This Week in Princeton History for May 30-June 5

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a conference defends the study of classics for all students regardless of major, a nineteenth-century alum envisions 2015 New York in a dystopian science fiction novel, and more.

June 1, 1761—The Board of Trustees vote to ban ball-playing against the College of New Jersey (Princeton) president’s house: “The Trustees having on their own view been made sensible of the Damages done to the President’s House by the Students playing at Ball against it, do hereby strictly forbid all & every of the Students, the Officers & all other Persons belonging to the College playing at Ball against the President’s House, under the Penalty of Five Shillings for every Offence to be levied on each Person who shall offend in the Premises.”

June 2, 1917—Academics, college administrators, business tycoons, politicians, and the general public gather at a “Classical Conference” at Princeton University to discuss the future of American education and defend traditional instruction in classics for all students regardless of their specializations or future careers.

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Some notable attendees at the Princeton University’s “Classical Conference” pose for a photograph on June 2, 1917. Left to right: Princeton University president John Grier Hibben, Corinne Roosevelt Robinson (sister of Theodore Roosevelt), Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge, Jenny Davidson Hibben (wife of John Grier Hibben), Andrew F. West (Princeton University dean of the Graduate School), Lawrence Eugene Sexton (a Harvard University overseer), Douglas Robinson (husband of Corinne Roosevelt Robinson), Allan Chester Johnson (Princeton University professor of classics), an unknown visitor, and Dr. Lewellys F. Barker (Physician-in-Chief at Johns Hopkins University and former President of the American Neurological Association). Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box MP17, Image No. 435.

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“This Is More Than a School”: James M. Stewart ’32’s Princeton

When we launched our Tumblr page in January 2015, we filled it with a variety of content on the history of Princeton University, but it didn’t take long for us to discover that one alumnus in particular consistently received a lot of attention on the platform: James Maitland Stewart ’32. In honor of this, we currently have an exhibit case in our lobby dedicated to Stewart’s long-term connection to Princeton: “‘This Is More Than a School’: James M. Stewart 32’s Princeton.”

Jimmy Stewart, the son of Alexander “Eck” Stewart of the Class of 1898, wrote on his 1928 application to Princeton that he chose it due to family connections and his belief that Princeton “is by far the best equipped to give me a broad, profitable education, provided that I apply myself diligently to the work.” His dreams of becoming a civil engineer, however, were short-lived. Diligent work proved a challenge in the face of tempting recreational activities. He later told Princeton Living, “College algebra was like a death blow to me.” He did especially poorly in a Shakespeare course and “did not survive Spanish.” Unable to keep up in his classes, Stewart was forced to attend summer school to avoid flunking out. At the end of Stewart’s freshman year, his math professor told him, “You’d better think very seriously about being something else [other than a civil engineer], or you’ll be in deep trouble.”

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Grade card for James Maitland Stewart ’32, Undergraduate Academic Records 1920-2015 (AC198), Box 25. To better understand Stewart’s academic struggles, see our previous blog post explaining the 1-7 grading system used here. N.B.: Access to student academic records is governed by this policy.

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This Week in Princeton History for May 23-29

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a firecracker explodes in Nassau Hall, an athlete pitches the first no-hitter ever recorded in baseball history, and more.

May 24, 1916—Princeton professor Alfred Noyes gives a public reading of his poetry, including his best-known “The Highwayman,” at a benefit event for the local Red Cross chapter.

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Alfred Noyes at Princeton University, February 15, 1915. Faculty and Professional Staff Files (AC107), Box 381.

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An Update on the Earliest Records of Jewish Students at Princeton

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the search to find the first Jewish student at Princeton. As I noted, the “first” student in any category is probably impossible to determine. However, I was able to find a record suggesting possible Jewish presence dating back to 1859, when Albert Mordecai of the Class of 1863 arrived to begin his studies. In today’s post, I support my own claims about the difficulty of determining “firsts” by showing that Jewish presence at Princeton goes back at least half a century further than initially thought. The earliest records I have found thus far now uncover the life of another Jewish student who began his work at Princeton in 1809, Mordecai Myers, but a handful of other Jewish students also attended Princeton in the antebellum period.

Follow up from our readers has prompted this update on two counts. The first concerns Albert Mordecai’s connection to Judaism. Yosef Razin ’11 wrote in with research he conducted on the Mordecai family in the U. S. Census records and other sources. There is conflicting data regarding the family origins, he says, but sources seem to agree that Mordecai’s origins through his paternal line were Jewish. His mother’s ethnic background may or may not have been Jewish. Those on campus or with a subscription can access these records through the Ancestry.com databases.

The second update makes it clear, however, that whether or not Albert Mordecai considered himself Jewish, he would not have been the first Jewish student at Princeton. Sven Henningson ’16 uncovered a reference to Mordecai Myers as a Jewish graduate of Princeton and alerted us to the possibility that he had been on campus much earlier than Albert Mordecai. Having done some digging, I have confirmed that Mordecai Myers, Class of 1812, was Jewish and earned his A.B. from Princeton in 1812. This research led down a path that uncovered a few other Jewish students at Princeton prior to the Civil War.

Mordecai Myers, the son of Levi Myers and Francis Minis, born November 9, 1794, was just shy of 15 years old when he arrived at the College of New Jersey (Princeton) in 1809. Myers was advanced enough to skip his freshman year and was admitted to the sophomore Class of 1812. This proved fortuitous in terms of being able to finish his degree, because war broke out in 1812. According to a 1909 letter from his son to the Princeton University Secretary, when armed conflict began with Great Britain in June 1812, Myers returned home to his native Charleston, South Carolina, but this didn’t prevent him from graduating with his class the following September.

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Mordecai Myers, Class of 1812. Undergraduate Alumni Records 1748-1920 (AC104), Box 72.

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This Week in Princeton History for May 16-22

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Thomas Mann says he has found a new home, a miniseries about a professor premieres, and more.

May 16, 1959—In today’s issue of Nation, Princeton University’s resident psychiatrist, Louis E. Reik, writes of Cold War tensions among the undergraduate population, “the problem of whether the individual’s aggressive energies will be expressed in useful or destructive ways has never before cast such a deep and terrible shadow over human life. … That the days of unbridled individualism are gone is a lesson that, at bottom, no high-spirited young man wants to learn.”

May 17, 1927—The results of the Nassau Herald’s poll of graduating seniors are released. Isaac Hall is selected as the “Greatest Woman-Hater” of the Class of 1927.

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Photo from 1927 Nassau Herald.

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This Week in Princeton History for May 9-15

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, President Taft is visiting, fire ravages the campus, and more.

May 11, 1912—U.S. President William Howard Taft is the guest of John Grier Hibben at Prospect House on campus, having come to celebrate Hibben’s inauguration as president of Princeton University. (Video here.)

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William Howard Taft at Prospect House. Historical Photograph Collection, Individuals Series (AC067), Box LP1.

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Mother Loves Me

With Mother’s Day coming up, we thought now was a great time to highlight this theater poster from our General Princeton Theater Collection (AC385).

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Princeton General Theater Collection (AC385), Box 3.

“Mother Loves Me” was a 1958 one-act musical comedy written and produced for Theatre Intime by Clark Gesner ’60, a member of the Triangle Club who also contributed to a few of its productions, including “After a Fashion” and “For Heaven’s Sake.” To fund this enterprise, Gesner had support from the Producers Fund, a modest grant of $200 originally donated by D. Brooks Jones ’56 from his profits from his own 1956 production, “Three Folk Sing.” The fund supported student artistic endeavors in various forms of public entertainment, including plays, literature readings, and musical revues. It had first been used in 1957 to finance “Listen Here” by Theodore James, Jr. ’57, who returned the initial grant and added a percentage of his profits to keep the fund going in accordance with the award’s rules.

For “Mother Loves Me,” male parts were performed by Princeton students, but as the school was not yet coeducational, casting had to look elsewhere for female actors. They drew upon local talent: Janet Thornsen of the Westminster Choir School took the lead soprano part, while Marcy Carroll of Princeton High School appeared in a supporting role. The male cast included Peter Cook ’60, Clinton Jakeman ’60, Robert Tellander ’60, and Philip Weinstein ’61. Grenville Cuyler ’60 directed. Using amateurs fulfilled the terms of the grant from the Producers Fund, which stipulated that the production could not employ more than one professional in any capacity, on stage or off.

The satirical musical focused on the field of psychology’s outlook on love. One viewer wrote of “Mother Loves Me,” “it is hard not to point out a number of particular flaws, but it is a great deal more difficult to explain the sheer and wonderful delight felt by the audience throughout the performance.” The production was a success and nearly sold out, making it possible for Gesner to keep a share of $50.68 from the profits after putting the requisite $352.01 into the Producers Fund. Though this wasn’t the main catalyst for Gesner’s fame, he did ultimately become a highly successful composer. He is best known today for the Broadway play, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” which was nominated for a Grammy in 1968. He also wrote and composed for a handful of television programs, including Captain Kangaroo, Sesame Street, and The Electric Company.

 

Sources:

Clark Gesner Papers (C1163)

General Princeton Theater Collection (AC385)

Daily Princetonian

Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students Records (AC136)

Triangle Club Records (AC122)

Undergraduate Alumni Records (AC199)

This Week in Princeton History for May 2-8

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the first Triangle Show is performed, two freshmen kick a soccer ball to Manhattan and back, and more.

May 2, 1983—Reporters descend on Princeton University to ask current students for their reaction to the news that Brooke Shields has been admitted to the Class of 1987.

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Photo from the Daily Princetonian.

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This Week in Princeton History for April 25-May 1

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, John F. Kennedy urges students to enter politics, the campus bids farewell to a landmark, and more.

April 25, 1957—Senator John F. Kennedy addresses the Class of 1957 in Dillon Gymnasium, urging their involvement in politics as “intellectuals…who deal with the truth, unlike politicians who deal in half-truths—in order to keep the voters’ interest.”

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Photo from the Daily Princetonian.

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Grading at Princeton University

We sometimes get questions about what people see in alumni files. One of the more challenging things about reading academic records is dealing with unfamiliar grading rubrics. For example, we shared F. Scott Fitzgerald’s grade card with you a while ago. Though a dropped semester and repeated classes would indicate he did not do so well academically, the actual grades he received—mostly a series of 4s and 5s—are bewildering to modern eyes.

Grading at Princeton table

Click to enlarge this table.

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