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A Founding Family Part 2: The Vassars

February 10, 2017

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Alice Walker Kinckle Vassar

In 1856, John Henry Kinckle Sr. and his wife Rachael Smith Kinckle had their first child, a girl, named Alice Walker Kinckle. Two years later, a second daughter was born, Rosa Daniel Kinckle. We have no first hand account of the relationship between the two sisters but the facts tend towards that they were close in more than just age. They both attended the Lynchburg Public Schools and Howard Normal Schools and even had a joint-wedding in which they married best friends.

Before starting, candidates to Howard’s Normal School had to first pass tests in a variety of subjects including reading, writing, spelling, math, history and geography. Alice graduated from Howard University’s Normal School and musical department in 1874.1

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Jackson Street School Lynchburg, Va

After her graduation, Alice returned to Lynchburg to teach in the public school system. In 1878 she was hired as the first full-time Black teacher in the district. As late as 1915, she is still listed in the financial records of the Lynchburg School system under her married name, earning $500 a year.2 She only retired in September of 1919 at the age of 63, drawing an $80.88 pension quarterly for the rest of her life.3

Alice maintained an interest in education throughout her life. She gave addresses at Howard University functions,4  was the president of the Lynchburg Howard Alumni Association,5  and helped set up a program in Lynchburg to teach children cooking and sewing skills.6 Howard even presented her with an honorary Master’s Degree in 1926 and at the time of her death, she was the oldest female graduate of Howard University.7

D. N. Vassar

David Nathaniel Vassar was born in Bedford County, VA on December 5, 18478. He was born free but around the age of three was stolen from his mother, Susan Vassar and sold into slavery. It is unknown how long he remained enslaved but Charles Corey, president of the Richmond Theological Institute, reassures readers in his history of Institute that “the man who did the deed was punished for his crime.”9 Vassar grew up in Lynchburg, training to be a barber and teaching himself to read.

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Dr. D. N. Vassar

At the age of 21 he entered what was then called the Colver Institute, later graduating from Madison (now Colgate) University as one of the first Black men in Virginia to complete a college degree.10

After graduating with both a B.A. and a Master’s, Vassar returned to Richmond and became the Professor of Natural Science and Mathematics at what was now know as the Richmond Theological Institute. He later received a doctorate degree from Shaw University. Vassar taught at the Richmond Institute for over 25 years, covering math, science and biblical studies and helped set up other schools such as the Paul Lawrence Dunbar High School in Lynchburg. He resigned due to health reasons in 1901.11

He was known by his students as “interesting and entertaining”12 but also of bearing a “strong will,…strong character,…and tender heart.”13

Outside of his teaching, Vassar was active as the pastor of Louisa Baptist Church for over thirty years as well as the instrumental as the treasurer and board member of many institutions including the National Foreign Mission Convention (on whose behalf, he traveled to Africa to report on their missionary work), the Virginia Baptist Convention, and the Virginia Seminary.14 Vassar also held the title of Grand Chief Templar of the Virginia Lodge, Independent Order of Grand Templars. 15

Married Life

The Vassars spent many years in Virginia, in both Lynchburg and Richmond. They had two daughters, Virgie and Rosa. Virgie followed in the footsteps of her mother, aunt and uncle, and attended Howard University. Rosa also attended Howard but then attended Cornell like her cousin Eugene Kinckle Jones.

Rosa Vassar made the papers in 1911, her junior year, because she and a friend, Pauline Ray, who had both been living off-campus, asked for a room in the girl’s dormitory, Sage College, in order to save themselves a mile and half walk to campus in the winter months.16 According to a student newspaper article written on their behalf,

These women were therefore obliged to go back this year to the negro quarter in the lower part of the town ; to hurry back and forth to their meals ; to waste in going up and down much time and energy that they ought to spend in assimilating the instruction that is given them; to pay more for carfare and living expenses than women in better pecuniary circumstances…When an examination depends on the reading of a book on the reserved shelves, what chance has a girl who is too tired and worn out to get up the hill on a stormy night?17

When confronted, the matron of Sage College predictably replied that she had not banned the two young women, but only recommended that they would be more comfortable elsewhere given how other boarders might feel towards them.18 And sure enough, once the newspaper article appeared, 269 white women signed a petition to keep Rosa and Pauline out of the dorm.19 However, in a decision that made newspapers nationally, Cornell’s president denied the petition and told the young women they were welcome in the dorm.20 Even so, the women felt they had to release a statement saying that there not interested in “social equality” and would keep themselves as separate “as two fingers on one hand” from the white women. 21 It is unknown whether they took him up on the offer. Rosa graduated and taught school in both Lynchburg, VA like her mother, and in Camden, New Jersey.

Vassar and Jones

Whenever Vassar’s names was mentioned, the name of Joseph Endom Jones soon

wedding

A newspaper article about the wedding.

followed. The two men, who either met in Lynchburg, or at Richmond Theological Institute, were known to be inseparable at the school. When one of Richmond Theological Institute’s first star students, Sterling Gardner, wrote home from Madison University, he sends greetings to “Jones & Vassar”, often just abbreviating it to “J & V”. After attending Madison (Colgate) University together, they returned to marry the two Kinckle Sisters, Alice and Rosa, in a double wedding on June 21, 1882, even sharing a wedding invitation. We do not know how Rosa and David met, or how her sister Rosa met Joseph, but they all grew up in Lynchburg, VA but after the double wedding the two couples continued to live close by for several years.

Both of these men are well educated and represent a high type of true manhood, and they have done much to advance the race they are identified with -G. F. Richings

Vassar and Jones names continued to be coupled in the catalogs of what eventually became to be known as Virginia Union University (at least one year, along side their brother-in-law John H. Kinckle Jr. as well) and in The Richmond Planet, the city’s Black newspaper. The editor of The Richmond Planet, John Mitchell Jr., also he frequently praised their wives and employer, did not seem to think highly of Vassar and Jones, perhaps because they once started their own paper. The paper, Virginia Baptist, did not last long, in part because of Mitchell’s constant bickering with it via his editorial column in his own paper.

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The Richmond Planet

Later Years

The Vassar family moved to Philadelphia after D. N. Vassar’s retirement, though they continued to travel down to Richmond to visit friends and family, as well as out to California22, up to New York City, and “motored” out to Atlantic City on weekend trip23. They remained close with the Jones family. Alice Vassar even visited New York City as a widow to attend her nephew’s, Eugene Kinckle Jones, 25th wedding anniversary.

Both daughters eventually married, Virgie became Mrs. Charles A. Lewis and Rosa because Mrs. Justus R. Rodgers. Virgie Lewis, a mother of three, was known as an active community leader, even registering to run for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 1922. She, along with her mother, was active in the West Philadelphia Civic League of Women.

Aside from her teaching, Rosa was also very involved with Alpha Kappa Alpha, acting as an editor of its official newspaper. However, she appeared herself in the papers again in 1927. According to the Pittsburgh Courier, the Rodgers 11-year old marriage had been having issues for a while. Rosa attended a dance where the wife of one of her male dancing partners became angry (either at Rosa’s attentions towards her husband or Justus Rodger’s attention to the wife, it’s unclear). In the ensuing argument, Rosa slapped the woman and was arrested and held on $300 dollars bail.24

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Pittsburgh Courier, July 16, 1927

During a court hearing about the matter, her husband, Justus Rodgers did not testify in her behalf and she told her sister Virgie that she was going to divorce him. However, when he arrived home that evening he found her upstairs where she had committed suicide by breathing in gas through a tube.Both of these men are well educated and represent a high type of true manhood, and they have done much to advance the race they are identified with25

D. N. Vassar died two years after in 1929 in Philadelphia. He was 83 years old. Virginia Union University passed a resolution referring to him as “one of those outstanding factors once active in the fabric of this great institution”.26 Appropriately, the Pittsburgh Courier headline to his obituary read “Noted Educator Passed Away”.27

Alice Vassar continued to live with her daughter Virgie until her death, sometime in the 1930s. Their four grandchildren continue their legacy, with at least one attending Howard University.

This is Part 2 of a 4 Part Series. Check out Part 1 on John Henry Kinckle Sr. and his wife Rachael Smith Kinckle.


Footnotes

1. Judd, and Detweiler. Catalogue of the Officers and Students of Howard University, District of Columbia. Washington, D.C.: Howard University, 1878.
2. City Comptroller’s Financial Report of the City of Lynchburg, Virginia. Lynchburg, VA: Lynchburg (Va.). City Comptroller, 1916.
3. Annual Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Richmond, VA: Virginia Department of Education, 1919.
4. Beresford. A Historical, Biographical and Statistical Souvenir. Washington, D. C.: Howard University, 1900.
5.The Echo: 1920. Washington, D. C.: Howard University, 1920.
6.Pride, Amelia Perry. “The Lynchburg Sewing School.” The Southern Workman and Hampton School Record, February 1899, 65-66.
7.Noted Educator Passes Away.” The Pittsburgh Courier, February 16, 1929, XX ed., no. 7
8. “Dr. D. N. Vassar.” Virginia Union Bulletin, February 1929, 15-18.
9. Corey, Charles H. A History of the Richmond Theological Seminary: With Reminiscences of Thirty Years’ Work Among the Colored People of the South. Richmond, VA: J. W. Randolph Company, 1895.
10. Noted Educator Passes Away.” The Pittsburgh Courier, February 16, 1929, XX ed., no. 7
11.”Dr. D. N. Vassar.” Virginia Union Bulletin, February 1929, 15-18.;
“The Pastor’s Appeal Unanswered.” The Richmond Planet, September 07, 1901, XVIII ed., sec. 38.
12. “Dr. D. N. Vassar.” Virginia Union Bulletin, February 1929, 15-18.
13. Corey, Charles H. A History of the Richmond Theological Seminary: With Reminiscences of Thirty Years’ Work Among the Colored People of the South. Richmond, VA: J. W. Randolph Company, 1895.
14. Ibid.
15.“Norfolk Items.” The Baltimore Sun, August 07, 1888.
16. “Clark, James B. “Race Prejudice at Cornell.” The Cornell Era, March 06, 1911, 196.
17. Ibid.
18. Ibid.
19. Colored Girls Not Barred From Cornell.” Star Tribune (Minneapolis), April 15, 1911.
20. Ibid.
21. Rogers, Ibram H. The Black Campus Movement: Black Students and the Racial Reconstitution of Higher Education, 1965–1972. New York: Palgrave Macmillian, 2012. Print.
22. “Lynchburg, Va.” The New York Age, August 05, 1915.
23. “Lynchburg, Va.” “Phillygrams.” The Pittsburgh Courier, July 11, 1925.
24.”Death is Sequel to Assault.” The Pittsburgh Courier, July 16, 1927.
25. Ibid.
26.”Dr. D. N. Vassar.” Virginia Union Bulletin, February 1929, 15-18.
27.Noted Educator Passes Away.” The Pittsburgh Courier, February 16, 1929, XX ed., no. 7

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