Miss [Hannah W.] Lyman was Lady Principal. She came from a school in Canada with very strict ideas. We had compulsory chapel and after prayers she gave us a talk on manners, dress, and deportment. I remember she said we should always wear gloves at every entertainment, even if only white cotton. She dressed beautifully herself and look quite regal in her lovely lace head-dress. She sat at the head of the Faculty table just inside the door of the dining room and one of the penalties of being late was that you had to bow to her and sometimes make your excuses. When we wanted to go to town shopping we had to show her our list and three girls would take a teacher as chaperon. When I wanted to spend Christmas with a friend of my fathers in Philadelphia and went to her with the telegram giving his consent I told her I must go to town and buy a new coat. She said, “Now My Dear, you go and brush your coat and wear it in for me to see.” When I did so, she thought I did not need a new coat, so I could not make the trip to town. The first thing I did when I reached Philadelphia was to buy a new coat.
We had every year a trip to Mohonk, once we spent the night, the college sending up provisions in barrels. At that time Mr. [Albert] Smiley allowed no dancing, but the girls started a little old melodeon, some got out their combs covered with tissue paper, and we had quite a hilarious time. The girls were divided into sections and took turns waiting on the table, each trying to outdo the other, with one taking the part of head waiter.
The Professors had their homes in the towers, two families in each tower. The fourth floor was the Infirmary, with Dr. [Alida Cornelia] Avery in charge. She was very severe until you were really ill, then she was kindness itself.
We had chapel every morning and evening. The evening chapel was conducted with a good deal of ceremony, quite like a church service, while in the morning Miss Lyman, after prayers, would give a talk on table manners, etiquette, appropriate dress, insisting that dress should be changed for dinner.
From this point, there were notes in pencil, evidently with the idea of writing more fully at some later date. – Fanny James Egan
A Professor [James] Orton had already made one trip to South America and was always thinking and talking about the next one. President Raymond and his family lived in the main building on the second floor. Miss Brislin, the mathematics teacher, surveyed the land around the lake. Miss Lord, our Latin teacher went to Smith College. Miss Mitchell carried a carpet bag to classes and to meetings of society women. She was dressed generally in gray. On Founders Day we had an address by Geo. Wm. Curtis.
Impact on Society & the James Family
The legacy of Fannie’s education at Vassar permeates the Jesse James family today with astonishing impacts and stunning success.
- Vassie James graduated Vassar in 1897.
- Fanny James-Egan, Fannie’s daughter & Vassie’s sister, graduated Vassar in 1904.
- Helen James-Dunlap, Fannie’s daughter & Vassie’s sister, graduated in 1913.
- Frances Ward-Olmsted, Vassie’s daughter, graduated in 1925.
- Irma Starkloff-Rombauer graduated in 1925.
- Marion Rombauer-Becker studied at Vassar in 1925.
- Genevieve Baldwin-Starkloff graduated Vassar, year unknown.
- Patricia Egan graduated in 1939 and taught art at Vassar.
Original Document from Vassar College
A copy of the original documents of the Vassar College memoir of Fannie Shouse-James was provided in 2009 to the author Eric F. James by the archives of Vassar College Library for use in his writing and publication of Jesse James Soul Liberty, Volume I. The author expresses his gratitude to Vassar College for the documents and for the multitude of archival images provided by Vassar College archives for this story.