Vassar Students, Gum, and 19th Century Misogyny in Humor Columns

The article “Where Stenches Abound” mentions the curious creation of chewing-gum – and also the very strange mention that it is specifically sent to Vassar College.

GIF of Vassar graduates, text tells their name and reads "Fuckin brilliant" over their faces

Quote: ‘The basis of the fertilizers here manufactured is what is called Charleston rock, a deposit found in the beds of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, near Charleston, S.C., which contains the bones of marine animals and is highly charged with phosphorus. At the Queens County Oil-works is turned out paraffine oil and wax, the latter being used for the chewing gum which is supplied to Vassar and other female seminaries.’

But why Vassar? Are Vassar students known for chewing-gum?

Shockingly, YES.

black and white photograph of women scholar scientists

There are dozens, maybe hundreds of mostly crummy short “humor” pieces about how much effing gum Vassar students chew. The mysogyny of every dick & balls writing these 19th century articles leaps off the page with the shallow prose. Some examples:

From 1873: “At the Vassar College commencement, the other day, one of the loveliest of the ‘sweet girl graduates,’ fractured her lower jaw in two places while delivering an address in German and chewing gum at the same time.”

From 1876: “When Dom Pedro visits Vassar College he will know why Poughkeepsie supports seven chewing gum factories.”

From 1878: “Vassar College is a sweet place. When the astronomical class plays billiards, the girls say, “Now, Louise, caramel on the red pop corn ball.” “There’s a kiss on the white.” “Pocket Mary’s marshmellow, Jennie.” Then they all go up into the observatory and sing, “Treacle, treacle, little star.”

From 1878: “Perhaps the meanest thing, speaking artistically, is the way they run the gum department at Vassar College. Gum, for reasons best known to the faculty, is left off the catalogue, and so the girls have to chew it all over the twenty-four hours. In the history class, for instance, just as the girls get all the gum soft on the molars, along comes the question, “What year was American discovered?” And then comes the distressing answer from the whole class, “Ajum, whajum, eigh, ech, wah.” This is gum for 1492.”

From 1878: “Vassar college girls have a secret society called the “Vassarians,” and any member who forgets her dignity and slides down the stair railing is fined thirty-one peanutes and a stick of gum.”

Sliding down the stairs is apparently another real dig on the women students, as it appears again in the same year:

“Vassar College has two Japanese girls, and the Philadelphia Chronicle says it is an afecting sight to see the American girls teaching them how to slide down the balustrade.”

And 1880 – this one was printed in hundreds of papers, month after month:

“The principal of Vassar College stepped suddenly into one of the recitation rooms and said: ‘That person who is chewing gum will please step forward the put it on the desk.’ The whole school stepped forward with one accord toward the desk, while the teacher slipped her quid beneath her tongue and said: “Really, gulls, I’m supprised!”


newspaper article "Gum at Vassar"
from Manhattan Enterprise, 29 May 1878

an audio version of this article can be
heard on Internet Archive here