1957 Epidemics at Princeton

The most characteristic sound around the Princeton campus last week was not the familiar and rhythmic tolling of Nassau Hall’s bell, nor even the sleep-shattering bedlam of the steam-shovels on the new U-Store site. The sound around campus was everywhere: if you went to the heights of Blair Tower, behold, it was there, and even C Floor of the Libe, normally a haven for silence seekers, echoed and re-echoed the irritating noise. Everywhere you went, people were coughing. … The cough was almost always a good, lusty, chesty type which sort of set one apart as the bearer of a badge of courage and defiance—no infirmary was going to get his hands on him. No sir!

                                        –Princeton Alumni Weekly, November 1, 1957

 

This week’s FluFest is one of the ways the University works to keep students in good health for their studies, but keeping Princetonians healthy has sometimes proven to be a significant challenge. The Bric-a-Brac for 1958 reported on hundreds of students “plagued by a rash of…sickness” (118) “bedded down at home or in the campus infirmary,” including in the Student Center, which “was converted into an emergency annex.” It doesn’t sound like students had as much fun that year, with many social events canceled by Dean of the College Jeremiah S. Finch. One morose senior complained,  “I mean it, it’s tragic—this [epidemic] … is ruining my senior year! Now I’ve got nothing at all to do but work on my thesis.” (Princeton Alumni Weekly, October 25, 1957)

Infirmary Admissions graphic

Data taken from Report of the Committee on Health and Athletics for October 17, 1958 (found in the Board of Trustees Records).

There were typically about 100 infirmary admissions per month, but this jumped to over 600 in October 1957. The primary reason was a new kind of influenza sweeping across the globe. Nobody is certain where the new strain of “Asiatic Flu” (H2N2) originated, but the first reports of people falling ill from it came in Hong Kong in April 1957, with huge numbers of people succumbing to it wherever it was found. Concerned about the implications for the United States, government officials requested samples of the virus, and the Centers for Disease Control urged America’s six manufacturers of vaccines to get to work on a vaccine for it as soon as possible. By September, the vaccine was ready, but there was not enough supply to meet demand. Once school started, the virus began spreading dramatically. About 3-6 weeks after school began (the incubation period of the illness), absenteeism reached its highest levels. The Prince noted that at one point, 71% of Philadelphia’s students, including those at the University of Pennsylvania, were out with the flu. Indeed, this particular flu seemed to infect the young more than the old. A 1959 study later estimated that approximately 60% of America’s students had, at some point, been absent due to the flu in 1957.

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This Week in Princeton History for August 25-31

Here at the Princeton University Archives we love to bring the history of the school, students and alumni to life by sharing what happened “This Week in Princeton History,” which will be an ongoing series here on our blog.

For the week of August 25-31:

Nassau Hall hosts the first legislature of New Jersey, an alumnus sets a new record, Princeton undergraduates keep the Pennsylvania Railroad running, and more.

August 27, 1776—The first legislature of New Jersey meets in the College library in Nassau Hall.

AC177_Box_2_Folder_5(Nassau)

Nassau Hall Iconography Collection, AC177, Box 2, Folder 5.

August 28, 1982—Preparatory school headmaster Ashby “Brud” Harper ’39, winner of the 9 varsity P’s, becomes the oldest person to swim the English Channel at 65 years old.

August 28-29, 1943—100 Princeton undergraduates are excused from classes to volunteer handling freight at the Olden Avenue Yards of the Pennsylvania Railroad in Trenton.

August 29, 1804—For promotion of science, Noah Webster deeds to Nassau Hall royalties from some of his publications: American Spelling Book, American Selections, and Elements of Useful Knowledge.

August 31, 1952—Town Topics names then-Assistant Dean of the College Jeremiah Stanton Finch their “man of the week,” noting his commitment to making a Princeton education “as close as possible to the ideal.”

Jeremiah_S._Finch_Bric-a-Brac_1958

Photo from 1958 Bric-a-Brac.

Fact Check: We aim for accuracy, but, if you see something that doesn’t look right, contact us!

Mudd in Print

Have you ever wondered what our researchers are up to in the reading room? Many of them are working fervently towards producing highly esteemed, ground-breaking, and sometimes award-winning books.

This entry features a sample of recent publications, each developed through extensive research at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library. Drawing from material found in the Princeton University Archives, as well as the Public Policy Papers, these works demonstrate the varied research potential of the collections housed in our library. (All descriptions from Amazon.com.)

Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities by Craig Steven Wilder

Ebony and Ivy

In Ebony and Ivy, Craig Steven Wilder, a rising star in the profession of history, lays bare uncomfortable truths about race, slavery, and the American academy.

The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War by Stephen Kinzer

TheBrothers
A joint biography of John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles, who led the United States into an unseen war that decisively shaped today’s world.

Wilson by A. Scott Berg

Wilson

From Pulitzer Prize–winning, #1 New York Times–bestselling author A. Scott Berg comes the definitive—and revelatory—biography of one of the great American figures of modern times.

George F. Kennan: An American Life by John Lewis Gaddis

kennan

Three decades in the making, the definitive, authorized biography of one of Cold War America’s most prominent and most troubled grand strategists.

Princeton: America’s Campus by W. Barksdale Maynard

americascampus

Neither a straightforward architectural history nor a simple guidebook, it weaves social history and the built fabric into a biography of a great American place.

These books are also on display in the lobby case at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library.

by: Amanda Pike