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.
We are tracing the activities of this important architect-professor, who employed design as a tool of social justice, designed many buildings on campus and in the community, and was an especially beloved teacher and mentor to generations of Vassar students who have gone on in the fields of architecture and design.
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?
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.
Striking every hour, on the hour, with two concerts at 12:30 and 5:00 pm, the Vassar Chime has been an essential part of college life since 1904. Although the music that streams from the Chapel tower may seem like an unchanging element of the soundscape, it has been produced by several different types of instruments over the past century, which have played a varied repertoire. This project traces the ongoing history of the Vassar Chime, with new plans afoot for some very different music.
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.
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.
A POSSE veteran at Vassar interested in the issue of campus spaces for veterans today set out to study spaces for the GIs who had studied here in the late 1940s — Vassar’s first male graduates. His research revealed that there actually were not many such spaces –just one lounge for the men to get away from the “girls”. In the process, he chronicled some of the experiences of those first male graduates on the Vassar campus.
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.