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Vassar Encyclopedia

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

“Monumental Honors”: The Founder’s Wish Fulfilled After 139 Years

On December 19, 1867, Matthew Vassar wrote to Stephen Buckingham, a member of the trustee committee appointed to commission a commemorative statue of him. “It was never my wish or desire,” he wrote, “to have the…work executed during my life time, whatever the Hon. Board of Trustees might deem proper to do thereafter.” Beneath the […]

More Than a Brewer

“More Than a Brewer,” by Vassar’s first official historian, Elizabeth Adams Daniels ’41, was originally written and published as part of the college’s celebration, in 1992, of the 200th birthday of its Founder, Matthew Vassar. Very slightly revised, the text presented here is that of the essay’s second publication, in 2011, at the time of […]


Matthew Vassar returned to Poughkeepsie in 1848 from his extensive European tour eager to dedicate himself and his fortune to philanthropic and civic-minded endeavors. Vassar presided over the Poughkeepsie Village Board of Trustees and headed a committee to select the site for a new public cemetery to replace the city’s overcrowded church graveyards. The committee […]

Catharine Valentine Vassar

Catharine Valentine of Fishkill, N.Y married Matthew Vassar in 1813 and, as Vassar recorded in his diary, he rented “part of a tenement for the sum of $40” and was roundly rebuked by his father for paying too much. It is difficult to find out much about the life the two Vassars shared, as Matthew […]

Matthew Vassar

Embarking Matthew Vassar, business entrepreneur and founder of Vassar College, was born in Norfolk, England, in 1792. Like several others in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Vassar’s parents, James and Ann Vassar, planned on immigrating to America in hopes of starting anew, free of the social and political constraints imposed by the English […]

The Vassars at Home

The Dinner Table A Peek into Daily Life on Vassar Street Matthew Vassar and Catharine Valentine Vassar at Home Searching down a fascinating article written by W.S. Cooper, son of Dr. John Cooper, Matthew Vassar’s doctor, published in installments in the Poughkeepsie Courier between October 15, 1915 and the end of the year, the reader […]

Vassar’s Communications to the Board of Trustees

Matthew Vassar died while reading his farewell address to the Board of Trustees on June 23, 1868. After a respectful interval, the Board reconvened to hear the conclusion of his remarks. It had been Vassar’s practice to address the Board formally at their meetings, and when the adjourned meeting resumed, the decision was taken to publish these communications.

Mary Watson Whitney, “The Founders of Vassar”

Mary Watson Whitney entered Vassar when it opened, in September, 1865, and was among Maria Mitchell’s first students 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 […]