Vassar Today

Campus Curio

By Bernice Lippitt Thomas ’49

The tall wooden clock in the marble entrance hall of Thompson Library deserves more than a passing glance. A thing of beauty in itself, it also carries a good deal of meaning.

The elaborately carved, Gothic Revival case dated 1909 on its base reflects a penchant for Arts & Crafts design found elsewhere on the campus. Ornament in the pediment composed of naturalistic acorns and oak leaves is another index of this aesthetic. The motif could refer to the notion of “sporting the oak,” when students wanted to study without interruption. Or it could allude symbolically to the founder, Matthew Vassar, whose grave in Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery is marked by a large stone acorn, accompanied by the saying, “Large oaks from little acorns grow.” Both meanings could be intended: presumably students would, or should, concentrate on studying while in the library; and the founder’s own books formed the basis of the library’s impressive collection by 1909.

Mottoes and flowery inscriptions were a hallmark of Arts & Crafts design. The library clock conforms to this preference with an inscription encircling the numerals on the face of the clock. It reads: “Time is, thou hast, employ the portion small.” The words are taken from a poem by a popular poet from Hartford, Connecticut, Mrs. Sigourney (Lydia H. Sigourney), who died in 1865. The full text reads: “Time was, is past, thou canst not it recall; time is, thou hast, employ the portion small; time future, is not, and may never be; time present, is the only time for thee.” The inscription on the clock exhorts Vassar women to use their time wisely. The place to do this, as indicated on the wooden case beneath the face of the clock, is the “Vassar College Library.” The sight of the imposing, standing clock as one enters the library and its meaningful decoration serve as a constant reminder to do just that.