Previous innovator
« prev
Next innovator
next »

Mrs. Milo P. Jewett: How It All Began

[ photo: Mrs. Milo P. Jewett ]

How It All Began

With all due respect to Matthew Vassar, the history of Vassar innovators begins not with him, but with Mrs. Milo P. Jewett, the wife of the first president of the college.

Matthew Vassar confided in his friend Milo P. Jewett, a Baptist minister and an educator, his desire to do something worthwhile with his fortune, something of lasting significance. He had been toying with the idea of building a hospital, which Jewett poo-pooed. Finally, according to Jewett, Vassar was "unhappy and confused with the whole issue" and exclaimed, "I wish somebody would tell me what to do with my money."

This was apparently music to Jewett's ears. According to his own account, he replied, "Well, Mr. Vassar, for several years past I have had a scheme in my mind which I am unable to carry out, but it is one which you are abundantly able to execute and which I think will meet all your wishes in the disposal of your property. It is to build and endow a College for young Women which shall be to them, what Yale and Harvard are to young men. There is not an endowed College for Young Women in the world. We have plenty of Female Colleges (so called) in this country but they are Colleges only in name—they have no funds, no libraries, cabinets, museums, or apparatus worth mentioning. If you will establish a real College for girls and endow it, you will build a monument to yourself more lasting than the Pyramids; you will perpetuate your name to the latest generations; it will be the pride and glory of Poghkeepsie, an honor to the State and a blessing to the world."

Thus Jewett wrote in Origin of Vassar College, dated 1879. However, in an earlier version of the same document, dated 1862, Jewett described the same incident but gave his wife the credit for the idea: "Discussion respecting the hospital continued for some weeks—until I determined to make a suggestion which, in justice to my dear wife, I will here record, originated with her—her kind heart always beating with benevolent impulses."

Mrs. Milo P. Jewett, you rock.

The Remarkable Growth of a Man and His College, 1855-1865, by Edward Linner
Image courtesy of Archives and Special Collections