Vassar College (// VASS-ər) is a private, coeducational, liberal arts college in the town of Poughkeepsie, New York, in the United States. Founded in 1861 by Matthew Vassar, it was the first degree-granting institution of higher education for women in the United States. It became coeducational in 1969, and now has a gender ratio at the national average. The school is one of the historic Seven Sisters, the first elite female colleges in the US, and has historic relationship with Yale University, which suggested a merger with the college before coeducation at both institutions.
The college offers B.A. degrees in more than 50 majors and features a flexible curriculum designed to promote a breadth of studies. Vassar also offers many extracurricular organizations including student theater, a cappella groups, club sports, volunteer and service groups, and a circus troupe. Vassar College's varsity sports teams, known as the Brewers, play in the NCAA's Division III as members of the Liberty League.
Vassar tied for the 12th best liberal arts college in the nation in the 2016 annual ranking of U.S. News & World Report, with an admission threshold described as "most selective." As of 2015, the college had an acceptance rate of 25.7%. The total number of students attending the college is around 2,450.
The Vassar campus comprises over 1,000 acres (400 ha) and more than 100 buildings, including two National Historic Landmarks and an additional National Historic Place. A designated arboretum, the campus features more than 200 species of trees, a native plant preserve, and a 400-acre (160 ha) ecological preserve.
Vassar was founded as a women's school under the name Vassar Female College in 1861. Quickly thereafter its founder, Matthew Vassar, had the word Female cut from the name, prompting some residents of the town of Poughkeepsie, New York to quip that its founder believed it might one day admit male students. The college became coeducational in 1969.
Vassar was the second of the Seven Sisters colleges, higher education schools that were formerly strictly for women, and historically sister institutions to the Ivy League. It was chartered by its namesake, brewer Matthew Vassar, in 1861 in the Hudson Valley, about 70 mi (115 km) north of New York City. The first person appointed to the Vassar faculty was the astronomer Maria Mitchell, in 1865.
Vassar adopted coeducation in 1969. However, immediately following World War II, Vassar accepted a very small number of male students on the G.I. Bill. Because Vassar's charter prohibited male matriculants, the graduates were given diplomas via the University of the State of New York. These were reissued under the Vassar title after the school formally became co-educational. The formal decision to become co-ed came after its trustees declined an offer to merge with Yale University, its sibling institution, in the wave of mergers between the historically all-male colleges of the Ivy League and their Seven Sisters counterparts.
In its early years, Vassar was associated with the social elite of the Protestant establishment. E. Digby Baltzell writes that "upper-class WASP families educated their children at colleges such as Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Vassar." Before becoming President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a Trustee.
Roughly 2,450 students attend Vassar, and 98% live on campus. About 60% come from public high schools, and 40% come from private schools (both independent and religious). Vassar is currently 56% women and 44% men, at national average for national liberal arts colleges. Students are taught by more than 290 faculty members, virtually all holding the doctorate degree or its equivalent. The student-faculty ratio is 8:1, average class size, 17.
In recent freshman classes, students of color constituted 32–38% of matriculants. International students from over 60 countries make up 8-10% of the student body. In May 2007, in keeping with its commitment to diverse and equitable education, Vassar returned to a need-blind admissions policy wherein students are admitted by their academic and personal qualities, without regard to financial status.
Vassar's campus, also an arboretum, is 1,000 acres (400 ha) and has more than 100 buildings, ranging in style from Collegiate Gothic to International, with several buildings of architectural interest. At the center of campus stands Main Building, one of the best examples of Second Empire architecture in the United States. When it was opened, Main Building was the largest building in the U.S. in terms of floor space. formerly housed the entire college, including classrooms, dormitories, museum, library, and dining halls. The building was designed by Smithsonian architect James Renwick Jr. and was completed in 1865. It was preceded on campus by the original observatory. Both buildings are National Historic Landmarks. Rombout House was purchased by the college in 1915 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
Many original brick buildings are scattered throughout the campus, but there are also several modern and contemporary structures of architectural interest. Ferry House, a student cooperative, was designed by Marcel Breuer in 1951. Noyes House was designed by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen. A good example of an attempt to use passive solar design can be seen in the Seeley G. Mudd Chemistry Building by Perry Dean Rogers. More recently, New Haven architect César Pelli was asked to design the Lehman Loeb Art Center, which was completed in the early 1990s. In 2003, Pelli also worked on the renovation of Main Building Lobby and the conversion of the Avery Hall theater into the $25 million Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film, which preserved the original 1860s facade but was an entirely new structure.
Vassar is home to one of the largest undergraduate library collections in the U.S. The library collection today – which actually encompasses eight libraries at Vassar – contains about 1 million volumes and 7,500 serial, periodical and newspaper titles, as well as an extensive collection of microfilm and microfiche, with special collections of Ellen Swallow Richards, Albert Einstein, Mary McCarthy, and Elizabeth Bishop. Vassar has been a Federal Depository library for selected U.S. Government documents since 1943 and currently receives approximately 25% of the titles available through the Federal Depository Program. Since 1988, Vassar has been a New York State Reference Center, part of the New York Depository Program. The library also selectively purchases United Nations documents.
A major renovation to Thompson Library was completed in 2001.
The interior and exterior of the Van Ingen Art Library was renovated from June 2008 – May 2009 in an effort to restore its original design and appearance. This was the library's first major renovation since its construction in 1937.
Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center
Vassar College was the first college in the United States to be founded with a full-scale museum as part of its original plan. Matthew Vassar was known for declaring that "art should stand boldly forth as an educational force". The art collection at Vassar dates to the founding of the College, when Vassar provided an extensive collection of Hudson River School paintings to be displayed in the Main Building. Referred to as the Magoon Collection, it continues to be one of the best in the nation for Hudson River School paintings. One of the largest U.S. college or university art museums, the Frances Lehman Loeb Gallery displays a selection of Vassar's 18,000 articles of art in the building designed by Cesar Pelli.
Today, the gallery's collection displays art from the ancient world up through contemporary works. The collection includes work by European masters such as Brueghel, Gustave Doré, Picasso, Balthus, Bacon, Vuillard, Cézanne, Braque and Bonnard, as well as examples from leading twentieth-century American painters Jackson Pollock, Agnes Martin, Mark Rothko, Marsden Hartley, Georgia O'Keeffe, Charles Sheeler, and Ben Shahn. The Loeb's works on paper represent a major collection in the United States, with prints by Rembrandt (including important impressions of the "Hundred Guilder Print" and the "Three Trees") and Dürer as well as photographs by Cindy Sherman, Diane Arbus, and others. Students at the college can act as liaisons between the art center and the wider college community through work on the Student Committee of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, to which incoming freshman can apply.
In 2011, Vassar embarked on a $120 million project to improve science facilities at the college, centering on the construction of a new $90 million Bridge for Laboratory Sciences. The project will include renovations of Olmsted Hall of Biological Sciences, New England Building and Sanders Physics Building as well as the construction of a new Integrated Science Center, a bridge building that will connect to Olmsted Hall and cross over the Fonteynkill. It is intended both to modernize and to support a collaborative and cross-disciplinary science community. The bridge building was completed January 2016, and the project will end with the demolition of Mudd Chemistry Building in 2017.
Davison, one of Vassar's nine residence houses, was renovated during the 2008–2009 school year. The dorm went offline for that year and its residents were absorbed into the college's remaining residence houses. This is the second dorm to be renovated as part of the school's master plan to renovate all dorms, following Jewett a few years earlier. Lathrop was scheduled to be closed and renovated during the 2010–2011 school year, but complete renovation was cancelled due to the economic downturn, with a number of improvements phased-in instead. Improvements were also made to Josselyn in 2011.
Vassar confers a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in more than 50 majors, including the Independent Major, in which a student may design a major, as well as various interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary fields of study. Students also participate in such programs as the Self-Instructional Language Program (SILP) which offers courses in Hindi, Irish/Gaelic, Korean, Portuguese, Swahili, Swedish, Turkish, and Yiddish. Vassar has a flexible curriculum intended to promote breadth in studies. While each field of study has specific requirements for majors, the only universal requirements for graduation are proficiency in a foreign language, a quantitative course, and a freshman writing course. Students are also strongly encouraged to study abroad, which they typically do during one or two semesters of their junior year. Students (usually juniors) may apply for a year or a semester away either in the U.S. or abroad. Vassar sponsors programs in China, England, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Turkey, Mexico, Morocco, Spain and Russia; students may also join preapproved programs offered by other colleges. Students may also apply for approved programs at various U.S. institutions, including the historically Black colleges and members of the Twelve College Exchange.
All classes are taught by members of the faculty, and there are no graduate students or teachers' assistants. The most popular majors, in terms of sheer numbers, are English, political science, psychology, economics and biology. Vassar also offers a variety of correlate sequences, or minors, for intensive study in many disciplines.
For the Class of 2019 (enrolling fall 2015), Vassar received 7,567 applications and accepted 1,947 (25.7%). In terms of class rank, 72% of enrolled freshmen were in the top 10% of their high school classes; 96% ranked in the top quarter. The mean SAT scores for the Class of 2018 were 707.5 for critical reading, 695 for math, and 699.2 for writing, while the middle 50% range of SAT scores was 1350-1460 for critical reading and math only, and 2030-2190 for all scores. The mean ACT composite score was 31.3; the middle 50% range was 30-33.
The incoming Class of 2019 was 57% female, 43% male, and included students from 46 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and 25 foreign countries (international students were 13.3% of enrolled freshmen). Students of color made up 35.5% of the class. Need-based financial aid was provided to 62% of freshman by Vassar.
The 2016 annual ranking of U.S. News & World Report categorizes Vassar as 'most selective' and rates it tied for the 12th best liberal arts college in the nation, 5th for "Best Value" and tied for 20th for "Best Undergraduate Teaching". It also ranked Vassar tied for highest economic diversity as measured by low-income students receiving federal Pell Grants. In its 2013 edition, The Princeton Review gave Vassar an admissions selectivity rating of 98 out of 99 and an academic rating of 97. In its 2014 list of private colleges and universities in terms of best value, The Princeton Review ranked Vassar 7th. In 2016, Forbes rated Vassar 33rd overall in its America's Top Colleges ranking, which includes 650 military academies, national universities, and liberal arts colleges and 15th among liberal arts colleges. Kiplinger's Personal Finance places Vassar 14th in its 2016 ranking of best value liberal arts colleges in the United States. Vassar was ranked by Newsweek in 2011 as the 25th best school in the nation for the most highly decorated students (as measured by the success of alumni in winning Rhodes, Marshall, Truman, Gates-Cambridge, and Fulbright Scholarships) and 13th among national liberal arts colleges, and as 10th in the nation for schools offering an exceptional artistic atmosphere (4th among liberal arts colleges).
In an article in The Christian Science Monitor on the subject, Vassar president Catharine Bond Hill argued that rankings "will always be limited in what they can tell consumers. Part of higher education's role about the rankings should be to remind students and their families that these are only one piece of information that they should take into account in deciding where to go to college. Intangibles will and should play a role in these decisions, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't also look at the tangibles".
Over half of Vassar graduates intend to pursue advanced study within five years of graduation including about one fifth immediately post-graduation. Of the seniors who applied to medical school, 76% were accepted; to law school, 86% were accepted. Vassar offers a database of well over 30,000 alumni where students may seek career advice and opportunities.
The Founder's Day Festival is an annual campus festival at Vassar College that usually takes place in late April or early May. It started as a surprise birthday party for college founder Matthew Vassar and evolved into an annual celebration. Originally, Founder's Day was a spontaneous event consisting of lectures but was soon replaced with plays, pageants, and more recreational activities. Circus and fair activities followed, with the eventual addition of the modern day music events over the course of two days. More recently themes have been added, including Alice in Wonderland, Dinosaurs, Vintage 1800s Vassar, Nickelodeon, Nintendo, and Candyland. Within the past five years, artists at Founder's Day have included The Walkmen, Edan, DJ /rupture, Odd Nosdam, Jel, Toro y Moi, and Odesza.
- Matthew's Minstrels, founded in 1978, is Vassar's oldest co-ed a cappella group. The Minstrels repertoire includes a large variety of songs, including doo-wop of the 1950s, pop songs from the 80s, and today's chart topping hits. In 1990, Matthew's Minstrels were featured on MTV's Head of the Charles weekend special.
- The Philaletheis Society is the oldest theater group on campus, which was founded in 1865 as a literary society. It has now become a completely student run theater group. Others include Unbound, Woodshed, and Idlewild (an all-female ensemble). Britomartis, Vassar's only student group dedicated exclusively to devised theatre, was founded in 2011. Further groups include the Future Waitstaff of America (for musical theater), and two Shakespeare-specific troupes. Performances happen throughout campus including in the Susan Stein Shiva Theater, an all-student-run black box theater. The college also hosts the Powerhouse Summer Theater workshop series.
- AirCappella is an all-whistling a cappella group. Since its conception in 2005, AirCappella has played outside the College, having represented Vassar at the 2007, 2009, 2011, and 2013 International Whistlers Convention in Louisburg, North Carolina. Advil pharmaceutical hired the group to whistle "Eye of the Tiger" at their annual sales meeting in Atlanta in January 2008.
- The Vassar Greens are Vassar's environmental group. This group strives to create real and lasting change on campus and in the greater Poughkeepsie community through initiatives like banning bottled water, on campus composting, and encourage local policy makers to adopt more sustainable waste management practices. Recently, the group opened the 'Free Market' on campus. This a store that students can donate to and take from freely to promote recycling and reduce waste.
- The Miscellany News has been the weekly paper of the College since 1866, making it one of the oldest college weeklies in the United States. It is available for free most Thursdays when school is in session. In 2008–09, it became one of the only college newspapers in the country to begin updating its Web site daily.
- The Vassar Chronicle is the College's only political journal, which seeks to expand the breadth of political dialogue on campus by publishing long-form opinion columns. The Chronicle is the revivification of a student publication that appeared from 1944–1959 and during the 1970s; the modern-day Chronicle has been published monthly since 2010 and currently has a 1,000-copy circulation.
- Helicon is an annual literary and art magazine featuring works (fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry, artwork, photography, essays, etc.) by Vassar students. It is the oldest student-run literary publication in the college's history. Its purpose is to serve the needs and expand the creative voice of Vassar’s literary and art community. Helicon also orchestrates events and activities garnered towards the enrichment of Vassar’s writers community. Some past events have included regularly scheduled Writing Workshops and Writer’s Nights in the Cafe as well as the sponsoring of various relevant speakers brought by other organizations.
- Squirm "is a submissions-based magazine about sex and sexuality. Squirm seeks to create a sex-positive forum on campus for the artistic, literary, and creative exploration of sex." The magazine, published annually since 1999, typically runs around 60 pages and is only distributed to the campus community.
- Contrast is the college's art and style magazine. It is published each semester.
- Boilerplate Magazine is a blog that bills itself as an "alternative news source...that aims to publish radical pieces and creative works which address issues through a socially conscious lens."
Vassar, known athletically as the Brewers, competes in Division III of the NCAA, as a member of the Liberty League. The nickname originates from the college's founder and namesake Matthew Vassar, whose family ran a brewery in Poughkeepsie and would later amass a sizable fortune in the industry.
Vassar College currently offers the following varsity athletics: basketball, baseball, cross-country, fencing, field hockey (women only), golf (women only), lacrosse, rowing, rugby, soccer, squash, swimming/diving, tennis, track, and volleyball. Club sports include Ultimate (men's and women's), equestrian team (competes in IHSA), polo team (USPA), cycling team (competes in ECCC), Quidditch, and co-ed U.S. Figure Skating synchronized skating team.
Basketball plays in Vassar's new Athletics and Fitness Center. Volleyball plays in Kenyon Hall, reopened in 2006. Soccer, baseball, field hockey and lacrosse all play at the Prentiss Fields, which have been completely renovated in 2007 to feature a lighted turf, four grass fields, a baseball field and a track surrounding the turf. Also in 2007, a varsity weight room was opened in the basement of Kenyon Hall, exclusively for the training of varsity athletes.
In 2008, the Vassar men's volleyball team made the school's first appearance in a national championship game, beating UC Santa Cruz 3–0 in the semifinal before falling to Springfield in the championship game.
In 2007, the Vassar cycling team hosted the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Championship in Poughkeepsie and New Paltz, New York. The competition included a 100-mile (160 km) road race over the Shawangunk Mountains in New Paltz as well as a Criterium in Poughkeepsie just blocks from the school's campus.
In a controversial move, on November 5, 2009, the Athletics Department decided the men's and women's rowing team would transition over a two-year period from a varsity to a club sport as a cost-saving measure.
Notable Vassar alumni include their first graduate of African ancestry Anita Florence Hemmings (1897), notable education and prison reform advocate Julia Tutwiler, founder of the United Service Organizations (USO) Mary Ingraham (1908), artist Ruth Starr Rose (1910), poet Edna St. Vincent Millay (1917), computer pioneer Grace Hopper (1928), critic and novelist Mary McCarthy (1933), poet Elizabeth Bishop (1934), physician Beatrix Hamburg (1944), Art Historian Linda Nochlin (1951), politician and activist Frances Farenthold, Zagat Survey co-founder Nina Zagat (1963), physician and National Institutes of Health director Bernadine P. Healy (1965), Nickelodeon President and Oxygen Media founder and CEO Geraldine Laybourne (1969), Emmy award-winning executive producer of Masterpiece on PBS Rebecca Eaton (1969), actress Meryl Streep (1971), Pulitzer Prize–winning fiction writer Jane Smiley (1971), CBS News Chief White House Correspondent Chip Reid (1977), former World Bank CFO and Undersecretary of the Treasury for Domestic Finance Jeffrey Goldstein (1977), The New Yorker Magazine Science Writer Michael Specter (1977), Cooper Union President Jamshed Bharucha (1978), MSNBC President Phil Griffin (1979), astrophysicist and MacArthur Award Fellow John Carlstrom (1981), President of Lawrence University of Wisconsin Mark Burstein (1984), actress Lisa Kudrow (1985), actress Hope Davis (1986), journalist Evan Wright (1988), ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl (1990), writer-director Noah Baumbach (1991), Flickr founder Caterina Fake (1991), Shine Limited CEO and Chairman Elisabeth Murdoch (1992), Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and Wall Street Journal reporter Alexandra Berzon (2001), and screenwriter and director Jonás Cuarón (2005).
Notable attendees who did not graduate from Vassar include First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, president of the Ford Foundation Susan Berresford, actresses Jane Fonda and Anne Hathaway, actor Justin Long, member of the Beastie Boys Mike D, musician Mark Ronson, and professional chef and television personality Anthony Bourdain.
Notable Vassar faculty include pioneering female astronomer Maria Mitchell, computer scientist Grace Hopper, writer Paul Russell, composer Richard Edward Wilson, philosophers Uma Narayan and Mitchell Miller, political scientist Peter Stillman, and writer Kiese Laymon.
Presidents of Vassar College
|Milo P. Jewett||1861–1864|
|John H. Raymond||1864–1878|
|Samuel L. Caldwell||1878–1885|
|James Monroe Taylor||1886–1914|
|Henry Noble MacCracken||1915–1946|
|Sarah Gibson Blanding||1946–1964|
|Virginia B. Smith||1977–1986|
|Frances D. Fergusson||1986–2006|
|Catharine Bond Hill||2006–2017|