Vassar Celebrates Alumnae House’s 100th Birthday in Style

Since it opened in 1924, Vassar’s Alumnae House, a striking, Tudor-style edifice perched atop a knoll adjacent to the campus, has served as a guest house, a venue for celebrating life milestones, a pub, and more recently as a temporary quarantine zone during the COVID-19 pandemic. But more than anything else, as the home of the Alumnae/i Association of Vassar College (AAVC), the Alumnae House has served as a place for alums to reunite and share common bonds on trips back to the campus.

On April 4, nearly 200 alums joined dozens of others in the Vassar community to celebrate the Alumnae House’s 100th anniversary and to pay tribute to its original benefactors, sisters Blanche Ferry Hooker of the class of 1894 and Queene Ferry Coonley, class of 1896. Honored guests included Marian (Ferry) Williams ’57, great niece of the original donors, and her husband, Gray, and daughter Dar; and former trustee Sally Dayton Clement ’71, P’09 with her husband, Stephen. Clement and her sister Ellen “Ellie” Dayton Grace P’03, whose mother, Mary Lee Lowe Dayton ’46, had also been a trustee, helped the House celebrate its 100th birthday by funding renovations for all of its private guest rooms.

Four individuals holding a banner reading 'Vassar Celebrates 100 Years of Alumnae House' in front of the Tudor-style building with others standing behind them on stairs.
(left to right) AAVC President Monica Vachher ’77, Alumnae House Committee Chair James Estrada ’13, poet Kimberly Nguyen ’19, and President Elizabeth Bradley led the celebration of the Alumnae House’s 100th birthday. Photo: Karl Rabe

Echoing the original celebration of its grand opening in 1924, the birthday bash featured a procession of trumpeters, drummers, athletic teams, and three clowns (Visiting Assistant Professor of Drama Hannah Gaff and two of her drama students), who marched up Raymond Avenue to the house from the campus, led by a strutting Willa Vincitore ’92, Assistant Vice President for Alumnae/i Engagement. Minutes after the arrival of the procession, Vassar President Elizabeth H. Bradley and AAVC members Monica Vachher ’77, James Estrada ’13, and Kimberly Nguyen ’19 arrived in style, emerging from an antique Hupmobile that was nearly as old as Alumnae House.

A tall woman wearing a grey suit with a red and white scarf stepping out of a classic blue car excitedly, greeted by a woman in a dark pink jacket, surrounded by a gathering of people including a camera operator capturing the scene.
President Bradley and AAVC President Monica Vachher (to Bradley’s left) arrived in style in a 1930 Hupmobile. Photo: Allyse Pulliam

In her remarks to those gathered for the celebration, Bradley noted that the Ferry sisters’ original $300,000 gift had inspired many other alums to make donations for furnishings, artwork, and other amenities—inspiring the building’s moniker, the House of a Thousand Treasures. “I love that this House—and this part of campus—brings disparate paths together in a hospitable and inclusive environment to connect us all for the next 100 years and beyond,” the President said.

A woman in a top hat and coat smiling and raising her arm high leads a group of diverse people carrying a banner outside a large building.
Re-enacting the procession that took place at the grand opening in 1924, a troupe of trumpeters, drummers, student-athletes, and clowns marched from the campus to the Alumnae House. Photo: Karl Rabe

Vachher, who serves as AAVC President, recalled her own fond memories of the Alumnae House Pub when she was a student. “I remember the hamburgers, the Vassar Devils—and they didn’t card you,” she quipped.

A woman speaks at a podium in front of an attentive audience in the historical living room.
AAVC President Monica Vachher ’77 recalled fond memories of her time at the Alumnae House’s pub. Photo: Karl Rabe

Vachher said all Vassar alums owed a debt of gratitude her predecessor, former AAVC President Billie Davis Gaines ’58, for working with the College to keep Alumnae House open with a revised financial model during financial troubles in the early 1990s. “When the crisis was over,” she said, “Billie reached out to alums all the way back to the Class of 1925 to tell them Alumnae House was safe after all.”

A group of individuals in the Alumnae House living room viewing a large art piece in a triptych format depicting a devotional image of a woman hovering against a star-filled sky in the center, flanked by smaller related narrative scenes from St. John's Book of Revelation.
The Alumnae House is known as the House of a Thousand Treasures, because of its furnishings and works of art, including this striking triptych created by noted 20th-century artist Violet Oakley, “The Great Wonder: A Vision of the Apocalypse.” Photo: Allyse Pulliam

Estrada, chair of the AAVC Alumnae House Committee, said he had been eagerly awaiting this celebration since planning for the event began nearly three years ago. He noted that his vice chair on the committee, Alisa Swire ’84, had worked diligently to find “treasures” hidden in the House, including old Pub menus and shopping lists for furniture that was purchased when it first opened.

Four people with arms extended stand on a balcony above a flowering bush, smiling and posing in front of the beige building and windows.
Two people juggling clubs outdoors, exchanging them mid-air, with an audience watching from the steps of Alumnae House during dusk.
Outdoor entertainment was provided by two student groups, Vassar on Tap (top) and the Barefoot Fireflies. Photo: Karl Rabe

Estrada said he valued Alumnae House as “a place for alums to come to talk about their post-Vassar lives,” rather than engage in conversations about their time on campus as they often do during reunions. Earlier during the celebration, Estrada said his first personal memory of Alumnae House came during his senior year when he attended a lecture delivered by philosopher and gender studies scholar Judith Butler. “Her words had a profound effect on me, and I hold that memory dearly,” he said.

At the conclusion of his talk, Estrada asked all in attendance to raise a glass to salute Alumnae House’s contributions to their Vassar experience. He then turned the microphone over to Nguyen, who recited a poem she had written as a tribute to the House.

Alma Mater

by Kimberly Nguyen ‘19

alma mater, lighthouse in the dark sea
of my memory, where my youth still
blazes, that everlasting fire of my past
in the distance, reminder of that hunger —
once so urgent — those days of passion,
now a sun setting over a still lake.

a ship sailed far from the shore, I look
to her guiding light, the promise of home
always on the dark horizon, to know I am
never too far from the fire of my youth.
to know the distance is the measure
of how far I have come and how far
I have yet to go. to know despite it all
I will always have a place to land.

The event concluded with a performance by Vassar’s student circus performance troupe, the Barefoot Fireflies, outdoors on the Alumnae House Circle.

Lisa Tessler, Associate Vice President for Alumnae/i Engagement and Executive Director of the AAVC, said she hoped that the celebration had indeed paid the proper tribute to a place that had spawned so many memories for so many alums. “Since its opening in 1924, Alumnae House has been a cherished ‘forever home’ for alums, with a history that is inextricably linked with that of the AAVC,” Tessler said. “As we honor the past, we also look ahead to the future to imagine how Alumnae House can become an even more welcoming and inclusive space for all.”

A couple stands together at an indoor event, smiling at the camera, with people milling in the background.
Alum Sally (left) Dayton Clement ’71 P’09 with husband Stephen Clement P’09 (right) teamed up with her sister Ellen “Ellie” Dayton Grace P’03 (not pictured) to donate funds for the refurbishment of the Alumnae House’s guest rooms. Photo: Karl Rabe

Alumnae House Manager Martha Barry ’86 called the celebration a great success. “Alums of all ages came from near and far to pay homage to Alumnae House,” Barry said. “The displays, such as the original dedication scrolls, the 1920 garments, and historical pictures of the House, were of particular interest to our guests, while the procession from campus and the performances by several student groups delighted everyone. I think each guest left Alumnae House saying in their hearts that ‘It was well to have been here,’ which was the intent of donors Blanche Ferry Hooker and Queene Ferry Coonley.”

As the celebration drew to a close, Sally Clement called the day “very moving” and said she was looking forward to more memory-making events at Alumnae House.

Three individuals stand together at an indoor event, smiling at the camera, with people milling in the background.
Marian (Ferry) Williams ’57 (left), great niece of the original donors, Blanche Ferry Hooker and Queene Ferry Coonley (with her husband, Gray, and daughter Dar), summed up the event this way: “Blanche and Queene would have loved it.” Photo: Karl Rabe
April 12, 2024
Alums Spotlight