This Week in Princeton History for September 22-28

For last week’s installment in our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its students and alumni, click here.

George Washington attends Commencement, Dr. Patch Adams speaks in McCosh 50, and more.

September 23, 1946—A record-breaking 2,350 people attend the University’s bicentennial Convocation in the Chapel, with a sermon by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

September 24, 1783—College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) Class of 1783 Valedictorian and future College President Ashbel Green gives an address to a Commencement audience that includes George Washington and the Continental Congress.

Ashbel Green

Portrait of Ashbel Green by an unknown artist.

September 25, 2002—The doctor made famous by Robin Williams’ portrayal of him in the eponymous Patch Adams speaks to a packed audience in McCosh 50.

Patch Adams in McCosh 50 2002

Dr. Hunter “Patch” Adams addresses the crowd in McCosh 50. Photo from the Daily Princetonian.

September 26, 1929—Frick Laboratory (Chemistry) opens. After housing the Chemistry department for 81 years, it will be renamed 20 Washington Road in 2010, when the new Frick Lab is opened.  (Click to view photos of the old Frick Lab under construction and the newly completed building in 1929. An interior view is available here.)

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Washington’s Birthday at Princeton

Generally ignored or barely noted by Princetonians today, Washington’s Birthday was one of the most important campus events during the late 1800s and early 1900s. The day was marked in a variety of ways such as athletic contests, musical entertainment, and plays. The celebration was capped off by an oratorical contest, where each class selected a representative to compete for a cash prize, usually sponsored by the Nassau Literary Magazine.

1897 Washington's Birthday Program
Cover of the 1897 Washington’s Birthday Program,
Washington’s Birthday Celebration Records

The character of the holiday’s celebration changed significantly over time. The first Princeton observance of the first president’s birthday was noted in the February 1794 minutes of the Cliosophic Society. Clio’s observation of the occasion included an oration by Brother Gamma, a.k.a. Henry Kollock ’1794, which includes few details other than that it was received “to the great satisfaction of all.” The tradition seems to have been revived decades later, as the Archives’ Washington’s Birthday Celebration Records (AC200) contain event programs from the years 1873 to 1909.

parade_web
Washington’s Birthday Parade, 1889
Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series, Box SP1

For much of its lifespan, the celebration appears to have been raucous, emphasizing a spirit of class rivalry, especially between freshmen and sophomores. Inter-class hazing was frequent, and an element of humor permeated each program, especially in the oration delivered by the senior class speaker, who was permitted to digress from the patriotic speeches expected of the other three classes.

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