Princeton Presidential

By Dan Linke

Since tomorrow is Presidents Day, we wanted to take the opportunity to share some of Princeton University’s many connections to the presidents of the United States. We note that of the 43 men who have served as America’s presidents, we have confirmed that at least 25 and possibly as many as 29 have visited Princeton at some point, with eight gracing campus while serving as the nation’s chief executive.

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This chart is arranged in the order in which each held the office of President. The names in parentheses indicate those for whom we have some records asserting they visited, but have not been able to definitively verify the visit with contemporary accounts.

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“Princeton College Bought Me”: The Life of a Fugitive Slave in Princeton

Many nearly-forgotten legends surround James “Jimmy Stink” Collins Johnson, who lived in Princeton for most of his life after escaping from slavery in Maryland. Today it is impossible to completely separate fact from fiction, but this is our best reconstruction:

The sources tell us that two slaves in Easton, Maryland, welcomed a baby on October 2, 1816. Early in his childhood, their mistress gave the boy, James Collins, to their master’s son, Teakle Wallace, who was only a month older than James. James married a freedwoman in Church Hill, several miles away, in 1836. Frustrated with captivity, James began planning an escape. When Wallace gave James five dollars for some reason, James seized the opportunity and left Easton on foot at midnight on August 8, 1839, never to return. After stopping to say good-bye to his wife and promise he would send for her when he could, he continued walking to Wilmington, Delaware, where a portion of his money bought him fare on a riverboat to Philadelphia. At this point, he changed his name to James Johnson. In Philadelphia, he bought a train ticket to Trenton. Legend has it that he had just fifty cents left when he arrived in Trenton, which he spent on train fare to carry him as far north as possible. His destination was Princeton, New Jersey, where he arrived on August 10.

In Princeton, Johnson found work at the College of New Jersey, colloquially called “Princeton College,” as a janitor in Nassau Hall. A few years later, Simon Weeks (Class of 1838), a student at Princeton Theological Seminary and a friend of the Wallaces, saw and recognized Johnson and wrote back to Maryland to report on this. Some weeks passed. Then, as Andrew Clerk Imbrie later wrote for the Nassau Lit, Johnson’s master confronted him at the local post office. Johnson “stood quaking before young Teakle Wallace a picture of abject misery. Visions of the old days came back to him … he had tasted liberty since then, and his whole nature revolted at the idea of going back to once more become a slave.”

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James Johnson and unknown young man, ca. 1890, Historical Photograph Collection, Individuals Series (AC67), Box MP4.

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“I Pledge My Honor”

Final exams begin at Princeton University today. Professors, Lecturers, and Assistants in Instruction (Preceptors) will not be present while students are taking them, trusting them to police themselves. In return, the students will sign their exams under this handwritten statement: I pledge my honor that I have not violated the Honor Code during this examination.

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Students taking an exam in Princeton University’s McCosh 50, ca. 1950s. Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box MP163, Item No. 4402.

The Honor System, one of Princeton’s most distinctive traditions, was established and has been maintained almost exclusively by undergraduates. Cheating ran rampant at the College of New Jersey (Princeton University) in the late nineteenth century; students saw it as a way to outwit the faculty, while professors expended a great deal of energy trying to catch cheaters. Booth Tarkington (Class of 1893) described this rivalry as a “continuous sly warfare between the professor and the student.” Crib sheets were common, as was sharing answers during tests. Students who refused to collaborate were ridiculed. Reporting fellow students to the faculty was seen as dishonorable and unthinkable for most, while professors would stalk exam rooms looking for any inconsistencies. Sometimes faculty also hired extra proctors help keep an eye on students.

Student dissatisfaction with this culture of cheating and “sly warfare” peaked in 1893, when some of the most influential juniors and seniors proposed an honor pledge. Honor systems were not uncommon at southern schools, such as the College of William and Mary and the University of Virginia, and many Princeton undergraduates had gone to southern preparatory schools with prominent and successful honor systems. Senior Charles Ottley  (Class of 1893) and several juniors drew on their practical experience with the honor system at the Webb School in central Tennessee as they pushed for an honor system at Princeton.

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“The New Order”: How Japan’s Attack on Pearl Harbor (Briefly) Led to Women Enrolling in Classes at Princeton University

“Yesterday, December 7th, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the empire of Japan”: so began Franklin Delano Roosevelt on December 8, in a speech asking the United States Congress for a declaration of war. Princeton University didn’t wait until Roosevelt’s speech; instead, the Princeton Senate declared war on Japan immediately following the attack. The Daily Princetonian reported on this story and others under the banner headline, “PRINCETON PRESENTS UNITED FRONT AS UNITED STATES FACES TOTAL WAR.”

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Army Specialized Training Program, ca. 1942-1945, Princeton University, Historical Photograph Collection (AC112), Box SP18, Item No. 4431.

It would be difficult to overstate the transformations that World War II brought to the United States at large and to Princeton University in particular in a nearly immediate and all-consuming way in the wake of the Japanese strikes on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. A stunned administration under the leadership of University President Harold Willis Dodds (Graduate Class of 1914), who had only six weeks before asserted that the threat of war “will call for minor adjustments in the curriculum” (“Some Thoughts on Universities and National Defense,” October 31, 1941), suddenly and drastically revised its approach. Rather than minor adjustments, Princeton instead embraced major upheavals to nearly all of its traditions.

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British military class, Princeton University, ca. 1943, Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box SP18, Item No. 4433.

On December 15, Dodds presented the rough outlines of a changed Princeton curriculum to a mass meeting of students in Alexander Hall. A Princeton A.B., typically a four-year degree, would have an accelerated option with year-round classes, so that it could be completed in three. Additional “emergency courses” would be added to teach skills deemed useful for war. Princeton would yield itself to the needs of the U.S. Army and Navy, whatever those needs happened to be. All of these anticipated changes quickly went into effect. Here, we highlight how the war effort brought one other dramatic change to the campus: for the first time, women enrolled in classes.

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“The New Order,” Princeton Tiger, December 1941.

Photogrammetry, or making maps from aerial photographs, was among many emergency courses added for the Summer 1942 term. Tuition was not charged for the class, taught by engineering professor Philip R. Kissam, but admission was competitive, as applications poured in from across the nation.

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Flyer advertising Princeton University Photogrammetry Course, 1942, Historical Subject Files Collection (AC109), Box 421, Folder 3.

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Unidentified female student with engineering professor Philip R. Kissam, Princeton’s Photogrammetry class, 1942, Historical Photographs Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box MP212, Item No. 5577.

The class of 45 ultimately included 23 women, most from the East Coast region between New London and Philadelphia, and one from Royal Oak, Michigan. The Prince marveled, “One of the few remaining strongholds of the male, the classrooms of Princeton University, have been opened by the war to women students for the first time in the 196 years of its existence.” This was a bit of an exaggeration, however, as only a few classrooms were actually open to women, and the photogrammetry class was the only one taken by American women. Three female members of the British military also attended classes here during the war (Princeton Alumni Weekly, December 10, 1943), but afterward, coeducation at Princeton became nothing more than a memory until the 1960s. For more on the history of women at the University, see our previous blog post.

For further reading on World War II’s impact on Princeton University, see our previous blog posts about the bronze memorial stars that adorn some dormitory windows and the wartime love letters of alumnus Peter Page ’41.

Sources:

Board of Trustees Records (AC120)

Daily Princetonian

Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112)

Historical Subject Files Collection (AC109)

Office of the Dean of the College Records (AC149)

Princeton Alumni Weekly

The Princeton Tiger

Root, Robert K. The Princeton Campus in World War II. Princeton: Self-published, 1978.

 

History of Women at Princeton University

Written by Vanessa Snowden ’04

For much of its history, Princeton University had the reputation of being an “old-boys’ school.” Starting in the fall of 1969, Princeton became co-educational, and eight women transfer students graduated in June 1970, with slightly greater numbers graduating in the two subsequent years. Women who matriculated as freshmen in 1969 graduated in the Class of 1973, the first undergraduate class that included women for all four undergraduate years. However, the first steps towards co-education came as early as 1887, with the founding of Evelyn College. From its inception, this women’s institution was associated with Princeton University, and it was hoped that the link would be similar to the Radcliffe and Harvard University relationship. Unfortunately, Evelyn College closed in 1897, due to financial problems and a lack of support from Princeton.

For the next half-century, women instead made their presence known in unofficial positions. Wives and daughters of Princeton faculty and administrators succeeded in exerting significant influence on campus life as advocates for students as well as assistants in research. Isabella Guthrie McCosh, wife of James McCosh, the 11th president of Princeton, was deeply involved in protecting the health and welfare of Princeton students. As a result of her unflagging dedication, the campus infirmary was built and named in her honor.

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“Reminiscences of Mrs. McCosh,” June 1935. Auxiliary to the Isabella McCosh Infirmary Records (AC175), Box 2.

Women were also important forces in the academic world. Margaret Farrand Thorp, wife of English professor, Willard Thorp, often assisted with her husband’s research while simultaneously producing her own independent work. Fittingly, she wrote a book entitled Female Persuasion: Six Strong-Minded Women, which was published in 1949. Speaking of her lot as a female at Princeton, Thorp once quipped, “We who practice the pleasant profession of faculty wife are often amused by Princeton University’s apparent hostility to the feminine sex. Hostility is probably too strong a word. The situation is, rather, that for the University, the feminine sex does not exist.” (See William K. Selden, Women of Princeton, p. 33.)
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Princeton and Apartheid: The 1978 Nassau Hall Sit-In

Princeton di-vest!
Oh yeah

Just like the rest!
Oh yeah

And if you don’t!
Oh yeah

We will not rest!
Oh yeah

We gonna fight
And fight

And keep on fightin’ some more
Princeton di-vest!

(Student protest chant, quoted in Princeton Alumni Weekly 24 April 1978)

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Protest Signs, April 1978, Princeton Alumni Weekly Photograph Collection (AC126), Box 33.

Following the recent “Coming Back: Reconnecting Princeton’s Black Alumni” conference, we wanted to take a closer look an issue that involved Princeton’s Association of Black Collegians: policies on South African investment during apartheid. Relatively recent events in the University’s history often challenge researchers, since many of our archival records related to the history of Princeton are initially restricted (most commonly for a period of 40 years). Yet we can still learn a great deal about how Princetonians addressed apartheid’s moral questions through our open collections.

Princeton first articulated its stand on this issue in 1969, partly in response to a February 26 student rally sponsored by a coalition of black and white student groups at Princeton, The United Front on South Africa. They asked Princeton to divest stock in 39 companies. On March 4, University President Robert F. Goheen publicly outlined University policy on investment in companies doing business in South Africa and presented six steps Princeton was willing to take in response to these concerns. Although Goheen promised that Princeton would let these companies know their feelings about apartheid, he said that Princeton should not fully divest. In his statement, Goheen reasoned that these companies “derive on average less than one percent of their sales and profits from southern Africa” and that divesting would not have a “substantial prospect” of meaningful impact on apartheid. Meanwhile, he argued, Princeton would suffer the loss of $3.5 million in income, which would hinder its ability to carry out its educational mission. Far from satisfying the United Front, Princeton’s stated policies provoked the Association of Black Collegians to stage a sit-in at New South Hall, which then held the University’s administrative offices. Students for a Democratic Society, a predominantly white student group, also participated. (See Office of the Provost Records (AC195), Box 23, Folder 3).

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Cannon Green protest, April 1978, Princeton Alumni Weekly Photograph Collection (AC126), Box 33.

Such protests became relatively common throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and in January 1977, a new student group, the People’s Front for the Liberation of South Africa, took the lead in organizing them. After 32 consecutive days of picketing in front of Nassau Hall in March and April 1978, the students entered the building and stayed there. Some students kept vigil outside, while the others organized themselves into “cells” of 4-5 students inside. Spending the night under a half-moon while the bronze tigers flanking the steps held candles in their paws that cast somber shadows on their faces, one student said, “Somehow…I don’t think this building will ever seem the same to any one of us again.” (Princeton Alumni Weekly, 24 April 1978)

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Nassau Hall protest, ca. 1978, Princeton Alumni Weekly Photograph Collection (AC126), Box 33.

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The Year Princeton University Delayed the Start of Classes until October 10

 

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Senior Council Record Book, 1917, Student Council Records, Manuscript Collection AC253, Box 2.

The motion was passed that the following resolutions of the Council be printed in the Princetonian issue of October 16th:

(1) That all undergraduates shall not enter any moving picture theatre in Princeton.

(2) That all undergraduates shall stay within the University limits, avoiding Witherspoon street and other congested districts unless there is an urgent need to the contrary.

(3) That all undergraduates eat only at the Clubs or the University Dining Halls.

(4) That all undergraduates refrain from leaving town and thereby exposing themselves and the rest of the student body to unnecessary danger.

On October 14, 1916, Princeton University president John Grier Hibben asked the Senior Council to adopt the resolution quoted above. He had already taken the unprecedented step of delaying the start of classes from the usual mid-September until October 10. The faculty had decided, in light of the shortened academic year, to reduce the length of the usual breaks students would otherwise have received.

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1917 Senior Council. Photo from 1918 Bric-a-Brac.

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1957 Epidemics at Princeton

The most characteristic sound around the Princeton campus last week was not the familiar and rhythmic tolling of Nassau Hall’s bell, nor even the sleep-shattering bedlam of the steam-shovels on the new U-Store site. The sound around campus was everywhere: if you went to the heights of Blair Tower, behold, it was there, and even C Floor of the Libe, normally a haven for silence seekers, echoed and re-echoed the irritating noise. Everywhere you went, people were coughing. … The cough was almost always a good, lusty, chesty type which sort of set one apart as the bearer of a badge of courage and defiance—no infirmary was going to get his hands on him. No sir!

                                        –Princeton Alumni Weekly, November 1, 1957

 

This week’s FluFest is one of the ways the University works to keep students in good health for their studies, but keeping Princetonians healthy has sometimes proven to be a significant challenge. The Bric-a-Brac for 1958 reported on hundreds of students “plagued by a rash of…sickness” (118) “bedded down at home or in the campus infirmary,” including in the Student Center, which “was converted into an emergency annex.” It doesn’t sound like students had as much fun that year, with many social events canceled by Dean of the College Jeremiah S. Finch. One morose senior complained,  “I mean it, it’s tragic—this [epidemic] … is ruining my senior year! Now I’ve got nothing at all to do but work on my thesis.” (Princeton Alumni Weekly, October 25, 1957)

Infirmary Admissions graphic

Data taken from Report of the Committee on Health and Athletics for October 17, 1958 (found in the Board of Trustees Records).

There were typically about 100 infirmary admissions per month, but this jumped to over 600 in October 1957. The primary reason was a new kind of influenza sweeping across the globe. Nobody is certain where the new strain of “Asiatic Flu” (H2N2) originated, but the first reports of people falling ill from it came in Hong Kong in April 1957, with huge numbers of people succumbing to it wherever it was found. Concerned about the implications for the United States, government officials requested samples of the virus, and the Centers for Disease Control urged America’s six manufacturers of vaccines to get to work on a vaccine for it as soon as possible. By September, the vaccine was ready, but there was not enough supply to meet demand. Once school started, the virus began spreading dramatically. About 3-6 weeks after school began (the incubation period of the illness), absenteeism reached its highest levels. The Prince noted that at one point, 71% of Philadelphia’s students, including those at the University of Pennsylvania, were out with the flu. Indeed, this particular flu seemed to infect the young more than the old. A 1959 study later estimated that approximately 60% of America’s students had, at some point, been absent due to the flu in 1957.

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Allen Dulles and the Warren Commission

The 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s death on Friday, November 22, has brought renewed attention to the Warren Commission and its conclusions on the assassination.  Then-retired CIA Director Allen Dulles served on the commission and the Mudd Manuscript

Warren Commission; F.B.I Investigation Report: Visual Aids, circa 1964: http://findingaids.princeton.edu/collections/MC019/c01586

Warren Commission; F.B.I Investigation Report: Visual Aids, circa 1964: http://findingaids.princeton.edu/collections/MC019/c01586

Library recently digitized five boxes of Dulles’ personal files documenting his work on the commission as part of our NHPRC funded large-scale digitization project.  Images and downloadable PDFs of every folder related to Dulles’ Warren Commission work are available by clicking on any of the folder titles from the Warren Commission section of our finding aid for the Allen Dulles Papers.

 

The Warren Commission material includes correspondence, memoranda, reports, preliminary drafts of the final Commission report, clippings, articles and interviews relating to Dulles’ service on the Warren Commission. The correspondence includes incoming and outgoing notes and letters, articles and clippings. Correspondents range from members of the Commission to citizens offering their own analysis of the assassination.

The administrative material documents the official activities of the Commission. Included are minutes, agendas, financial information and memoranda, which demonstrate how the Commission was organized and its guidelines for procedures. Also included are intra-Commission memoranda as well as memoranda with other governmental organizations, including the F.B.I. and Secret Service. The findings of these two agencies, plus the Dallas police, were submitted to the Commission, and much of this material documents the life of Lee Harvey Oswald.

First page of Psychiatric Report on L.H. Oswald, 1964: http://findingaids.princeton.edu/collections/MC019/c01581

First page of Psychiatric Report on L.H. Oswald, 1964: http://findingaids.princeton.edu/collections/MC019/c01581

Over 64 boxes, and 96,900 pages of documents, from the Dulles Papers were digitized as part the NHPRC project.  In addition to the Warren Commission files, Dulles’ correspondence is now available online.  The correspondence includes letters to and from Kennedy and his brothers Robert and Edward as well as material related to Kennedy created after the assassination.