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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.

Dom Pedro II, Emperor of Brazil, visited the college. “I had imagined the Emperor of Brazil,” Maria Mitchell wrote, “to be a dark, swarthy, tall man, of forty-five years; that he would not really have a crown upon his head, but that I should feel it was somewhere around, handy-like, and that I should know I was in royal presence. But he turns out to be a large, old man, say sixty-five, broad-headed and broad-shouldered, with a big white beard, and a very pleasant, even chatty, manner. Once inside of the dome, he seemed to feel at home; to my astonishment he asked if Alvan Clark made the glass of the equatorial…”

Phebe Mitchell Kendall, Maria Mitchell: Life, Letters, and Journals.

President Raymond delivered the baccalaureate sermon, drawing his text from First Thessalonians, v., 21: “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good,” and declaring that he “knew of no more prudent and all-embracing law of sound thinking. Notions we have in plenty, ideas, impressions, fancies, caught up by the accident of education or association; strong prejudices, decided predilections fostered by press or pulpit, by personal sympathies or class interests, leading to intense and even passionate asseveration, and often upheld with persistent zeal. Opinions they may be called, but they are not worthy of the name, because they do not rest on an intelligent basis; they are not the product of thinking; not the result of a careful and deliberate search for the truth.”

The New York Times

Class Day was extremely hot, with temperatures in the 90s, as the Class of ’76 and about 100 alumnae—with strong representations from New York, Boston and Cincinnati— gathered on campus. Members of all nine previous graduating classes were in attendance, and reunions were held by the Classes of 1869 and 1873.

In their meetings, the trustees elected Col. Fred Townsend to the board, replacing the late founding trustee Ira Harris, and according to The New York Times, a group of trustees were “agitating the subject of erecting a colossal bronze statue of Matthew Vassar in the centre of the circle in front of the main entrance to the college.” A statue of the Founder, derived from a maquette done from life by Poughkeepsie sculptor Laura Skeel Hofmann, was dedicated on the south lawn of Main Building on June 9, 2006.

At 2:30, the Chapel doors were opened. Floral and evergreen decorations adorned the room, along with a banner bearing the motto of the Class of 1876, “Mens agitat molem, arranged in a semi-circle against a large American flag. Shortly before 3, as Downer’s Orchestra played Operti’s “March of the Amazons,” the senior and junior classes entered and took their seats.

Class speakers included class orator Eliza Greene Metcalf ’76, whose remarks touched on the national centennial, class historian Elizabeth Gifford ’76 and Zenobia West Brigham ‘76, the class poet, whose poem “treated of heroes from the time of the siege of Troy down to the closing days of this century” and ended by “enjoining the Class of ’76 to do battle bravely for the future.”

A sudden thunderstorm cut short the dedication of the class tree (a 3-year-old elm), postponed the burying of the class records and drove the assembly back to the Chapel, where class prophesies were posed by Catharine Talcott Hale ’76 and where Matthew Vassar’s spade was exchanged, along with “pleasant sarcasm” between Martha Clark, ’76 and Abbie Dana ’77.

Inclement weather continued into the evening, cancelling plans for a promenade, dancing and merriment on the lawns west of Main Building, all illuminated by Chinese lanterns. Instead, “the promenading and flirting and chatting went on in the main corridors.”

The New York Times

The traditional organ voluntary and a prayer offered by newly-elected trustee chair, founding trustee Rev. Edward Lathrop, opened Commencement ceremonies in the Chapel. Class orations were offered on such topics as “Moral Beauty in Art,” “The Foe of Our Letters, the Friend of Our Government” and “The Relation of Women to Science.” “Shall we Condemn Carlyle?” was offered by Ellen Poppleton ‘76, who argued that the Scottish essayist was visionary rather than practical and therefore destructive, not constructive. She was answered by Grace Hallam Learned ’76 in “Let Us Admire Carlyle.” The valedictory address was given by Jeannie Carlton Price ’76.

President Raymond conferred baccalaureate degrees on 46 graduates.

In what she termed “ an institution composed entirely of the disenfranchised class,” Harriot Stanton ’78 organized a Democratic Club, the first political club at Vassar. Urging the disenfranchised to use their indirect influence to elect Samuel Tilden president, the group paraded through the corridors of Main “led by a vibrant comb and jewsharp corps.”

—Harriot Stanton Blatch, Challenging Years, Memoirs of Harriot Stanton Blatch

“In compliance with an invitation from the commission of the bureau of education representing the department of the interior in matters relating to the national centennial of 1876,” the college compiled and published Historical Sketch of Vassar College. Founded at Poughkeepsie, N. Y., January 18, 1861.

The Years