The History of Sarah Lawrence College




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From the very beginning, Sarah Lawrence College has been a pioneer of innovative educational programs. Originally a college intended to instruct women in the arts and humanities, Sarah Lawrence soon developed into a full-fledged liberal arts and sciences program and committed to coeducation in 1968.

Its pedagogy promoted a rigorous personalized approach to education, modeled on the tutorial system of Oxford University and the theories of educator and philosopher John Dewey. These educational strategies continue at Sarah Lawrence today.

Below is a timeline of important events throughout the history of Sarah Lawrence College and brief biographies of William Van Duzer Lawrence and Sarah Bates Lawrence.

Compiled by Abby Lester, July 2007; last updated August 2017


1920s: Founding the College

1924 William Van Duzer Lawrence, ca. 1925. Photographer unknown.William Van Duzer Lawrence approaches Henry Noble MacCracken, President of Vassar College, regarding the founding of a junior college for women in honor of his wife, Sarah Bates Lawrence. William Van Duzer Lawrence, ca. 1925. Photographer unknown.
1926 William Van Duzer Lawrence writes the Letter of Instruction regarding the founding of the College.
1926 Marion Coats, ca. 1929. Photograph by Mrs. W. Burden Stage.Marion Coats, Principal of Bradford Academy, is hired as President-Designate of Sarah Lawrence College for Women. She begins her term as the first President (1926-1929). Marion Coats, ca. 1929. Photograph by Mrs. W. Burden Stage.
May 7, 1926 Sarah Bates LawrenceSarah Bates Lawrence dies. Portrait of Sarah Bates Lawrence by Violet Oakley, 1910.
December 9, 1926 Provisional charter granted to incorporate Sarah Lawrence College for Women.
May 16, 1927 William Van Duzer Lawrence dies.
May 25, 1927 Affiliation with Vassar College Ratified.
June 1927 Official College Seal designed by Violet OakleySeal of the College adopted. Designed by Violet Oakley, the seal includes the motto “Wisdom with Understanding.” Official College Seal designed by Violet Oakley.
June 1, 1927 By-Laws adopted by the Board of Trustees.
1928 Beatrice Doerschuk begins term as Director of Education (1928-1946).
June 1928 Bates Hall, ca. 1938. Photographer unknown.Bates Hall (originally called Tower Hall) completed. Bates Hall, ca. 1938. Photographer unknown.
October 1928 Aerial view of Titsworth and Dudley Lawrence dormitories, ca. 1930. Photographer unknown.First three dormitories, Dudley Lawrence, Titsworth, and Gilbert (also known as the “Old Dorms”) are completed. Aerial view of Titsworth and Dudley Lawrence dormitories, ca. 1930. Photographer unknown.
October 4, 1928 The College welcomes its first students.
1929 Perkin's House (9 Mead Way) purchased.
1929 Wayside Cottage (7 Mead Way), later named Warren House and then Warren Green, purchased. Served as the President’s House from 1929 to 1947.
1929 Constance Warren, 1941. Photograph by Irene Drew-Oggiano.Constance Warren begins term as second President (1929-1945). Constance Warren, 1941. Photograph by Irene Drew-Oggiano.
June 1929 Excerpt from the 1929 yearbook.First commencement with one graduate, Ruth Wilmot '29. Excerpt from the 1929 yearbook.

1930s: Establishing a Pedagogy

June 1930 First graduating class (117) receives the diploma.
November 1930 MacCracken Hall, ca. 1935. Photographer unknown.MacCracken Hall completed. MacCracken Hall, ca. 1935. Photographer unknown.
November 1930 In response to the Great Depression, the student-run Social Service Activity establishes the “Community Chest” to support local, national, and international charities.
September 10, 1931 Absolute charter to grant BA degree awarded.
June 1933 First Bachelor of Arts degree awarded to Isabella Hayes at Commencement.
1934 Robinson House purchased (2 Mead Way).
May 1935 Andrews House with original pool, ca. 1930s Photographer unknown.Andrews House purchased. Andrews House with original pool, ca. 1930s Photographer unknown.
December 9, 1935 Charter Day is celebrated signifying the 10th anniversary of the granting of the provisional charter.
December 9, 1935 Affiliation between the Board of Trustees of Vassar College and Sarah Lawrence College terminated. At the termination of the affiliation, Henry Noble MacCracken resigns from the Board of Trustees.
1937 Student teacher at the Nursery School, ca. 1940. Photographer unknown.Nursery School, predecessor to the Early Childhood Center, opens on campus. Student teacher at the Nursery School, ca. 1940. Photographer unknown.
1937 Morris House purchased (8 Mead Way).

1940s: The College During Wartime

1942 The College sponsors several intercultural forums to bring together many different racial groups from southern Westchester County called the United Nationalities Round Tables.
June 1942 Creation of a Student War Board to help Sarah Lawrence students find both work and service placements to help fill the needs in the surrounding communities brought about by the war.
1945 Harold Taylor, ca. 1949 Photographer unknown.Harold Taylor begins term as third President (1945-1959). Harold Taylor, ca. 1949 Photographer unknown.
1946 Veterans attending Sarah Lawrence College under the G.I. Bill, 1950. Photographer unknown.First men are admitted as undergraduate students under the G.I. Bill. Veterans attending Sarah Lawrence College under the G.I. Bill, 1950. Photographer unknown.
1946 Esther Raushenbush appointed Dean of the College (1946-1957)
1947 Second President’s House purchased at 24 Brook Road. This served as the President’s House from 1947 to 1954 when the house was demolished to build the Sprain Brook Parkway.
February 28, 1947 Name of the College officially changed from Sarah Lawrence College for Women to Sarah Lawrence College.
July 15, 1949 Amendment approved by Regents to grant MA degree. The College introduces programs leading to individualized MA degrees.

1950s: Graduate Programs and McCarthyism

1951 First MA degrees granted (2 to men, 2 to women).
1951 Kober House, 1970s. Photographer unknown.Kober House purchased. Kober House, 1970s. Photographer unknown.
1951 The last of the men on the G.I. Bill graduate.
November 1952 Student Arts Center, designed by Architect Marcel Breuer, dedicated. Reisinger Auditorium opened.
1954 President’s House, n.d. Photographer unknown.Third President’s House (935 Kimball Avenue) with attached Morrill House purchased. President’s House, n.d. Photographer unknown.
1955 Tweed House purchased.
1957 Laura Bornholdt appointed Dean of the College (1957-1959).
1959 Gerard Fountain appointed Acting Dean and then Dean of the College (1959-1961).
1959 Harrison Tweed, 1959. Photographer unknown.Harrison Tweed appointed Acting President for 1959-60. Harrison Tweed, 1959. Photographer unknown.
May 1959 Marshall Field House, n.d. Photographer unknown.Marshall Field House purchased. Marshall Field House, n.d. Photographer unknown.

1960s: Coeducation & Continuing Education

1960 Paul Ward, ca. 1960. Photographer unknown.Paul Ward begins term as fifth President (1960-1965). Paul Ward, ca. 1960. Photographer unknown.
1961 Marjorie Downing appointed Dean of the College (1961-1964).
1961 Garrison, Rothschild, and Taylor (RGT) dormitories completed. Designed by architect Philip Johnson.
1962 Center for Continuing Education brochure cover.Center for Continuing Education established as the first full-scale undergraduate program in the country designed for returning adult students. Center for Continuing Education brochure cover.
September 1962 Creation of the Mt. Vernon Tutoring Program. Students from Sarah Lawrence begin tutoring junior high school and high school students in Mt. Vernon on a one-to-one basis. This program lasted until 1970.
1963 Mansell House (10 Mead Way) purchased.
1964 Esther Raushenbush appointed Acting Dean of the College (1964-1965).
May 1964 Lynd House is named for Helen Merrell Lynd, Philosophy Faculty, 1929-1964. Photographer unknown.Lynd House purchased. Lynd House is named for Helen Merrell Lynd, Philosophy Faculty, 1929-1964. Photographer unknown.
August 1964 Brebner House purchased.
1965 Jacquelyn Mattfeld appointed Dean of the College (1965-1971).
1965 Esther Raushenbush, 1965. Photographer unknown.Esther Raushenbush begins term as sixth President (1965-1969). Esther Raushenbush, 1965. Photographer unknown.
December 1966 The College receives a grant from the Department of Education to establish an Upward Bound Program on campus for high school students from surrounding communities to “raise their achievement level through academic, cultural, and social opportunities.” The program lasted until 1973.
1967 North Building completed.
September 1967 Creation of, and participation of Sarah Lawrence College in, the Cooperative College Center, a two year college that was a division of SUNY Purchase. The Cooperative College provided free tuition and only admitted students living below the poverty line from Yonkers, Mount Vernon, and New Rochelle.
1968 Women waving to men on campus, 1959. Photograph by Gary Gladstone.The College becomes coeducational. Women waving to men on campus, 1959. Photograph by Gary Gladstone.
July 1968 The Institute for Community Studies is created through a Title I grant to forge connections between Sarah Lawrence and the neighboring communities of Bronxville and Mount Vernon. The Institute shut down in May 1969 after student-led protest.
1969 Slonim House is named for Marc Slonim, Literature Faculty and Director of Foreign Studies, 1943-1976. Photographer unknown.Slonim House purchased. Slonim House is named for Marc Slonim, Literature Faculty and Director of Foreign Studies, 1943-1976. Photographer unknown.
1969 The Human Genetics Graduate Program is established as the first graduate-level genetic counselor training program in the US
1969 Charles DeCarlo, ca. 1975. Photograph by Gary Gladstone.Charles DeCarlo begins term as seventh President (1969-1981). Charles DeCarlo, ca. 1975. Photograph by Gary Gladstone.
April 25, 1969 Charter amended to grant MFA degree in the performing arts and creative writing.

1970s: Growing the Campus—Curriculum and Grounds

1970 Swinford House purchased
1971 Robert Wagner appointed Dean of the College (1971-1977).
1971 Child Development Graduate Program established.
1971 Lyles House purchased.
1972 Women’s History Graduate Program established as the first MA program of its kind.
1972 Andrews Court completed.
May 1973 Still functioning today, Youth Theatre Interactions, co-founded by Sarah Lawrence student Paul Kwame Johnson, is a community-based organization in Yonkers providing access and empowerment through creativity and theatre.
1974 Performing Arts Center, n.d. Photographer unknown.Performing Arts Center completed to replace the Student Arts Center. Performing Arts Center, n.d. Photographer unknown.
1974 Esther Raushenbush Library, ca. 1975. Photograph by Gary Gladstone.Esther Raushenbush Library completed. (Dedicated as Esther Raushenbush Library in 1980). Esther Raushenbush Library, ca. 1975. Photograph by Gary Gladstone.
1974 Faculty member Shirley Kaplan founds the Theatre Outreach Program to “connect with underserved communities in Westchester County and New York City and to help children, teens, and seniors 'find their voices' and discover new creative outlets.”
1976 Slonim Woods completed.
1977 Alison Baker appointed Dean of the College (1977-1980).

1980s: The Ilchman Years

1980 Health Advocacy Graduate Program established.
1980 Ilja Wachs appointed Dean of the College (1980-1985).
1981 Alice Stone Ilchman, President, 1981-1998. Photographer unknown.Alice Stone Ilchman begins term as eighth President (1981-1998). Alice Stone Ilchman, President, 1981-1998. Photographer unknown.
1984 Faculty House (161 Hampshire Road) purchased.
1985 Art of Teaching Graduate Program established.
1985 Barbara Kaplan appointed Dean of the College (1985-2007).
1987 Child Development Institute established and housed in the newly acquired 123 Boulder Trail.
Fall 1989 Andrews Court housing complex. Photographer unknown.Andrews Court completed. Andrews Court housing complex. Photographer unknown.

1990s: Building the Science and Sports Centers

1990 Schmidt House (6 Mead Way) purchased.
1994 Science Center, 1994. Photographer unknown.Alice Stone Ilchman Science Center completed. Named for President Ilchman in 2006Alice Stone Ilchman Science Center, 1994. Photographer unknown.
1995 Creation of the Write-to-Right Program, an initiative to facilitate writing workshops for self-expression with incarcerated women at the Westchester County Correctional Facility.
1997 The College begins participation in the Bedford Hills College Program to teach courses to women in the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility leading to Bachelor’s and Associate’s degrees.
December 1997 Office of Community Partnerships and Service Learning created.
1998 Campbell Sports Center completed.
1998 The Pub renamed the Ruth Leff Siegel Center.
1998 Michele Tolela Myers, 2001. Photograph by Susan Woog Wagner.Michele Tolela Myers begins term as ninth President (1998-2007). Michele Tolela Myers, 2001. Photograph by Susan Woog Wagner.

2000s: Finding a Home for the Visual Arts

2001 Hill House purchased.
2004 Heimbold Visual Arts Center, 2004. Photograph by Don Hamerman.Heimbold Visual Arts Center completed. Heimbold Visual Arts Center, 2004. Photograph by Don Hamerman.
2004 45 Wrexham purchased.
2007 Pauline Watts appointed Interim Dean of the College (2007-2009).
2007 Karen Lawrence, 2006. Photograph by Chris Taggart.Karen Lawrence begins term as tenth President (2007- ). Karen Lawrence, 2006. Photograph by Chris Taggart.
2009 Jerrilynn Dodds appointed Dean of the College (2009-2015).

2010s: Moving Forward

2012 Master of Science in Dance/Movement Therapy established.
January 2012 The Office of Community Partnerships implements Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, a day of widespread community service in Yonkers.
2013 Center for the Urban River at Beczak launched.
2015 Kanwal Singh appointed Dean of the College (2015- ).
2017 Cristle Collins JuddCristle Collins Judd begins term as 11th President (2017- ).
Cristle Collins Judd, 2017. Photograph by Stefan Radtke

About the Lawrences

William Van Duzer LawrenceWilliam Van Duzer Lawrence, born in 1842 on a farm outside Elmira, New York, established Lawrence Park in Bronxville, New York, a housing development that catered to the artistic community, in 1890. In 1908, Lawrence donated to the building of a new hospital in Bronxville, named Lawrence Hospital after its benefactor. Upon the death of his wife, Sarah, in 1926, Lawrence decided to donate his residence in Bronxville to the establishment of an all-girls junior college. The school was named Sarah Lawrence College in honor of Lawrence’s late wife. William Van Duzer Lawrence died in 1927, less than a year after the initial founding of Sarah Lawrence College.

Sarah Bates LawrenceSarah Bates Lawrence, born in 1846 in Monroe, Michigan, never pursued a college education, but always emphasized higher education for young women in her lifetime. Upon moving to New York with her husband in 1889, Sarah Bates Lawrence became active in the New York Exchange For Women’s Work, serving on its Board of Managers before becoming president of the organization. In 1916, the Lawrences bought a summer home in Daytona, Florida, where Sarah became actively involved in African American educator Mary McLeod Bethune’s Bethune-Cookman College. Sarah Bates Lawrence died in 1926.

William and Sarah Lawrence were survived by their four children: Arthur W. Lawrence (1875-1937), Louise Lawrence Meigs (1871-1965), Anna Lawrence Bisland (1872-1950), and Dudley Bates Lawrence (1880-1970).

From the Lawrence Family Collection, available at the Sarah Lawrence College Archives