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Lives of Girls Who Became Famous Sarah Knowles Bolton

Maria Mitchell

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There was no real college for women in the land. He talked the matter over with his friends, but they were full of discouragements. "Women will never desire college training," said some. "They will be ruined in health, if they attempt it," said others. "Science is not needed by women; classical education is not needed; they must have something appropriate to their sphere," was constantly reiterated. Some wise heads thought they knew just what that education should be, and just what were the limits of woman's sphere; but Matthew Vassar had his own thoughts.

Calling together, Feb. 26, 1861, some twenty or thirty of the men in the State most conversant with educational matters, the white-haired man, now nearly seventy, laid his hand upon a round tin box, labelled "Vassar College Papers," containing four hundred thousand dollars in bonds and securities, and said: "It has long been my desire, after suitably providing for those of my kindred who have claims upon me, to make such a disposition of my means as should best honor God and benefit my fellow-men. At different periods I have regarded various plans with favor; but these have all been dismissed one after another, until the subject of erecting and endowing a college for the education of young women was presented for my consideration. The novelty, grandeur, and benignity of the idea arrested my attention.

"It occurred to me that woman, having received from the Creator the same intellectual constitution as man, has the same right as man to intellectual culture and development.

"I considered that the mothers of a country mould its citizens, determine its institutions, and shape its destiny.

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"It has also seemed to me that if woman was properly educated, some new avenues of useful and honorable employment, in entire harmony with the gentleness and modesty of her sex, might be opened to her.

"It further appeared, there is not in our country, there is not in the world, so far as known, a single fully endowed institution for the education of women.... I have come to the conclusion that the establishment and endowment of a COLLEGE FOR THE EDUCATION OF YOUNG WOMEN is a work which will satisfy my highest aspirations, and will be, under God, a rich blessing to this city and State, to our country and the world.

"It is my hope to be the instrument in the hands of Providence, of founding and perpetuating an institution which shall accomplish for young women what our colleges are accomplishing for young men."

For four years Matthew Vassar watched the great buildings take form and shape in the midst of two hundred acres of lake and river and green sward, near Poughkeepsie; the main building, five hundred feet long, two hundred broad, and five stories high; the museum of natural history, with school of art and library; the great observatory, three stories high, furnished with the then third largest telescope in the country.

In 1865 Vassar College was opened, and three hundred and fifty students came pouring in from all parts of the land. Girls, after all, did desire an education equal to that of young men. Matthew Vassar was right. His joy seemed complete. He visited the college daily, and always received the heartiest welcome. Each year his birthday was celebrated as "Founder's Day." On one of these occasions he said: "This is almost more happiness than I can bear. This one day more than repays me for all I have done." An able and noble man, John Howard Raymond, was chosen president.

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Lives of Girls Who Became Famous
Sarah Knowles Bolton

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