Beatrix Farrand, Consulting Landscape Gardener

In 1925, Vassar hired Beatrix Jones Farrand, the foremost woman landscape architect in the United States, as Consulting Landscape Gardener (her preferred term). She remained in the post for less than four years, but contributed designs and ideas that shaped the campus in significant ways. This project was the first analysis of Farrand’s little-known designs for the Vassar campus; it chronicled her involvement on campus, as well as the quagmire of obstacles she faced, and set her work in the context of contemporary issues about women’s roles and environmental issues, on the grounds and in the curriculum.

Vassar Campus as Arboretum

While the Vassar campus has long been characterized by its verdant tree canopy, the central campus was originally a treeless plain, cleared as the site of an earlier racetrack. Matthew Vassar’s original conception for the college called for a varied terrain planted with ornamental trees, conifers, fruit trees, flower gardens, and a Botanical Garden, although these wishes would take decades to materialize. Several research projects are tracing the development of the Vassar campus as arboretum, as initially conceived by Beatrix Farrand; its expansion by Percival Gallagher, partner in Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architects; down to the recent accreditation of the campus as an Level II Arboretum by Arbnet.

Percival Gallagher, Olmsted Brothers, at Vassar

If the involvement of Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. at Vassar remains murky, we do know that the next generation of the Olmsted firm was engaged in campus landscape planning: Percival (Percy) Gallagher, partner of Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., was Consulting Landscape Architect to Vassar from 1929-33. This is the first study of these projects.

Frederick Law Olmsted at Vassar?

There have long been vague statements that Frederick Law Olmsted, known as the father of American landscape architecture, contributed ideas for the masterplan of Vassar’s bucolic campus. But other than an 1868 letter to his wife saying that he visited Vassar, which has “a miserable plan to be amended,” virtually no evidence of his involvement has come to light. What, if anything, did Olmsted and his colleagues contribute to Vassar’s design?

Sustainable Wastewater Treatment

From the early practice of dumping wastewater into the Casperkill to Ellen Swallow Richards’ novel proposal for a “sewage farm” of filtration beds, this project traces the history of Vassar’s wastewater treatment systems, raising questions about progressive ecological initiatives the college could consider going forward.

Williams Hall

The planned demolition of Williams Hall to make way for the Vassar Inn and Institute has provoked strong feelings on both sides. Cassie Jain (VC ‘20) shot black and white film images of the building, pairing her own photos with historic images she found in the Vassar archives. The resulting zine is an eloquent eulogy to the building, in text and image.