JANUARY 20, 1961
WASHINGTON —The other day I traveled from New York to Baltimore and back by train and I was impressed by the excitement of everyone about the inauguration. On my way back to New York train men asked me if I wasn't traveling in the wrong direction, and when I told them that I was not going to Washington until Thursday they seemed relieved that I would be there on Friday.
On the way down to Baltimore, where I had gone to speak at a meeting commemorating Henrietta Szold's 100th birthday, I found myself at lunch with three people from Colorado who were on their way to the inauguration, and everyone I saw or spoke to was thinking of little else but this changeover of administration, what it means to them, and what it might mean to the world as a whole.
This is a solemn day, and a day when we might all join in prayer for the good health and the blessings of God Almighty on the man whom we, the people, have elected to try to solve our own and the world's problems.
On this past Wednesday Vassar College was 100 years old.
On January 18, 1861 , the New York State legislature granted a charter to the college founded by Matthew Vassar, a prosperous brewer of Poughkeepsie, N.Y. This was the first adequately endowed women's college in the United States that offered an education equal to that available to men. So, this centennial marks a century of higher education for women in this country.
There are other colleges where women were admitted or which were founded for women that received their charters earlier, but they were not adequately endowed. So, it remained for Matthew Vassar to be the first really to promote the idea of equality of education for women.
I have always enjoyed the way Mr. Vassar expressed it to the first Board of Trustees of Vassar College. He said: "It occurred to me that woman, having received from her Creator the same intellectual constitution as man, has the same right as man to intellectual culture and development."
His gift of $408,000 was so overwhelming for those days that the world of education was astounded. It gave confidence to those who needed reassurance as to women's ability, for here was a man backing up with cash his opinion that women could fulfill the rigorous requirements of a liberal arts degree.
Because of the Civil War, Vassar did not open its doors until 1865, but since that time 22,400 women have proved themselves able to graduate.
To mark this centennial year there will be a series of programs with these objectives: (1) to evaluate what 100 years of progress means in looking at Vassar today, (2) to set the goals and objectives to be attained in the next 100 years, (3) to have as many people as possible learn what an institution dedicated to the higher education of women such as Vassar College really can mean in the life of America, and (4) to reaffirm the highest principles set forth by Matthew Vassar when he founded this college in 1861.
It is difficult for women today to have any idea of the advance in the position of women and what it meant to found this college. Even in Civil War days, though public opinion had come to accept that women should learn to read and write, and no longer felt that they would neglect their household duties if they developed their minds, still the idea that the chief aim of a woman's education was to make her an ornament to society—not through her mind but through certain social graces which were carefully inculcated—was certainly still present.
Vassar has a very impressive list of graduates who have made their mark in our country and even in the world. Today no girl has to apologize for aiming at a good education and those who have received it at Vassar are proud of their college and wish to make this celebration one that will emphasize in the minds of all people the contribution that can be made by women in the professions and in the arts.
(Copyright, 1961, by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)
Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced
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About this document
My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, January 20, 1961
Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007
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