Maria Mitchell was elected the first woman member of the American Philosophical Society.

"We had quite an interesting lecture last week by Prof. [Benjamin] Silliman [Jr.] of Yale. His subject was the Yosemite valley. He gave us a great many representations of the scenery, upon canvas, by the aid of the magic lantern..."     From a letter written by a member of the Class of 1872

The chemist and geologist, Benjamin Silliman Jr., followed in his distinguished father’s footsteps, becoming both a chemistry professor at Yale and assisting with The American Journal of Science and the Arts, the preeminent American scientific journal, known generally as “Silliman’s Journal.” Silliman Jr. was active in the development of petroleum fields in Pennsylvania and later in California.  A decade after this visit to the college, he and his partner James Farnsworth were the architects of the Vassar Brothers Laboratory at the college.

James Orton, inventor, mineralogist, explorer, and innovative natural historian succeeded Sanborn Tenney as professor of natural history.  Tenney, whose views on natural selection had been scrutinized before his appointment (responding, he classified it among the “infidel notions”), resigned to accept a position at Williams College.  Although he was publicly neutral about evolution, Orton was a disciple of Charles Darwin, with whom he conducted a lively correspondence. His classes were among the first in America to include Darwin’s work.

On February 9, 1869, Ellen Swallow '70 wrote, "Professor Orton has accepted our invitation to be professor of natural history. Professor [Adrian John] Ebell is giving a course of lectures [illustrated by "magic latern" slides].  I think the President is secretly chafing under the infliction.  Dr. Bishop, one of the trustees, was in at the lectures on Friday, but slept comfortably during the hour and will doubtless say it is all right."     Georgia Kendrick, ed., "The Early Days of Vassar, Series II," The Vassar Miscellany, February 1, 1899 

Professor of natural history and curator of the Natural History Museum, Orton was also an active researcher and an early scholar and advocate of women’s education.  His The Andes and the Amazon (1870) was a landmark work, and for many years The Liberal Education of Women: the Demand and the Method: Current Thoughts in America and England (1873), which he edited, remained the most comprehensive study of its subject.

In 1876 his alma mater, Williams College, awarded Orton a doctoral degree on the basis of his work in South America as well as the research he had conducted while teaching at Vassar. Orton died on Lake Titicaca in the Andes on September 25, 1877, probably from complications of injuries sustained during the mutiny of his native escorts.

A powerful and lively teacher, Professor of Astronomy Maria Mitchell seldom engaged in public speaking.  An exception was her "maiden lecture" before the Chapter Delta of Philaletheis.  Ellen Swallow '70 was pleased to be invited to the event.  "She was rather timid," she wrote to her family, "and would not allow any of the faculty admitted, but it was charming to hear her talk of the people she had met when in Europe, and she need not have feared....  She stipulated that she should sit at a table and she gave us sometimes her notes taken at different times, and sometimes she spoke her thoughts.  We all came away more proud of her than before, if that was possible.  She spoke of Caroline Herschel who aided her brother so much in his discoveries and Mrs. [Mary] Somerville, whom she had the pleasure of visiting when about eighty years old, and who 'came tripping into the room' to meet her...  She urged us to do our work well and faithfully.  She said that living a little apart as she did, she could see our advantages better than we could."     Georgia Kendrick, "The Early Days of Vassar, Series II," The Vassar Miscellany, February 1, 1899

The first Founder’s Day following Matthew Vassar’s death was a subdued and moving memorial to him.  “There was no reception, simply tea served in the dining room after the exercises.  It was a most beautiful and appropriate service with Larghetto from Beethoven’s Second Symphony, played on the organ by Miss [Charlotte] Finch ‘72; eulogy by Miss Mary W. Whitney, Class of ’68; the Second Movement of Schumann’s Symphony in B flat arranged for four pianos; a memorial hymn written by one of the seniors, the music by Professor Ritter.  So from the first to the last, it was the students’ tribute to Mr. Vassar and the loving honors.”      Frances A. Wood, Earliest Years at Vassar

The Transcontinental Railroad was completed with the driving of the golden spike at Promontory Point, Utah. 

The National Woman Suffrage Association was founded in New York by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. 

Commencement observances for the Class of 1869 began on Sunday, June 20, with a baccalaureate service at which President Raymond delivered the sermon.  On Monday the graduating seniors and their guests enjoyed an examination of the equestrian students in the Calisthenium and Riding Academy and a musical soirée in the evening, featuring music by Mendelssohn, Meyerbeer, Beethoven, Haydn, Weber and Chopin.

Examinations in music and calisthenics were presented on Tuesday morning, the 22nd. Professor Frederic Ritter conducted the matinée musicale, which included selections from Stradella, Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert and Mendelssohn, among others. The trustees met at 10 am to hear reports, among them President Raymond’s discussion of the growing college’s future needs for academic space.  “He also,” The New York Times noted, "reported very favorably in relation to the general health of the students, which he attributed to their well-arranged physical exercises.”

The Times reported that those attending the calisthenic examinations were “highly entertained,” as “Over three hundred ladies of the College appeared in the drab uniform and crimson scarfs used in the exercises, and went through many different evolutions to the music of a piano.”

The afternoon’s Class Day events were attended by visitors “from all parts of the United States,” according to The Times, and consisted of instrumental music and readings, including a “Greek salutatory” by Christine Ladd ‘69 and “a very humorous reading entitled 'History,'" by Kate A. Sill ’69.  In the evening, the Philalethean Society address was given by the previous year’s valedictorian, Sarah Louise Blatchley '68.

Commencement ceremonies were held in the Chapel on Wednesday, June 23. After an introductory prayer given by founding trustee Ezekiel Gilman Robinson, president of the Rochester Theological Seminary, and musical and oratorical presentations from the graduating class, President Raymond addressed the class and awarded the baccalaureate degree to its 34 members.  Louise Parsons, '68, received the first Master of Arts degree given by the college. 

A total eclipse of the sun was observed at Burlington, Iowa, by Professor Maria Mitchell and seven of her students, one an undergraduate of the Class of 1870, the others alumnae of the Class of 1868. Their observations were later printed in the official report of Professor J.H.C. Coffin, superintendent of the American Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac, who directed the various observers of the eclipse.

"We met, on our arrival, an invitation from the Burlington Collegiate Institute to occupy its grounds, with the assurance of the Faculty that the should be fully at my disposal....

"Some half­-dozen of the graduates of our college had offered their services as assistants —one of them with a telescope—all with sharp eyes and quick perceptions."     Maria Mitchell, “The Total Eclipse of 1869,” Hours at Home, Oct. 1869. 

A Vassar student wrote home: "Have I told you that I am eating in French now? or in other words that I am at the French table. I am and have real fun..." 

The college lecture program was broadened by taking advantage of the Poughkeepsie Lyceum series of lectures. The seniors attended in a body when American statesman and abolitionist, Senator Charles Sumner from Massachusetts, lectured at the new Collingwood Opera House in Poughkeepsie on "Caste."

Heavy use of the library required changes in library rules: books could be checked in afternoon and evening daily, rather than only twice weekly. 

Ellen Swallow ’70 wrote to her mother about the refusal of the trustees’ lecture committee to honor the Student Association’s request that the ardent reformist lawyer and orator, Wendell Phillips, be asked to deliver his speech on “The Lost Arts” at Vassar. Phillips had spoken at Vassar in 1867, and he had been delivering this address since at least 1852. It compared the excellence of ancient arts—Egyptian glass, frescoes and metal work, Damascus steel—with more modern examples, drawing the conclusion that “democracy” was the current civilization’s uniquely fine creation.

“The College has been in a ferment today….,” Swallow wrote, “[the committee] thought that a man so identified with extreme views ought not to come here as we were not to be exposed to radical doctrines of any sort. ‘The sacred trust of fathers and mothers,’ etc…. We are about tired of poky lectures.  This year has been better than last but we want the best.”     Caroline Louisa Hunt, The Life of Ellen H. Richards

Phillips spoke at Vassar on “The Lost Arts” on March 8, 1872.