This Week in Princeton History for November 24-30

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the campus mourns the death of John F. Kennedy, the first classes are held in Nassau Hall, and more.

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John F. Kennedy speaks to the Whig-Cliosophic Society, April 26, 1954, Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box SP13, Item No. 3168.

November 25, 1963—In observation of the National Day of Mourning for United States President and (briefly) former Princetonian John F. Kennedy, all classes are canceled and University offices are closed.

November 26, 1787—The Faculty of the College of New Jersey resolve that baseball, being “low and unbecoming gentlemen and students,” and “attended by great danger to the health,” must be prohibited, “inasmuch as there are many amusements both more honorable and more useful.” Baseball continues to be played anyway.

November 28, 1756—With carpenters and others still at work on the building the students attend the first day of classes at Nassau Hall.

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Nassau Hall commemorative plate by Wedgwood, Memorabilia Collection (AC053), Box A2.

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Charcoal drawing of Philip Vickers Fithian, Class of 1772, by an unknown artist., ca. October 1776, Undergraduate Alumni Records 1748-1920 (AC104), Box 24.

November 30, 1770—Philip Vickers Fithian (Class of 1772) writes to his father about his experiences at the College of New Jersey. A standard schedule:

5:00 AM—Rising Bell
5:30 AM—Morning Prayers
8:00 AM—Breakfast
9:00 AM-1:00 PM—Recitation
1:00 PM—Dinner
1:00-3:00 PM—Recreation
3:00-5:00 PM—Study Hours
5:00 PM—Evening Prayers
7:00 PM—Supper
9:00 PM—Study Bell (to go to bed before this is “reproachful”)

Students who repeatedly miss morning prayers will receive “public Admonition in the Hall for Contempt of Authority.” Fithian feels the customs of the College are “exceedingly well formed to check & restrain the vicious, & to assist the studious, & to countenance & incourage (sic) the virtuous.” Read this letter and others here.

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.

Kennan on Kennedy: “Dismal Foreboding for the Future of this Country”

George Kennan, like so many others, remembered exactly where he was and what he did upon hearing the news of John F. Kennedy’s death:

“I had been at a luncheon when I heard he had been shot, but on returning to the office shortly afterward I received confirmation of his death.  My reaction, in addition to the obvious shock, was one of the most dismal foreboding for the future of this country.  The first person I went to, to talk about it, was Robert Oppenheimer, and we both had the impression that this event marked in many ways a deterioration of the entire situation in this country.”

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George Kennan on Kennedy Assassination, November 1968

 

Kennan, most noted for his influence on U.S. policy towards the Soviet Union during the Cold War and advocacy of a policy of containment, served as Kennedy’s ambassador to Yugoslavia from 1961 to July 1963.  Kennan’s correspondence with Kennedy dates from 1959 and includes an 8 page letter of foreign policy advice written to during the 1960 presidential campaign.

On October 22, 1963, exactly one month before Kennedy’s death, Kennan sent a handwritten note of encouragement to Kennedy, writing “I don’t think we have seen a better standard of statesmanship in White House in the present century.” Kennan also wrote that he hoped Kennedy would be discouraged “neither by the appalling pressures of your office nor by the obtuseness and obstruction you encounter in another branch of government,” and expressed gratitude to Kennedy “for the courage and patience and perception for which you carry on.”

 

Typescript of George Kennan's handwritten note to John F. Kennedy, October 22, 1963

Typescript of George Kennan’s handwritten note to John F. Kennedy, October 22, 1963

Kennedy responded a few days later, on October 28th saying he would keep the letter nearby “for reference and reinforcement on hard days.”  Kennedy died in Dallas only 26 days later.

John F. Kennedy letter to George Kennan, October 28, 1963

John F. Kennedy letter to George Kennan, October 28, 1963

The Kennedy-Kennan correspondence consists of 79 pages, a small percentage of the  72,545 pages of Kennan’s papers digitized as part of our NHPRC-funded digitization grant.  All of the digitized documents, including Kennan’s permanent correspondence files and unpublished writings can be accessed by clicking on the folder titles listed in the finding aid.

John F. Kennedy’s Princeton University undergraduate alumni file

Today marks the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.  The Mudd Manuscript Library celebrated the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s election in 2010 with an exhibition and more than 30 Public Policy collections contain material related to Kennedy.

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Within the University Archives, his undergraduate alumni file contains his application to the University, details his brief time on campus and reasons for his departure, and some later correspondence with and about him.

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The first page of JFK’s Princeton Application

The file contains his application essay that is very similar to his Harvard essay, which was released in 2011. This digitized file is part of the Mudd Library’s ongoing digitization efforts.

by: Dan Linke

Open House Celebrates Kennedy’s Legacy as President and Temporary Tiger

Behind the scenes tours of Mudd Manuscript Library offered

On Saturday, October 23, Princeton University’s Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library will host a special Open House from 9 a.m. until noon. This event will feature the library’s current exhibit, John F. Kennedy: From Old Nassau to the New Frontier, which highlights objects, photographs, and documents created during Kennedy’s time as a Princeton student and throughout his political career.
John F. Kennedy: From Old Nassau to the New Frontier is the first exhibit to feature objects from both major collections of the Mudd Library, the Princeton University Archives and the 20th century Public Policy Papers. Highlights include his handwritten application to Princeton, a Jackie Onassis letter to Adlai Stevenson, and documents from the Warren Commission.
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Exhibition reveals the Tiger inside John F. Kennedy

Memorabilia from John F. Kennedy’s brief stint as a Princeton student and items from his political career- including a 1935 Christmas card depicting Kennedy with his Princeton roommates dressed in top hats and suits in homage to Fred Astaire from the motion picture Top Hat (which opened earlier that year), and photographs and documents from the Warren Commission’s investigation into the circumstances surrounding Kennedy’s assassination- are part of a new exhibition in the Wiess Lounge at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library. Running through September 2, 2011, John F. Kennedy: From Old Nassau to the New Frontier commemorates the 50th anniversary of the election of our 35th President and his Princeton connections.

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This exhibition showcases the rarely-seen Princetonian side of Kennedy, who attended the University late in the fall semester of 1935 despite his father’s desire that he attend Harvard University. Unaware of his future in politics, Kennedy had declared his intended profession to be "banking" on his application and stated that the campus environment of Old Nassau was "second to none." Kennedy was admitted to the entering freshmen class in 1935 and shared a dormitory with his former Choate high school classmates Kirk LeMoyne Billings and Ralph Horton, Jr. in #9 Reunion Hall South. However, after a brief few weeks as a member of the Class of 1939 he left Princeton due to health reasons and later graduated from Harvard with the Class of 1940. The other presidents to have attended Princeton were James Madison and Woodrow Wilson.

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