An Extraordinary History
In 1861, Matthew Vassar realized his vision for the creation of "Vassar Female College." The college opened its doors to 353 young women in the fall of 1865 with a focus on the importance of "a sound mind in a sound body," which has continued throughout Vassar's existence.
The first sport implemented at Vassar was "light gymnastics", which taught movement and posture. The country's first gymnasium at a women's college, the Callisthenium, was built on the location of the current Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film.
Vassar women engaged in student-organized croquet, archery, skating and tobogganing in the Athletic Circle. Tennis was introduced in 1879 and was immediately popular, resulting in a tennis club soon afterwards. Baseball also flourished on the campus for 11 years before being discontinued as a result of public censure; the sport was deemed to be too rough and "plebian."
The Alumnae Gym (now Ely Hall) was completed in 1890 and included a marble swimming tank donated by trustee Frederick Ferris Thompson. Swimming students wore long black stockings and heavy cotton suits, which they dried by hanging them over the railing between sessions.
The founding of the Athletic Association in 1894 created the financial and administrative means for students to manage all sports outside of physical education classes. In addition to previously existing sports, students were able to direct new ones such as golf, battle-ball (similar to dodge ball), bicycling and tricycling.
Despite discouragement from the administration, Harriett Ballintine, head of the physical education department, helped the Athletic Association organize the first collegiate field day in America, which was held at Vassar in November 1895. The field day was a competition between classes, with approximately seventeen girls participating in five track events.
In the early 20th century, Vassar athletics developed further with the inclusion of field hockey, lacrosse and fencing. Reflective of this development, a separate dining menu was created for student athletes in 1914, to accompany the earlier curfews reserved for them. The college created separate tables and menus for the women, but the students were disappointed when they found that the special dietary accommodations primarily excluded dessert.
Henry Noble MacCracken, Vassar's fifth president, implemented many improvements to the athletics program. MacCracken encouraged both intercollegiate and intracampus competition and in 1923 he established the Theodore Roosevelt Athletic Cup, an award given to the class that received the highest number of points within inter-class competition events.
Built in 1933, Kenyon Hall featured a 75-foot pool, clay courts, and an extensive open playing space. The facility was highlighted on the cover of the February 1, 1937 issue of Life Magazine.
1937 also saw the beginning of the 41-year tenure of Betty Richey as a teacher and coach in the department. Richey was a pioneer in women’s athletics, helping to found the Intercollegiate Women's Squash Championship. Prior to coaching, she was a member of the Field Hockey All-American team and was also cited as the greatest lacrosse player in the nation.
In 1946, Henry Noble MacCracken retired from Vassar's presidency and Sarah Gibson Blanding took his place. During her tenure, the number of teams and students participating in athletics dropped off significantly.
During the 1950's and 1960's, competitions involved "Sports Days," which were very informal competitions between a few schools or club teams. The competitions would usually extend to social events at nighttime, with competing schools staying overnight at the host school.
1952 saw the arrival of longtime department member Jean Appenzellar, who coached the Swupper Synchronized Swim Club for 36 years. It was a common occurrence for more than 75 students to try-out for the "swuppers."
In 1969, Vassar became a co-educational institution, serving both men and women. This changed quite a few things in the physical education department.
Sports Illustrated ran an article in 1971 titled "Best of the Powder Puffs," which stated that Vassar may not be Oklahoma State or Nebraska, but the Big Pink (Vassar) was better than Sarah Lawrence having beaten them in touch football: Vassar Pink 33, Sarah Lawrence Green 24.
In 1971, Vassar dropped the two-year physical education requirement. Physical education professors would now have to teach sports and coach the teams.
Track and field was started up again in 1972, the same year that the United States Government passed the Title IX educational amendment which states in part that: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
In 1976, the "In the Pink" newsletter began, which still exists in electronic form today. “In the Pink” invites members of the Vassar and local community to participate in a variety of physical fitness classes, in keeping with Matthew Vassar’s mission of “a sound mind in a sound body.”
In 1981, Vassar joined Division III of the NCAA. Dick Becker was named Vassar's first athletics director and the department became known as the "Department of Physical Education and the Office of Athletics".
In 1982, Walker Field House was built to supplement Kenyon Hall. The facility sports 42,250 square feet of space, which accommodate various sports such as volleyball, basketball, fencing, and badminton. It also contains Kresge Pool, a six-lane swimming facility.
Despite these substantial improvements to the college's athletics facilities, President Frances Fergusson was striving to further improve the overall competitiveness of the athletics program at Vassar. In 1988, she established an athletic advisory committee to aid with more funding for equipment, facilities, and more full-time coaches.
In 1999, Vassar began competing in the Liberty League (originally the UCAA).
In 2000, the Athletics and Fitness Center was built. The AFC includes a 1,200-seat basketball gymnasium, an elevated jogging track, and a 5,000-square-foot weight training facility. Walker Field House also experienced a renovation at that time.
Kenyon Hall was renovated in 2006, providing an innovative space that combined athletics, dance and academics within the same building.
In 2008, the Prentiss Field complex underwent a series of renovations that elevated Vassar’s outdoor facilities to among the best in Division III. The complex now includes a pavilion with multiple locker rooms and an athletic training room, a lighted eight-lane track, a multi-purpose turf field, game fields for soccer, lacrosse, and baseball, and three practice fields. Each game field has bleachers, scoreboards, and press boxes.
In the spring of 2010, Vassar faculty approved a proposal from the Department of Athletics & Physical Education to allow student-athletes to select academic credit for participation in a department-sponsored sport.
Today, Vassar has developed a very strong athletics program, which includes twenty-three varsity sports, four club teams, outstanding coaches and administrators, a strong physical education curriculum and additional offerings through the Life Fitness program and intramurals.
Athletics facilities currently consist of the Athletics & Fitness Center, Josselyn Tennis Courts, Kenyon Hall, Prentiss Sports Complex, the Rowing Complex, Vassar Farm and Walker Field House.
The Brewers continue to reach new heights, both in the classroom and in competition. In the past three years alone, we have had All-Americans in women's rugby, swimming, tennis, track and field and volleyball, and in men's lacrosse and volleyball. 2015 marked the first-ever national champion for Vassar, as Heather Ingraham '15 won the 400-meter spring at the Division III Outdoor Track and Field championship, clocking in at a blazing 53.89 seconds. In the classroom, nearly half of our students have a GPA of 3.5 or higher.
Vassar athletics continues to grow, improve and bring distinction to the institution with teams making NEW history with every coming year.
In Fall 2016, a total of 71 Vassar athletes earned All-Academic Team honors – the highest academic performance of any school in the conference. Over the course of a stellar '16-17 season, two teams achieved a #2 national ranking, as men’s volleyball set a school record for 26 wins on the way to the quarterfinals of its first-ever Division III NCAA Tournament. Women’s rugby once again powered its way to the final four of the Division II USA Rugby National Championships. And five Vassar teams advanced to their conference championship games, with men’s soccer and women’s rugby scoring victories!