What, if anything, did Frederick Law Olmsted contribute to the design of the Vassar campus?
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. In August, 1868, he and Calvert Vaux visited the campus, and Olmsted wrote to his wife Mary saying “We went to the Vassar College yesterday. They have a miserable plan to be amended, that’s all.” Other than this letter, virtually no evidence of his involvement has come to light. The upcoming bicentenary of Olmsted’s birth in 2022 is a good impetus to research the contributions of Olmsted and his firm. For this project, we consider work from the founding of the college in 1861 to the end of Olmsted’s lifetime (d. 1903).
We do know that the next generation of the Olmsted firm was involved in campus landscape planning: Percival (Percy) Gallagher, partner of Olmsted Jr., was Consulting Landscape Architect to Vassar from 1929-33 (right after Beatrix Farrand). Another project is dedicated to the second-generation Olmsted firm projects of Percy Gallagher.
Letter of Frederick Law Olmsted to his wife Mary, August 4, 1868. Frederick Law Olmsted Papers: Subject File, -1952; School buildings and grounds; Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, N.Y., 1868. Manuscript/Mixed Material. https://www.loc.gov/item/mss351210435/.