This is Vassar: The newsletter for Vassar College Alumnae/i and Families

Dean emeritus Colton Johnson. Photo © Vassar College / Will Faller.

Chronicling Vassar’s History

Focus on “trees, not forests.” Those were the instructions Colton Johnson, dean emeritus of the college, and Elizabeth Adams Daniels ’41, college historian, gave student researchers. Their task: compile the most definitive record of the college’s history ever.

At a monumental 1,500 pages, A Documentary Chronicle of Vassar College deals with the myriad individual events that shaped the school, and there were plenty. Johnson, Daniels, and five student researchers spent the past year entering thousands of moments from 1792 to 1989 into a searchable historical database. It went live on Matthew Vassar’s birthday earlier this year.

Originally requested by the Sesquicentennial Planning Committee, the Chronicle expands upon another historical record, The Magnificent Enterprise, prepared for Vassar’s centennial in 1961. For the new Chronicle, extensive study of outside sources unearthed intriguing information about campus events, such as an account in Mark Twain’s autobiography describing his visit to Vassar. World events are also referenced, giving context to issues such as the faculty’s 1917 reaffirmation of German language classes in the face of anti-German American sentiment upon the United States’ entry into World War I.

The Chronicle remains a work-in-progress. It will eventually cover events through 2001. But even now, its scope is pervasive, recording everything from the small and quirky to the momentous and pivotal. “I had no idea how big a project it would turn out to be,” says Johnson. But “we have the facts down and we have the dates. Someone who wants to know more about Vassar College can build on that.” –Seth Warner ’14

Historian Betty Daniels

College historian Betty Daniels. Photo © Vassar College / John Abbott.

September 2011

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