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A Note About the Exhibition and its Sources

By Laura Finkel
Special Collections Librarian

Much has changed since Frances Fergusson took on her role as President of Vassar College, both on campus and in the world around us. In 1986, the world's population measured a mere 4.9 billion, Ronald Reagan had been in office for five years, the country was still mourning the astronauts lost in the Challenger disaster, and the world was concerned about the effects of the nuclear accident in Chernobyl. A stamp cost 22 cents, pay phones a quarter. Today, the world population is around 6.5 billion, George W. Bush has been in office for five years, the country is mourning the loss of more than a thousand people to Katrina as well as hundreds of thousands more to earthquakes in the Indian Ocean and Pakistan. A stamp costs 39 cents and no one uses a pay phone – unless they left their cell at home or they're out of network.

The changes at Vassar at some points reflect events beyond our gates and at others illustrate the unique nature of the campus and its community. From architecture to social protest, from the arts to technology, from curricular diversity to community outreach, Vassar is a continuously moving target. This exhibit attempts to demonstrate the variety of change over the last twenty years in the form of a timeline, drawing out key issues along the trail to give a sense of the Zeitgeist of the era. Naturally, it would be impossible to include every important event, every issue of consequence; instead we have chosen just a few, that address a series of themes that illustrate the priorities and aspirations of not only President Fergusson and her administration but also the community as a whole. And we have tried to place these themes in context, showing the interplay of national and international events with our local culture.

The sources for this exhibit are varied – which is unusual for a presentation by Vassar's Archives and Special Collections. Our exhibits typically highlight a significant manuscript collection or a particularly strong area from our library of rare books. In this case, however, we have drawn from a number of collections to create a more topical exhibit. We used records of administrative offices, the Board of Trustees and other committees, as well as the records of student organizations. However, because of the contemporary nature of this exhibit many key collections are not yet in the archives; most offices, departments and organizations continue to consider these records, particularly those of the last decade, as "active" and so, are still in their filing cabinets. Thus, we have relied on other materials in our collection to fill the gaps, such as the publications of the college, including the Vassar Miscellany, the Vassar Quarterly, and other serials as well as brochures, programs and flyers. We also used the Archives' modestly labeled "Subject Files," which contain a wealth of miscellaneous printed materials related to college events, issues, locations and individuals. Additional items were provided by the Offices of College Relations, the Athletics and Physical Education Department, and Blegen House.

The purpose of this exhibit is to offer a window on the last twenty years at Vassar. Though it makes no claims to be either inclusive or conclusive, we hope it will offer a sense of perspective to viewers. Its objective is to highlight just a few of the many accomplishments of Frances Daly Fergusson, her administration, the faculty, and the students, and thus serve as our contribution to a fond farewell to a beloved leader and a remarkable era.