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Vassar Encyclopedia

An online work in progress under the direction of Vassar’s College Historian

Henry Buckham

Vassar’s first English Professor, Henry Barmby Buckham, taught rhetoric, belles-lettres, and English language in the college’s first year, 1865–1866. Although his time at Vassar was brief, Buckham proved to be a challenging professor who gave many of his students a strong foundation in writing and grammar. Born in March 1827 in Hinckley, County of Leicestershire, […]

Caroline E. Furness

Caroline E. Furness ’1891

Caroline Furness was professor of astronomy and director of the observatory at Vassar for 20 years. Vassar president Henry Nobel MacCracken identified her course on variable stars as the first of its kind offered in any American college, and her book, Introduction to the Study of Variable Stars (1915), became a standard in the field. […]

William Knapp

The college’s first professor of modern and ancient languages, William Ireland Knapp, taught at Vassar from 1865 until 1867. President John Raymond’s daughter, Cornelia Raymond ’83, recalled the impression Knapp made on Vassar students and faculty: “He was quite strikingly handsome, had a delightful personality and was. . . a brilliant linguist.” The son of the Reverend […]

Christine Ladd-Franklin ’1869

Christine Ladd-Franklin—mathematician, logician, and psychologist—was born in Windsor Connecticut, on December 1, 1847. Her father, Eliphalet Ladd, a prominent merchant, and her mother Augusta Niles Ladd, an early feminist, both came from distinguished families. One great uncle, William Ladd, had founded, in 1828, the American Peace Society, a merger of the Christian pacifist societies of […]

Maria Mitchell

Maria Mitchell, one of the first professors hired for the nascent Vassar College, was sought by Matthew Vassar to lend luster to Vassar’s nine-member faculty. Mitchell (1818–1889) had already gained a world reputation in astronomy when, while “sweeping” the skies of Nantucket with a telescope in 1847, she had discovered and reported a “telescopic” comet, […]

Maria Mitchell and Women’s Rights

Best known for her astronomical research and professorship at Vassar College, Maria Mitchell did not limit her interests to academia. A pioneer in establishing women in the sciences, she devoted a great deal of time to finding ways for women everywhere to gain greater freedom and have their rights recognized in society. In 1872 Mitchell […]

The Maria Mitchell Association

The bylaws of the Maria Mitchell Association in Nantucket, Massachusetts, state that it was formed in 1902 “to purchase and preserve the birthplace of Maria Mitchell (1818–1889) as a memorial museum for scientific purposes.” Many of the twelve women on the Organization Committee had close ties to the college, including Mary W. Whitney, Mitchell’s first […]

Maria Mitchell Salary Dispute

On December 16, 1871, Maria Mitchell wrote to the artist and historian Benson Lossing, a Vassar trustee, in great distress. “I must trouble you again! I simply want you to know how things go on. Can it be possible that the Ex. Com. wish to make us uncomfortable?” To make sure he fully understood the […]

Overview of Original Faculty

In 1865, Matthew Vassar and President John H. Raymond selected nine professors to serve as Vassar College’s first faculty. Each professor became the head of one of nine departments, which ranged from Philosophy to Physiology and Hygiene. The following list details each of the nine original professors and their respective accomplishments. Alida C. Avery, born […]

Margaretta Palmer ’1887

Born in 1862, in Branford, Connecticut, Margaretta Palmer graduated from Vassar in 1887. She was a student in Maria Mitchell’s Astronomy III in the fall term of1885 and one of 10 students in the advanced class the following year. At her commencement, in 1887, she and fellow astronomer Antonia Maury were among the seven graduates […]

Sanborn Tenney

Vassar’s first professor of natural history, Sanborn Tenney, was born on January 13, 1827, in Stoddard, New Hampshire. He attended Amherst College from 1849–1853, where he was a devoted student. As the 1922 Williams Alumni Review noted, “his college room [was] turned into a museum of collections in the various fields of the subject. His holidays […]

Henry Van Ingen

The illustrious career of Vassar’s first professor of art and art history, Henry Van Ingen, began on Vassar’s opening day and lasted for thirty years until his death. Born in Holland on November 12, 1833, Van Ingen studied at the Academy of Design at The Hague, specializing in landscape painting. After his arrival in the […]

Mary Watson Whitney ’1868, ’ 1872

Mary Watson Whitney, a member of Vassar’s first graduating class in 1868, was Maria Mitchell’s student in astronomy. The assistant to Maria Mitchell until she succeeded her as chair of the astronomy department and as director of the observatory, Whitney built Vassar’s research program in astronomy into one of the nation’s finest. Mary W. Whitney […]