This Week in Princeton History for December 28-January 3

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Woodrow Wilson stamps are selling fast, all computers go offline, and more.

December 28, 1925—The Princeton post office sells more than 3,000 Woodrow Wilson stamps on their first day of issue to approximately 700 people. Among the sales is a sheet of 100 to the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections of the Princeton University Library.

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We believe these are from the sheet of stamps purchased by the Princeton University Library on December 28, 1925. Woodrow Wilson Collection (MC168), Box 45, Folder 12.

December 31, 1999—In anticipation of the “Y2K bug,” Princeton University disconnects all of its computers and servers from the internet.

January 1, 1814—James M. Garnett (Class of 1814) writes of an incident in Nassau Hall: “Today to refresh us after our labours, we had a great dinner, composed of Pigs, Geese, Irish potatoes, minced-pies, hickory nuts, cider, & wine. The President [Ashbel Green] did us the honour to dine with us, and gave us a toast; when he rose to give it he commanded silence which want of politeness gave such offence to some of our well-bred company that they returned the toast with a scrape” (i.e., the students scraped their shoes on the floor to protest).

January 2, 1946—Ground is broken on Firestone Memorial Library.

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Early construction of Firestone Memorial Library. Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111), Box AD04, Image No. 8264.

For last week’s installment in this series, click here.

Fact check: We always strive for accuracy, but if you believe you see an error, please contact us.

This Week in Princeton History for December 21-27

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a veteran-athlete is killed, Abraham Lincoln writes a thank you note, and more.

December 21, 1918—With orders home in his pocket, celebrated athlete Hobey Baker  ’14 crashes in France while testing a repaired plane, sustaining fatal injuries.

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Hobey Baker’s crashed plane. John D. Davies Collection on Hobey Baker (AC005), Box 5, Folder 7, Image No. 21828.

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Study of Education at Princeton and the 1954 Advisee Project

By Madeline Lea ’16

The Study of Education at Princeton was a unique project that evolved during post-World War II discussions of education at the University led by economics professor Frank W. Notestein. Professor Samuel S. Wilks of the mathematics department and Dean of the Faculty J. Douglas Brown ’19 were also involved. They asserted that a scientific study of education would provide hard data to support any changes to University admissions or curriculum. The project’s goal was “to examine as critically and systematically as possible all aspects of residential university life, including both instructional methods and programs and extracurricular activities, for their effect on the student’s intellectual, moral and physical development.” Faculty interest in the study was bolstered by President Harold W. Dodds’s wholehearted support and the assistance of University Trustee General Frederick H. Osborn, Class of 1910.

The Underclass Years-All

“The Underclass Years,” by S. Roy Heath, Jr. ’39, Princeton Alumni Weekly, October 16, 1953.

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This Week in Princeton History for December 14-20

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the campus rallies around a professor targeted by a racist screed, a new library draws patrons despite a broken furnace, and more.

December 14, 1757—The College of  New Jersey (Princeton) Board of Trustees vote to send a representative to meet with the ecclesiastical council that will decide whether Jonathan Edwards may be released from his ministerial duties in Stockbridge, Massachusetts to assume the responsibilities of President of the College.

December 15, 1990–The Princeton University campus reels from news of a racist letter sent to Director of Afro-American Studies Nell Painter asserting that she “does not have the intellectual worth to teach at the college level.” Administrators, faculty, and students scramble to express their support of the history professor.

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Nell Painter, ca. 1990. Photo from the Daily Princetonian.

December 17, 1873—College of New Jersey (Princeton) President James McCosh reports that Chancellor Green Library is complete, with the exception of a non-functional furnace; the cold does not prevent the library’s use, as 26 people per day borrow books.

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Chancellor Green Library (pictured with old Dickinson Hall at left), 1873. Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC112), Box MP013, Image No. 327.

December 20, 1946—It’s a Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stewart ‘32, premieres at the Globe Theatre in New York. The Daily Princetonian will give it a positive review despite the film’s “excessive sentimentality and overwrought tension.”

For last week’s installment in this series, click here.

Fact check: We always strive for accuracy, but if you believe you see an error, please contact us.

Imaginary Princetonians

There have been many famous Princetonians, but there have also been a number of famous—or perhaps infamous—imaginary members of the Princeton community. Here we take a look at the nonexistent people who became legends on campus.


Adelbert L’Hommedieu X (Bert Hormone), Class of 1917

The Class of 1917 invented an imaginary member and provided regular updates on his activities for the Princeton Alumni Weekly. Among his exploits, Adelbert L’Hommedieu X (Bert Hormone) was expelled from Princeton after only a single semester, fought in a seemingly endless number of wars, and seduced countless women. In 1941, Harvey Smith included an extended treatment of “Bert” in the fictional book-length account of the adventures of the Class of 1917, The Gang’s All Here.


 Ephraim di Kahble ‘39

When they arrived on campus, five members of the Class of 1939 decided to pull a prank on their classmates. They invented Ephraim di Kahble ’39, who “lived” at 36 University Place, where the group rented and decorated an empty room to make it look like his. Ultimately, they aimed to get their imaginary friend elected treasurer of their class. Ads began running in the Daily Princetonian under the name of Ephraim di Kahble, each more fanciful than the last.

The pranksters took things just a little too far, though, when they had young di Kahble take out an ad in the New York Times requesting information about an orange and black guinea pig. The New York Journal then ran a phone interview with “Eph,” discussing his hopes to change the Princeton mascot. He promised to wash all orange and black guinea pigs before he bought them to be sure they were authentic. The University Press Club was suspicious and investigated, finding that no such person existed. Di Kahble then “died” from exposure.

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Clipping from the Daily Princetonian, November 19, 1935.

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This Week in Princeton History for December 7-13

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a history professor gets national attention, undergraduates protest new library rules, and more.

December 7, 1776—The British Army reaches Princeton to begin the “20 days of tyranny.” Annis Boudinot Stockton hides the papers of the College of New Jersey’s American Whig Society while burying her family silver on the Morven estate. Later, she will be posthumously elected as Whig Hall’s first female member.

December 8, 1998—Princeton University history professor Sean Wilentz makes the news for his testimony before the United States Congress, saying to House Republicans aiming to impeach President Bill Clinton, “…history will track you down and condemn you for your cravenness.” The New York Times will later editorialize that his testimony was a “gratuitously patronizing presentation,” but Wilentz will respond that he has been misunderstood.

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Princeton University history professor Sean Wilentz, 1994. Office of Communications Records (AC168), Box 193.

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Announcing ASAP: Archiving Student Activism at Princeton

Next Thursday and Friday, the Princeton University Archives will host a collecting drive to launch ASAP: Archiving Student Activism at Princeton, an initiative that seeks to collect and preserve individual and organizational records created by Princeton students who engage in activism on a broad range of issues and perspectives, both on campus and off. We hope students will drop by our table in Frist Campus Center between 11:00 am and 2:00 pm on Thursday, December 10, or come visit us between 1:00 pm and 3:00 pm at Mudd Library on Friday, December 11, to drop off their records. You can find details of ASAP here. In this post, I want to explain 1) why the University Archives is launching this initiative now and 2) why you as students should consider depositing your records.

Before reading any further, stop and ask yourself: what is the purpose of the Princeton University Archives? Is it to preserve pieces of Princeton’s past for posterity? Or is it to provide reference assistance to researchers, including students who consult senior theses? Or, is the purpose to collect new records that are created today?

First Charter in Board of Trustees Minutes

Charter of the College of New Jersey, in Board of Trustees Minutes, Vol. 1. (Board of Trustees Records (AC120). See the first 8 volumes of the Board of Trustees Minutes in the Princeton University Digital Library (PUDL).

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This Week in Princeton History for November 30-December 6

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a dorm fire destroys a senior thesis, a football player wins the Heisman Trophy, and more.

November 30, 1834—On Princeton’s first astronomical expedition, Professor Stephen Alexander observes a solar eclipse in Georgia; his Fraunhofer telescope is the best refractor of its time.

December 3, 1969—A fire started by an unwatched candle in 114 Henry Hall destroys Willard Reynolds ‘70’s thesis and graduate school applications.

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Despite the setback, Willard Reynolds ’70 managed to complete his senior thesis. It is now a part of the Senior Thesis Collection (AC102).

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This Week in Princeton History for November 23-29

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, stranded undergrads sing in Trenton, the basketball team gets tickets with nobody’s face on them, and more.

November 23, 1939—When a train wreck blocks all traffic on the main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad near Princeton Junction Station, 300 stranded undergraduates returning from Thanksgiving break hold an impromptu “songfest” in Trenton Station.

November 24, 1781—James Caldwell, College of New Jersey (Princeton) Class of 1759, is killed by an American sentry in Elizabethtown, New Jersey. The sentry will later be hanged for murder.

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Clipping from the New Jersey Gazette, December 12, 1781.

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Princeton’s Thanksgiving Dinners

Last year, we shared a typical Princeton Thanksgiving of football rivalry with Yale rather than turkey and trimmings with you on our blog. That Princetonians of the late 19th and early 20th centuries tended toward urban entertainment in preference to a heavy meal does not mean that the meal was wholly unimportant, however. We’ve been collecting menus from the University Archives on our Tumblr page since June, and in the process of doing so we’ve discovered a handful of Thanksgiving menus we’d like to share with you here during this holiday season.

The first is George Whitefield Betts, Class of 1892, who had his 1890 Thanksgiving dinner at “Mrs. McCarty’s.” A modern audience will recognize some of what was on offer as currently traditional, but might balk at cold boiled tongue. (Scrapbook Collection (AC026), Box 150)

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