Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. exactly 150 years ago. As Americans did throughout the country, Princetonians immediately went into mourning. The loss was more profound given that the nation had emerged from a devastating Civil War less than a week before.
Princeton’s ties to Lincoln are reflected in various collections in Princeton University Library’s Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. On his train trip to his inauguration in 1861, Lincoln made many stops in the Midwest and Northeast, where he often spoke to crowds. On February 21, more than 20,000 supporters received him in Trenton. William Stewart Cross Webster and Alexander Taggart McGill, Jr., both of the College of New Jersey (Princeton) Class of 1864, were among the throngs. In a letter to his mother a few days later, Webster expressed disappointment that he was unable to hear Lincoln over the roar of the crowd: “This was our sight of Abraham Lincoln: We saw great Lincoln plain; it can never be forgotten, the bowing very graciously right and left. In a few minutes Mr. L. appeared on the platform and said a few words. His manner was pleasant and a vein of humor pervaded his whole face. I was unlucky enough to hear nothing he said.” (Undergraduate Alumni Records 1748-1920 (AC104), Box 125)
Shortly after his reelection in 1864, the Board of Trustees voted to confer an honorary Doctorate of Law upon Lincoln. Lincoln was unable to attend Princeton’s Commencement, but wrote to College President John Maclean to thank Princeton for its honor “in this time of public trial.”
In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Princetonians win the equivalent of six medals at the first modern Olympic Games, Albert Einstein dies, and more.
April 13, 1994—David Remnick ’81 wins the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction for his book, Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire.
April 14, 1978—Students begin a 27-hour occupation of Nassau Hall to protest Princeton University’s economic ties to apartheid-era South Africa.
Today marks the 150th anniversary of the end of Civil War, a conflict that had implications for every facet of American life. The “unhappy condition of the country,” as the College of New Jersey (Princeton) President John Maclean described it in 1861, had a profound impact on the school. Here we highlight the mass exodus of southern students from Princeton, as well as some of the emotional toll the war took on alumni of the era.
Though located in Union territory, Princeton had the reputation of being the “most southern of all the northern colleges,” due to its significant number of wealthy southern students. Relationships across the Mason-Dixon were strong at Princeton. Edwin Mark Norris later wrote of this period, “When it became apparent that, faithful to their convictions, the students from opposing sections would soon be opposing each other in arms, rather than merely in argument, the friendships formed beneath the elms became even more closely cemented, and it was with genuine sadness that these intimate ties were severed” (The Story of Princeton, 186). This inscription on Bazil F. Gordon’s senior portrait sums it up: a student on the other side was “your true friend and enemy.”
Bazil Gordon, senior portrait, 1861. Gordon later served as a surgeon in the Confederate Army. Historical Photograph Collection, Alumni Photographs Series (AC059).
In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Prohibition ends, the Board of Trustees urges parents not to send students money, and more.
April 6, 1771—The Rittenhouse Orrery, the most noted scientific instrument of its time, arrives in Nassau Hall, where it will prove to be a tourist attraction for travelers from across the world.
Gillett G. Griffin, pen and ink drawing of the Rittenhouse Orrery arriving at Nassau Hall, University Library Records (AC123), Box 302.
April 9, 1802—United States President Thomas Jefferson donates one hundred dollars toward the rebuilding of Nassau Hall after a devastating fire.
In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the campus tries to help mitigate the AIDS crisis, locals descend upon Nassau Hall in spontaneous celebration of a Civil War victory for the Union, and more.
March 30, 1933—The owner of Students Hand Laundry is arrested following his disappearance two weeks before, having been paid $20 each by approximately 600 Princeton students for the term’s laundry service. Campus police find 250 bags of students’ dirty laundry in his abandoned shop.
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The first thing that usually comes to mind with reference to the history of Princeton University’s Triangle Club is probably a kick line of men in dresses. Until 1969, admission to Princeton was for men only, so putting on student plays meant men often took women’s roles, and performances usually poked fun at this fact. Triangle was a launching pad for several prominent students. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jimmy Stewart, and Jose Ferrer are among its notable members, all of whom seem to have taken the experiences the Club gave them as the foundation for their later careers, just to name a few examples.
In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the Blair Tower clock gets a sophomore makeover, students give Grover Cleveland a birthday present, and more.
March 23, 1899—Poet John Whitcomb Riley, whose best known work, “Little Orphant [sic] Annie,” has continued to inspire numerous other artists, gives a poetry reading in Alexander Hall.
March 24, 1985—A group of sophomores decorate the Blair Tower clock’s face with Mickey Mouse.
Photo from Daily Princetonian.
It’s no secret that Princetonians love parades; thousands descend upon our small town for each annual celebration of Reunions, the capstone of which is the “P-Rade.” Each class wears its own specially-designed orange and black jacket for this parade. As the Alumni Association notes, this tradition has roots in other, older traditions. It began officially in 1896, when a parade to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the newly-renamed Princeton University (formerly the College of New Jersey) brought thousands of alumni back for a mile-long walk around town, many in costume. Yet a much less well-known and rather short-lived tradition from the early twentieth century was also called the “P-Rade” and treated locals to many unusual sights and sounds on St. Patrick’s Day each year. The St. Patrick’s Day P-Rade had its origins in the parade of students and alumni in 1896, too. This St. Patrick’s Day marks the 100-year anniversary of the last such P-Rade.
1913 St. Patrick’s Day P-Rade, Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series, Box SP17, Image No. 4086.
In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the women’s swimming team sets three national records, Jimmy Carter surprises students with an early morning walk on campus, and more.
March 16, 1967—David Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, speaks informally with students and invited guests at the Woodrow Wilson School.
In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, undergrads form the Veterans of Future Wars, a civil rights protest turns violent, and more.
March 11, 1936—About 200 Princeton undergraduates form the Veterans of Future Wars, a cynical club that satirically petitions the U.S. government for a “bonus” similar to that of World War I veterans. The organization will achieve tremendous success, with chapters at many other colleges, as well as an auxiliary organization, the Future Gold Star Mothers, at Vassar. During World War II, nearly all members will join the military.
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