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“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.”

The Years