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Vassar Family TiesUncovering a Branch of the Vassar Family Tree

Ever since she was a child growing up in England, Rachel Price knew she had family ties with a man who founded a small liberal arts college in the United States more than 150 years ago. Price said her research into her family tree had confirmed that she was a descendant of Thomas Vassar, one of Matthew’s brothers. “My mother’s maiden name was Vassar, and one of her cousins had visited the school when I was 11 years old,” Price explained, “so coming to Vassar has always been on my ‘bucket list.’”

Rachel Price, a descendant of Vassar founder Matthew Vassar examines her family tree with Vassar Historian Colton Johnson.Photo: Buck Lewis

Price has now checked this item off her list. She spent the third week of November roaming the campus, visiting Matthew Vassar’s vacation home at Springside, his gravesite in Poughkeepsie, as well as Main Building, Avery Hall (now the Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film), and the Maria Mitchell Observatory—“original” campus buildings where Vassar would have spent time. She even ate lunch at Mahoney’s Irish Pub, which sits on the site of the former brewery, where Vassar built the wealth that enabled him to found the college in 1861. She also visited the Vassar College Store, where she said she got plenty of souvenirs for her family—“five or six Vassar sweatshirts, a couple of T-shirts, and a jacket.”

Price visits the Matthew Vassar sculpture in front of Main Building. “There no mistaking that Vassar nose,” she quipped.Photo: Buck Lewis

Price spent a couple of hours with Vassar Historian and Professor Emeritus of English Colton Johnson soaking up anecdotes about Matthew Vassar’s life. Johnson regaled her with stories of Vassar’s childhood and events leading up to the founding of the college as well as the somber tale of his death, which occurred during a meeting of the Board of Trustees in 1868.

 “I’ve had quite a few tingly moments while I’ve been here,” Price said. “Matthew was an amazing man, and it’s been awe-inspiring to learn about his generosity and vision in founding this beautiful college. Walking where he walked, seeing what he saw, has been very special for me.”

Price said her visit to Vassar had sparked her desire to know even more about the Vassar family. She said she intends to stay in touch with Ronald Patkus, Associate Director of the Libraries for Special Collections, in hopes of learning more about the founding of the college, and she plans to travel to France sometime soon to try to trace the Le Vasseur family’s emigration to England decades before Matthew Vassar was born. She even plans to do a DNA test to find out more about her lineage.

“Once I got a taste of the history of the family and the college,” she said, “I wanted to find out as much as I could for myself.”