, the corner-stone of Vassar College was laid,” the writer conceded, “giving prominence to women was looked upon in an entirely different light from that of today, and it might have been imprudent in Mr. Vassar to have added anything more than was necessary, to excite opposition to his infant enterprise.

“But, the aspect has entirely changed. Not only is Vassar College a success, but the serious consideration of the question, whether their doors shall not be opened to women, is agitating every college in the land…. We put it on the simple ground that no man can fully represent a woman, since she alone knows anything of the working of her own mind. If her intellectual processes are different from those of man, he surely needs her evidence to know that they are. If they are the same, why should any distinction be made, except to select the best person?”

At their meeting n June 25, the trustees elected the New York City Baptist minister, Edward Bright, Jr., to fill the Mr. Kelly’s seat on the board. The first women elected as trustees of Vassar, Helen Hiscock Backus ’73, Florence Cushing ’74 and Elizabeth Poppleton ’76, joined the board in 1887.

The English-born Unitarian minister and orator Robert Collyer, spoke at the Founder’s Day exercises. His lecture, “Our Folks and Other Folks,” which he had delivered on several occasions, was much anticipated and well-received. He spoke again at Founder’s Day in 1881 on “George Eliot.”

The Vassar Miscellany for July 1, 1872, reported the visit to the college, on May 1, of the Jubilee Singers of Fiske University, Nashville Tennessee. The group was formed in 1871, when Fisk—opened in1866 as the first American university offering a liberal arts education to “young men and women irrespective of color”— was in dire financial need. The school’s treasurer and professor of music, George L. White, formed the choral group of nine men and women and toured with them, raising money, bringing notice to the institution and introducing to American music both “slave songs” and “Negro spirituals.”

“They treated us,” said the Miscellany, “to an impromptu concert, the news of which spread like wild-fire from room to room and gathered teachers and pupils in the Chapel. Professor White told us how these noble boys and girls were working to support their college, and how, but for their efforts, it must have been given up. Then they sang their simple melodies with such pathos that few of the listeners were unmoved. ‘Keep me from sinking down’ was the fit expression of the great hungry longing, the sorely-tried yet never-faltering faith of their race. The students testified their enjoyment of the singing and their sympathy with the young people and their object by the most hearty applause and by the contribution of eighty dollars to the Jubilee Concert in Poughkeepsie.”

Annual college trips by ferry and carry-all to Lake Mohonk were inaugurated, the gift of trustee Frederick Ferris Thompson—the student’ beloved “Uncle Fred”—later famous for the “Vassar spoon” which he presented to each senior upon graduation.

The seniors and the sophomore elocution class were permitted to attend a performance by the emminent American actor Edwin Booth in Hamlet, at the Collingwood Opera House in Poughkeepsie. “He was miserably supported by a company from Troy,” reported the Vassar Miscellany. “Booth himself was so nearly perfect that the audience were tolerably successful in restraining their risibles at the utter comicality of some of the acting.”

Vassar Miscellany, July 1872.

“One of the pleasantest entertainments ever given in the College parlors was the Junior party…the Faculty and Seniors being the invited guests. The rooms were tastefully decorated, the guests charmingly entertained. Room J, accustomed to hearing that the elk is a horned animal, that the meeting will come to order and that the next essays will be due in three weeks from Saturday, did not know itself as an elegane supper-room, but smiled contentedly upon the festivities. Then came music and dancing in the parlors, prlonged until to-day was almost to-morrow.”

The Vassar Miscellany

The end of the college year began with the traditional soirée musicale on the evening of Monday, June 24. Bad weather, however, hampered Class Day on the 25th.

At Commencement, on Wednesday, the 26th, the Latin and German orations were given by Alla Foster ’72 and Alice Seelye ’72. Other class addresses included “Sanitary Science in Our Homes,” “The Antagonism of Science and Religion” and “Progressive Phases of Astronomical Science.” Of particular interest was the oratorical opposition of Ella Hollister ’72 and Wilimena Eliot ’72, who spoke on “This Age Specially Irreverent” and “This Age Specially Reverent,” respectively. “The love for the audiacious, the idolatry of experiment, the levelling process of science, the educational methods of modern times,” claimed Miss Hollister, “are subordinate to the great annilhilation of the existing order of things. The spirit of communism is abroad in the land. It heads the army of social insurgents which seeks to destroy all distinctions of rank and worth. It raves against the glory of God…. It claims to be th expression of the most self-sacrificing generosity. It is the crystallization of the selfishness of men.

“It might be argued that selfishness implies a reverence for one’s self and that, in this respect, our age is specially reverent. Granted. But if Darwin can prove beyond a doubt that men and brutes have the same origin, and ultraism [radical socialism] prove that all men are born free and equal in every respect, where are the grounds for our superiority, and what becomes of our reverence for ourselves? These hypothetical theories may seem to be mere driftwood on the current of the times, still driftwood shows the direction of the stream.”

“The religious sentiment of the age,” Miss Elliot responded, “ought not to be measured by the number of people who go to church on Sunday, but by the number of those who go to work with an earnest and unselfish purpose on Monday. And, on the whole, no country has produced a greater number of inveterate workers and thinkers than ours. True, the thinking often leads to skepticism, but there is no stronger proof of a reverent belief in something beyond than this same doubt. It only shows that the religion which is to guide this and future ages must be intellectual. Not the infidelity of the learned, nor the devoutness of the foolish, but a faith which shall have ‘heaven and earth for its beams and rafters’ while science, art and beauty shall be its sign and illustration.”

Miss Hollister was especially active in the day’s program, opening its musical element by joining Elizabeth Kirby ’72 in a two-piano performance of Schumann’s “Études Symphoniques” and concluding the student presentations with Liszt’s “Polonaise.”

President Raymond conferred the baccalaureate degree on 28 members of the class, and—the trustees having established the requirements for the master’s degree the previous year—he conferred that degree on three members of the Class of 1868: Sarah M. Glazier, Isabella Carter and Mary Whitney. Miss Glazier had given the Philalethean Society address the previous year, and she went on to become the first professor of mathematics and astronomy at Wellesley; Mary Watson Whitney had been elected president of the alumnae association at its founding in 1871, and in 1889 she succeeded her mentor, Maria Mitchell, as chair of Vassar’s astronomy department and director of the Vassar observatory.

The New York Times, The Vassar Miscellany

Since the college had opened, German and French had been taught by assistant teachers under a professor of ancient and modern languages. In 1872, modern language instruction, in French and German, became independent “instructorships,” and the professorship was limited to “Greek and Latin.”

Charlotte Finch ’72, organist and teacher of music, began the tradition of organ recitals in the Chapel on Sunday evenings. “Sunday evening,” wrote a student in 1875, “is becoming very attractive through the kindness of Miss Finch, who plays the organ, from a quarter of nine till Silent Time. Long before the appointed hour, the sentimental and musial assemble, listen and become insensibly sadder and wiser. The chapel is not lighted, except by the gas jets each side the instrument, and their uncertain gleams together with the sweet strains, make up an exquisite bit of sentiment in our otherwise practical living…. In the main, “Adagios” are most acceptable, because they best express the emotions of the audience. One charming production is the representation of chimes—charming because they do not call us to a sermon where everyone falls asleep till the Benediction is over. This composition represents the evening bells, the intonation of the priest, the response of the choir and all the melody and fascination of ritualistic worship. The aesthetical and the devotional elements are here most appropriately combined.”
The Vassar Miscellany

Miss Finch died on October 1, 1885, at the age of 34, serving also in the last three years of her life as secretary to the president. The “Saint Cecilia” window to the left of the organ in the Chapel was given by a member of the Class of 1887 in her memory, and the angel it depicts is in her image. Her Sunday recitals were revived in 1908 by Ellen M. Fitz, a Mount Holyoke College graduate, and they continued until Miss Fitz left the college in 1915. Known as “Dark Music” during this period, they preceded the Sunday evening Vesper service.

Ellen Fitz’s successor in 1917, E. Harold Geer, continued the “Dark Music” tradition, moving its time between late afternoon to mid-evening from time to time, including guest organists from other colleges and universities and presenting thematic programs: music from “Allied nations” during World War I, exclusively American or French music, etc. The series prompted comment, criticism, and sometimes humor in The Miscellany News:


“Vassar: ‘Can’t you stay over for Dark Music?’

“Princeton: ‘How dark?’

“Vassar: ‘Dark enough.‘” (1920)

In 1922, an attempt by an “enterprising junior” to transform a recital by the world-famous pianist Harold Bauer in the Students’ Building “into ‘dark music’ was met with applause, and the less self-contained portion of the audience demonstrated by hisses its disapproval of the reappearance of the overhead lights.”

Professor Geer performed his 500th “Dark Music” recital on Sunday, January 14, 1934, and, while the series ended shortly thereafter, he continued to offer organ recitals from time to time. He retired from the college in 1952 and died on December 24, 1957.

The horse car route from Poughkeepsie was extended to the college, the new end of the line.

To relieve crowded conditions in the library, newspapers and periodicals moved to an adjoining room in Main Building on the third floor. Students complained about it, claiming, “It is poorly ventilated and only half the would-be readers can enter. Those inside can scarcely thread their way out through the crowd.”

Vassar Miscellany,

The Years