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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

The Years