Why Some Succeed While Others Fail: Mathew Vassar

Vassar College, five hundred feet long and five stories high, is a monument of which any man might be proud. The founder, Mathew Vassar, was born in England in 1792, and four years later landed in America, settling in Poughkeepsie, on a farm with his parents.

In those days the English people thought that they couldn’t live without a yearly supply of home-brewed ale; such a thing being unknown in the quiet community to which they had come. As there was no barley to be had, seed was imported from the mother-country and the family once more enjoyed their favorite beverage. When neighbors called they were, of course, invited to partake, and the fame of Vassar’s ale steadily increased, until finally the father concluded to manufacture the ale to sell. Mathew, for some reason, disliked to go into the brewery to work, and the irate father bound him out to a neighboring tanner. However, when the time came for young Vassar to go, lo, he was nowhere to be found.

He fled to Newburg, where he remained four years, learning to keep books, and saving his money. He then returned to his home and, having demonstrated that he could both earn and keep money, was duly installed in his father’s establishment as book-keeper. All went well for some time, till at last a fire came, destroying all the property, ruining his father, and worst of all causing his brother’s death. The father now returned to a farm, but Mathew determined to retrieve the business. He began business in an old shed. The supply was of necessity small, but it was an A 1. article, and its fame increased, making the ale of Vassar known far and near. From such a beginning the business developed into an immense establishment, with a profitable business, which he carried on for over thirty years, when he retired.

In company with his wife he made an European tour, and on his return resolved to do something with his money for the betterment of society. On the 28th of February, 1861, twenty-eight gentlemen received from Mathew Vassar, a box containing $408,000, in trust, for the establishment of a college for the education of young ladies. The result of their efforts was Vassar Female College, afterwards changed to Vassar College. His entire donations for the establishment and maintenance of this institution of learning amounted to about $800,000. It was the first Female College ever established. His influence will be felt by the numerous generations which will follow him.