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The Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees of Johns Hopkins, America’s first primarily research university, granted Christine Ladd-Franklin, ’69, mathematician, logician and (later) pioneer psychologist, permission to attend the lectures of the eminent mathematician, James Joseph Sylvester, without, however, admitting her as a degree candidate. She was later awarded the stipend, but not the title, of a fellow at Hopkins, the first woman to receive one, and was permitted to study also with the preeminent philosopher and logician, Charles Sanders Peirce.

Ladd completed her degree requirements in 1882, and Peirce called her doctoral dissertation, “The Algebra of Logic,” “brilliant.” He gave it a prominent place in Studies in Logic by Members of the Johns Hopkins University, which he edited and published in 1883. The university, however, waited until 1926 to award Ladd-Franklin her PhD—in conjunction with the celebration of its 50th year.

She was the only person to receive an honorary degree from Vassar, the LL.D, which was awarded to her in 1887.

Dancing was allowed for the first time after the literary exercises on Founder’s Day. Although public dancing was frowned upon, Matthew Vassar had himself sanctioned the amusement in 1867, noting, in response to an essay by a Poughkeepsie minister on “Incompatibility of Amusements with Christian Life,” “I never practised public dancing in my life, and yet in view of its being a healthful and graceful exercise, I heartily approved of it, and now recommend its being taught in the College….” With such approval, students organized informal dances from Vassar’s earliest days. Its association with Founder’s Day, however, elevated it further.

“No dancing appeared on the programme until 1878, and then four numbers only—lanciers alternating with quadrille. In 1895, the change was made to permit two affairs, literary exercises in the afternoon with the distinction they deserve, the evening given up to a reception with dancing…. It took till 1896 to establish round dancing and it was opposed even then.”

Frances A. Wood, Earliest Years at Vassar

Class Day exercises and the trustee meetings were held on Tuesday, June 25. Henry L. Young of Poughkeepsiewas elected to the board, and William Buck White was appointed professor of natural history and director of the Natural History Museum, succeeding James Orton, who had died the previous fall on an expedition in the Andes.

The next day, before a large crowd, President Raymond conferred 42 baccalaureate degrees on the Class of 1878. Sarah Wilkinson ’78 delivered the valedictory address. Also awarded were three post-graduate degrees: to Julliette Monroe ’74 in the department of medicine, to Mary Augusta Jordan ’76 in the department of metaphysics and to Helen Hiscock ’73 in the department of English literature.

President John Raymond died after several months of declining health. Professor Mary W. Whitney ’68 wrote in the Vassar Alumnae Monthly, June 1911: “My impression, as I look back, is of a struggle to keep up the standard of Vassar to a fairly collegiate grade, against the unfortunate opinions prevailing in the public mind, and against the pressing pecuniary needs of the time. In this struggle the personality of the president and his teachers was the strong factor. The wise but never narrow conservatism of President Raymond combined with the enthusiastic ambition of Professor Mitchell, Dr. Avery, and many of the instructors, are the forces which moulded my Vassar loyalty. The curriculum was very scanty then, as the catalogues showed, and it was the character of our teachers that built up the early Vassar more than a definitely formed policy of education.”

The Reverend Samuel L. Caldwell, a graduate of Waterville College—later Colby College—and Newton Theological Seminary, was elected president by the Vassar board of trustees to succeed John H. Raymond, who had died after a lengthy illness on August 14. At the time of his appointment, Caldwell was Professor of Church History at the seminary.

Two young Japanese women, Shigeko Nagai and Sutematsu Yamakawa, enrolled at Vassar. Japan’s 1868 Meiji Restoration inaugurated an era of modernization, mandating that “Knowledge shall be sought throughout the world so as to strengthen the foundation of imperial rule.” In 1870, a large Japanese delegation touring the United States, England, Germany and France and studying how Japan might modernize its political, economic, and social systems, had included a group of Japanese girls who were intended to remain in the visited countries as students. Two of the three girls who remained in the United States, Shige and Stematz (their somewhat Westernized nicknames) had lived with American families—Shige in the home of Rev. John Abbot in Fair Haven, Connecticut, and Stematz in New Haven with the family of Rev. Leonard Bacon. A third girl, Umeko Tsuda, stayed in Washington with the family of Charles Lanman, a secretary at the Japanese legation.

Shige enrolled in the School of Music, and studied singing, music theory, piano, organ, music history, music aesthetics, and acoustics. In addition she took courses in mathematics, French and English composition.

Stematz, president of her sophomore class, a member of the Shakespeare Club (reserved for students of formidable intellect) and president of Philaletheis graduated magna cum laude, ranked third in the class and presented her senior thesis, on British policy towards Japan, at the commencement ceremony in 1882.

In later life, Shige Nagai, as Baroness Uriu, was a key figure in the introduction of Western music to Japan. She returned to Vassar on several occasions, speaking to her class on Class Day in 1909. An outspoken advocate of women’s education, she told The San Francisco Chronicle at the time of her return to Japan in October of 1881: “My country will never become advanced until her women and mothers are educated, and our women, as a class, will never be educated so long as they marry so early, for the years from 15 to 20 they should remain in school.”

Stematz Yamakawa studied nursing after graduating from Vassar and, returning to Japan, became Princess Oyama, the wife of the Japanese Minister of War. A passionate supporter of women’s education, she was a trustee of the Peeresses’ School in Tokyo, where her childhood friend, Alice Bacon, taught and where Ume Tsuda headed the English department. She was also instrumental in the creation of the Girl’s English Institute, founded in 1909 by Alice Bacon and Ume Tsuda.

The educational exhibit of student papers and publications sent by Vassar to the Paris Universal Exposition was awarded a Silver Medal. The exposition, held to celebrate France’s recovery after the Franco-Prussian War (1870), was the largest of its kind ever held. Among the many exhibitions from the United States were Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone, Thomas Edison’s phonograh and a selection of “pamphlets and views” from Wellesley College, which had opened three years earlier. Also on display near the Trocadéro Palace, built especially for the exposition, was the completed head of the Statue of Liberty, which opened to public eight years later, in 1886.

In July, The Vassar Miscellany had noted the intention of several students to travel abroad during the summer months. “Many of our number,” the editors said, “will visit Europe, and we feel no little degree of pride in knowing how well Vassar is to be represented at the Paris Exhibition. We wish all these a bon voyage…. The majority of us leave College with the determination to carry out to the letter the familiar maxim ‘Play while you play,’ thus to gain new vigor for obeying in the fall its counterpart, ‘Work while you work.’”

The Vassar Miscellany, Reports of the United States Commissioners to the Paris Universal Exposition, 1878

The Years