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Meet your new home

Learn the ins, the outs and the oddities of your house at Vassar

Lila Teeters, Contributing Editor 2010; Caitlin Halasz, Senior Editor 2009

Published: Sunday, June 28, 2009

Updated: Sunday, July 17, 2011 11:07

 

The majority of Vassar students live in one of the College's nine residential houses during their first three years at Vassar. Incoming students are randomly assigned to one of these houses—with the exception of the women who ask to live in the single-gender environment of Strong House. While all of Vassar's houses do share the same basic essentials—one kitchen, laundry room, computer cluster, multi-purpose room (MPR), television and, of course, one Steinway piano—each dorm has its own personality and distinct characteristics. Below you will find The Miscellany News' very own Housing Guide, meant to familiarize you with the history, the myths and the facts about each house on campus, so you can know where and in what kind of place you're living, even before move-in day.

 

Jump to a house: Cushing, Davison, Ferry, Jewett, Josselyn, Lathrop, Main, Noyes, Raymond, Strong

 

CUSHING

 

Cushing House was built in 1927 and houses 202 students, over 100 of which are freshman. Cushing is the furthest dorm from the center of campus and the main residential quad, and is closer to Kenyon and Blodgett Halls. Built as part of a wave of construction in the late 1920s and early 1930s—when Kenyon, Wimpfheimer Nursery School and Sanders Phsyics were also established—Cushing was named after Florence Cushing who graduated as valedictorian from the Class of 1874. Throughout her life, Cushing was fundamental in the progression of higher education for women. She served twice as the President of the Association of Collegiate Alumnae—now known as the American Association of University Women—and helped establish the Girls' Latin School of Boston, the first Boston preparatory school for women. In 1887, Cushing was the first Vassar alumna elected to serve on the Board of Trustees. She served until 1893, working closely with then President of the College James Monroe Taylor to further the physical and academic quality of the College. In 1927, the Board of Trustees voted to name a new dormitory after Cushing, a gesture to which Cushing responded, "I simply cannot believe it, for I know how absolutely undeserved it all is. I must believe it, however, for you have said it, and I accept the high privilege as graciously as I can," said Cushing. "It is because of my gratitude for Dr. Taylor's courage and the trustees' willingness to follow that I am content to have the building bear the name of the alumna trustee first elected."

Cushlings are known to have a great amount of pride in their castle-like dorm, claiming that, of the houses, it is the prettiest on campus because it resembles Hogwarts. Inside the red-brick exterior, Cushing is neatly divided by floor and location with each hallway named One West, Two West, Three West, One East and so on. Between the east and west sides—in the connecting corridor—there is One Trans, Two Trans, and Three Trans, as well as the Servants Quarter's, commonly referred to as the SQs. It is rumored that when Cushing was first built, the SQs housed the servants on campus. The building's first floor contains a large amount of common space, including two spacious common rooms—one with a flat screen television—as well as the beautifully-furnished Estee Lauder Parlor. While the rooms are small, they are bigger than the rooms in Jewett House and often have two large windows in each, providing plenty of natural light and ventilation. Cushing rooms are supplied with a wooden closet, dresser and chair for each resident—so feel free to bring your own rolling desk-chair and place your wooden one in storage.

 

DAVISON

 

Davison House was built in 1902 as the last of the four quad dorms after a decade of construction—the other three quad dorms are Strong, Raymond and Lathrop Houses. John D. Rockefeller, a trustee at the time, paid for the dorm's construction and named it after his mother, Eliza Davison. All four quad dorms are similar in architecture and number of rooms, and all were designed by prominent architect Francis Allen. Davison reopened in the fall of 2009 after being closed for the entire 2008-2009 academic year for renovations. During the renovation, the interior of the building was entirely refurbished. Several new features were added, while the historical characteristics of the house were maintained.

Following renovations, each floor now has a study space, and the fifth floornow boasts slanted ceilings with sky-light windows. The basement, which was previously a mostly unused space, has been updated to include common spaces and a large, fully equipped kitchen. Architects maintained the house's historical character by leaving exposed brick in the study spaces and stairwells. Even details such the molding in the rooms and large white bathroom tiles replicate the original architectural style of the building. The renovation also included copies of the original cupolas—the pointed, dome-like structures that crown each of the quad dormitories. The cupolas were installed at the very end of May 2009, as construction neared its end, so they truly were a cap on the project.

Although the College opted not to attempt Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Certification due to financial concerns, increased sustainability was a goal in the renovation process. The building is significantly more energy efficient than other dormitories; low-flow flush toilets and low-flow shower heads were chosen for the bathrooms to conserve water; and the original hardwood flooring was preserved in the rooms—a decision that also served the goal of historic preservation. Aside from the fifth floor's slanted ceilings, the rooms in Davison are similar in size to those in the other quad dormitories and vary somewhat from room to room.

Despite its renovations, however, Davison is still known primarily as "the family dorm," priding itself on its small fellow groups and tight-knit, close community of about 190 students. According to Davison President Michael Thottam '12, "Throughout last year Davison took on several new residents and I think they really appreciated the number of of open doors and engaging neighbors they found." 

Throughout the year, Davison annually helps to host thepopular, the Harvest Ball event,a semi-formal event, where Vassar's own Jazz Ensemble provides music. The House Team also plans a Harvest Festival, "It's a chance to bust a move square dancing, indulge in some quality eats, and bond with the really cool Davison House Team," wrote Thottam in an e-mailed statement. For the residents themselves, the House Team also has some special plans. "The house Team will be putting on a wide array of SUPER cool study breaks this year. We hope to repeate long time favorites like 'Make a Valentine' study break and the 'Roommate Challenge' study break," wrote Thottam.

 

FERRY HOUSE

 

In 1950, Michigan politician Dexter Ferry gave the College $200,000 to build a new cooperative house—where, he explained, students would make their own food; do their own laundry; clean their own rooms, hallways and common-spaces; and lead sustainable, independent lives on campus. Ferry, whose sisters donated the money to build the Alumnae House, made the gift, "in grateful appreciation of all Vassar has done for the Ferry family." Constructed in 1951 under the guidance of architect Marcel Breuer, the Ferry House now houses 20 students who apply to live in the building. Applications are considered by the existing members of the house. Usually by spring semester, of the 20 students living in Ferry House, about two to three are freshmen.

The majority of Ferry House rooms are on the second floor of the building, with the first floor consisting of a TV room, dining room, living room and kitchen area. Each student is responsible for cooking dinner for the rest of the house once every three weeks, and the unique co-op style requires the residents to clean and maintain the house themselves. New students wishing to join the Ferry House must wait to apply during their second semester on campus.

 

JEWETT HOUSE

 

With its imposing nine-story tower, Jewett House looms over the otherwise modest Vassar skyline. Originally called "North" because of its position on campus, the house was re-named in 1915 after Vassar's first president, Milo Parker Jewett. Despite being Vassar's first president, Jewett did not actually witness the entrance of the College's first class and received few honors during the College's first 50 years because of the nature of his departure. After collaborating extensively with Matthew Vassar during the College's conception, the relationship soured due to a dispute over the College's opening date. Jewett sent a letter to five members of the Board of Trustees, two of whom were Vassar's nephews, in which he called Vassar "fickle" and "childish." The Board informed Vassar of Jewett's treachery, and he resigned from his post as president.

This house's tower has inspired a number of Vassar legends, including one claiming that poet and Class of 1917 alumna Edna St. Vincent Millay jumped out of the ninth floor of the tower, and that Beastie Boy Mike D. was expelled from Vassar after throwing a keg from a Jewett tower window. (The Millay legend is not true; the Mike D. legend may or may not be true, but Mike D. was expelled from Vassar and eventually transferred to and graduated from Bard College).

Jewett was the first Vassar dorm to undergo a massive renovation during the 2001-2002 academic year—Davison was the second, and plans to renovate the other three quad dorms have been temporarily delayed due to the recession. As a result of Jewett's renovation, the interior is very new. The house has four multi-purpose rooms—two with televisions, one with just sofas and another with a pool table; each of the tower floors has its own common area; there is a new conference room, parlor and study room; well-functioning, modern elevators run through all nine floors of the building; and there is a new kitchen in the basement of the house.

The renovation also brought more common rooms to Jewett, a feature that 2010-2011 Jewett House President Mariah Minigan believes adds to the "lively and welcoming" feeling of the house. "There are always people talking, doing work or playing games," wrote Minigan in an e-mailed statement. "The common rooms bring this kind of activity into open spaces where anyone can join in so that it becomes much easier to connect with other people in the dorm." Jewett residents, Minigan emphasized, feel like a family soon after move-in day..

While Minigan warned that the rooms in Jewett run on the smaller side, she wrote, "the rooms are bright and airy, with nice lighting and big windows." The doors to this dorm, though, are heavy and lead to easy lockouts and doorstop difficulty. "If you want to keep [your door] open," Minigan suggested, "bring a really, really good doorstop."

Throughout the year, Jewett hosts the much-anticipated Seven Deadly Sins party, for which the Jewett House team decorates seven floors of Jewett in the style and theme one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Three years ago on April 21, 2007, the College hosted an even larger party in the Tudor-style dorm when they celebrated Jewett's Centennial with a carnival on the quad and a Jewett Historical Gallery—complete with historical memorabilia, stories and photographs of Jewett taken throughout the last century. Though current Jewett residents won't see another dorm anniversary anytime soon, they can still celebrate their house's new amenities and rich history.

 

JOSSELYN

 

Olivia Josselyn House—or Joss, as most students know it—stands next to Jewett near Raymond Avenue and the northwestern corner of campus. It was built in 1912 and houses 237 students, making it Vassar's largest residence hall aside from Main Building.

Josselyn House was a trendsetter in a touch football craze that swept the campus in 1962. The obsession began at the start of the year when the "Noyes Nymphs" played the "Joss Jocks." The Jocks overtook the Nymphs in that historic match, and the students' enthusiasm for the game grew into a vibrant intramural sport that pitted Vassar's all-female team against the male touch-football teams of other colleges and universities.

Josselyn offers a variety of rooming options including singles, doubles, split doubles and triples. Split doubles are like two small rooms in one, so each roommate gets his or her own space. Joss's parlor was recently redone and equipped with a ping pong table and its own pool table, in addition to a large-screen television and comfy couches. The bathrooms were also renovated recently, making them a coveted place to shower—if there is such a thing—on campus. Although the showers have been recently refurnished, their treasured status is nothing new. Josselyn House was actually the first residential house to have showers in its original design. After the mess of serenading—which Joss traditionally does not participate in by its own choice—students freshly drizzled in all sorts of goo may be seen lining up to shower in Joss.

In addition to the interior common spaces, students in Joss often decide to hang out on Joss Beach, the grassy lawn between Joss and Chicago Hall.

 

LATHROP

 

Lathrop House, built in 1901 and named after charter trustee Dr. Edward Lathrop, is home to 180 students, 73 of which are freshmen. Lathrop's daughter, Julia Lathrop, graduated with the Class of 1880 and devoted her life to social work. In 1912, she became the first female bureau chief in U.S. history when President Taft appointed her chief of the newly created Children's Bureau.

With four floors of singles, one-room doubles and triples, Lathrop's rooms are similar in size to the other quad dormitories. Its residents suggest bringing a fan and a lamp to counter the fluorescent lights attached to the ceiling. 2011-2012 Lathrop President Dallas Robinson '14 also suggests to pack a broom or vacuum, as the rooms can get pretty dusty.

In addition to co-hosting some of the first dances of the year, Lathropians welcome campus bands to practice in their basement. Lathrop also takes pride in the wide variety of Wednesday night study breaks it hosts for its inhabitants. According to Robinson, the best part of any Lathrop gathering are the smiles, a house standard. "It's super nice to live in a place where you can get a friendly hello from your neighbor on a daily basis," Robinson wrote in an emailed statement. With such a friendly and open community, it is never difficult to meet people.

While Lathrop often gets a reputation for being "the party dorm," Robinson disagrees. "Lathrop has just as many ‘parties' as other dorms and there are plenty of cool people to have a good time with that do not go absolutely crazy every weekend," she wrote. "Individually we are all different when it comes to character, but as a house we are fun loving and warm."

 

MAIN

 

Though it originally housed all aspects of Vassar College life upon its construction between 1861 and 1865—from administration to academics to residences—Main Building (then called, simply, "The College") is now home to 351 student residents, making it the largest dormitory on campus.

Under the guidance of original architect Thomas Tefft—who died four years after he started the project in 1861—and then prominent New York architect James Renwick, Jr., Main Building was constructed with five stories, each 500 feet wide, and was thought to enclose more interior space than any other building in the country until the completion of the United States Capitol in 1868. Today, the famous Main Building is known for its beautifully preserved brick, its large windows with yellow trimming, its infinite nooks and crannies and its wide hallways—which, some say, were constructed with additional space so that the first Vassar students could exercise in the hallway and pass from room to room without damaging their hoop skirts.

With singles, doubles, triples and suites offered in Main, the room sizes vary greatly, and, while some rooms are perfectly square-shaped, others are shaped like long rectangles.

Out of the house's 325 student residents, nearly 100 are freshman. All Main residents have access to the essentials of any house—a computer cluster, a laundry room, an MPR, a TV room—but also have the added advantage of being in the central building on campus. Many Mainers will boast that, if they wanted to, they wouldn't have to leave their dorm throughout the course of the day, since Main Building and the connected College Center are host to the Retreat, the Kiosk, the post office, the bookstore, administrative offices and student mailboxes. As 2011-2012 Main President Jeremy Garza '14 surmised, "This used to be the singular building, where everything happened … Main is Vassar."

It is tradition that Main residents wear red for Serenading and that the Main House team, like most other houses, hosts weekly study breaks. However, these study breaks have become a source of pride for many Mainers. Garza stipulated, "We want to make sure we can build a better community, because we are so spread apart- successful study breaks and better house parties should bring Main together. We are also going to make sure the damages to the house stay on the down-low next year."

 

NOYES

 

The newest dorm on campus, Emma Hartman Noyes House was built in 1959 and designed by Finnish architect Eero Saarinen—the designer of the St. Louis Arch. With a capacity of 178 students, the house is a stylistic departure from the older dorms on campus with its curved shape. While 2011-2012 Noyes House President Deborah Steinberg '14 wrote in an emailed statement that the curvy walls take a while to get used to, "they allow the entire floor to get really close and comfortable with one another." The space-age furnishings of its main parlor, the Jetson Lounge—also designed by Saarinen—embody Noyes' contemporary design. The sunken, circular seating area used to be referred to as the Passion Pit. The name comes from the fact that this once-salacious hollow was a hotspot for students to bring their dates in the years before coeducation. Now, however, Jetson is simply a popular hang-out spot.

The original design of Noyes included a second wing to mirror the first, but it was canceled after the construction of the first half exceeded the budget for the entire project. Even without the building, Noyes Circle has its own historic significance. In 1895, the circle was the site of the first field day ever held at a women's college. Today the circle is a great place for socializing in good weather and is often overtaken by ultimate frisbee players, who, Noyes residents should be advised, like to play in various states of dress.

The historic importance of the circle does come at a slight practical cost for Noyes residents. Noyes Circle does not have drainage, so when it rains the mud puddles get pretty deep. Also, when it snows or ices, the circle can very quickly be covered in a slippery and crunchy layer of ice. Because Noyesians inevitably cross the circle's foot-trodden paths—the fastest way to most places from Noyes—several times per day, Steinberg suggests all Noyesians bring boots. While the snow can present a disadvantage, Steinberg affirmed, "It's great being on Noyes Circle because we have lots of space without all the noise of being on the residential quad, but we're close enough that you don't feel like you're missing anything. And we're right next to the [All Campus Dining Center]!"

Unlike other dorms—where students vie for the best singles in room draw—students in Noyes sometimes find the doubles to be more desirable given their larger size compared to other houses, provided they have a good roommate. Each double features two of the convex, pointed windows that has a small surface perfect for growing a plant or making a window seat. The orb-like light that hangs in each window is the only lighting that comes with each double, however, and is obscured by the shade, so Steinberg also recommends packing a lamp.

Instead of the usual closet or dresser, each Noyes room is equipped with large, moveable bureaus—one in each single, two in each double—that have both drawers and closet space. In doubles, roommates can work together to figure out what configuration will work best for them—placing both bureaus down the center of the room to give each student a somewhat private space or a more open option. Noyes has two kitchenettes on every floor, as well as two full-sized kitchens on the first floor. Jetson Lounge is a spacious common area, and in addition to the large-screen TV in the MPR, there is a second TV room in the basement. In the past, Noyes was where the majority of Vassar's international students lived, but in the last few years, international students have instead been placed all over campus.

 

RAYMOND

 

Built in 1897 and named in honor of the College's second president, John H. Raymond, this dormitory houses up to 200 students. Raymond was instrumental in organizing the College's curriculum, and his presidency oversaw the matriculation of Vassar's first class of 365 students when the College opened its doors with nine professors in 1865.

Although the building itself is not that different from the other quad dormitories, Raymondites take pride in creating a very inclusive and respectful community of their own. 2011-2012 Raymond House President Sam Brucker '14 wrote in an emailed statement, "Raymond is special in that it's rare to see anyone whose name you don't know or face you don't recognize. The tight knit community in Raymond truly lends comfort and a feeling of home to all residents." The dorm community is particularly proud of their wide range of study breaks. While Brucker praises the Raymond's close-knit community, he admits it also leads to the dorm's biggest disadvantage: "a feeling of independence from others." "While this paradigm does lead Raymondites to be relatively insular, it also practically guarantees residents a home and a group of friends who they care about," Brucker wrote.

Like an architectural Jekyll and Hyde, Raymond takes a break from its unassuming residential existence in late October every year. Students create and act in the Raymond Haunted House, which is open over Halloween weekend. The Raymond House Team organizes the event, and all Raymond freshmen are involved in running the Haunted House. Each fellow group collaborates to design one room of the house, and the theme changes every year.

 

STRONG

 

Strong House was the first dormitory built on campus after Main Building, and today it is the College's all-female dorm. Strong was built in 1893 after the College's student population became too large to fit in Main. When Vassar became coeducational in 1969, the College decided that Strong would remain a women-only dorm, initially to honor the wishes of students who had enrolled at Vassar expecting to graduate from a women's college, and later, to preserve the College's heritage of women's education.

Today, women who request single-gender housing are placed in Strong, while others may be assigned to Strong without requesting it. Many students who are placed in Strong, though, grow to love its strong sense of community and the atmosphere, which is much calmer and quieter than that of the coeducational dorms. 2011-2012 Strong House President Manning Wu '14 wrote in an emailed statement that Strong's status as an all-female dorm often gives it a reputation as a "boring" house; Wu disagrees. "Residential life inside Strong House is extremely exciting and there are a wide range of personality types among the amazing people who call Strong home—from the hard core studiers to partiers and all shades of variation in between," she wrote.

Strong also has more singles than the other three quad dorms, and currently houses 162 students, making it the smallest of the nine regular residential houses.

In being one of the oldest dorms on campus, Strong also comes with its fair share of character. Wu explained, "As one of the historic buildings on the Vassar residential quad, the gothic style architecture…enhances the aesthetic appeal of living in Strong (not to mention the absolutely gorgeous trees directly outside the window during spring.)" A typical Strong resident in Wu's opinion is "a motivated, studious, but also fun-loving girl who enjoys contributing to the family-style environment that previous residents have cultivated in the house."

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