Happy Ada Lovelace Day 2016!

Ruth Fulton Benedict (VC 1899)

Ruth Fulton Benedict (VC 1909)

Happy Ada Lovelace Day! On October 11, 2016, we’ll celebrate Ada Lovelace Day, an annual event recognizing achievements of women in science, technology, engineering, and math. This year we’re adding a new reason to celebrate: we are thrilled to announce that the papers of Ruth Fulton Benedict (VC 1909) are available digitally through Alexander Street Press’s Anthropological Fieldwork Online via open access. Though Benedict was a social scientist rather than in a field identified with STEM, her use of the scientific method to learn about others helped her advance her life’s work in anthropology. As she stated during her acceptance speech for the Annual Achievement Award of American Association of University Women in 1946, “I have faith of a scientist that behavior, no matter how unfamiliar to us, is understandable if the problem is stated so that it can be answered by investigation and if then studied by technically suitable methods. And I have the faith of a humanist in the adventures of mutual understanding of men.”

The Papers of Ruth Fulton Benedict are available through a partnership with Alexander Street Press.

The Papers of Ruth Fulton Benedict are available through Anthropological Fieldwork Online.

Over the past year, the Vassar College Libraries have worked with Alexander Street Press to digitize and make freely available more than 8,000 pages of diaries, field notes, articles, teaching materials, and correspondence (much of which is transcribed), as well as photographs.

The papers of Benedict, a renowned anthropologist, are housed in the Archives & Special Collections Library at Vassar. As the finding aid to her papers notes:

In 1909, after graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Vassar College, in Poughkeepsie, New York, [Ruth Fulton] Benedict traveled to Europe with college friends. Following that, she was a social worker for a year, then spent three years teaching before marrying Stanley Benedict, a biochemistry professor at Cornell Medical School, in 1914.

In 1919 Ruth Benedict began taking courses, first at Columbia University with John Dewey and then at the New School for Social Research with Elsie Clews Parsons whose course in ethnology of the sexes kindled Benedict’s interest in anthropology. Under the guidance of Franz Boas, Benedict received her doctorate in 1923 from Columbia, where she remained throughout her career. In 1948 she was promoted to full professor in the Faculty of Political Science, the first woman to achieve such status.

Benedict’s fieldwork was done in California among the Serrano and with the Zuñi, Cochiti, and Pima in the Southwest. Student training trips took her to the Mescalero Apache in Arizona and Blackfoot in the Northwest. From her work in the field, several of her books were developed: Tales of the Cochiti Indians (New York: 1931); Zuñi Mythology (New York: 1935); and Patterns of Culture (Boston: 1934), which became a bestseller and influenced American life in that it explained the idea of “culture” to the layperson.

open-accessWe are thrilled that these materials are able to reach the widest available audiences through open access.

Wishing you a happy Ada Lovelace Day and best wishes for a wonderful semester for the arts, sciences, and social sciences alike!

Resources about Benedict:

Vassar Rings and Pins

Some of the smallest items in Universal Collection: A Mark Dion Project, currently on display at the Francis Lehman Loeb Art Center, come from Vassar’s Archives and Special Collections Library. The exhibition is beautiful, fun, and interactive, and it will be up until December 16th. An edited version of the essay below is featured in the exhibition catalog.

Sampling of class rings held by the VC Archives & Special Collections Library

Sampling of class rings held by the VC Archives & Special Collections Library. Photo taken by Delphine Douglass ’18 for the Loeb Art Center.

The earliest pins in the Archives & Special Collections Library were worn by the first class to receive Vassar diplomas. That class, the Class of 1867, consisted of just four women. College lore has it that they designed their class pin in the shape of an ivy leaf because President John C. Raymond had called them his “IV class”. After that, the story of Vassar rings and pins gets complicated.

Between 1867 and 1873, according to a Vassar Miscellany article, each class “adopted some badge of its own — a ring or a pin — or whatever was fancied.” This chaos could only be tolerated for so long, and in 1873 a standard class pin was designed, differing only in class year and motto. Six years later that pin was labeled “clumsy” and “too ornate”, so the design was updated. That was to be the pin for the ages: “no Vassar girl will refuse to wear it, or desire a change.” In 1899, of course, a new design was chosen, and that pin could serve as both a class pin and a college pin –  because there was a difference between the two. Of course.

The difference between a class pin (or ring) and a college pin (or ring) makes sense once you know that, traditionally,  pins (or rings) were chosen and ordered for students in their sophomore year. That being the case, while students were attending Vassar, members of each class could be identified by the style of their class pin (or ring) — or, in the case of freshman, the lack of Vassar jewelry of any kind. College pins (or rings), on the other hand, were standardized and meant to be worn after graduation. In this way, a Vassar Woman could be identified as a Vassar Woman by anyone who recognized the distinctive design of their pin (or ring).

The distinction gets a bit muddy, however, because news accounts and letters tell us the earliest pins and rings were to be worn only by seniors and alumnae —  and when that tradition changed is anyone’s guess. Not really, though. With a bit of scrap and gusto, a curious student of college traditions could piece together a chronology of college pins, class pins, college rings and class rings, determine what rank was required to wear the things, and perhaps even make connections between each era of Vassar jewelry and the art, fashion and culture of American society in general.

Let’s leave that for another day, though, and move on to 1942. When the United States entered World War II, Vassar sophomores voted to hold off on buying rings until victory was won, putting their money into War Bonds instead. After the war, Vassar students took the opportunity to reassess the class/college ring situation. In January 1947, the Legislative Assembly called for a vote, and the college officially had just one college ring! The choice was a simple signet ring, a “rectangle with rounded corners [and] a V with a C engraved on a plain gold face. Today the shape is oval, and you can choose a black or maroon agate face, but the superimposed V and C are much the same.

Reunion 2016!

Using the card catalog , ca 1975

Using the card catalog , ca 1975

We’re so excited to welcome back our alums this weekend. There are so many fabulous events planned it will be hard to choose among them, but don’t forget to stop by the Library! Come in and visit with the Lady Cornaro, sit in your favorite study spot, and see all the changes that have happened since you left.

To get revved up for the festivities, view our Facebook gallery to see if your class can party like its 1925!


Image of the Sun taken by Maria Mitchell and her students in the 1880s


Friday, June 10, 10:15, Main Library, Exhibit Area
Presentation by Laura Streett, Vassar College Archivist, on Special Collection’s current exhibit: Seeing the Sun: Maria Mitchell’s Observations, 1868-1888.The exhibit features19 never-before-seen prints made from glass photographic plates re-discovered at the college’s Observatory in 1997. The exhibition also includes other photographs, historical documents, artifacts, and samples of Mitchell’s writings.


Archives & Special Collections



Special Collections will be closed this reunion but we look forward to seeing you soon. Please stop in to see our Maria Mitchell exhibit in the Main Library.


Thompson Memorial Library 

libcomp combo

Library computing – yesterday and today!

Friday, 8:30 am – 4:30 pm
Saturday, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Sunday, 9:00 am – 12:00 noon

Art Library

art lib combo - Copy

Art library, pre- and post-renovations

Friday, 8:30 am – 4:30 pm
Saturday, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Sunday, 9:00 am – 12 noon

Music Library

Music combo shorter

Music Library, including new classroom (right)

Friday, 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Saturday, 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
CLOSED on Sunday