Matthew Vassar's Statement to the Board of Trustees, 26 February 1861

To the Trustees of Vassar Female College:

GENTLEMEN: —As my long-cherished purpose to apply a large portion of my estate to some benevolent object is now about to be accomplished, it seems proper that I should submit to you a statement of my motives, views, and wishes.

It having pleased God that I should have no direct descendants to inherit my property, it has long been my desire, after suitably providing for those of my kindred who have claims on me, to make such a disposition of my means as should best honor God and benefit my fellow-men. At different periods I have regarded various plans with favor, but these have all been dismissed one after another, until the subject of erecting and endowing a college for the education of young women was presented for my consideration. The novelty, grandeur, and benignity of the idea arrested my attention. The more carefully I examined it, the more strongly it commended itself to my judgment and interested my feelings.

It occurred to me, that woman, having received from her Creator the same intellectual constitution as man, has the same right as man to intellectual culture and development.

I considered that the mothers of a country mould the character of its citizens, determine its institutions, and shape its destiny.

Next to the influence of the mother, is that of the female teacher, who is employed to train young children at a period when impressions are most vivid and lasting.

It also seemed to me, that if woman were properly educated, some new avenues to useful and honorable employment, in entire harmony with the gentleness and modesty of her sex, might be opened to her.

It further appeared, there is not in our country—there is not in the world, so far as is known—a single fully-endowed institution for the education of women.

It was also in evidence, that for the last thirty years, the standard of education for the sex has been constantly rising in the United States; and the great, felt, pressing want has been ample endowments, to secure to Female Seminaries the elevated character, the stability and permanency of our best Colleges.

And now, gentlemen, influenced by these and similar considerations, after devoting my best powers to the study of the subject for a number of years past; after duly weighing the objections against it and the arguments that preponderate in its favor; and the project having received the warmest commendations of many prominent literary men and practical educators, as well as the universal approval of the public press, I have come to the conclusion, that the establishment and endowment of a College for the education of young women, is a work which will satisfy my highest aspirations, and will be, under God, a rich blessing to the city and State, to our country and the world.

It is my hope to be the instrument, in the hands of Providence, of founding and perpetuating an Institution which shall accomplish for young women, what our colleges are accomplishing for young men.

In pursuance of this design, I have obtained from the Legislature an act of incorporation, conferring on the proposed Seminary the corporate title of "Vassar Female College," and naming you, gentlemen, as the first Trustees. Under the provisions of this charter you are invested with allthe powers, privileges, and immunities which appertain to any College or University in this State.

To be somewhat more specific in the statement of my views as to the character and aims of the College:

I wish that the Course of Study should embrace, at least, the following particulars: The English Language and its Literature; other Modern Languages; the Ancient Classics, so far as may be demanded by the spirit of the times; the Mathematics, to such an extent as may be deemed advisable; all the branches of Natural Science, with full apparatus, cabinets, collections, and conservatories for visible illustration; Anatomy, Physiology, and Hygiene, with practical reference to the laws of the health of the sex, Intellectual Philosophy; the elements of Political Economy; some knowledge of the Federal and State Constitutions and Laws; Moral Science, particularly as bearing on the filial, conjugal, and parental relations; Æsthetics, as treating of the beautiful in Nature and Art, and to be illustrated by an extensive Gallery of Art; Domestic Economy, practically taught, so far as is possible, in order to prepare the graduates readily to become skillful housekeepers; last, and most important of all, the daily, systematic Reading and Study of the Holy Scriptures, as the only and all-sufficient Rule of Christian faith and practice.

All sectarian influences should be carefully excluded; but the training of our students should never be intrusted to the skeptical, the irreligious, or the immoral.

In forming the first Board of Trustees, I have selected representatives from the principle Christian denominations among us; and in filling the vacancies which may occur in this body, as also in appointing Professors, Teachers, and other Officers of the College, I trust a like catholic spirit will always govern the Trustees.

It is not my purpose to make Vassar Female College a charity school, whose advantages shall be free to all without charge; for benefits so cheaply obtained are cheaply held; but it is believed the funds of the Institution will enable it to offer it to all the highest educational facilities at a moderate expense, as compared with the cost of instruction in existing seminaries. I earnestly hope the funds will also prove sufficient to warrant the gratuitous admission of a considerable number of indigent students, annually—at least, by regarding the amount remitted, in most cases, as a loan, to be subsequently repaid from the avails of teaching, or otherwise. Preference should be given to beneficiaries of decided promise—such as are likely to distinguish themselves in some particular department or pursuit—and, especially, to those who propose to engage in the teaching of the young as a profession.

I desire that the college may be provided with commodious buildings, containing ample apartments for public instruction, and at the same time affording to the inmates the safety, quiet, privacy, and purity of the family.

And now, gentlemen of the Board of Trustees, I transfer to your possession and ownership, the real and personal property which I have set apart for the accomplishment of my designs. I beg permission to add a brief and general expression of my views in regard to the most judicious use and management of the funds.

After the College edifice has been erected, and furnished with all needful aids and appliances for imparting the most perfect education of body, mind, and heart, it is my judgment and wish that the amount remaining in hand should be safely invested—to serve as a principal, only the annual income of which should be expended in the preservation of the buildings and grounds; the support of the faculty; the replenishing and enlarging of the library, cabinet, art gallery, &c., and in adding to the capital stock; so that the College, instead of being impoverished, and tending to decay from year to year, shall always contain within itself the elements of growth and expansion, of increasing power, prosperity, and usefulness.

In conclusion, gentlemen, this enterprise, which I regard as the last great work of my life, I commit to you as a sacred trust, which I feel assured you will discharge with fidelity and uprightness, with wisdom and prudence, with ability and energy.

It is my fervent desire that I may live to see the Institution in successful operation; and if God shall give me life and strength, I shall gladly employ my best faculties in co-operating with you to secure the full and perfect consummation of the work before us.