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.
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.
In 1929, with most sections of the campus and buildings in place, and the arboretum recently established, Vassar once again called on the Olmsted Brothers firm to advise on campus landscape. Percival (Percy) Gallagher, Olmsted Partner, would serve as Consulting Landscape Architect to Vassar from 1929-33, contributing plans and planting ideas for many areas of the campus.
There have long been unsubstantiated statements that Frederick Law Olmsted, known as the father of American Landscape Architecture, either designed Vassar’s bucolic campus, or contributed important elements of its plan. In August of 1868, he and his partner Calvert Vaux indeed came to the campus; the next day, Olmsted wrote to his wife reporting that they visited Vassar, and “They have a miserable plan to be amended, that’s all.” What recommendations did they, or other members of the Olmsted firm, contribute to Vassar’s design?
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.
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.