Vassar Today

The Lady is 100!

By Jane Howard Guernsey '49
The Cornaro Window turns 100
The Cornaro Window turns 100

Destined for Poughkeepsie 100 years ago, three huge crates of jewel-like stained glass crossed the Atlantic from England aboard a Cunard steamer, arriving in New York harbor and by train to Vassar. The glass depicts the glorious graduation scene of history’s first woman university graduate, Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia. In 1906, the 22-foot-high commemorative window was installed in the new Thompson Memorial Library to portray the Venetian scholar defending her thesis on Aristotle and earning women’s first Ph.D. in philosophy in 1678. The library was the gift of Mary Clark Thompson in memory of her husband, Frederick Ferris Thompson, a Vassar trustee (1885–99). The window was hailed as one of the finest stained-glassworks of art in the country. Its central figure appears before a throng of academics, titled Europeans, robed clerics, and townspeople. The upper lights represent allegorical handmaidens of learning in all the disciplines in which Lady Elena excelled. The window is the first place in the new world to recognize her astonishing achievement, and it inspired a worldwide renaissance of the Baroque heroine.

Guernsey is the auhor of the biography The Lady Cornaro, Pride and Prodigy of Venice

Photo credit: Kara Lynn