Somewhere in Time

So what's happened in the past 150 years? We've welcomed some distinguished visitors, given diplomas to some remarkable people, and marked some notable achievements - and there was that whole co-ed thing. Take a look at the timeline to get a sense of Vassar's history, and its role in the history of America as well.

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To navigate the Timeline, drag the scroll bar. You can also jump to a specific decade using the navigation links above. Have fun!


  • Jan 1792

    Matthew Vassar, founder of the college, born on April 29 in Norfolk County, England, the son of Ann Bennett and James Vassar, farmers and dissenters.

  • 1796

    James Vassar, with wife and children, emigrates to the United States.


  • 1811

    James Vassar’s elder son dies when the brewery is destroyed by fire; Matthew Vassar assumes responsibility for the family’s recovery.


  • 1844

    Vassar’s niece, Lydia Booth, suggests founding a woman’s college to her uncle.


  • 1855

    Walt Whitman publishes Leaves of Grass.

  • 1855

    Milo P. Jewett, succeeding Lydia Booth at Cottage Hill Seminary, convinces Vassar to found a women’s college.

  • 1859

    James Renwick, Jr., architect of the Smithsonian Institution Building and Saint Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, becomes architect of Vassar’s Main Building.


  • 1860

    Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species published in America

  • 1860

    Matthew Vassar buys land for his college, at the site of a former fairground.

  • 1860

    Abraham Lincoln elected president of the United States

  • 1861

    Vassar chartered

  • 1861

    Civil War begins

  • 1864

    Vassar Observatory completed

  • 1864

    Milo P. Jewett, first president of Vassar, resigns at the Founder’s request; trustee Rev. John Howard Raymond becomes Vassar’s second president.

  • 1864

    Lincoln re-elected president

  • 1865

    Main Building and Gate Lodge completed

  • 1865

    Lincoln assassinated

  • 1865

    353 students enter Vassar’s first class; comprehensive fee is $350.

  • 1867

    Vassar’s college colors chosen: the rose of sunrise breaking through the grey of women’s previous intellectual life

  • 1868

    Matthew Vassar dies as he addresses the Board of Trustees.

  • 1869

    Maria Mitchell and students travel to Iowa to observe solar eclipse.


  • 1870

    First bequest to the college of $30,000 from Jacob P. Giraud, Jr. to found the Natural History Museum

  • 1871

    Great Chicago Fire ravages the city

  • 1871

    Associate Alumnae of Vassar College is formed.

  • 1873

    Western Union telegraph line extended to Vassar

  • 1876

    Elevator installed in Main Building

  • 1878

    President Raymond dies suddenly; Rev. Samuel Caldwell becomes Vassar’s third president.


  • 1880

    Thomas Edison patents the incandescent lamp.

  • 1880

    Telephone service established at Vassar

  • 1884

    Under pressure from alumnae, President Caldwell resigns; James Monroe Taylor becomes Vassar’s fourth president.

  • 1886

    Statue of Liberty unveiled in New York Harbor

  • 1888

    Hors d’Oeuvre, the first student yearbook, published by the Class of 1888 (changed the following year to The Vassarion)


  • 1890

    Battle of Wounded Knee

  • 1892

    Princeton professor Woodrow Wilson visits campus, lectures on “Democracy”

  • 1893

    Strong Hall, Vassar’s first dormitory, completed

  • 1893

    Thompson Annex to the front of Main Building completed (called “Uncle Fred’s Nose,” it was razed in 1960)

  • 1894

    Electric trolley cars replace horse-drawn cars, running from Poughkeepsie to Vassar.

  • 1895

    First women’s field day in America held at Vassar


  • 1902

    First automobile appeared at Commencement, reported to be a Ford.

  • 1903

    Wright Brothers fly first airplane.

  • 1903

    Ground broken for Thompson Memorial Library

  • 1904

    Commencement is held for the first time in the new Chapel, 176 students receive degrees.

  • 1905

    Tuition and residence increases to $400 per annum.

  • 1906

    Three huge crates of stained glass cross the Atlantic aboard a steamer and thence by train to Vassar—the Cornaro window.


  • 1911

    Electric lighting installed in Main Building, replacing gaslights

  • 1912

    Titanic sinks on maiden voyage.

  • 1913

    Students’ Building dedicated

  • 1914

    World War I begins.

  • 1914

    President Taylor retires; Taylor Gate and Taylor Hall are built in his honor.

  • 1914

    First Fall Convocation held, at suggestion of Lucy M. Salmon, professor of history.

  • 1915

    Vassar’s 50th Anniversary, at that time, counted from 1865 when Main opened.

  • 1915

    Henry Noble MacCracken becomes Vassar’s fifth president

  • 1916

    Shakespeare Garden planned by English and botany students.

  • 1916

    Students are allowed to see their grades for the first time.

  • 1918

    World War I ends.


  • 1920

    19th Amendment grants women right to vote.

  • 1923

    Trustees vote to limit registration to 1,150.

  • 1925

    Tuition and residence raised to $1,000.

  • 1927

    Edna St. Vincent Millay ’17 wins Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

  • 1927

    First Vassar students participate in junior year abroad.

  • 1929

    Stock market crashes; Great Depression begins


  • 1931

    Franklin Delano Roosevelt speaks at Commencement.

  • 1931

    Tuition and residence raised to $1200.

  • 1932

    Smoking permitted anywhere on campus except Library steps

  • 1933

    Franklin Roosevelt speaks from the porch of the President’s House to a crowd of 6,000 as part of “Neighbors Day”.

  • 1935

    Buses replace trolley cars, running from Poughkeepsie to Vassar.

  • 1939

    Faculty request a plan to invite refugee scholars to the college; between 1939-1943 twenty scholars take part in this program.

  • 1939

    Enrollment increases to 1,200.


  • 1940

    Vassar’s 75th Anniversary, at that time, counted from 1865 when Main opened.

  • 1941

    Pearl Harbor attacked

  • 1943

    Three-year program approved during national emergency.

  • 1943

    Tuition and residence increases to $1,250.

  • 1945

    Class of 1945-4, first class to graduate on three-year plan

  • 1945

    World War II ends with V-E Day and V-J Day

  • 1946

    Forty veterans, Vassar’s first male students, attend C-term.

  • 1946

    President MacCracken retires, and Sarah Gibson Blanding takes office, the first woman to be chosen as president of Vassar and its sixth president.

  • 1947

    Tuition and residence increases to $1,600.


  • 1950

    McCarthy hearings on Un-American Activities begin.

  • 1951

    Ferry House co-op, designed by Marcel Breuer, opens.

  • 1951

    Picasso paintings, lent by the artist, exhibited in Taylor Hall

  • 1952

    Dining room service in residence halls replaced by cafeteria

  • 1956

    Elizabeth Bishop ’34 wins the Pulitzer Prize in poetry.

  • 1957

    Sputnik I launched by Soviets

  • 1958

    Tuition and residence increases to $2,500.

  • 1958

    Noyes House, designed by Eero Saarinen, is dedicated.


  • 1960

    “Uncle Fred’s Nose,” the 1893 addition to the front of Main Building is demolished.

  • 1961

    Vassar celebrates its 100th anniversary.

  • 1961

    Former Vassar student Jacqueline Kennedy sends engraving of White House for the Centennial.

  • 1963

    President John F. Kennedy assassinated

  • 1964

    Civil Rights Act passes.

  • 1964

    President Blanding retires, and Alan Simpson becomes Vassar’s seventh president.

  • 1965

    The Oysters of Locmariaquer (1965) by Eleanor Clark ’34 wins the National Book Award for arts and letters.

  • 1966

    Vassar and Yale undertake joint study on feasibility of relocating Vassar to New Haven.

  • 1967

    Trustees decide against merger with Yale.

  • 1968

    Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinated

  • 1968

    Robert F. Kennedy assassinated

  • 1968

    Twenty men enroll in Vassar courses on a trial basis, first male students since veterans of World War II

  • 1968

    Trustees approve admission of freshman men in fall of 1970.

  • 1969

    African-American students take over parts of Main Building protesting administration’s response to the nine demands in their proposal.


  • 1971

    Record 2,000-student enrollment

  • 1971

    Marian Gray Secundy ’60 elected as Vassar’s first African-American trustee

  • 1971

    Lucinda Franks ’68 and her New York Times colleague Thomas Powers share the Pulitzer Prize in journalism.

  • 1972

    Five men are arrested for breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex.

  • 1972

    Vassar Gay Liberation Front founded

  • 1972

    WVKR begins full operation.

  • 1974

    First coed class graduates.

  • 1975

    Vietnam War ends

  • 1976

    Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs introduce the Apple computer.

  • 1976

    275 acres of the Vassar Farm are designated an ecological preserve.

  • 1977

    President Simpson retires, and Virginia B. Smith becomes Vassar’s eighth president.


  • 1980

    Commencement speaker William F. Buckley, Jr., withdraws over campus protests about his being invited; retiring Professor of Biology Francis Ranzoni substitutes.

  • 1981

    American hostages in Iran freed

  • 1981

    Tuition and residence increases to $9360.

  • 1982

    “Computing as a Resource” enters the Vassar curriculum.

  • 1983

    Meryl Streep ’71 wins second Academy Award and is the speaker at Vassar’s Commencement.

  • 1983

    The Vassar Repertory Dance Theatre presents its first Bardavon Gala performance.

  • 1984

    Exploring Transfer, Vassar’s summer program for community college students, begins.

  • 1986

    President Smith retires, and Frances Daly Fergusson becomes the ninth president of Vassar.

  • 1986

    Undergraduate Research Summer Institute (URSI) started

  • 1989

    The Berlin Wall falls.


  • 1991

    African-American seniors form a Black Commencement Committee to integrate elements of black culture into the annual event.

  • 1992

    Jane Smiley ’71 wins the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for her novel, A Thousand Acres.

  • 1993

    Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center opens.

  • 1993

    The general public gains access to the World Wide Web.

  • 1998

    Intercultural Center renamed ALANA (African American/Black, Latino, Asian/Asian American, Native American)

  • 1999

    Vassar is named “College of the Year” by Time Magazine and the Princeton Review.


  • 2001

    Community Works, Vassar’s charitable giving campaign, is launched.

  • 2001

    U.S. attacked by Al Qaeda.

  • 2003

    Learning and Teaching Center opens (now the Learning, Teaching, and Research Center).

  • 2005

    Hurricane Katrina devastates New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

  • 2006

    Frances Fergusson retires, and Catharine Bond Hill becomes Vassar’s tenth president

  • 2006

    Vassar goes wireless.

  • 2007

    Need-blind admissions policy reinstituted

Stay Tuned

The next 150 years will be as exciting as the past 150 have been.