Vassar College

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Closeup of the Vassar Main Building
Closeup of the Vassar Main Building

Vassar College is a private, coeducational liberal arts college situated in Poughkeepsie, NY. Formerly a women's college, Vassar is the only fully co-educational member of the Seven Sisters.

President Frances Daly Fergusson has served for nearly two decades, longer than almost any other president of a comparable college. She intends to retire in Spring 2006, and the college is currently searching for a successor.

The college was founded by its namesake, Matthew Vassar, in 1861 in the scenic Hudson Valley, approximately 70 miles (100 km) north of New York City. The very first person, male or female, appointed to the Vassar faculty was the astronomer Maria Mitchell, in 1865. Vassar is often praised for its beautiful campus, a 1000 acre (4 km²) lot of land marked by period and modern buildings that is also an arboretum. The great majority of students live on campus. Founded as an all-female college, it went co-ed in 1969 after declining an offer to merge with Yale. Since that time, it has maintained its reputation as one of America's outstanding liberal arts colleges, and is especially noted for its tolerant social atmosphere. The newly renovated library has unusually large holdings for a college of its size. It includes special collections of originals of Albert Einstein and Elizabeth Bishop.

Today roughly two thousand four hundred students attend Vassar, including many international students. Approximately 60% come from public high schools, 40% from private schools (both independent and religious). In recent freshman classes, students of color have comprised up to 27% of matriculants. International students from over 45 countries comprise 8% of the student body. They are taught by over two hundred faculty members, virtually all of whom hold terminal degrees in their fields.



  • The school's 23 Division III sports teams are known as the Brewers. They are named for Matthew Vassar's occupation.
  • The original colors of the college were pink and grey, intended to symbolize "the rose of sunlight breaking through the gray of women's intellectual life." After Vassar became coeducational, the pink was darkened to maroon.
  • The Group, a controversial novel by Mary McCarthy class of ’33, follows the lives of 8 Vassar graduates. Very little of the book, though, actually takes place at Vassar. It was made into a movie by Sidney Lumet, released in 1966.
  • The opening flyby in the movie The Muppets Take Manhattan is over the Vassar campus and Kermit graduates from "Muppet University" on the steps of the Vassar dining hall. In addition, the opening scene of The Time Machine was filmed at Vassar and all the etxras for that scene are Vassar students. Vassar is also mentioned in the films Moonraker, Sabrina, Police Academy, Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead, Dolores Clairborne, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, the television series The Simpsons, Ed, Spin City, Friends, Dharma & Greg and numerous other television shows and movies. It is usually associated with defining well-educated women in society.
  • Vassar has a world class art collection. The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center ( is run as a independent museum and is open to the public.
  • The campus is a registered arboretum. There are over 200 tree species spread over 1000 acres (400,000 m²) of forest land.
  • Except for Strong House, the one all-female dormitory, all of the student resident halls at Vassar are co-ed and have co-ed bathrooms.
  • Following World War II Vassar enrolled a total of 152 veterans as part of the G.I. Bill of Rights.
  • Vassar maintains a 60/40 to 65/35 Female/Male ratio amongst its student body.
  • Mike Diamond of the Beastie Boys attended Vassar for six months. It is rumored that he was expelled after throwing a keg from the 9th floor of the Jewett's tower. It is the common consensus that this is a myth.
  • Anne Hathaway was a student at Vassar until 2005, when she transfered to New York University (NYU).

Famous Alumni

Famous Vassar alumni include poets Edna St. Vincent Millay and Elizabeth Bishop, actresses Frances Sternhagen, Jean Arthur, Meryl Streep, Hope Davis, rapper Mike D, Lisa Kudrow, actor Justin Long, chemist Ellen Swallow, astronomer Vera Rubin, CEO of Oxygen Media Geraldine Laybourne, film director Noah Baumbach, anthropologist Ruth Benedict, and computer scientist Grace Hopper. Former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis attended Vassar, but graduated from George Washington University. Jane Fonda also attended Vassar. Children of famous entertainers and artists have also attended Vassar, including the children of Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Stephen King, Randy Newman, and Samuel L. Jackson.


The Vassar campus boasts several buildings of architectural interest. Main Building 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 is on the registry of national historic landmarks. Many beautiful old brick buildings are scattered throughout the bucolic campus, but there are also several modern and contemporary structures worth noting. Ferry House, a student cooperative, was designed by Marcel Breuer in 1951. Another somewhat controversial design, Noyes House, was designed by Finnish architect Eero Saarinen. A good example of an attempt to use passive solar design can be seen in the Mudd Chemistry Building by Perry Dean Rogers. More recently, New Haven architect Cesar Pelli was asked to design the Loeb Art Center, which was completed in the early 1990's. Pelli also worked on the renovation of the Avery Hall theater in the Center for Drama and Film.

External links

Seven Sisters Colleges
Barnard | Bryn Mawr | Mount Holyoke | Radcliffe | Smith | Vassar | Wellesley

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