A Reading Room was established in the library for newspapers and periodicals. Some furnishings from the Art Gallery remained in the Reading Room, including folio tables and an oil portrait and a marble bust of Matthew Vassar.
Thomas A. Edison patented the incandescent lamp.
“This is [a] progressive age!” proclaimed The Vassar Miscellany, as the college welcomed the telephone. “We no longer telegraph, we telephone. The presiding genius of the little table sacred to ‘The Western Union Telegraph Company’ has gone to another and a fairer clime than the College office. Dust gathers on the brass keys, while Mr. Deane talks confidentially to the responsive orifice beside his desk. He has sole charge of this new connection to the outer world, and is ready to sen messages with all possible secrecy and despatch. The telephone connects with the houses of Messrs. Vassar, Van Vliet and Deane, wand with the general telephone office, which is in turn connected with about eighty telephones in the city.”
The Rutgers Glee Club sang in the college chapel in the afternoon, and in the evening in the Senior Parlor, after their concert in Poughkeepsie.
Vassar Brothers Laboratory was dedicated. Since joining the faculty in 1874 as professor of chemistry, LeRoy C. Cooley had voiced his concern about the poor lighting and ventilation in the chemistry laboratory, Room C on the “basment” [first] floor of Main Building, urging that it was not only inadequate but also dangerous. When an accidental fire in the chemistry laboratory of the monumental Pardee Hall at Lafayette College leveled the $300,000 building on June 4, 1879, Cooley’s concerns were acted upon. By the following spring, a completely up-to-date laboratory building was available to him and his students.
Speaking at the building’s dedication, Cooley compared Room C—“a little room, never intended for such purpose, supplied with narrow tables which had already seen service in some shop or counting room,” containing a “little shelf room for chemicals, and in proportion still less floor room for the crowded students”—to the splendid new hall. Containing “Good light, good air, and the most convenient arrangement of funiture and apparatus for the use of students,” he said, the new facility supplied, “the prime necessitites in a working laboratory…a new laboratory…opened primarily for the undergraduate instruction of women in the regular course in Arts.”
The building’s architect, Benjamin Silliman, Jr., the son and namesake of a pioneer in American science, had followed his father both as chemistry professor at Yale and as an independent researcher, becoming in the 1850’s the first petroleum geologist in the United States. Silliman, Jr., was also a principal, with James M. Farnsworth, in Silliman & Farnsworth, a New York architectural firm.
The first separate laboratory building at a college for women and the gift of Matthew Vassar, Jr. and John Guy Vassar, charter trustees and nephews of the Founder, the $10,000 building was dedicated on April 16, 1880.The Vassar Miscellany
At the Founder’s Day exercises in the chapel, speakers included Harriot Stanton ’78, and Mrs. Mary A. Livermore, reformer, journalist and the first president of the American Association for the Advancement of Women. Mary A. Livermore had lectured at the college in 1877.
“The custom introduced last year of having speakers from abroad, is surely an improvement upon the old style of employing exclusively home talent, when we can have speakers like Mrs. Livermore and the Rev. Robert Collyer…”Vassar Miscellany, May 1881.
The English-born Unitarian minister and orator, Robert Collyer, spoke at the Founder’s Day exercises in 1872.
As part of their ongoing study of sunspots during the academic terms and using a method she had devised and equipment obtained with her personal funds, Maria Mitchell and her students photographed the sun on most clear days between 1877 and her retirement in 1888. Meticulously annotating, as was her custom, a photograph of sunspots taken on May 29, 1880, Mitchell noted, “No photographs have been taken since May 24 on account of the intense heat, the thermometer being 90º and 92º.”
More than 100 years after Mitchell’s death in 1889, over 800 of her glass negatives were found, along with her notations, on hand-dated shelves in a shallow closet in the Observatory. They are now preserved in Vassar’s Special Collections Library.
The trustees ruled that students and faculty might have steak for breakfast if desired.
The Associate Alumnae presented the first full scholarship, given in memory of Hannah Lyman, lady principal from 1865 until her death in 1871.
For his Baccalaureate Sermon, President Caldwell took his text from Saint Paul’s words in Acts xxvi: 19: “Whereupon, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision.” “Obedience to the highest and best thing you see,” he told the Class of 1880, “is the word for this parting hour. Seeing the unseen—this is the paradox of religion; this is the mystery of faith, as it is the perplexity of unbelief…. Your visions, many of them, will fade. But there are visions which may be reached. They will not be if you do not have them. Have them, cherish them…. Vision and action must go together.”
The New York Times
Abby F. Goodsell ’69, who was a teacher in the department of ancient languages from 1872 until 1874 and who became assistant to the lady principal in 1874, was appointed lady principal.
The musical soirée prelude to the commencement events for 1881 was given by graduating students in the School of Music, among them Shigeko Nagai, Gertrude Nichols and Fanny Littlefield.
Vassar’s Class Day exercises for the Class of 1881 began at 3 pm in the Chapel. Students and guests watched as the seniors and juniors entered to the music of an orchestra from New York’s Twelfth Regiment Band. Class president May Bryan ’81 called upon class orator Caroline White ’81, class historian Mary Stockwell ’81 and class prophet Alice Shove ’81. “The oration, history, and prophecy,” The New York Times reported, “were full of hits and sarcasm, and much applause followed each.”
Marching to the band’s music, the assembly moved to the class tree, where Caroline Augusta Lloyd ’81 bid “Friends and Fellow Students” welcome and said that the tree was planted “to sing the glory of her class in coming years, to whisper ‘”81’ in the idle breeze of Summer, and to shriek it through the naked boughs in the wild storms of Winter.” After the burial of the class records under the tree and the junior reply by Ella Varns ’82, the class song was sung, to the band’s accompaniment, and the afternoon’s exercises concluded.
During the afternoon, at the annual June board meeting, President Caldwell acknowledged that Vassar was experiencing a significant decline in students and resulting financial difficulties. He attributed these problems to the establishment of Wellesley, Smith and the Harvard Annex, and he called for an increase of $200,000 in the college’s endowment funds.
In the evening the college grounds were illuminated by calcium lights for an outdoor promenade concert.
President Caldwell conferred the baccalaureate degree—“that mystic ceremony which transforms the chrysalis Senior into the brilliant butterfly, the alumna,”according to the Vassar Miscellany—on 35 members of the Class of 1881. The “Oratio Salutatoria,” given by Maria Abbott, was followed by seniors’ essays on “Dogmatism in Science,” “The Utility of the Study of Philosophy,” “The Province of Mathematics in the Curriculum,” “The Papacy in the Fifth and the Ninth Century” and “The Emotional Element in Religion.”
The question in the traditional debate, “Is the Negro Doomed?” was argued by Alida Katharine Fitzhugh in the affirmative and, in the negative, by Annie Lowry Lyon. The “short but impressive” validictory address was given by Mary Lora Freeman.
President James A. Garfield was shot in Washington, DC. He died, exactly two months before his 50th birthday, on September 19.
Matthew Vassar, Jr., nephew of the Founder, died in Poughkeepsie after a brief illness, aged 73. He and his brother, John Guy Vassar, had retired from the family brewing business in 1863 and had engaged in several philanthropies, including the college’s Vassar Brothers Laboratory, in 1879, and a Poughkeepsie home for aged men, in 1880, built on the site of Vassar Jr.’s birthplace, the house erected in 1702 by Poughkeepsie’s founder Baltus Van Kleeck, Vassar Jr.’s mother’s great-grandfather.
Matthew Vassar, Jr., served as the college’s treasurer and the overseer of its endowments until his death. His will contained bequests to the college of nearly $150,000, along with provision for his share of the Vassar Brothers Hospital, completed by his brother, John Guy Vassar, after his death.
“A glee club was organized under the leadership of Professor Frederick Ritter, Director of the School of Music. The year of the club’s establishment was marked by a visit…by Walter Damrosch, then in his early twenties. He came to play the organ in the old chapel, and dedicated a madrigal of his own composition to the ‘Young Ladies of Vassar College.’ A joint concert of the combined banjo and glee clubs was held in 1890, the first event of its kind at Vassar.”Homer Pearson, Vassar College Choir and Glee Club
Performances in the Chapel by Professor of Music Frederic Ritter and college organist Charlotte Finch ’72 and a surprise recital by Walter Damrosch, son of the founder of the New York Symphony Society, highlighted the dedication of a new organ. The gift to the college of Mrs. Bertha Adelé Dean, the wife of Trustee John A. Deane, the instrument was made by the New York City firm of inventor and organ pioneer Hilborne L. Roosevelt. Tuned to the pitch of a Steinway piano, “so that,” The Vassar Miscellany reported, “the two instruments can be used together,” the organ “though not the largest instrument made by the builder…is, in every detail, his best work.”
Visiting the college for this occasion along with members of the New York Philharmonic Club and his father, Leopold Damrosch, 22 year-old Walter Damrosch enchanted his audience with his impromptu recital. “Like wild fire,” said The Miscellany, “the news ran through the corridors that Mr. Damrosh [sic] would play in the chapel at eight, and when the hour arrived, nearly every inmate of the college was found seated in the chapel ready to enjoy. Nor was any one…disappointed. For nearly two hours we were charmed by the little impromptu concert…. He delighted us, both upon the organ and the piano.”
Milo P. Jewett, the first president of Vassar College, died in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, aged 74. An early advocate in New England of the common (public) school system in the 1830s, Jewett subsequently founded the innovative and highly successful school for young women in Alabama that became the Judson Female Institute. An abolitionist, Jewett came north in 1855 and, purchasing the Cottage Hill Seminary in Poughkeepsie founded by Matthew Vassar’s late neice, Lydia Booth, he was principally influential in the formation of Vassar’s concept of a college for women.
Chosen by the first Vassar board of trustees to become the college’s first president, Jewett left the Cottage Hill Seminary in 1860 to devote his full time and energy to its planning and establishment. Differences with some trustees and, especially, his dispute with Matthew Vassar about whether the college should open before the end of The Civil War led to Jewett’s dismissal in 1864. He subsequently became a leading citizen of Milwaukee, WI, active in education, religion and philanthropy. In Wisconsin, Jewett became a commissioner of public schools, a trustee of Milwaukee Female College, the chairman of the board of visitors of the University of Wisconsin, the president of Milwaukee’s board of health, the founder of an importing business and the president of the state Temperance Society. He remained, also, a supporter of Vassar, and he took pleasure in its success.
The Classes of ’74, ’79, and ’80 held reunions on Class Day, and Fannie Bell Taylor ’82 delivered the class oration, based on the motto the Class of ’82 had chosen as freshmen, “Quid Agamus?” President Caldwell had based his Baccalaureate sermon on the motto, saying, “’82’s Class motto…ought to present itself now, at the completion of their college life, a more puzzling question than when it was chosen in their Freshman year; for hitherto they had pursued a work prescribed and fixed.” “God wants not promise,” he told the class,“but performance. Action is a necessity of life, a manifestation of power.”
“Miss Taylor’s oration,” reported The Vassar Miscellany, “was at once bright and strong, witty and earnest. Its freedom from hackneyed thought and expression was remarkable, inasmuch as the sentiment of all class mottoes…is intrinsically the same, rendering originality in the oration well-nigh impossible.”
After the reading of the class history by Mary Sanford ’82 and the class prophecy of Laura Glenn ’82, the assembly moved to the class tree, where class records were buried and Matthew Vassar’s spade was passed, with appropriate remarks from Mary Evans Shove ’82, to Martha Sharpe ’83
Of the more than 600 graduates of the college, over 100 were in attendance.The New York Times, The Vassar Miscellany
Mary Florence Easton ’82 delivered the commencement oration and Jennie Patterson ’82 the valedictory address at Vassar’s 16th Commencement. The traditional senior debate featured Anne Cora Southworth ’82 and Elizabeth Mehaffey Howe ’82, who spoke, respectively on “The Perfidiousness of Alexander II” and “The Patriotism of Alexander II.” 39 members of the Class of 1882 received the bachelor’s degree.
Among them was Stematz Yamakawa ‘82, who graduated with honors. She and Shige Nagai, who also came to Vassar in September 1878 and who finished her work in the School of Music in 1881, had been in the group of five Japanese girls sent to the United States in 1871, at government expense, to be educated in the United States. “’82 is unique,” observed The Vassar Miscellany,“ in the honor of graduating the first Japanese student who has completed our collegiate course, and surely Japan could have no more skillful or graceful advocate than she possesses in the student we are so loath to lose.”
Two alumnae, Mary Augusta Scott ’76 and Emma Laura Sutro ’77 received the second degree in arts, the master’s degree. The New York Times, The Vassar Miscellany
The Matthew Vassar Jr. Chair of the Greek and Latin Languages and Literature and the Matthew Vassar Jr. Chair of Physics and Chemistry, restricted in perpetuity to men, were established through the bequest of Matthew Vassar, Jr., nephew of the Founder and a charter trustee, 1861–1881. The first members of the faculty to hold these chairs were Charles J. Hinkel, professor of Greek and Latin, 1869–1890, and LeRoy C. Cooley, professor of physics, 1874–1907.
Maria Mitchell wrote to a friend: “We still debate about Mr. Vassars $80,000 with its restriction; Miss Goodsell [the lady principal] and Professor Braislin [Professor of Mathematics Priscilla H. Braislin] on one side, Dr. Allen [Mary E. Allen, professor of physiology and hygiene] & Mr. [Benson] Lossing with us. New York alumnae disapproved but took no action; Boston alumnae disapproved & recorded their disapproval….Poor Mr. Vassar! I pity him that he could leave no more generous-spirited legacy; but he wasn’t born to be generous. We wonder if John [Guy Vassar] will do the same.”MS letter
The two chairs—in modern languages and natural history—endowed by bequests from John Guy Vassar, who died in 1888, were restricted in perpetuity to male appointees.
The Vassar Brothers Institute, given to the Poughkeepsie Society of Natural Sciences by the late Matthew Vassar, Jr. and his late brother John Guy Vassar, was dedicated. John Guy Vassar spoke, and founding Vassar College trustee Stephen Buckingham, president of the society’s board, expressed its gratitude. Other speakers were Vassar professor of English Truman Backus, the society’s president, and the eminent American geologist and chemist Thomas Sterry Hunt, who spoke on “Subterranean Circulation.”
Julia Ward Howe, feminist, author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and a frequent visitor to Vassar noted in her journal, “a peaceful day at Vassar College…. In the afternoon met the teachers and read some poems, to wit, all of the Egyptian ones, and the poem on the Vestal dug up in Rome. At bedtime last night I had a thought of ghosts. I spoke of this to Maria Mitchell to-day. She told me that Mr. Matthew Vassar’s body had been laid in this room and those of various persons since, which, had I known, I had been less comfortable than I was.”
Laura E. Richards and Maud Howe Elliott, Julia Ward Howe, 1819-1910
A decade after her first visit, British feminist and author Emily Faithfull returned to Vassar.
“The equipments of that institution are simply superb…. The new laboratory is almost equal to that of University College in London. And up there two miles from the city, hanging onto civilization by the skirts as it were, like a baby to its mother’s gown. It is a sort of poem, in the vast volume of prose one goes through to get to it.Emily Faithfull, The New York Star, April 27, 1883.
Minnie Hoyt ’80 became the first person appointed to a clerkship in the United States Treasury Department under the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act (1883), which replaced the previous the patronage system for such appointments with competitive examinations. The change—long considered necessary—had been given new impetus by the assassination in 1881 of President James Garfield by a disgruntled civil servant, Charles Guiteau.
The score attained by Hoyt, who had entered government service shortly after her graduation, was 88.96, the highest among the first group to take the examination.The New York Times
Enrollment for the year was 275, the lowest in the history of the college. The growth of other colleges, the comparatively higher costs at Vassar and the presence of the preparatory school were blamed for the decline.
Matthew Arnold lectured on Emerson. Recalling his early times at Oxford—“whispering from her towers the last enchantment of the Middle Age”—he spoke of his reading Emerson. “To us at Oxford Emerson was but a voice speaking from three thousand miles away. But so well he spoke, that from that time forth Boston Bay and Concord were names invested to my ear with a sentiment akin to that which invests for the names of Oxford and or Weimar….”
But, he told his audience, on later, serious reflection, “…in truth, one of the legitimate poets, Emerson, in my opinion, is not.” In fact Emerson, whose poetry lacked “directness, completeness, energy,” was “neither a great poet nor a man of letters.”
Reviewing Arnold’s lecture, The Vassar Miscellany scolded him for his “academic narrowness,” adding “We of to-day…have no desire to be led back into medievalism even by such cultured and classic teachers as Matthew Arnold.”
A senior who dangled a toy mouse on a string over Arnold’s head as he spoke was reportedly expelled from the college.
Alumnae representatives met in New York with President Caldwell and several trustees to discuss an investigation that the Alumnae Association had covertly undertaken which indicated that the primary cause for the college’s present difficulties was the president’s “want of the necessary executive and administrative ability,” a concern that had been noted in The Daily Graphic, a newspaper owned by a Poughkeepsie businessman, the day after Caldwell’s appointment had been announced.
In April, ten Boston alumnae signed identical letters, copies of which were sent separately to each member of the board, calling for Caldwell’s resignation. The board tabled the requests on technical grounds, and no responses were sent to the senders.
On a fact-finding tour of women’s colleges in anticipation of the opening, in 1885, of Bryn Mawr, its dean—and future president—M. Carey Thomas wrote a complicated and decidedly mixed evaluation to her close friend Mary Elizabeth Garrett. The very presence of a “Lady Principal” seemed inappropriate, and she found the Vassar example, Abby Goodsell ’69, “not agreeable, little souled, not literary or scholarly, too fond of rules and system.” The teachers, women, were superior to the men, who were professors, prompting a conclusion: “Perhaps men cannot teach women easily.” Professor Maria Mitchell, however, was exceptional: “It was a sensation to sit opposite Maria Mitchell at table, or to be in her study and see her lying on the couch at full length speaking sarcastic, rather bitter, wholly loyal things. I felt, little as personal enthusiasm is in my line, that I would do anything to show my reverence for her and I think I shall be guilty of keeping the tiny bunch of flowers she gave with what she says is her customary remark, ‘a bunch from my garden, Miss Thomas, my whole garden.’”
“On the whole,” writes Thomas’s biographer Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, “despite Vassar’s ‘intolerable rules,’ she liked the collegiate tradition. ‘Vassar seemed to me monastic and charming. I can’t express how it impressed me, but unlike anything else I had ever seen.’”Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, The Power and the Passion of M. Carey Thomas
The New York Times reprinted an accounting in The Poughkeepsie Eagle of the “quality and quantity of food consumed” at Vassar. Marveling at asparagus beds that yielded “70 to 100 bunches daily,” and the yearly output, “1,800 bushels,” of the potato fields, The Eagle observed that “Great care is taken in the selection of meats for the college” and that “Vassar bread has always been noted for its excellency.”
The article concluded with staggering statistics on the annual food consumed:
“The largest item of expense was for meat, $15,546.52, and the next largest, $4,644.05 for milk. But if there is one thing more than another that the average Vassar student yearns after, it is a nicely browned pancake. Vassar’s pancake griddle is 10 feet long and 3 feet wide, and 2,400 pancakes are consumed at breakfast.”The New York Times“Fresh meat, pounds94,158Milk, quarts86,591Flour, pounds58,600Eggs92,000Butter, pounds14,567Canned vegetablesSugar, pounds26,181cans5,917Coffee, pounds2,638Bananas28,856Caramels, pounds405Oranges21,102Dried fruits, pounds5,546Clams36,200Nuts, pounds1,527Pickles, bottles209
Class Day for the Class of 1884 was cool and cloudy. ‘84’s president, Alice Blanchard ’84, opened the exercises at 2:30 pm, and the oration, history and prophecy followed by, respectively, Emily Townsend ’84, Martha LaVaughn ’84 and Minnie Cumnock ’84. At the class tree ceremony, Lydia Katherine Smith ’84 gave the senior charge and passed Matthew Vassar’s spade to May W. Craig ’85, who gave the junior reply. After the senior class records were buried, the class song, composed by Caroline Walch ’84 was sung.
The annual June board meeting and the alumnae meeting reflected the overcast day. At both, the precarious situation of the college budget, the continuation of the preparatory division and President Caldwell’s administration were main concerns. The alumnae requested that the trustees establish a conference committee comprised of three trustees and three alumnae to discuss matters of mutual concern. The proposal was “favorably received.”
At the trustee meeting, President Caldwell denounced newspaper accounts charging him with mismanagement as “false and malicious,” and the trustees endorsed a resolution in his support:
“Resolved, that on accepting the report of the President this board recognizes the peculiar character of the work of the President and Faculty of the college and the great responsibility which is devolved upon them. The board is satisfied that the work of instruction and the internal administration in every department of the college have, during the past year, been faithfully performed, and it expresses its entire confidence in the ability and fidelity of its President and in his devotion to the true interests of the college.”
It was also resolved that a vigorous effort would be made to supply additional funds which might, eventually, permit the closing of the preparatory division. Alumnae contributions might help, it was said, in this regard.
Four trustees—founding trustees Martin B. Anderson and Samuel S. Constant, Rev. Frederick D. Huntington, D. D. and Henry G. Marquand—having resigned, the board elected Rev. Augustus H. Strong and Rev. Henry C. Potter to fill two of the vacancies. The New York Times
30 members of the Class of 1884 were awarded the bachelor’s degree in Commencement ceremonies in the Chapel. During the preceding program, senior orations on a range of topics were given. According to The New York Times, Mary Elizabeth Adams ’84, in a “Study of Nihilism,” averred that nihilists, generally, were “composed of unoccupied and restive spirits and disappointed men living in religious stagnation and amid a lack of Christian growth,” and in “The Theology of George Eliot,” Kittie Acer ’84 thought that “George Eliot deserves the Christian pity of those who have been taught a more inspiring faith.” The traditional opposing orations were doubled this year: Alice Blanchard ’84 and May Amanda Chapman ’84 thought, respectively, that Egypt belonged to the Egyptians or that it belonged to England, and Justina Merrick ’84 and Jessie Spafford ’84 debated, in their addresses, the success or failure of the public school system.
Daisies from the fields near Main were first used for decoration in the Chapel at Commencement. In 1889 they were used at the Class Day exercises.
The New York alumnae held a meeting at Delmonico’s to share concerns about the present administration of the college and about the trustees’ failure to acknowledge the letters sent them in April by the Boston alumnae.
The New York group sent a strong communication to the board, expressing their concerns about declining enrollment, a rising budget deficit, President Caldwell’s failure to cooperate with secondary schools wishing to prepare student specifically for Vassar—Wellesley had 11 such collaborations—and the constitution of the board, which, well-equipped with clergymen, had few business men and no alumnae.The New York Times
At the invitation of President Caldwell and to please a family friend and former Vassar student, Clara Spaulding, Mark Twain agreed to speak—“as a guest and gratis”—on the 20th Founder’s Day. The visit began poorly. Arriving at the college in a soaking rain, he and his 13-year old daughter, Susy, waited, “in damp clothes” and a “fireless room,” for nearly an hour. Although others made them welcome, the president—“a sour old saint” Twain later recalled, “who has probably been gathered to his fathers long ago; and I hope they enjoy him”—approached Twain only as he was about to speak.
“He caught up with me and advanced upon the platform with me and was going to introduce me.
“I said in substance: ‘You have allowed me to get along without your help thus far, and if you will retire from the platform I will try to do the rest without it.’
“I did not see him any more, but I detest his memory. Of course my resentment did not extend to the students, and so I had an unforgettable good time talking to them. And I think they had a good time too, for they responded ‘as one man,’ to use Susy’s unimprovable phrase.”
Susy had begun a biography of her father at the time of the Vassar visit. After her tragic death in 1896, Twain included fragments of her writing in the autobiography he began serializing in 1906.
“He read,” Susy wrote of her father’s reading at Vassar,” ‘A Trying Situation’ and ‘The Golden Arm,’ a ghost story that he heard down South when he was a little boy. ‘The Golden Arm’ papa had told me before, but he had startled me so that I did not much wish to hear it again. But I had resolved this time to be prepared and not to let myself be startled, but still papa did, and very very much; he startled the whole roomful of people and they jumped as one man. The other story was also very funny and interesting and I enjoyed the evening inexpressibly much.”
Twain said of this description, “How charitably she treats of that ghastly experience! …Susy had that disposition, and it was one of the jewels of her character that had come to her straight from her mother. It is a feature that was left out of me at birth.”
Mark Twain, “Chapters from my Autobiography,” North American Review, Nov. 16, 1906.
President Caldwell preached the baccalaureate sermon for the Class of 1885, drawing his text from Proverbs, xxxvii.17: “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.” “A strong intellect,” he told the class, “may go with a heavy heart. It is the liveliness of our disposition, the hearty sympathy we have with other people, the hearty zest we have in our employments, the spirit we put into whatever we do, that makes life go easy or hard.”
The New York Times
Under Professor Ritter’s direction, 12 students in the school of music presented a varied program for the traditional commencement soirée musicale.
The orator for Class Day was Betty Campbell Woods ’85, who spoke on the class motto, “Dabunt Aspera Rosas,” which the class had chosen as freshmen, “at a tender age, when their hands had been already pricked by roses too eagerly grasped.” The recollections of class historian Mary Watson Craig ’85 and the foretellings of class prophet Grace LaMont Chuff ’85 produced much merriment. Led by an orchestra, the junior and senior classes proceeded to the class tree, where Jane Elizabeth Ricker ’85, “in a decidedly sarcastic vein,” gave the senior charge, to which Caroline Gray Single ’86 replied in “a short response…full of repartee and fun.”
The trustee and alumnae meetings during the day were of a more somber nature. The trustees accepted the resignation of President Caldwell, who terminated his appointment after overwhelming expressions of no alumnae confidence, specifically from the Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Connecticut alumnae associations. The trustees’ acceptance was on the condition that President Caldwell would serve until his successor was chosen, and a presidential nomination committee was formed. Three trustees—Thomas Cornell, Rev. A. P. Peabody and John Thompson—also tendered their resignations.
Reports at the meeting indicated that the college deficit had nearly doubled since the previous year, reaching nearly $14,000, and that enrollment had dropped in the last decade from 400 to 300 students. A special trustee committee, headed by Rev. Edward Lathrop, was appointed “to promote the general interest of the college.”
The lengthy alumnae meeting did not take up the resignation of the president. Committee reports showed that the alumnae had raised $9,000 for physical training in the college, $1,500 for scholarships and nearly $18,000 for general endowment. After much discussion, it was resolved to petition the trustees for alumnae representation on the board.
The New York Times
Commencement for the Class of 1885 was held in the Chapel. A program of essays, with musical interludes, followed the traditional organ voluntary. Senior essays included “The Society of Friends—Its Spirit and Form,” by Lucy Davis ’85, “The Intellectual Element in Testimony,” by Sarah Hening ’85 and “The Scholar in Practical Life,” by Mary Ellen Ewing ‘85. Once again, two pairs of seniors took opposing positions on two issues of the day. Mary Smiley ’85 held that “The President of the United States Should be Elected by the Congress,” while Ella Heyer ’85 advanced the idea that “The President of the United States Should by Elected by the People.” Mabel Ruth Loomis ’85, arguing for “The State as Against the Individual,” was countered by Bertrice Shattuck ’85, who made a claim for “The Individual as Against the State.”
34 members of the Class of 1885 received the bachelor’s degree, and the second degree in arts, the master’s, was awarded to Mary Anna Mineah ’70, Harriet D. Drury ’81 and Abby Leach, who also received the bachelor’s degree.The New York Times
Abigail Leach had studied Greek and Latin independently and at the Society for the Collegiate Instruction of Women—an early adaptation at Harvard for the education of women, known as the Harvard Annex—and, probably at the urging of Florence Cushing ’74, she had come to Vassar in 1883 as instructor in Latin and Greek. Her Vassar degrees were based on the Harvard Annex record and Vassar examinations.The New York Times
As the summer of 1885 passed with no candidate for a successor to President Samuel Caldwell, who had resigned under severe alumnae criticism of his leadership, the trustees met again in New York City. An attempt at a meeting on Jully 21 to nominate Dr. Galusha B. Anderson, president of the University of Chicago, had failed, and his name again was discussed at length without success. The committee then nominated Dr. Samuel W. Duncan, pastor of the Ninth Street Baptist Church in Rochester, who was duly elected.
When, on September 14, the executive committee of the board was informed that Dr. Duncan had declined the presidency. Rev. J. Ryland Kendrick, D.D., trustee from 1875 until 1889, agreed to act as President and Professor of Moral Philosophy until the end of the current year. Dr. Kendrick’s appointment was renewed at a board meeting on December 30, and April 1st was set as the date for another nomination.The New York Times
The Statue of Liberty, France’s gift to the United States, was unveiled in New York.
The chapel service was conducted by the Dwight L. Moody, founder of Moody Bible Institute, Northfield School and Mount Hermon School, and gospel singer Ira D. Sankey, known as “the sweet singer of Methodism.” The two men often toured together in the United States and abroad, and they published several books of Christian hymns.
Poet, editor and ardent abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier wrote to his friend and fellow Quaker, Professor Maria Mitchell, from Danvers, MA. “My dear Friend— I hear thou art raising funds for the Vassar Observatory. I enclose check for ————, just to show my good will, as I am unable to make a subscription in accordance with my wishes. Hoping that thy efforts will be successful, I am thy sincere friend, John G. Whittier.” Mitchell had met Whittier in August 1882, and the two apparently enjoyed each other’s company.
Obliged in her later years, to seek funding where possible to support the work of the Vassar Observatory, Maria Mitchell was somewhat uneasy with the task. On January 25, 1876, she had written to a friend, “It has become a serious question with me whether it is not my duty to beg money for the observatory, while what I really long for is a quiet life of scientific speculation. I want to sit down and study on the observations made by myself and others.” Shortly before receiving Whittier’s letter, she had written, “I have been in New York quite lately, and am quite hopeful that Miss———will do something for Vassar. Mrs. C., of Newburyport, is to ask Whittier, who is said to be rich, and ———told me to get anything I could out of her father. But after all I am a poor beggar; my ideas are small!”Phebe Mitchell Kendall, ed., Maria Mitchell: Life, Letters, and Journals
James Monroe Taylor, pastor of the Fourth Baptist Church in Providence, was elected unanimously to the presidency of the college. Dr. Taylor, 38 at the time of his election, was a graduate of the University of Rochester, with a Doctor of Divinity degree from the Rochester Theological Seminary. His sister was Dr. Mary Taylor Bissell ’75.
On April 15, Dr. Taylor wrote to the board, accepting the position:
“Gentlemen: Your communication notifying me, on behalf of the Board of Trustees, of my election to the Presidency of Vassar College is received. I accept the honorable place thus offered me with the most exalted conception of the responsibilities involved in it, and pledging to its service all the powers I possess. Permit me further to express my appreciation of the cordial unanimity to which you refer. I am, very truly yours, James M. Taylor”The New York Times
The 21st Founder’s Day was celebrated in the Chapel. Dr. Kendrick began the program with a prayer and Edward Everett Hale, prolific writer and lecturer and pastor of South Congregational Church in Boston, gave the main address. A promenade concert was followed by dancing in the Main dining room, where “the young people were whirling over the floor in the lanciers, quadrilles, and Virginia reels.”
The graduating Class of 1886 subsequently elected Hale to honorary class membership, the first such honor at Vassar. In accepting the honor, he promised to join the class at their reunions and at such other times as they gathered and his other duties permitted. The New York Times
Playing before “a large, appreciative audience” in the first Annual Lawn Tennis Tournament, Adeline McKinlay ’88 won gold medals “of dainty design” for the singles title, and, with Belle Skinner ’87, for the doubles championship. “The playing began promptly at half past eight o’clock in the morning and continued until 6 o’clock in the evening…. Most of the players were at their best and showed a considerable degree of skill. Gold medals of dainty design were awarded to the winners.”
Vassar Miscellany, July 1886.
Dr. Kendrick delivered the baccalaureate sermon to the Class of 1886 and their parents and friends in the Chapel. Taking his text from Romans 14:7, “For None of us Liveth unto Himself,” he noted its similarity to the class’s motto, taken from the heathen Lucan, “Non nobis solum.” His theme was the power of influence in development of character, and in this regard, he urged that the peculiar power of women—whose tendency, he said, was to work though the silent processes of influence rather than through specific exercises of force—was of great importance in the domestic and social spheres.
His remarks to the class spoke to his cordial feelings towards the college and his pleasant memories of his associations with the Class of 1886.
The annual commencement soirée musicale was well-attended and well-received. Students presented a varied program that included music by Robert Schumann, Richard Wagner, Moritz Moszkowski, Frédéric Chopin and Felix Mendelssohn, among others.
The Classes of 1886 and 1887 and their guests entered the Chapel to the music of Brooklyn’s 23rd Regiment Band for Class Day. The large audience appreciated the class oration given by Nellie Patton Moonell ’86, the class history recalled by Eleanor Ferris ’86 and the class prophecy foretold by Caroline Lingle. The significance of some details in the presentations by Miss Ferris and Miss Lingle escaped the general audience, but they were apparently not lost on members of the graduating class, who, according to The New York Times “greatly relished them.”
At the class tree, Emma Raymond Foster ’86 made the senior charge and Adaline Jenckes ’87 offered the junior reply.
30 members of the Class of 1886 received the baccalaureate degree from Acting President J. Ryland Kendrick at Commencement, among ferns, palm leaves and hothouse plants in the Chapel. Among the student addresses, Carrie Borden ’86 spoke on “Conversation as a Fine Art,” Helen Culbertson ‘86 and Emma Nelson ’86 complementarily explored “Fair Treatment of the Indian a Point of Honor” and “Fair Treatment of the Negro a Necessity” and Margaret Sherwood ’86 investigated “Iago’s Opinion of Himself.” Opposing orations on the question “Should Religious Instruction be Given in the Public Schools” found Lillie Sweetser ’86 in the affirmative and Frances Southworth ’86 in the negative.
Before concluding the ceremonies, Acting President Kendrick introduced President-elect James Monroe Taylor, wishing him every success and cautioning him, “nothing succeeds like success.” A representative of the alumnae assured the incoming president that they were ready and willing to help the new administration of the college, and a student representative welcomed Dr. Taylor to Vassar. In a substantial response, Taylor spoke of positions he expected the college to take on a range of questions facing education and declared that the college must not accept a merely high standard, but that there must be none higher than Vassar’s.The New York Times
The author of Rudder Grange and “The Lady, or the Tiger,” American writer and humorist, Frank R. Stockton, and his wife spent Saturday and Sunday at the College.
The faculty adopted a new curriculum. “Harvard had set the example of a very free elective course…. At is regular meetings and at special evening meetings the faculty debated the issues…and prepared a course of study which emphasized the need of continuity of studies, opened electives in a small degree in the latter half of the sophomore year, and made the last two years almost wholly elective. A course in history was planned with hope for a new chair the following year….
“At the end of the first year of his work the president’s report urged two special recommendations of great consequence and suggested that ‘we must strike boldly, or lose our lead.’ One was the immediate foundation of a chair in history. Of even greater importance was the recommendation that the preparatory department be abolished.”James Monroe Taylor & Elizabeth Hazelton Haight, Vassar
The Alumnae Maria Mitchell Chair of Astronomy was established through subscriptions from graduates. It was first held by Mary W. Whitney ’68, professor of astronomy and director of the observatory, 1886-1912.
Speaking at Founder’s Day, Professor of English Laura Johnson Wylie ’77 rememberd “Professor Mitchell, whose home in the observatory was for many years a vivid center of college life. First on the faculty in reputation, and second to none in power, she stood for belief the most absolute in the cause of woman’s education. The directness of her sincerity ignored all formal boundaries of intercourse, and brought even those who saw her but briefly into the circle of her vital personality. Stories of her oddities, her kindlinesses, her paradoxes, her unconventional sincerities, were rife in the college during the happy years of her service. But what remains of it all is the memory of a life of high seriousness of purpose, and of a direct and most human comradeship.” Vassar Alumnae Monthly, June 1911.
The Reverend Dr. Elias Magoon died in Philadelphia. A founding trustee of the college and the originator of the Magoon Collection, the extensive group of paintings, prints and art publications which formed the basis of the Vassar art collection, Magoon was 76 years old and until recently had been pastor of Broad Street Baptist Church, in Philadelphia.
When it opened, Vassar had no history department. Instead, some of the professors—particularly the professors of mental and moral philosophy, ancient and modern languages, and English—offered historical lectures and incorporated some history into their teaching. In 1887 the college appointed Lucy Maynard Salmon to teach economics, political science and history and, specifically, to establish the college’s history department. Hired as an Associate Professor of History, she gained full professorship at the end of her second year.
Salmon received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Michigan, and she attended Bryn Mawr on a history fellowship, studying there under Woodrow Wilson. As a member of the “new social history” school, she believed that traditional methods overemphasized political histories, while dismissing other important aspects of the past, thus discouraging students from questioning scholarly authorities. Her courses were designed less to convey historical facts than to train students in the process of historical investigations. She taught her students how to discriminate, judge and analyze sources and to produce independent work.
Salmon’s innovative approaches and her unique combination of intellect, innovation and energy made her a legend at Vassar and a major influence in the development of modern social science. She died suddenly, in Poughkeepsie, in 1927.
Some 100 woman college graduates assembled in New York City for the first annual meeting of the New York branch of the General Collegiate Alumnae Association. Achsah M. Ely ’68 was elected president, and the vice-president, secretary and treasurer were graduates, respectively, of Cornell, Wellesley and Boston University.
The New York Times
The Chapel was filled with students and their relatives for the annual commencement soirée musicale, a program of 14 selections performed by Dr. Ritter’s students.
Class Day exercises included a class oration by Ida June Butcher ’87, the class history, given by Marguerite Sweet ’87, the class poem, composed by Elizabeth Raeburn Hoy ’87 and the class prophecy of Adaline Louise Jenckes ’87. At the tree ceremony, Mildred Rich ’88 responded to the senior charge, given by Nellis Heth Canfield ’87.
The alumnae association and the trustees held their annual meetings. Following the resignation of President Caldwell in February 1885, the Alumnae Association extended their blame for the college’s circumstances to the board of trustees, whom it accused of being “too inactive and unenterprising for the times.” The association also criticized the board for not until recently soliciting alumnae comment and advice and for not inviting alumnae to sit on the board.
On June 30, 1885, the Alumnae Association had formally requested representation on the board, and at the meeting of June 7, 1887, they forwarded a detailed resolution to the board. It first requested inclusion on the board of “three or more” alumnae, elected by the association, specifying that the alumnae representatives be “resident in any portion of the United States.” The resolution further recognized the “dignity and responsibility” of board membership, by stipulating that an alumnae trustee be a graduate of “at least 10 years’ standing,” that the alumnae electors be graduates of at least three years’ standing, and that the terms for the alumnae members be six years. Trustees at this time had life tenancy.
The trustees considered the resolution and, presumably under President Taylor’s influence, they accepted it. The first alumnae trustees were Florence M. Cushing ’74, Elizabeth E. Poppleton ’76 and Helen Hiscock Backus ’73.
The day concluded with a promenade concert, “and the brilliantly lighted parlors and corridors” were “crowded with ladies and gentlemen.”The New York Times
President Taylor conferred the bachelor’s degree on 36 members of the Class of 1887 at Commencement. He announced the decision on alumnae trustees taken at the board meeting and also stated that the trustees had decided to establish two additional degrees, Doctorate of Philosophy and Bachelor of Music.
The New York Times
Through a gift from trustee Frederick Ferris Thompson, a loan fund for students was established. President Taylor in his annual report noted: “Miss Goodsell has been enabled, through the kindness of two trustees, to give employment in sundry services to needy students.” Abby F. Goodsell, ’69, was Lady Principal from 1881 to 1891.
Dr. Taylor also reported that graduate courses were being offered: “Never before has the College offered advanced courses of work in the various departments and encouraged original study in them.” One graduate student was employed half time in the Department of History in return for her board.
Over 200 alumnae attended the annual winter reunion in New York City. Elated at the trustee decision to include three of their number on the board, they appointed a polling committee to solicit nominations and to conduct a poll of all eligible alumnae to determine what three alumnae to nominate.
Maria Mitchell, who had recently retired, was unable to attend the public reception planned for her at the meeting. “Prof. Mitchell,” The New York Times reported, “had written from her home in Lynn, Mass., that an attempt to grow young at 70 was not often successful. It went to her heart, she wrote, not to be able to be with her old pupils, but she longed for rest after a half century of labor. To the Alumn[ae] she wrote: ‘I have watched you even more than I have the stars. I rejoice in every good work done through you, and in each onward step taken by you in the advancement of women.’”
Addresses by two distinguished alumnae concluded the meeting. In “An Unknown Mathematician,” mathematician, symbolic logician and physical psychologist Christine Ladd-Franklin ’69, a fellow at Johns Hopkins and a former student of Maria Mitchell, spoke on the life and achievement of the early 19th century French polymath Sophie Germain. Mary Augusta Jordan ’71, linguist and chair of the English department at Smith College, spoke on “The Dangers and Safeguards of an Elective Scheme of Education.” Noting that Jordan had earned a master’s degree in metaphysics and had studied “languages from modern Italian to ancient Gothic, Icelandic, and even Sanskrit,” The Times concluded that “Miss Jordan felt very much at home in her subject.”
Dr. Richard T. Ely of Johns Hopkins University, a leader of the progressive movement and a pioneer political economist, gave a series of lectures on socialism. Discussing “industrial society” in his first lecture, Dr. Ely saw its development to come, by means of intellectual elevation of the masses, in three phases, from despotism through a “republic” sharing both profit and capital to a “democracy”—“industrial self-government.” His second lecture discussed the nature and aims of socialism, a means, Dr. Ely said, of transfoming a nation’s political organization into an economic industrial organization. He traced this process, said a writer in The Vassar Miscellany, “back to Sir Thomas More’s Utopia.”
Dr. Ely’s third lecture “took up the strong and weak points of Socialism. One of the strongest, Dr. Ely considers to be its rendering possible by distribuition of income the utilization of inventions and discoveries without entailing, as now, so large an amount of suffering on the part of skilled artisans who are thus deprived of their customary occupation…. Reforms must be gradual, and Socialism, if ever dominant, will be so only in the far future. It has, at present, no prospects at all…. The great work of Socialism thus far has been, Dr. Ely thinks, to promote reflection on the question as to how the life of the industrial classes can be raised to a better and higher plane and to teach men to view all great problems from the standpoint of the general welfare.”
A founder, in 1885, of the American Economic Association and later serving as its president, Dr. Ely taught at the University of Wisconsin at Madison from 1892 until 1925 and at Northwestern University from 1925 until his retirement in 1933.
The winter of 1887-88, already in most parts of the country the most severe on record, reached its zenith with the blizzard that struck the east coast March 12–13. All business and travel was suspended in New York City for several days, and on March 13 The New York Times observed it was “hard to believe in this last quarter of the nineteenth century that for even one day New York could be so completely isolated from the rest of the world as if Manhattan Island was in the middle of the South Sea.”
“On the 12th and 13th of last month we felt somewhat as if besieged in our castle. The snow storm made it impossible for anyone to reach us from Poughkeepsie, nor could we go to the Laboratories for work. No mails were received for two days, and after that, it was some time before they all came regularly.”Vassar Miscellany, April 1888.
Hors d’Oeuvre, the first student yearbook, was published by the Class of 1888.
In 1889 the title was changed to The Vassarion.
President Taylor preached the baccalaureate sermon for the Class of 1888 on the text “Freely you received, freely you give.” Reminding the class that “The responsibilities accompanying life’s capacities involve duties, and opportunities are obligations,” he declared that “Every evidence of a fitness to an end is also an evidence of obligations due to others.”
At the conclusion of his remarks, as the class stood, he said “Ladies of the Graduating Class: I have spoken to you a simple truth, but one which every life must learn to respect…. The gates are opened for you and a great host is gathered to watch you progress, with a hope of your running to success. This question is coming: What shall your life be when this first enthusiasm has passed away, or when it begins to cool, and when radiant hope is disappointed? That will depend on the reserve of natural resources in your soul, the higher motives which in all your life have been catered to. We watch you as you go forth with great interest.”
—The New York Times
The weather for Class Day for the Class of 1888 was, according to The Vassar Miscellany, “all that could be desired—not too cold for tulle, not to warm for comfort, and no rain. ’88’s Class Day will always be one of the brightest pictures that hang on the wall of our memories.” Class president Grace Rideout ’88 presided over the Chapel ceremonies, in which Susan Guion Chester ’88 gave the Class oration, based on the Class Motto, Perseverando, and the class history, enlivened by readings from the class minutes and “a bit of music from ’88’s limited répertoire,” was presented by Eliza Livingston McCreery ’88. “We have been told,” said The Miscellany, “that ‘historical genius consists in an unlimited capacity for taking pains’ and Miss MacCreery’s ‘Story of a Short Life’ showed how well she could apply that principle in her class history.”
After the class prophecy, given with a “happy-go-lucky manner and perfect mimicry” by Rose Foster, “the Prophet of ’88, the assembly moved outdoors for the dedication of the class tree and the burying of the class records. The traditional senior charge was given by Marion Ransom ’88 and the junior reply by Emeline Keeler Hunt ’89.
—The New York Times, The Vassar Miscellany
At their annual June meeting, the trustees elected John D. Rockefeller and Rev. Edward Judson to fill the vacancies caused by the death of founding trustees Stephen Buckingham and Rev. William Hague. The alumnae trustees, Florence M. Cushing ’74, Elizabeth E. Poppleton ’76 and Helen Hiscock Backus ’73, were re-elected.
President Taylor announced that Mr. Rockefeller had subscribed $20,000 toward the $100,000 goal he had recently announced—to be achieved by September—along with $1,000 for another purpose. The board also passed a resolution of sympathy for founding trustee John Guy Vassar in his illness and authorized a plan to offer prize inducements to students entering the college from various schools throughout the country. Finally, they tendered to Maria Mitchell, who recently retired, a home in the college and free use of the observatory, which she gratefully declined.
—The New York Times
In a departure from tradition, the only decoration in the Chapel as Professor Ritter began the commencement ceremony with his customary organ voluntary was a single floral arrangement in front of the organ. President Taylor gave the invocation, and the assembled trustees, faculty, students, alumnae and guests were offered senior addresses and varied musical selections.
In “An Intellectual Aristocracy,” Eugenia Kountz ’88 praised America’s ability to offer intellectual elevation to its citizens, and she emphasized the importance of an intellectual element in government. Clara Barnum ’88, in “The Nine Heroes of the Seventh Book of the Iliad,” showed how these characters significantly differed and how each represented a certain type found in every age, each type with a unique social function. Speaking on “The Future of the American Newspaper,” Effie Shaw ’88 both recognized the faults of the contemporary press—its disproportionate coverage of the sensational and the low literary quality of much of it—and appreciated its function as “a national court” where “for 5 cents a first-class opinion may be secured on any subject.” The press, she said, “has a loud voice, and without its speaking, evils would be hard to crush.”
President Taylor conferred the baccalaureate degree on 36 members of the Class of 1888, and recognized Margaretta Palmer ’87 as a resident graduate for the coming year. A student of Maria Mitchell’s, Palmer instructed in Latin during her residency, and the following year she became an assistant in the observatory at Yale. In 1892, she was among the first group of women admitted to the Yale Graduate School, and in 1894 she was among the first seven women—and the first woman astronomer—to earn the Yale Ph.D.
In his remarks, President Taylor announced that the Preparatory Department had been discontinued, that the trustees had tendered to Maria Mitchell a home at the college and the free use of the observatory and that he wanted to raise $100,000 for the college by September. The New York Times
“For the first time in the history of the College it opened, in September 1888, without any preparatory students.”Report of the President, 1888/89
Miss Salmon introduced the seminar method for her seniors. “The senior history class rejoices in the change [in] its method of work. The class meets in her parlor instead of a lecture room, thus doing away with the formality and feeling of restraint always connected with bare walls and rows of recitation benches. The time of the meeting is in the evening….Vassar Miscellany
Students called these evenings “nights at the Round Table.”
Professor of graduate Semitic studies and instructor in the divinity school at Yale, William Rainey Harper, who conducted Bible Study at Vassar on alternate Sundays, lectured on Amos.
At breakfast with President Taylor, John D. Rockefeller, at Vassar to visit his daughter Bessie, met Dr. Harper, who later became the first president of the University of Chicago, which Rockefeller founded in 1890.
John Guy Vassar, nephew of the Founder and a founding trustee of the college, died after a prolonged illness, aged 77. His will contained specific bequests to the college totaling $130,000: $40,000 for a chair in modern languages to be named for the donor; $40,000 for a chair in natural history; $10,000 to be applied to the supplying and administration of the Vassar Brothers Laboratory; $20,000 to be used toward the expenses of the music department; $20,000 for the John Guy Vassar Art Fund to be used toward the expenses of the art department. An additional bequest of “certain articles of nominal value” was appraised at $10.
After preliminary litigation, Vassar’s will passed through probate court in 1890. In addition to the specific bequests, the college—along with the Vassar Brothers’ Hospital and a proposed John Guy Vassar Orphan Asylum—received 1/3 of the residue of his estate bringing the college’s total share in the estate to $658,516.05.
16 nonlinear descendants of John Guy Vassar filed an appeal of the probate judgment on several technical grounds. In 1891, the board of trustees and the appellants settled just before the case was to be heard. In the end, the college received about $500,000 from John Guy Vassar’s estate.
—The New York Times, The Vassar Miscellany
Benjamin Harrison was elected President of the United States. Vassar held a mock election: Harrison, 175; Cleveland, 60; Fisk (prohibitionist), 30.
Along with naturalist John Borroughs, Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller and the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, Henry Codman Potter, journalist and novelist Charles Dudley Warner and his wife were guests at the Philalethean Society’s anniversary celebration in the Chapel. Music was furnished by Vassar ‘s Glee Club and the West Point Band. After an address by Mr. Warner, a reception, promenade concert and dancing took place in the Main dining room.
An exhibition including photographs, building plans and description of the “curricula of study” represented the college at the Exposition Universelle in Paris.
The Vassar faculty announced the graduate scholarships in the Class of 1889 for the next academic year: in chemistry, Ruth Mears ’89; in economics, Bertha Richardson ’89; in Latin and French, Augusta Choate ’89; in mathematics and astronomy, Eda C. Bowman ’89 and Blanche Martin ’89; and in English, Mary L. Brinckerhoff ’89 and Jean Hamilton ’89.
The Class of 1889 revived May Day customs with a May-pole and groups of revelers paying homage to a May Queen. This gradually became a tradition for the seniors. Even classes gave a May-pole dance, odd classes a dance with flower-covered hoops.
The college announced that, since parts of the $92,000 raised to date towards the goal of $100,000 for general endowment were contingent upon reaching the goal by July 1, it was imperative for the additional monies to be pledged. It was suggested that residents of Poughkeepsie commit to raising $5,000, President Taylor being confident that the remainder could be raised elsewhere. The New York Times
Commencement activities began with a soirée musicale before a large and appreciative audience. Students and graduates of the School of Music presented organ fantasies, piano selections and vocal solos and duets.
The New York Times
Banked on the organ with “89” picked out in the center in buttercups, and woven into heavy chains to designate the seniors, the class flower, daisies, decorated the Chapel for the Class of ’89’s Class Day celebration. Scofield’s orchestra supplied the music as the seniors and juniors and their guests entered.
Caroline B. Weeks ’89 delivered the class oration, Annie Nettleton ’89 recalled the class history and Lucy Ferrell ’89 was the class prophet. At the dedication of the class tree, an elm, Hannah Mace ’90 gave the junior response to the senior charge, delivered by Minnie Morrow Chamberlain ’89. Miss Ferrell, the prophet, also composed the class song. The New York Times
Senior papers at Commencement ceremonies offered the usual diversity of topics, ranging from “The Independent in Politics” from Katherine Warren ’89 to “The New Astronomy” by Helen Tunnicliff ’89 and “Trial by Newspaper” by Christine Senger ’89. “The Rise of the Villain in Literature,” was explored by Lillian Lamonte ’89, and Helen Putnam ’89 and Mary Anderson ’89 gave the traditional opposed compositions, analyzing, respectively, the influence of France before the beginnings of the American republic and the influence of America upon the beginnings of the French republic.
President Taylor conferred the baccalaureate degree on 49 members of the Class of 1889, and Georgiana Lea Morrill ’82, Louise Russell Smith ’87, Ida Wood ’77 and Caroline Augusta Woodman ’74 were awarded the second degree in arts.
The new baccalaureate degree in music was conferred upon Helen Josephine Andrus ’89, who went on to a notable career as a composer for the organ.
—The New York Times
Having retired the previous year owing to failing health, Maria Mitchell died in Lynn, Massachusetts. The trustees had granted emeritus status and urged Mitchell to stay in residence, but she demurred, preferring to be among her family.
In Maria Mitchell: Life, Letters, and Journals (1896), her sister, Phebe Mitchell Kendall, quoted a colleague and a student, anonymously:
January 10, 1888: “You will consent, you must consent to having your home here, and letting the work go. It is not astronomy that is wanted and needed, it is Maria Mitchell….The richest part of my life here is connected with you….I cannot picture Vassar without you. There’s nothing to point to!”
May 5, 1889: “In all the great wonder of life, you have given me more of what I have wanted than any other creature ever gave me. I hoped I should amount to something for your sake.”
Speaking at Maria Mitchell’s funeral, President James Monroe Taylor said:
“If I were to select for comment the one most striking trait of her character, I should name her genuineness. There was no false note in Maria Mitchell’s thinking or utterance….
“It was this combination of great strength and independence, of deep affection and tenderness, breathed through and through with the sentiment of a perfectly genuine life, which has made for us one of the pilgrim-shrines of life the study in the observatory of Vassar College where we have known her at home, surrounded by the evidences of her honorable career.”
Phebe Mitchell Kendall, Maria Mitchell: Life, Letters, and Journals
President Taylor told the trustees, “A college is strong in proportion to the strength of its Faculty, its Libraries and its Laboratories.”
At a special meeting on campus, alumnae gathered to discuss and endorse the founding of a Vassar Students’ Aid Society. By-laws were read and approved and officers for the society were elected. A luncheon address was given the Rev. Dr. Robert Court, pastor of the Appleton Street Presbyterian Church in Lowell, MA.
The T. and M. debating society, at the suggestion of President Taylor, discussed the question of self-government, the students having been granted by the faculty earlier in the year responsibility for administering the rules governing exercise, retiring, and chapel attendance. The next day, a nine-student committee was formed by the Student Association—four seniors, three juniors, a sophomore and a special student—to consider alleged breaches of the rules and to act as a “body of appeal.”
The faculty approved the plan for self-government put forth by the Student Association, on a trial basis. When it was readopted and approved in September, 1890, and again in 1891, the system became permanent.
The opening of the Alumnae Gymnasium, designed by William M. Tubby, was celebrated with a Philaletheis hall play—that is, a play open only to the college community—W. S. Gilbert’s Engaged. Attendees were presented with small souvenir photographs of the new building.
Built with funds collected from the alumnae and students under the leadership of Professor of Mathematics Achsah M. Ely ’68, the building and its equipment cost $25,000. Equipped with parallel bars, rowing machines and other apparatus, the gymnasium contained 87 dressing rooms and 20 showers. Given by trustee Frederick Ferris Thompson, the swimming tank, 29 feet wide and 8 feet deep and lined with marble, held 47,000 gallons of water, which was pumped from an artesian well 150 feet deep and was maintained at a temperature between 70 and 80 degrees.The New York Times
In 1933 when a new gymnasium was built, the name of this building was changed to Ely Hall.
The department of physical education was the first regularly organized department of its kind in an American college.
The Boston alumnae association established a Vassar Students’ Aid Society, intended to develop funding for support of students in the college.