Mary Watson Whitney, "The Founders of Vassar"
On Founder's Day on April 26, 1895, Mary Watson Whitney, a member of Vassar's Class of 1868 and the Director of the Vassar College Observatory, recalled Matthew Vassar, the first days of his college, and three persons responsible for the success of his "questioned enterprise."
A few of us present this afternoon, a very few, were at Vassar in the days when Matthew Arnold, standing where I stand, gave us his lecture upon Emerson. In his peculiar but characteristic manner he began: "Forty years ago there were voices." I can begin with a similar phrase. Thirty years ago there were voices, there were men and women, there were hopes and plans and doubts. Of these men and women, hopes and plans and doubts, your committee has asked me to tell you something. If my Latin pronunciation were not as old as these same voices, I would quote Virgil's well known lines to justify my standing here before you. I am asked to be your chronicler. I am to speak to you, not as a member of the present Vassar Community, but as a member of the past, as one of the first of your large sisterhood. A chronicler is not, in general, an interesting narrator. But if the chronicle relates of the doings and sayings of our immediate ancestors, the interest becomes personal, and we listen where we might otherwise be but indifferent. Counting, therefore, upon this personal interest in one's own family history, I can tell my story of the early days of Vassar. I can tell you something of how we felt and thought, and how the Vassar of that time foreshadowed the larger Vassar of to-day.
And, indeed, the appeal to a family feeling is not the real appeal. There is the larger interest which we all take in the growth of any good idea, the development of any good institution. We are a college family, a college home; you have college affection and class affection; but under it all and beyond it all lie the larger questions of education and character involved. This interest will grow, as you grow, and will strengthen with years, while the personal interest will dim with time.
One could not speak intelligently of the opening days of Vassar College without first asking about the attitude of the public mind in regard to the College education of girls. Was Vassar the outgrowth of a demand? Did it supply an already expressed need? Some co-educational colleges existed before 1865, and Elmira College had been established several years earlier. Nevertheless, I think we can say with truth that these colleges did not represent a demand, and neither did Vassar College. The idea of a regular course of study in advance of the school course was not entertained in any general way. Even among those parents who wished for their girls a substantial education, and among those young women who were themselves ambitious for a larger knowledge, the college course was a novel idea. A year away from home in some seminary, a year abroad, a year or so of private instruction, this constituted for the most part the conception in the minds of both parent and daughter of what the advanced study of the girls should be. After that, her years of training were past, and she must indeed be an unreasonable young woman if she did not feel satisfied with this generous addition. But a course of four years! What a waste of time! What a loss of energy! What a needless expenditure! You who have grown up into the college age during the last decade can hardly credit the change of front which public opinion has undergone in this respect. Ultra-conservatism may still hold substantially the opinions I have presented, but they are no longer the prevailing opinions. And not only was this public opinion of 1865 out of sympathy with the project of Vassar College; it was more than unsympathetic. It feared the effects of college education upon the character of the students, and upon their attitude towards the duties of after life. It would impair their womanliness and lead them away from their ordained mission; that is, it was feared that this advanced education, this orderly study, would not develop character, but would pervert character. The logic of this apprehension we are familiar with in many forms. It ran thus: young men have been educated and young women have not been educated; therefore, if we give our girls the degree of education we are giving our boys we shall dwarf their womanly qualities. Not very good logic we now think, but not at all unlike the logic which average public opinion applies to all breaks in habitual ways. We shall destroy some good thing, we shall undermine some law of nature, if we do not do as we have always done.
Mary Watson Whitney '68
And as the general public had not progressed to the position of appreciating or even understanding what an institution like Vassar College proposed to be, so neither did a large proportion of the young women who gathered at its doors in 1865 understand or appreciate the purpose of its establishment. It was named a College. Yes, it was named Vassar Female College. And we may note in passing that this name typified the attitude of the community towards it. It was to be a college, the Trustees said, but Vassar Female College after all. "The fresh wind from Norwich," which your college song celebrates, and which blew from our college front this relic of ancient tlmes sprang from a source common to advancing opinions of a later day. That the community could quietly receive and tolerate such a name tells its own story.
As I have said, the large body of young women who entered Vassar at its opening did not take seriously the statement of the prospectus issued by the Trustees, that Vassar College was to offer a genuine college course. Indeed they were not prepared to take it seriously. The secondary schools from whence they came could not or would not give them the necessary preparation. The High Schools for girls in most parts of the country were not equipped for a course introductory to college. The private schools and academies for young women looked upon themselves as final, and were out of sympathy with the new scheme. Therefore, the three hundred and thirty students of September,1865, were, as a body, irregularly prepared and poorly trained. Had Vassar College applied strictly the requirements for admission to the Freshman class, it would have retained a small number of the candidates. Hundreds would have turned away; fewer than seventy would have remained. As President Raymond in his first annual report expressed it, "Among our three hundred and thirty students, we have represented every age from fifteen to twenty-four (not to mention sporadic cases of even greater maturity), and every grade of educational advancement from that of a respectable college Junior down to a point lower than I have any convenient way of indicating, or should take any pride in mentioning." With this heterogeneous mass did our Alma Mater have to deal in its first year. What could be done? Should the moderately easy conditions of the prospectus be strictly applied, and only those admitted who met the requirements of Freshmen grade? Many of the officers and older students thought this should be done, but the ever forceful and persistent financial question weighed against it. The college was well provided for in buildings and material equipment, but it possessed no funds for educational purposes. This unadjustable, unclassifiable assemblage of students must be for the most part retained. The College must annex to itself a preparatory department, or it must fail financially its first year. Therefore, there sprang into existence that clog upon college progress, a preparatory school. You, of these more fortunate days, hardly know that it has existed, but it encumbered our way for a long time. It was the wise and prompt action of him to whom our present Vassar owes so much of its power and success, which loosed the last cord that bound this weight about our necks. This is one of the many benefits for which we must render him our grateful thanks.
The Founder of Vassar College, Matthew Vassar, was not a great man in any of the ways the world is accustomed to rank greatness. He was a simple man, born in simple ways. English by birth, he came in 1797[sic]as a boy, to America. His father settled upon a small farm in Manchester, the village familiar to many of you as a part of the easterly view from Sunrise hill. Mr. Benson Lossing, in the biographical sketch of Mr. Vassar, presented on the occasion of our twenty-fifth anniversary, relates that young Matthew and his elder sister often wandered across the fields lying toward Poughkeepsie, and on one occasion, when nutting, they roved over the little elevation, now our Sunset Hill. Looking over this pleasant view of hill and field, so closely associated with the charm of our College life, the boy said, " How I wish I could own these woods and fields." Fifty years later the wish was realized, and realized in a far deeper and broader sense than the boy's thought could then compass. 'Twas an ownership, which passing out of the personal into the general, became more complete than it is possible for any individual ownership to be.
While Matthew was still a youth, his father moved to Poughkeepsie and became a brewer. The son succeeded his father in this business and through the industry of thirty years accumulated a large fortune. In judging of the character of the occupation whose profits established Vassar College, we must remember that the point of view which we hold was not that held fifty years ago. Mr. Vassar was married, but he had no children. As he grew older, he dwelt much upon the disposition of his property. While travelling abroad, he became interested in a London hospital, and he decided that he would found such an institution in Poughkeepsie. But his simple desire was to do some good work with his wealth, to fill some real need, and when his attention was called to the fact that the education of women was a sadly neglected field, he was quick to sympathise[sic]and respond. Lydia Booth, a niece of Mr. Vassar, was the first proposer of this good cause. She urged it upon her uncle and it found favor in his eyes. After her death, which followed soon upon her appeal, Professor Jewett, the head of a seminary for young women, furthered her project by his suggestion and advice. This Professor Jewett was the first elected President of Vassar College. He retired from the Presidency before the fall of 1865, when the active life of the College began. But his interest in the new project and his thorough belief in it were of great weight with Mr. Vassar, and were, beyond question, telling influences in its successful establishment.
"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." These words of the Founder you well know. They tell in phrase as direct and unadorned as Matthew Vassar's character itself, the foundation principle of his generous act. He wished to help humanity with the results of his sagacious labor. He was led to see a way of helping which very few had seen or had desired to see. He did not care to be popular, surely, if he had, he would have selected another cause. He had had no share in intellectual training himself, but he did not underrate its value. His sympathy was not confined to the so-called practical attainments, because they alone had formed his life. If his gift had contributed to some one of these practical domains, had he built the hospital he had at first contemplated, or founded some other institution, meeting directly the wants of physical mankind, his project would have lifted him at once into praise and honor. But this unasked for and unpopular thing, this " Vassar's Folly," as it was named, this could bring him no distinction, except in the eyes of the few who could see its large and remote bearings. How very plainly do we see to-day one of its remote bearings on this same question of philanthropy, so signally neglected by Mr. Vassar in the judgment of his short sighted critics. For if any one thing has contributed more than another to a wide and foreseeing philanthropy, it has been the education of women during the last twenty-five years. The lady has always been the dispenser of charity, but it has been heedless and unthinking charity. In the wiser and broader schemes of helpfulness which now claim our attention, thoughtful and educated women take a leading part. Colleges alone have not made these women, but the influences and beliefs which built the colleges have certainly made them.
Dr. Raymond in his letters speaks often and warmly of Mr. Vassar's largeness and sincereness of purpose. He was surprised to find a man without education himself so clearly appreciative of the needs of such an institution and of the conditions of its success. " His broad common sense, the purity of his motive, and the generous catholicity of his spirit," rendered his ideas and suggestions of value, even when he would not himself have ventured to offer them. In his address to his Board of Trustees, he said: "In relation to matters literary and professional, I cannot claim any knowledge and I decline all responsibility; questions to your superior wisdom." But, after all, was it not superior wisdom on the part of a self-made American business man to realize that he had no knowledge about such things, and should decline all responsibility? This unhesitating recognition of his own limitations and of his proper place in his own great scheme are clear indications of his natural breadth of mind. Mr. Vassar made but one stipulation, leaving all else to the larger experience of his Trustees. " The attempt you are to aid me in making," his address goes on, " fails wholly if it is not an advance and a decided advance. I wish to give to one sex all the advantages so long monopolized by the other."
The first steps in the building of the college were taken in 1861. Then followed a troubled and uncertain period. Our Civil War had just begun. The cost of materials rapidly rose, all business was disarranged, the thoughts, even those most sympathetic with the enterprise, were diverted by the sad and trying events of the War. Mr. Vassar's anxieties and burdens grew as the days went on. But his courage and hope never faltered. In the Spring of 1865, when the building was done and the management of the material preparations no longer needed his practical direction, he resigned from the Executive Committee. He was then seventy-three years old. Thenceforward he would watch, standing aside, the growth of his enterprise. And for three years he followed with happiness and delight the daily life of this college of his heart. He came to us almost every day, his genial face was well known to us all. He greeted us as his children, his daughters.
This day we are now celebrating, Founder's Day, was instituted that first college year, April, 1866. It was a bright, warm day, such as occasionally comes with its suggestions of the milder May to follow. We walked down to the lodge to meet him, a crowd of happy girls with grateful love in our hearts. He drove to the College door between the lines of bright faces looking their happy welcome. We can but faintly picture to ourselves the feelings of joy and praise and blessed exultation that must have filled his soul.
A little more than two years from that day, Mr. Vassar died. He died among his own, here in the College he had founded. It was the Tuesday preceding Commencement of 1868. The Trustees were holding their annual meeting in the library, now our' lecture room. Mr. Vassar was reading the address which it was his custom to give on this occasion. And even as he read, his voice faltered and ceased and his spirit passed. His life on earth was ended, but the great work to which he had set his hand was just beginning, and had already graced his closing years with its promise of beneficent success. The address which fell unfinished from his dying hands closed with the prophetic words, "Thanking you kindly for your official attentions and services, but not expecting from my advanced years and increasing infirmities to meet with you officially again, I implore the Divine Goodness to guide and direct you aright in all your counsels."
An untried venture demands force and enterprise, but it demands aiso judgment and caution. Though the project may be a really good and true one, if it finds its setting in conditions much at variance with itself, it may not live, or, if it lives, it may loose its hold and degenerate into something more in accord with the opposing circumstances. To speak in biological phrase, even the forces of progressive evolution may be overpowered by certain environments. Dr. John H. Raymond, the first active President of Vassar College, combined in a remarkable degree sound judgment and sagacious caution with a steady working force. What more important qualities than these in the director of a new and questioned enterprise? His force was not of the immediately progressive order; it formed the unvarying undercurrent of his temperament. To a more alert nature, demanding immediate movement, his performance might sometimes seem sluggish, but he had an unremitting grasp. He used to say to us, " Don't shuffle physically or mentally," and he never shuffled. He waited, but he waited upon firmly set feet, and he waited, not through indolence or through indifference, but because he would wisely examine before he acted. He had the judicial mind which looks at all sides, and, therefore, he was not quick to come to a conclusion. As one of the early teachers said of him, "He was well balanced at the center." We were young then, and eager and impatient, and sometimes we wished Dr. Raymond would hurry a little. Perhaps we said "Dr. Raymond is slow," but now we say "Dr. Raymond was wise." His profound conscientiousness never lost sight of the responsibility resting upon him. He spoke more than once in his letters of his "big problem." He stood face to face with all the doubtful and harassing questions of that formative period; on the one hand were the ideal conditions, the ideal students and the ideal course; on the other hand, the chaotic conditions presented by the irregularly prepared students and the financial necessities of the year. From the outside, came the double cry for an immediate college standard and for no college standard at all; from the inside, similar calls, coupled with the compulsion of so adjusting these conflicting claims, that the college should continue to live. In one of his letters, he says "No calculation seems to have been made for the period of infancy in the college, and I have little faith in Minervas born full-grown." But no difficulty or dilemma or misunderstanding chilled his devotion to his "big problem," or lessened his earnest effort, or clouded his faith in its ultimate and convincing solution. The future development of the larger problem of which Vassar College is but one phase may pass into directions unforeseen by him, but his faith in progress was not a narrow one that would put on the brakes when the course tended out of his projected line of advancement. He believed in a power at the helm that keeps to the true way, and which no sincere effort can fail to forward and no evil design can permanently restrain.
To Vassar College, the institution, Dr. Raymond was a bulwark of strength, through his clear judgment and resolute purpose. To the students he was, above all else, the embodiment of justice ; not a stern justice, but a justice mellowed with a reasonable sympathy. This sentiment finds repeated expression in the letters from early students published in the life of Dr. Raymond. So strong was this impression of Dr. Raymond's unbiased judgment, that no difference of opinion and no apparent grievance seemed capable of weakening it. It was truthfully said of him that he desired to teach his students that law was not a tyrant, but a friend, and his appeal was always first to the understanding of the students, and then to their moral dignity. But if these appeals were not effectual, he could also well represent the frowning and condemning justice. A student once said of him, "You do not know Dr. Raymond if you have not heard him thunder a little."
Dr. Raymond's fair mindedness was liberal as well as just. He could not take a narrow view of a subject. The following extract is taken from a letter to the Lady Principal who was anxious about the subject of dancing, which, by the way, was not allowed even among the students themselves for a year or more. He writes, " One security you have—all the controlling influences of the Board would be with you in favor of strictness, and all you would need to do would be to keep me straight. For myself, I confess, I may need looking after, for I am a believer in Christian liberty, and in the divinity of the beautiful and in the desirableness of the emancipation of the truth and spirit of Christ from the trammels of a narrow theology and a harsh morality."
Henry Ward Beecher, his lifelong friend, wrote thus of him : "He was a man of strength whose way was that of gentleness. He had a sound conscience for himself with a great tenderness for the consciences of other people, a rare combination. His religion was large, generous and fruitful in all personal loveliness."
Another figure in that picture of the early days cannot go unnoticed. It stands out amid the light and shade, the grave and gay with equal distinctness and equal distinction. We cannot but note it, and we could ill afford to allow it to pass unnoted. The circumstances which brought Maria Mitchell to Vassar College tell something of her self, and something also of the sagacity and prompt action of the Founder. She had left her Nantucket home, and was living in quiet retirement with her father. The little cottage in Lynn was the center of the highest kind of living. It was a plain home with the plainness of a Quaker standard and the limitations of a very moderate income. But there were within it a high order of study, a high order of work, the best books and broadest interests. There was social life of the genuine kind, there were spontaneous sympathies with all progressive movements. Professor Mitchell had heard of the new educational institution to be established on the Hudson. She had followed its somewhat uncertain fortunes, during the anxious years from '61 to '65. Her own education had been secured among books and without instructors, but she fully comprehended the value of regular training, and she greeted with a glad sympathy every new institution which gave wider opportunity to girls. When the approaching opening of Vassar College was announced, she wrote Mr. Vassar in behalf of a young brother-in-law who was an excellent classical scholar, a Harvard graduate, who, she thought, might find a wider field of labor in this new College. She was working quietly and happily with her telescope, and no thought of herself in connection with Vassar College entered her mind as she wrote the letter. But Mr. Vassar thought otherwise. The reputation of Miss Mitchell was well known to him, as it was to everyone at that time. She had been from her youth, when she assisted her father in his astronomical work at Nantucket, a student and an observer in astronomy. She had attained eminence by the discovery of a comet in 1847, for which she received a medal from the King of Denmark. She had travelled abroad and had become acquainted with the leading astronomers in Europe and America. Mr. Vassar probably knew something of her force of character, and he probably realized that she expressed more fully than most women of her day the spirit of the new era, and when he received her letter he exclaimed, "We must have Maria Mitchell for our college if we can secure her."- Therefore, Professor Mitchell came to Vassar College with her father and the home center with all its high simplicities was transferred to the observatory. None of us who knew the observatory of that time can forget the dear old gentleman of seventy-four years, the Quaker gentleman of the finest type, whose gentle graciousness and loving nature made for us an ever welcome home. The father and daughter were very unlike in temperament, but were bound together in the closest bonds of affection and common purpose. They had watched the stars together for twenty years. How could anything but quietness and serenity, the best of genuine interests pervade their home?
Maria Mitchell, the astronomer, did great service to the Vassar College of the initial years through her widespread reputation. To many people for whom Vassar would have been only a name, another girl's school, it became known as the place where Maria Mitchell lived. Maria Mitchell, the teacher, was an abiding force within our walls; but her greatest power lay outside of both reputation and profession. It lay in the unique quality of her character; it lay in her unparalleled combination of simplicity and strength. Simplicity and strength! Are these then so rare? If we pause to examine human character in ourselves or in others, we soon perceive that they are indeed rare, rare in themselves and still rarer in combination. Professor Mitchell's defects were also the defects of these qualities. We smile with amusement and toleration when a little child in its unconscious perception of false relation touches some human weakness. But we smile no more and we tolerate no more when a mature observer points an unwavering finger to the unacknowledged frailty. Professor Mitchell saw all the issues of life with such directness and such unquestioning perception of dividing lines that she sometimes offended. Simplicity and strength often offend. Her straight outlook over morals and manners admitted no penumbral regions of half right and half true, and as many of us pass a goodly part of our experience within this penumbral region, her Quaker plainness of speech and opinion were not always pleasant to hear. But her presence was at all times an intellectual and moral tonic. To know what is true from what is false, what is wise from what is foolish, to separate what is necessary from what is unnecessary; these ends Miss Mitchell believed education was meant to accomplish, and she could not understand why one should parley about a statement or an action when once these distinctions were recognized. But this unequivocating directness was associated with much gentleness of feeling. She could be as tender as she was severely true, and in proportion as her companions were imbued with a simplicity like her own, did they understand her nature. Little children did not think her harsh and knew her at once as their loving friend.
Her devotion to Vassar College was second only to her devotion to the general progress of woman in all lines of improvement, in professions, in occupations of all kinds, in the home. The young women about her felt the powerful impress of her ambition for them as members of that future society that was to free itself from the prejudices of the past. In herself and without much speaking this aspiration was made evident to everyone who came in contact with her. Be yourself and be of some value in your world! That was her message.
Her ready humor added much to the effect of her originality of character. She was as quick to see the humorous side of a question as to measure its fallacious bearings. I will relate an anecdote which her students have many times recounted, which illustrates her quickness of repartee, her scorn of trivial things, her pride in the Vassar girl. A young man, a very young man, called at the observatory one evening when Professor Mitchell was observing Venus. He was shown through the observing rooms, and as he passed through the dome Professor Mitchell kindly offered to give him a view of Venus. He looked, and he laughed in a light way. "Why do you laugh?" said Miss Mitchell, not fancying his trivial manner. " I have seen many prettier Venuses than that in the College to-day," said the young man. Professor Mitchell drew herself up, and her dark eyes flashed, even in the dim light of the dome, and she said, " There are no Venuses here—we are ALL Minervas."
Brave, true, great-hearted friend of Vassar! In the eternities into which she has passed she has many things to learn, but the spirit of her learning can hardly have needed change. It was already as clear and true as the light of the stars, or the breath of the wind.
There is one more figure in that memorial picture to which we must direct our attention, and looking towards this portion of the crowded painting, we see the household aspects of the early college life. The college home! Hannah Lyman, our first lady principal! See her coming up this aisle for evening prayers. See her with her crown of white hair hanging in curls about her fair, fine face, a strong face, a noble bearing, a tall form just a little bent. She loved color and she always wore caps. A delicate shade of blue or lavender almost always fell over the white curls. A lady of the old school stepping across the threshold of the new era!
Hannah Lyman was born in Massachusetts and was a true American woman, but she had passed many years before coming to Vassar in Montreal as the principal of a girls' school. She brought with her English ideas regarding the supervision and control of young women. She understood that Vassar College was to be of a different order from the girls' seminary, and she sympathized fully with its aim for a broader education. But the bias of habit is stronger than the instigation of reason. The understanding acknowledges the premise a long time before feeling approves the conclusion. Therefore, Miss Lyman's views about the method of government in the College family were often at variance with our views. There arose irritation and friction. We were American girls, and some of us not very young. Miss Lyman was conservative? Yes. She was even narrow about some things? Yes. But Miss Lyman was a true hearted woman, and she loved the Vassar College she had come to serve with the last service of an earnest and devoted life. She knew it was her last service. She realized her failing physical powers. But she never spared herself nor lost the glow of her interest. When, in 1871, she lay upon her death bed, almost too feeble to speak, her mind was still busy with the needs and hopes of the college.
During the five years of her official position at Vassar, Miss Lyman changed quite materially her point of view. She grew perceptibly into the spirit of the larger freedom, and when a mind over fifty years of age thus grows out of the bias of the past and admits the broader outlook which must shatter many closely held prejudices, we cannot but perceive in this the test of a natural greatness of heart.
I have thus drawn in outline three commanding figures in the Vassar retrospect: Dr. Raymond, the element of judgment, mindful of that public ear which is ever leaning forward to listen and is ever ready to misconstrue ; Professor Mitchell, the element of progressive independence, inclined rather to box that public ear than to pay any respect to it; and Miss Lyman, the element of the gracious and aesthetic. There are many others in that picture we might look upon, because there are many others who gave to the early Vassar its character and success. But these three were preeminent in position and influence, and they died in the service. Dr. Raymond and Miss Lyman passed away in the College, and Professor Mitchell left her post of active duty only after the lingering disease which ended life had made most serious progress.
But there is one instructor who came into our Vassar community on that September day in '65, who is still with us. He came young, cheery, wholesome and beneficent. He spans the period of thirty years, over which I have been speaking, and he makes it but a bit of time, because he can never grow old, even as his Dutch art can never grow old.
And now, my young sisters, allow me the privilege of age, allow me the privilege to croak. Who ever narrated of the old times without laying emphasis on the good old times and implying some degeneracy in the new! But of such an implication I cannot be guilty, since I am a part of the new also. I know better than any of you can realize the great difference. I can measure the limitations of thirty years ago by their sharp contrast with the new conditions, not only through old catalogues, but by actual experience of both. You have vastly better advantages in equipment of every kind, in methods, in freedom. I smile when I picture to myself the wave of indignation (and righteous indignation too) that would sweep over you were you subjected to certain restrictions under which we hardly thought of murmuring. I smile also when I picture your scorn of our limited curriculum, our limited resources, our tiny chemical laboratory, now room C; our small supply of physical apparatus confined within the space which is now Mr. Wheeler's storage room. Vassar College is a progressive institution, and you reap the fruits of its progress. You are better trained than we were, both before college and in college; you do more work and you do it better. I will even say in confidence that I think you are brighter than we were. But there was a something in the atmosphere of that time which I can hardly name, because I can with difficulty define it, and which I miss to-day. I think it was this: we found more enjoyment in intellectual things; that is, the things which amused and diverted us have more of the odor of culture about them. Perhaps I do not judge rightly of the character of college diversions, as I am out of their immediate circle, and if so, the Miscellanymay correct me. But this I certainly do know, that the machinery of pleasure has grown vastly more complicated. It seems to me from my old-fashioned point of view that it has grown somewhat unwieldy.
And after all, what is culture, that for which we came here and for which you have come here? There may be a difference of opinion as to how it is best secured, but there is not much difficulty in knowing it when you see it. It is an attitude, not an attainment. It is the recognition of and preference for what is best; best in thought, in word, in work and in pleasure. It is a refined sense of proportion which instinctively drops out the crude and superfluous to make way for the essential. Therefore, if there is any word of suggestion that the old Vassar might speak to the new, it is this: in the wealth of your opportunities and privileges, in the ease with which the highways of larger attainment are made open to you, do not lose sight of the fundamental object of them all, this culture which we have just now defined. Remember what Michael Angelo said, " Beauty is the purgation of superfluities." This saying ought to be engraved along all the avenues and by-ways of our American life—" Beauty is the purgation of superfluities"—not alone beauty in art, but beauty in all things, the best in all things.
Thirty years hence the Vassar of to-day will be the old Vassar, and some one will, perhaps, relate reminiscences of it, and compare it with the later product. We cannot predict what it will be, although we may have quite definite ideals for it, but there are one or two things closely related to the future of all colleges, which I believe we may be quite sure about. In that day, the fears and apprehensions which still cling about the subject of college education for girls will have quite passed away. The fears and anxieties of timid conservatism will still exist, but they will have passed over to some other quarter. In that day also when a World's Fair again rears its white palaces in some prosperous American city, there will be no Women's Building; there will be art, literature, and science, as before, but the individual work will meet its individual verdict, and stand or fall by its individual worth.' To this freer and broader future let Vassar College ever lead the way. But of this we may be assured, what she is, and what she is to be, remains with you and such as you.
Mary Watson Whitney, "The Founders of Vassar College, Vassar Miscellany, May 1, 1895