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Erected between 1861 and 1865 and designed by James Renwick, Jr., Main Building was listed on the Federal Register in 1974 and placed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks in 1986. Designed to provide accommodations for academic and residential life for women students, the building constituted amenities for the community of faculty, officers of the college, and students. All lived together in Main and the academic life of the college took place in Main's classrooms. The central pavilion of the building provided living quarters for the president and the lady principal; the connecting transverse links housed students in suites. The system of the college was that the faculty and administration served in loco parentis, and the students were closely regulated. Main Building had a chapel, an art gallery, classrooms, wide corridors for exercise in inclement weather, a dining room, parlors, and an infirmary.
Main Building is significant in the field of higher education in that it was the community building in a pioneering endowed college for women that was intended by its founder Matthew Vassar to offer women an opportunity for education equivalent to that received by men at such colleges as Yale and Harvard. Matthew Vassar was inspired to build "the college" as a building of monumental dimensions, a building which would memorialize the Vassar family and at the same time make an important and lasting contribution to education and to the cause of women. Vassar believed that women were intellectually able and that appropriate opportunities should be offered for their enhancement. Vassar, a native of England, modeled his building on the Tuileries, and on Guy's Hospital in London, erected by his ancestor Sir Thomas Guy in the eighteenth century.
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