“Dear Mother … with Heaps of Love”

This Mother’s Day, we thought we’d give a shout out to all the Princeton moms. Though Princeton has changed a lot over the years, one thing has remained pretty constant: many students want to share their academic triumphs, heartbreaks, and other local news with their mothers, who once received letters like this one and today more commonly hear from their children at Princeton via smart phone.

The letter below, one of hundreds of similar letters in our Student Correspondence and Writings Collection (AC334), was written ca. February 1913 by Peter Carter Speers, Class of 1914.

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This Week in Princeton History for May 4-10

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a graduate pioneers new territory in aviation, a sitting American president visits the campus, and more.

May 4, 1970—On the same day as the Ohio National Guard shoots and kills four students at Kent State University during an anti-war protest, over 4,000 Princeton students, faculty, and administrators gather at Jadwin Gym and discuss how they will register their disapproval of the Nixon administration’s invasion of Cambodia. They vote to suspend final exams (audio and photos available here). In the aftermath of the “Princeton Strike,” the academic calendar will be revised to allow for a two-week break from classes in November to allow students to campaign during election years. This will later live on at 21st-century Princeton as a week-long fall break.

May 6, 1963—More than 1,500 undergraduates riot in Princeton for no apparent reason, causing extensive damage to the town and campus. Twelve students are arrested in connection with crimes committed during the riot, and a fine will be imposed on the student body at large to pay for repairs. More than 40 years later, Princeton President Robert Goheen will recall the riot disdainfully.


The driver of this Volkswagen Beetle honked at rioters, who responded by surrounding the car, lifting it up, and placing it on a nearby sidewalk. Photo from the Daily Princetonian.

May 8, 1919—Jim Breese, Princeton University Class of 1909, begins the world’s first transatlantic flight as the Reserve Pilot Engineer aboard the seaplane NC-4. The trip will take 23 days, during which Breese will earn the distinction of being the first person ever to shave on a plane. The Autostrop Company, manufacturer of his razor, will later buy it back from him for a reported $500 (about $12,000 in today’s currency).

NC-4 preparing for transatlantic crossing 1919 PAW 24 Feb 1928

NC-4 preparing for transatlantic crossing, May 8, 1919. Photo from Princeton Alumni Weekly.

May 10, 1991—Sitting United States President George H. W. Bush is on campus to dedicate the University’s Social Science Complex and receive an honorary Doctor of Laws. While accepting the degree (video here), Bush, a 1948 Yale graduate, talks about his first visit to Princeton during his senior year. “I was not treated quite so hospitably. It was out at the baseball diamond … Crowded along the first base line—it was very hostile, the way things were in Princeton—were a bunch of hyperventilating, celebrating alumni. And I remember standing there at first base and a gigantic tiger—I think his name was Neil Zundel—came to the plate. He lofted an easy fly toward Yale’s first baseman (me) and as I reached for the ball, the guy just sheer bowled me over to the cheers of the Princeton alumni. I was hurt. My pride was hurt. But P.S.: Yale won the ball game.”

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 Ceremony Was Not Sanctioned”: Gay Marriage at Princeton

With the policy that young lovers of the same sex may no longer sign the marriage register and that Michael Beer and Jason Rudy will have a retractory asterisk placed by their entry, neither side of the aisle gets what it wants. … No one who has attended ours, the most pragmatic of all universities, should be surprised. –Micah Weinberg ’98, “Stuck in the Middle of the Road,”  Progressive Review, November 1997

Eighteen years ago today, the first same-sex wedding was held in the Princeton University Chapel. Gay marriage was not legal in New Jersey (nor anywhere in the nation) so the ceremony was a symbolic one rather than a legally binding contract. The couple were both Princetonians. Michael Beer earned his Princeton degree in 1995 and had been a graduate student in plasma physics when he met Jason Rudy ’97, an English major. They had begun dating three years prior to the event and had been living together for two. Knowing that the marriage would not be legally recognized, Rudy told the Princeton Alumni Weekly, “With the exception of a stronger sense of commitment and emotional security, opening a joint bank account, and getting a new set of towels, nothing much will change.”


Editorial cartoon, Progressive Review, November 1997.

When news of their plans to marry in the Chapel appeared, it invited heavy criticism for the Assistant Dean of Religious Life, Sue Anne Steffey Morrow, who performed the ceremony. Though primarily concerned with the precedent set by having a same-sex wedding in the Chapel, another issue that troubled some students and alumni was that Beer and Rudy were atheists, while the wedding was heavily laden with the trappings of Christian tradition. Other responses were supportive of Morrow and of the couple.
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Princeton Mourns Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. exactly 150 years ago. As Americans did throughout the country, Princetonians immediately went into mourning. The loss was more profound given that the nation had emerged from a devastating Civil War less than a week before.

Princeton’s ties to Lincoln are reflected in various collections in Princeton University Library’s Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. On his train trip to his inauguration in 1861, Lincoln made many stops in the Midwest and Northeast, where he often spoke to crowds. On February 21, more than 20,000 supporters received him in Trenton. William Stewart Cross Webster and Alexander Taggart McGill, Jr., both of the College of New Jersey (Princeton) Class of 1864, were among the throngs. In a letter to his mother a few days later, Webster expressed disappointment that he was unable to hear Lincoln over the roar of the crowd: “This was our sight of Abraham Lincoln: We saw great Lincoln plain; it can never be forgotten, the bowing very graciously right and left. In a few minutes Mr. L. appeared on the platform and said a few words. His manner was pleasant and a vein of humor pervaded his whole face. I was unlucky enough to hear nothing he said.” (Undergraduate Alumni Records 1748-1920 (AC104), Box 125)

Shortly after his reelection in 1864, the Board of Trustees voted to confer an honorary Doctorate of Law upon Lincoln. Lincoln was unable to attend Princeton’s Commencement, but wrote to College President John Maclean to thank Princeton for its honor “in this time of public trial.”

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This Week in Princeton History for December 29-January 4

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, graduate alumni form their own organization, George Washington comes to town, and more.

December 29, 1939—William B. Scott (Class of 1877), Blair Professor of Geology, Emeritus, wins the Penrose Medal, the top prize in geosciences, from the Geological Society of America.

December 30, 1949—The Association of Princeton Graduate Alumni (APGA ) is founded.


Promotional materials sent to graduate alumni following the founding of the Association for Princeton Graduate Alumni, 1950, Historical Subject Files Collection (AC109), Box 10, Folder 1.

January 1, 1951—Princeton University begins participation in the Social Security system.

January 2, 1777—George Washington and the Continental Army march from Trenton to Princeton, where they will liberate Nassau Hall and the rest of the College of New Jersey (Princeton University) campus from British occupation on January 3.


Princeton has long celebrated its connection to George Washington and the American Revolution. This cover of an event program is found in the Washington’s Birthday Celebration Records (AC200).

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.

Happy Holidays from John Foster Dulles


John Foster Dulles Papers (MC016), Box 567

John Foster Dulles, Princeton Class of 1908, devoted most of his life to public service, beginning in the late 1910s through his death in 1959. The John Foster Dulles Papers (MC016) at the Mudd Manuscript Library document his career, particularly his influence on United States foreign policy. Portions of the Dulles Papers are currently being digitized as part of a grant awarded to the Mudd Library by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). By the project’s end, the selected correspondence, diaries and journals, and speeches, statements, and press conferences series will be available online in their entirety, totaling over 146,000 pages of archival content.

Though the collection spans his lifetime, the John Foster Dulles Papers focus on Dulles’s service as the fifty-third Secretary of State under the Eisenhower administration. Dulles was formally appointed to the position on January 21, 1953. In December of that year, he made his first Christmas address to the American people, wishing them “peace on earth, good will to men.”

Pages from Christmas Greetings

John Foster Dulles Papers (MC016), Box 321

Check the blog for future posts about the progress of the John Foster Dulles digitization project. For more information about the Digitizing the Origins of the Cold War project, see some of our previous posts.

Alan Turing’s Princeton University File Available Online

With the American premiere of The Imitation Game this Friday, many will be interested in its subject, Alan Mathison Turing, who received his Ph.D. in mathematics from Princeton University in 1938. With the “Turing Machine,” he laid the theoretical foundations that make it possible for the device you are using to read this blog post to exist.

Turing_Card_1 Turing_Card_2

Turing’s Graduate School file is now available online, and mostly contains correspondence and paperwork related to his admission to and progress through Princeton’s Ph.D. program in mathematics in the 1930s. Turing studied under Alonzo Church, who made Princeton a leading center for research in mathematical logic, and developed “Church’s Theorem.” For those interested in Church and the history of the mathematics department in the 1930s, there is this oral history collection, which features online transcripts. Researchers interested in Turing may also want to view Church’s correspondence with him, available in the Rare Books and Special Collections Reading Room in Firestone Library.

N.B. Access to alumni records is governed by this policy.

December 5, 2014 update: We have received questions regarding the death date listed on the file. Although archival records may sometimes contain errors, we do not make changes to the original documents. However, we note that Turing’s actual date of death was June 7, 1954, not June 8, 1954 as listed in Turing’s Graduate School file.

This Week in Princeton History for November 17-23

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, an alum takes the school flag to the moon, Ella Fitzgerald performs, and more.

November 17, 1983—Diplomats from the Netherlands, France, Spain, and Great Britain are in Alexander Hall to commemorate the bicentennial of the signing of the Treaty of Paris, which ended America’s Revolutionary War. Princeton is chosen because the Continental Congress resided here in 1783.

November 19, 1969—Astronaut Charles “Pete” Conrad, Jr. ’53, third man to walk on the moon and Commander of the Apollo XII mission, brings a Princeton flag to the moon’s Ocean of Storms. Princeton President Robert F. Goheen observes that this is “a noble summit for the Orange and Black,” and Dean of the Faculty J. Douglas Brown orders Princeton’s rarely-flown flag to be raised atop Nassau Hall in honor of the occasion. The flag is typically flown only for Commencement exercises, or at half-staff upon the death of a faculty member.


Princeton University’s flag, back from the moon and signed by Charles “Pete” Conrad ’53, Commander of NASA’s Apollo XII. Memorabilia Collection (AC053).

November 20, 1936—A teenager from  Harlem performs at Princeton for the first time as the featured vocalist at a dance in the old gymnasium. At the 1990 Commencement exercises nearly 54 years later, Princeton will award the woman—Ella Fitzgerald—an honorary Doctorate of Music.


Ella Fitzgerald with University president Harold Shapiro at Princeton’s 1990 Commencement. Office of Communications Records (AC168), Box 170.

November 21, 1933—A self-described “most desirable, good-looking northern girl, unfortunately stranded in the South” writes to the Daily Princetonian asking for a “most desirable, good-looking northern Princetonian” with whom to correspond. “Hurry up before I weaken,” she says. “I am in demand 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.

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.


“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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F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Princeton Career and the Triangle Club

Written by Dan Linke

Today marks the 118th anniversary of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s birth and 101 years since he entered Princeton University, the place he dubbed “the pleasantest country club in America.” That phrase, a great irritant to then University President John Grier Hibben, is found in his first novel, This Side of Paradise, which chronicles Amory Blaine’s time as an undergraduate and his fascination with eating clubs, sports, social life, and Fitzgerald’s true Princeton obsession, the Triangle Club.


F. Scott Fitzgerald’s portrait from the Class of 1917 Nassau Herald.

Fitzgerald is the sole author of all the song lyrics for three consecutive Triangle Club shows (Fie! Fie! Fi-Fi!, 1914-1915; The Evil Eye, 1915-1916; and Safety First, 1916-1917), a prolific record unmatched in the Club’s nearly 125 year history.  When asked “what was your major?,” it is not uncommon for Club alumni to respond with “Triangle, with a minor in Chemistry” [or English, or any other subject that they ostensibly studied].  For Fitzgerald, the answer appears to be the same, as evidenced by his grade card and his failure to graduate.

Admitted on trial, as his card notes, Fitzgerald struggled with most of his classes and was placed in the fifth (the lowest) class throughout his three years.  This should encourage aspiring writers everywhere, however, given that one of the greatest 20th century American authors never received higher than a B+ (a 3, on a 1-7 scale) in his English classes, but went on to write works still read avidly almost 75 years after his death.

Images taken from Office of the Registrar Records, Box 103. Click to enlarge:

f.scott_1a F_scott_1b F_scott_2a F_scott_2b

N.B. Access to undergraduate alumni records is governed by this policy.