Cushing House

Last updated
Cushing House
Cushing House panorama December 2013.jpg
Cushing as seen from its courtyard
Former namesCushing Hall
General information
Architectural styleOld English manor house
Location Poughkeepsie, New York
CountryUnited States
Coordinates 41°41′22″N73°53′35″W / 41.689428°N 73.893118°W / 41.689428; -73.893118 Coordinates: 41°41′22″N73°53′35″W / 41.689428°N 73.893118°W / 41.689428; -73.893118 [1]
Current tenants Vassar College
Cost$400,000 (1927)
OwnerVassar College
Technical details
Floor count4
Design and construction
Architecture firm Allen & Collens

Cushing House (formerly called Cushing Hall) is a four-story co-ed dormitory on Vassar College's campus in the town of Poughkeepsie, New York. A response to freshmen overcrowding, the college's Board of Trustees hurried the Allen & Collens-designed building, named for college librarian and alumna trustee Florence M. Cushing, to construction and completion in 1927. Cushing was originally designed as eight smaller houses with euthenic principles in mind, but ended up as a single U-shaped dormitory in the Old English manor house style with Jacobean interior furnishings. Students of all grades may live in the house which houses up to 202 in single, double, and triple rooms and are referred to as "Cushlings". Throughout Cushing's history, various proposals and plans have incited controversy among the building's residents, including designating one of its wings as all-black housing and converting one of its common areas into eight single rooms. Contemporary reviewers have looked favorably upon Cushing's aesthetic qualities, declaring it to be one of Vassar's most beautiful buildings.

Mixed-sex education, also known as mixed-gender education, co-education or coeducation, is a system of education where males and females are educated together. Whereas single-sex education was more common up to the 19th century, mixed-sex education has since become standard in many cultures, particularly in Western countries. Single-sex education, however, remains prevalent in many Muslim countries. The relative merits of both systems have been the subject of debate.

Vassar College private, coeducational liberal arts college in Poughkeepsie, New York, in the United States

Vassar College is a private, coeducational, liberal arts college in the town of Poughkeepsie, New York. Founded in 1861 by Matthew Vassar, it was the second degree-granting institution of higher education for women in the United States, closely following Elmira College. It became coeducational in 1969, and now has a gender ratio at the national average. The school is one of the historic Seven Sisters, the first elite female colleges in the U.S., and has a historic relationship with Yale University, which suggested a merger with the college before coeducation at both institutions.

Poughkeepsie (town), New York Town in New York, United States

Poughkeepsie, officially the Town of Poughkeepsie, is a town in Dutchess County, New York, United States. As of the 2010 United States Census, the population was 43,341. The name is derived from the native term Uppuqui meaning "lodge-covered", plus ipis meaning "little water", plus ing meaning "place", all of which translates to "the reed-covered lodge by the little water place", or Uppuqui-ipis-ing. This later evolved into Apokeepsing, then into Poughkeepsing, and finally Poughkeepsie.



Florence Cushing, the dormitory's namesake, in 1874 Florence Cushing, 1874.jpg
Florence Cushing, the dormitory's namesake, in 1874

Before Cushing House's construction, Vassar College in the town of Poughkeepsie, New York, faced a surplus of students and too few available rooms, a situation deemed an "emergency" by the Board of Trustees. [2] For the first quarter of the twentieth century, one third of the college's freshmen were housed off campus due to rising enrollment over that period. [3] The Board voted in 1925 to move all students to on-campus housing, acknowledging the lack of adequate space for the move but pledging that they would swiftly build more. [3] The following year, the Board voted to begin construction on the new hall without first securing funding for the building, trusting that the "friends of the College" would meet the financial demands of the project. [2] In the meantime, the house was built using loaned funds, [3] with the total project cost coming to $400,000. [4]

Original plans for Cushing House, then called Cushing Hall, saw the building as a model of Vassar's euthenics program. [5] The term euthenics was first defined by Ellen Swallow Richards of Vassar's class of 1870 as "[t]he betterment of living conditions, though conspicuous endeavor for the purpose of securing more efficient human beings". [6] In accordance with these principles, initial schematics saw the dormitory divided into eight separate houses all surrounded by a brick wall. [5] Cushing was ultimately designed by architectural firm Allen & Collens [7] which was also responsible for several other buildings on Vassar's campus including the Thompson Memorial Library and its wings before Cushing's completion, Wimpfheimer Nursery School concurrently, [8] and Skinner Hall of Music afterwards in 1932. [9] The Cushing project was completed in 1927 [7] and the dormitory was named for the college's first alumnae trustee, Florence M. Cushing, who was a member of the Vassar class of 1874 [2] and the college's librarian from the year of her graduation until 1876. [10] On account of her death in September 1927, Cushing Hall was not dedicated in time for the incoming class of freshman for the 192728 school year; instead, the dedication which was marked by an informal reception was put off until October 29 of the same year. [4]

Euthenics is the study of the improvement of human functioning and well-being by improvement of living conditions. Affecting the "improvement" through altering external factors such as education and the controllable environment, including the prevention and removal of contagious disease and parasites, environmentalism, education regarding employment, home economics, sanitation, and housing.

Ellen Swallow Richards American chemist

Ellen Henrietta Swallow Richards was an industrial and safety engineer, environmental chemist, and university faculty member in the United States during the 19th century. Her pioneering work in sanitary engineering, and experimental research in domestic science, laid a foundation for the new science of home economics. She was the founder of the home economics movement characterized by the application of science to the home, and the first to apply chemistry to the study of nutrition.

Allen & Collens American architects

Allen & Collens was an architectural partnership between Francis Richmond Allen and Charles Collens that was active from 1904 to 1931. Allen had previously worked in the Boston-based partnerships Allen & Kenway (1878–91) and Allen & Vance (1896-98), which executed Lathrop House (1901) and Davison House (1902) at Vassar College. The firm was known for its Gothic Revival design work.

In 1954, Cushing residents were "perturbed" by the possibility of a new language hall being built within the dormitory's sightlines, citing the concern that any artificial construction would ruin their views. [11] Another controversy arose in April 1970 after students from Cushing objected to a plan put forth by a contingent of black students and approved by the Board of Trustees that would designate one wing of Cushing as a co-ed housing space for black students of all grades. [12] Prior to the plan's formulation, upperclassmen black students could opt to live in a student community in Kendrick House while underclassmen could live in an analogous community in Main Building. [12] Cushing residents were not notified of the plan until after its approval and a public meeting was held at which objections were raised by both Cushing residents and black students that one wing of the dorm might not be enough space to foster a black community and that Kendrick House should instead be repurposed as elective all-black housing. [12] After the college's administration expressed the possibility that this plan might be in violation of U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare standards on segregation, all but four black students walked out of the meeting and the assembly decided that the Board of Trustees needed to be better informed of the racial climate on campus. [12] In 1974, Vassar's Master Planning Committee voted to convert one of Cushing's common areas, then a dining room, to eight single dorms. [13] An emergency meeting was held and students organized a Save Cushing Dining Room movement which collected 800 signatures against the plan in 24 hours. [13] Other instances have seen one of Cushing's parlors converted to a quad dorm used to house students temporarily when no other housing could be found for them, first in 1989 [14] then again during the first semester of the 199899 school year. [15] [16]

Main Building (Vassar College) building in New York, United States

Main Building is on the Vassar College campus in Poughkeepsie, New York. It was built by James Renwick, Jr. in the Second Empire style in 1861, the second building in the history of what was one of America's first women's colleges. It is one of the earliest, largest, and most important examples of Second Empire architecture in the United States and is a National Historic Landmark. At the time of its completion, the structure contained the most interior space of any building in the United States, and housed the entire college, including dormitories, libraries, classrooms, and dining halls. Currently, the first and second floors house campus administration while the remaining three house student rooms.

Architecture and features

Cushing House wood paneling.JPG
Cushing House traceried window.JPG
Cushing House plaster ceiling detail.JPG
Cushing's interior features, including wood paneling, traceried windows, and decorated plaster ceilings

Cushing House was built on the north side of campus and sits apart from most of the school's other dorms, with the exception of Noyes House to its west. [17] [18] Cushing stands four stories tall [19] and is configured in a U shape with two wings of student rooms connected by center common areas [3] on the ground floor and more halls of student housing on the upper "trans" (inter-wing) levels. [20] Between the wings is a courtyard covered by a lawn and trees. [3] Two articles published in Vassar's weekly Miscellany News in 1975 identified some of the species present at the time: Cryptomeria japonica , Ilex opaca (American holly), [21] several crab apple trees, and a Fagus sylvatica (European beech). [22] The exterior of the house is built in an Old English manor house style designed to mimic the nearby Pratt House [3] which was designed by architects York and Sawyer and completed in 1916. [9] The roof of the hall is made of slate, with walls of patterned brickwork covered with half-timbered decorations as well as leaded windows and towers. [3] A smaller wing, sometimes referred to as the SQs ("servants' quarters") or "maid's wing", [20] [23] abuts the center common area and includes a pantry and kitchen on its ground floor and smaller dorm rooms that originally housed servants on the floors above. [3]

<i>Ilex opaca</i> species of plant

Ilex opaca, the American holly, is a species of holly, native to the eastern and south-central United States, from coastal Massachusetts south to central Florida, and west to southeastern Missouri and eastern Texas.

<i>Malus</i> genus of plants

Malus is a genus of about 30–55 species of small deciduous trees or shrubs in the family Rosaceae, including the domesticated orchard apple – also known as the eating apple, cooking apple, or culinary apple. It is dealt with under Apple. The other species are generally known as crabapples, crab apples, or wild apples.

<i>Fagus sylvatica</i> species of plant

Fagus sylvatica, the European beech or common beech, is a deciduous tree belonging to the beech family Fagaceae.

An undecorated Cushing single with the shades drawn Cushing House room, January 2014.jpg
An undecorated Cushing single with the shades drawn

Inside the dorm, common area furnishings are Jacobean in style and architectural features include plaster ceilings, windows with tracery, and wood paneling. [3] Within rooms, closets and windows are also notably large and soft light is present throughout the hall. [23] The building was designed to house 130 students split between two double rooms and 126 singles, [5] but now fits up to 202 students, [24] demonymously referred to as "Cushlings". [20] The house presently includes single dorms, one-room doubles, and two-room doubles and triples. [19] Upon opening in 1927 (prior to Vassar's 1969 transition from being an all-female to co-ed college), [25] the dormitory was limited to housing freshmen. [24] It is now co-ed [26] and acts as home to students from all grades [24] including, as of 1999, the highest proportion of upperclassmen of any dorm at the school. [27] Bathrooms are shared by all members of a hall. [19] A minor renovation in summer 1995 and funded by the Estée Lauder Companies included more efficient lighting, rewiring, and new furniture for the house. [28] Like all other Vassar dorms, Cushing houses a game room, a laundry room, and a Steinway grand piano. [29]

Jacobean architecture

The Jacobean style is the second phase of Renaissance architecture in England, following the Elizabethan style. It is named after King James I of England, with whose reign it is associated. At the start of James' reign there was little stylistic break in architecture, as Elizabethan trends continued their development. However his death in 1625 came as a decisive change towards more classical architecture, with Italian influence, was in progress, led by Inigo Jones; the style this began is sometimes called Stuart architecture, or English Baroque.


In architecture, tracery is the stonework elements that support the glass in a Gothic window. The term probably derives from the 'tracing floors' on which the complex patterns of late Gothic windows were laid out. There are two main types, plate tracery and the later bar tracery. The evolving style from Romanesque to Gothic architecture and changing features, like the thinning of lateral walls and enlarging of windows lead to the innovation of tracery. The earliest form of tracery, called plate tracery, began as openings that were pierced from a stone slab. Bar tracery was then implemented, having derived from the plate tracery. However instead of a slab, the windows were defined by molded stone mullions which were lighter and allowed for more openings and intricate designs. Other notable styles of tracery to follow include geometrical tracery and curvilinear (flowing) tracery.

Women's colleges in the United States are single-sex U.S. institutions of higher education that only admit female students. They are often liberal arts colleges. There were approximately 34 active women's colleges in the United States in the fall of 2018, down from a peak of 281 such colleges in the 1960s.

In 1928, a year after Cushing opened, Keene Richards, Vassar College's general manager, wrote to college president Henry Noble MacCracken that Cushing was "neither luxurious nor extravagant." [3] Authors Karen Van Lengen and Lisa Reilly countered this sentiment in their 2004 architectural guide to the campus, noting that "Cushing's cozy domesticity is a far cry from the institutional nature of collegiate residential architecture found on other college campuses" [5] and concluding that the dorm was one of the most beautiful buildings on campus. [30] Another guide, compiled in 2003 by the staff of the Yale Daily News , identified the dorm as one of the two most popular at the college, along with Jewett House. [29] Cushing has drawn comparisons to the fictitious Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry according to The Miscellany News. [20] The building's parlor was singled out in College Prowler's 2012 guide to the college as the most beautiful at Vassar. [19]

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Raymond House (Vassar College)

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Lathrop House (Vassar College)

Lathrop House was the third quadrangle dormitory built on Vassar College's campus in the town of Poughkeepsie, New York. Constructed in 1901 and designed by Boston-based Allen & Vance, the brick dorm stands five stories tall. Lathrop houses 180 students who may be any year or gender.

The Philaletheis Society

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Davison House

Davison House is a five-story dormitory on the campus of Vassar College in the town of Poughkeepsie, New York. Designed by Boston architecture firm Allen & Vance and built 1902, it was the fourth dorm built on Vassar's residential quadrangle. It houses 191 students of any grade or gender and it became Vassar's first disabled-accessible dorm following a 2008–2009 renovation.

Students Building (Vassar College)

The Students' Building on the campus of Vassar College in the town of Poughkeepsie, New York, U.S., houses the school's All Campus Dining Center as well as additional multifunctional student space on its second floor. Designed by Joseph Herenden Clark of McKim, Mead & White and built in 1913, the structure originally housed a variety of different student organizations and school functions. In 1973, it was converted into a campuswide dining hall; it underwent a second renovation in 2003 that returned multipurpose student functionalities to its upper floors.

Jewett House

Jewett House is a nine-story Tudor-style dormitory on the campus of Vassar College in the town of Poughkeepsie, New York. Built in 1907 to accommodate increasing demand for residential space, the dorm was designed by Vassar art professor Lewis Pilcher of the architectural firm Pilcher and Tachau. Early reviews looked unfavorably upon Jewett, even dubbing it "Pilcher's Crime" and by 2002, a host of issues plagued the dorm, leading to a $21 million renovation. Up to 195 students of any gender or class year may live in Jewett, which has been purported to be haunted by several different ghosts during its existence.

Fonteyn Kill

The Fonteyn Kill is a 1.5-kilometer-long (0.93 mi) urban stream flowing through Dutchess County, New York, onto the campus of Vassar College, and into the Casperkill. The stream was first on land inhabited by the native Wappinger band before being transferred to the Dutch and then the British. A mill was built along the kill by 1714 and the stream's presence influenced Matthew Vassar's decision to locate his college in the area. The artificial Vassar Lake lies midway down the Fonteyn Kill and was once used for ice skating and boating.

Ely Hall

Ely Hall is a two-story Richardsonian Romanesque classroom and laboratory building on the campus of Vassar College in the town of Poughkeepsie, New York, US. The structure houses Vassar's Department of Earth Science and Geography, the A. Scott Warthin, Jr. Museum of Geology and Natural History, and the Aula, a spacious and frequently used gathering space.

Powerhouse Theater

The Powerhouse Theater is a theater building on the campus of Vassar College in the town of Poughkeepsie, New York, US. Originally built as a power station in 1912, it was renovated and repurposed as a theater in 1973. It hosts student productions as well as professional workshops and readings as part of the Vassar–New York Stage and Film Powerhouse Theater program each summer.


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  30. Van Lengen & Reilly 2004, p. 17.