Skip to content Skip to navigation
Skip to global navigation Menu

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

Beyond Vassar

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.

The Years