Access to Higher Education: A National and Princeton Timeline

In light of the Trustees Ad Hoc Committee on Diversity that is working to develop recommendations for strategies to attract and retain more diverse campus community members, (including people of color and women, in areas where the University’s efforts to advance diversity have had more limited success), we offer this historical timeline.

The mid to late 19th century sees the first wave of democratization of collegiate education, including creation of the land grant universities, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), women’s colleges, and early coeducation.

1837: Cheyney University of Pennsylvania founded as the nation’s first HBCU.  In the same year, Mount Holyoke College opened, making it the oldest remaining higher education institution for women.

1856: The African Methodist Episcopal church founded Wilberforce University, which is the first black school of higher learning that was owned and operated by African Americans. Records suggest that Mt. Pisgah A.M.E. church in Princeton, NJ, was involved in fundraising efforts for Wilberforce.

1862: The Morrill Land Grant Act authorizes states to use the proceeds from the sale of public lands to establish state colleges of agriculture and the mechanical arts.

1865: The Freedman Bureau—initially known as the Federal Bureau of Refugees, Freedman and Abandoned Lands—was created. The bureau  was instrumental in founding a number of HBCU’s  in 1867, including, Howard University in Washington, D.C., Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, St. Augustine College in Raleigh, North Carolina, Atlanta University in Georgia, and in 1868, Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia.

1876: Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, opens the first medical school in the South for African Americans.

1881: Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, became the first college formally founded for African American women. In the same year, Booker T. Washington founded The Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama, now known as Tuskegee University.

By the early 20th century, higher education leaders assume roles as “social regulators” between socioeconomic classes and ethnic groups, rationing access to undergraduate degrees. 

1900: A consortium of colleges and universities develops the Common Entrance Exam, which will evolve in 1926 into the SAT.

1909: Woodrow Wilson protects Princeton’s racial homogeneity, writing that it would be “altogether inadvisable for a colored man to enter.”

1922:  Princeton changes undergraduate admissions procedures to include greater consideration of subjective non-academic criteria, largely in order to limit admission of Jewish applicants.

Mid-century, there is renewed national movement toward democratization of access to higher education.

1942: Princeton belatedly admits its first African American undergraduates in conjunction with the Navy’s V-12 program. This federal government program was designed to select and train highly qualified men for commissioning as officers in the Navy.

1944: Congress passes the GI Bill of Rights, which provides WWII veterans with benefits including education grants. This year also marked the establishment of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) by Frederick D. Patterson, for which was organized to help support African American college students. At Princeton, John Leroy Howard is the first to graduate from the Navy’s V-12 program.

1948: James Everett Ward and Arthur Jewell Wilson, Jr. both admitted to the Navy’s V-12 Program in 1945 graduate from Princeton.  On August 24th, Princeton issued a statement to the Judiciary Committee on the Assembly of the State Legislature in response to the Proposed Act Assembly 512, legislation that challenged discriminatory practices in institutions of higher learning in NJ: “It is, however, the position of Princeton University that discriminatory practices in a private educational institutions cannot be corrected, in any fundamental or long-range manner, by police legislation. The only sound prescription for their eradication is to provide a climate in which they cannot thrive. No punitive law can create such a climate.”

1951: Princeton University conferred the Doctor of Laws honorary degree upon activist, intellectual, and politician Ralph Johnson Bunch, making him the first African American to receive such an honor from the college. In addition, Joseph Ralph Moss was the first African American admitted after the war in the fall of 1947. He graduated on June 12, 1951.

1954: Brown v. Board of Education decision holds that racially segregated schools are inherently unequal.

1955: Princeton appoints its first African American professor, Charles T. Davis.

1957: The “Little Rock Nine” integrates Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas.

1958: In response to the Cold War, Congress authorizes the National Defense Education Act, which provides federal aid to improve the teaching of math, science and foreign languages and creates the first federal loans for higher education.

1959: Princeton University conferred the Doctor of Humanities honorary degree upon opera singer Marian Anderson, making her the first African American woman to receive such an honor from the college.

1960: The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was formed by an interracial group of college students. SNCC was instrumental in helping to energize college students and encouraged their involvement in the Civil Rights movement, particularly sit-ins and freedom rides.

1962: James Meredith was the first African American student to enroll at the University of Mississippi.

1963: The Princeton Cooperative School-College program was established, aiming to “enlarge the pool of qualified Negro candidates for higher education.” It later sought to include students from other socio-economically disadvantaged groups from area public and private schools.

1964: Princeton awards a Ph.D degree to a woman, T’sai-ying Cheng, for the first time.  In the same year, Princeton ends compulsory chapel for freshmen.

By the mid-1960s, access to higher education is increasingly viewed as a social justice imperative and corrective “Affirmative Action” measure for under-represented populations.  Major federal legislation expands protections for a variety of populations. Private colleges and universities begin to redefine their role as the educators of societal leaders to include women and members of minority groups in the leadership cadre.

1965: The Higher Education Act increases federal funds for colleges and universities, creates scholarships, and provides low-interest loans for students.

1968: Carl A. Fields is appointed as assistant dean of the college, becoming the first African American to serve as dean at an Ivy League institution.  In the same year, Suzanne Keller becomes the first tenured female member of the faculty and Henry and Cecelia Drewry were hired to teach Princeton’s first courses in black history and culture. In October and November, the Committee for Black Awareness submitted proposals pertaining to improving the recruitment efforts, admission and experience of African American graduate students at the college.

1969: Princeton trustees vote to admit women to the undergraduate student body.  In this same year, the Ford foundation donated $1 million dollars to Howard University, Yale, and Morgan State University to help prepare faculty members to teach African American studies courses.

1971: Third World Center (now Carl A. Fields Center) and Women’s Center founded. This same year, Swann v. Charlotte Mecklenburg (1971) made the busing of students for the purpose of promoting integration in public schools constitutional. This case was suggestive of how the nation was still grappling with the implementation of the Brown v. Board of Education decision.

1972: Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 bans discrimination on the basis of gender.

1974: A group of Princeton’s Puerto Rican and Chicano students, which included Sonia Sotomayor, petitioned the Office of Health, Education, and Welfare to review the college’s Affirmative Action policy, particularly, what the students charged were Princeton’s deficiencies in addressing the concerns of Puerto Rican and Chicano students. Thereafter, Sotomayor went on to propose the first student initiated seminar on the history and politics of Puerto-Rico to be administered in the spring of 1974.

1973: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act guarantees civil rights for people with disabilities in the context of federally-funded institutions.

1978: Regents of the University of California v. Bakke decision condemns use of quotas in college admission but concludes that it is permissible to take race into account, as one among several factors, in seeking to secure the educational benefits of diversity.  Justice Powell’s decision quotes President William Bowen’s writing on the value of diversity.

During the 1980s and 1990s, definitions of diversity in a higher education context broaden to include a wider range of difference in experience and background, including disabilities, religion, socio-economic class, sexual orientation, national origin, etc.  Workplace conceptions of diversity as a form of competitive advantage, particularly in a globalized world, enter the national dialogue.

1992: Tiger Inn becomes the last Eating Club to accept women.

1993: On March 1st, Vice Provost Ruth Simmons issues “Report on Campus Race Relations.”

1994: Center for Jewish Life established.

1995: Ethnic studies protest waged by students at Princeton culminated with a sit-in at Nassau Hall. The students were calling for a more diverse liberal arts curriculum that would include Asian and Latin American studies.

1998: Princeton takes first major steps to transform its financial aid policies, followed in 2001 by the ground-breaking “no-loan” policy.

2002: Princeton’s Office of the Vice President for Campus Life launched the Bildner Fund for the Advancement of Diversity on Campus. These funds were used to support programming and projects dealing with race, ethnicity, gender, faith, class, social justice, among others issues.

2003: Supreme Court upholds the affirmative action policies of the University of Michigan in Grutter v. Bollinger.

2005: Princeton launches the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Center.

2006: Princeton launches the Office of Disabilities Services.

2007: Princeton announces a strategic plan to expand its international initiatives. In addition, the Center for African American Studies (CAAS) opens in Stanhope Hall.

2009: Princeton hires the country’s first full-time college Hindu Chaplain. Also, the program in Latino Studies is established during this year.

2011: Princeton’s Program in Women and Gender Studies changed its name to the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies to “reflect the new development and changing focus of scholarship in the field.”