Woodrow Wilson and the Graduate College

Written by Anna Rubin ’15

This is the second installment in a two-part series examining two aspects of Woodrow Wilson’s Princeton University presidency, featuring sources in our recently-digitized selections from the Office of the President Records. In the first, we looked at his attitude towards Princeton’s eating clubs. Here, we turn to his conflict over the location of the Graduate College.

At the start of Woodrow Wilson’s Princeton presidency, plans for a Graduate College had been in the works since 1896, as part of the transformation of Princeton from a college to a university. In the summer of 1905, graduate students moved to a building on an eleven acre tract called Merwick just to the north of Princeton’s main campus. Andrew F. West, the Dean of the Graduate College at the time, supported the Graduate College’s placement at Merwick, believing that the small, homey atmosphere of the house was precisely the right environment. In a report to Wilson, West said, “I am very anxious that Merwick shall not take on anything of the character of a boarding house, a club, or a hotel, but shall preserve at all times the aspect of a quiet studious home.” (Office of the President Records (AC117), Box 63, Folder 1)

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Andrew Fleming West, 1889. Historical Photograph Collection, Faculty Photographs Series (AC059), Box FAC103.

Graduate students appreciated Merwick’s removed but walkable location from the campus, “aloof” and secluded, yet homey air, beautiful and distinctive appearance, and distance from the raucous undergraduate happenings on campus and around Prospect Avenue. Those who lived there found it to have an “atmosphere of consistent and dignified work” (Office of the President Records (AC117), Box 62, Folder 11). But Wilson feared that Merwick’s location would thoroughly remove the graduate student population both academically and socially from the life of the campus and the University at large. “Geographical separation from the body of the University has already created in the Graduate School a sense of administrative as well as social seclusion which, slight as it is and probably unconscious, is noticeable, and of course undesirable….” (Office of the President Records (AC117), Box 62, Folder 11)

Wilson hoped to move the Graduate College to the heart of Princeton’s campus, between Prospect House (where as University President, he lived) and Class of 1879 Hall (where his tower office was located), in the area now occupied by Woolworth (music) and the School of Architecture. He was passionate about the move, framing it as the cornerstone of his Princeton presidency. In May 1907 he wrote:

My hopes and my chief administrative plans for the University would be injured and deranged at their very heart were the Graduate College to be put at any remove whatever from such a central site. I count upon it as model and cause of intellectual and social changes of the deepest and most significant kind. It is upon the model and by means of the inspiration of such a College, with its dignified, stimulating, and happy life, that, in my judgment, the University is to be made over into a body academic, vital and of universal example in America. (Office of the President Records (AC117), Box 62, Folder 11)

Wilson’s desire to have the graduate college at the heart of Princeton’s campus was not purely social or intellectual. The benefactor who was to pay for a portion of the new college, the estate of Josephine Thomson Swann, had specified that the fund must be used on “the grounds” of the University. Swann passed away before final plans for the placement of the College were made, causing the phrase to become the center of controversy among those determining where to place the College, including former U.S. President Grover Cleveland, a bastion of Princeton town and gown.

Wilson’s plans to relocate the graduate college to the campus were no secret and in fact were part of his original goals for the University upon taking up the presidency in 1902. In March 1907, as the plans began to move forward more rapidly, 30 graduate students wrote a letter to the Trustee’s Committee on the Graduate School, lamenting that “It is with the deepest regret that we have heard of the possibility that the graduate school may be removed to the campus. There are many reasons why the present situation of the house appeals to us, and we venture to hope that they may seem valid to you.” The committee cited the need of “retirement and seclusion,” defined as “freedom from the too easy intrusion of undergraduate friends, remoteness from the campus noise and excitement, and from the club street and club life of the college.” They believed it was especially important to for those who earned undergraduate degrees at Princeton to have a distinction between undergraduate and graduate life. “Proximity of their quarters to the campus would mean that they would continue to live the undergraduate life.” (Office of the President Records (AC117), Box 62, Folder 11)

The Committee on the Graduate School ultimately resolved that the “Graduate College be fixed in the grounds of Prospect about midway between Seventy Nine Hall and the President’s house…” on April 9, 1908. In May 1909, William Cooper Proctor offered the Board of Trustees a $500,000 gift for the Graduate College, under the conditions that a) it be matched by another gift, b) only $200,000 of it would be used for the actual buildings of the graduate college and c) that the graduate college not be built in the middle of campus. Mr. Proctor preferred instead the golf links west of campus.

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Graduate College, Historical Postcards Collection (AC045), Box 1. This collection has been partially digitized and is viewable here.

Although Wilson attempted to convince the Board of Trustees not to accept the gift if it meant the graduate college must be placed elsewhere, they nonetheless did. The Committee of the Graduate School felt that too much emphasis was being placed on the graduate college residences, rather than the faculty and classroom facilities, and they wanted to commence with construction quickly with as little continued fanfare as possible. While Wilson believed that the residence, which played an integral role in his social reorganization of the University, was the most important aspect of bolstering the reputation of the new Graduate College, the Committee wanted the focus to be on academic and intellectual excellence. When the final decision was made in 1910, Wilson was outnumbered and, once again, lost. He left the Princeton presidency later that year, successfully running for New Jersey’s governorship. The initial buildings of the Graduate College were completed in 1913, just to the west of campus on the other side of what is today the Springdale Golf Club.

Anna Rubin ’15 worked as an archives assistant at the front desk here at Mudd while completing her senior year at Princeton. She was heavily involved in the digitization of this collection.

African Americans and Princeton University

Dear Mr. Mudd:

Q. What information do you have about African Americans and Princeton University?

A. Until the twentieth century, Princeton’s history has mostly been dominated by white men, typically from prosperous backgrounds. Though decidedly pro-Union during the Civil War, the campus had strong Southern influences, and its reputation as the “northernmost university town of the [segregated] south” was not undeserved. Yet that is not to say that Princeton’s story can only be told in terms of its loudest voices. Here, we give a brief overview of some of the ways African Americans fit into Princeton’s past.

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Princeton University cheerleaders, 1995. Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box SP9, Image No. 2484.

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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.

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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.

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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.

This Week in Princeton History for December 8-14

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the Triangle Show appears on national television, the Board of Trustees votes to establish the Graduate School, and more.

December 8, 1988—The Student Friends of the Art Museum get the first look at the renovated museum’s new wing.

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Renovations of the Princeton University Art Museum underway, 1985, Historical Photograph Collection (AC111), Grounds and Buildings Series, Box AD1, Folder 7.

December 9, 1947—Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, president of the World Jewish Congress and co-founder of the NAACP, speaks in McCosh 50 during Hanukkah, with celebratory words about the founding of the modern state of Israel.

December 10, 1950—After suspension and flagging interest in the 1940s due to World War II, Princeton’s Triangle Show revives itself with the first of what will be many annual appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show.

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Mark Lawrence ’42, Robert Jennings, Ed Sullivan, and Fred Kelley, 1950, Triangle Club Records, AC122, Box 74.

December 13, 1900—The Board of Trustees votes to establish a Graduate School, and appoints Andrew Fleming West, Class of 1874, its first dean.

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Andrew Fleming West, 1889, Historical Photograph Collection, Faculty Photographs Series, Box FAC103.

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.

 

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 October 20-26

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the first charter is issued for the College of New Jersey, the first mid-semester fall break occurs, and more.

For the week of October 20-26:

October 20, 2000—A ribbon-cutting ceremony marks the official dedication of Frist Campus Center.

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Frist Center Dedication, October 20, 2000, Office of Communications Records (AC168), Box 197.

October 21, 1970—For the first time, Princeton takes a mid-semester break from classes during the fall. This two-week “Election Break” is meant to allow students more time to engage in activism in the weeks leading up to national elections.

October 22, 1913—Ceremonies mark the formal dedication of the brand new Graduate College (now Old Graduate College).

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Graduate College, Historical Postcards Collection (AC045), Box 1. This collection has been digitized and is viewable here.

October 23, 1746—The first charter of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) is issued. Its guarantee of equal access to any person regardless of religion distinguishes it from its peer institutions. Although the original charter has been lost long ago, Princeton does retain the second charter, issued in 1748. It is rarely removed from our vaults, but you may view video of University Archivist Dan Linke showing it to Mudd Library visitors here.

First Charter in Board of Trustees Minutes

Charter of the College of New Jersey, in Board of Trustees Minutes, Vol. 1. (Board of Trustees Records (AC120)). The first 8 volumes of the Board of Trustees Minutes have been digitized and are viewable 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.

This Week in Princeton History for September 8-14

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

For the week of September 8-14:

The College goes coed, a NASCAR champion talks with engineering students, the first African American joins the faculty, and more.

September 8, 1969—The College goes coed, as 171 women join the undergraduate classes of ’70, ’71, ’72, and ’73. (The Graduate School had begun admitting women in 1961.)

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Photo of female student from 1970 Bric-a-Brac.

September 10, 1981—An ongoing rash of Oriental rug thefts on campus baffles proctors and local police.

September 12, 1996—NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon is the first racecar driver to speak at Princeton University, giving a talk on “the human side of engineering” in the parking lot between the Engineering Quad and Bowen Hall.

Jeff Gordon speaks at E-Quad 1996

Photo from The Daily Princetonian.

September 14, 1955—When classes begin on this date, Princeton’s newly appointed first African American professor, Dr. Charles T. Davis, is among the faculty teaching them.

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Faculty of the Department of English from 1956 Bric-a-Brac. Charles T. Davis is pictured on the second row, third from left.

Fact check: We always strive for accuracy, but if you believe you see an error, please contact us.

“Building the House of Knowledge:” The Graduate College Centennial

A new exhibition that opens at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library on Sept. 16, 2013, chronicles the events and decisions framing the development of America’s first graduate residential college.

Procter Hall view: The centerpiece of the Graduate College, Procter Hall and the beautiful stained glass Great West Window looking towards the Cleveland Memorial Tower, ca. 1913

Procter Hall view: The centerpiece of the Graduate College, Procter Hall and the beautiful stained glass Great West Window looking towards the Cleveland Memorial Tower, ca. 1913

Marking the 100th anniversary of the opening of Princeton’s Graduate College, “Building the House of Knowledge:” The Graduate College Centennial is filled with letters, documents and photographs from Princeton’s University Archives that reveal the story of how the concept of resident graduate education went from an inspired idea to a grand achievement, but not without significant controversy that brought nationwide attention to Princeton.

A view from behind the monumental statue of Andrew Fleming West, erected in the Graduate College quad in the 1920s, looking toward the Cleveland Memorial Tower. West was the first Dean of the Graduate School and driving force behind building the Graduate College.  Cleveland Tower was built as the national monument for President Grover Cleveland, who retired to Princeton after leaving the White House, and was a University trustee and supporter of graduate education.

A view from behind the monumental statue of Andrew Fleming West, erected in the Graduate College quad in the 1920s, looking toward the Cleveland Memorial Tower.

Beginning with the desire for a residential graduate program expressed at Princeton’s Sesquicentennial celebrations, the exhibition reveals the initial agreement of University President Woodrow Wilson and Dean of the Graduate School Andrew Fleming West on the plans for building the Graduate College. Early on, however, disagreements over the use of endowment funding and an appropriate location for the new Graduate College led to battle lines being drawn—with faculty and trustees viewed as being on either Dean West’s or President Wilson’s side. Reports and letters from West, Wilson, and eminent trustees such as Moses Taylor Pyne and former U.S. President Grover Cleveland reveal elements of the dissension developing at the administrative level. Letters from significant Graduate College benefactor and alumnus William C. Procter, Class of 1883 and of Procter and Gamble fame, show how directed endowment bequests played a role in the controversy. These letters and reports focus on how endowment funding and bequests and the choice of a site for the residential building contributed to the heated debate, and possibly influenced the resignation of President Wilson.

Photographs from the archives detail some of the architectural plans and ultimate construction of the Graduate College 17 years after the vision of resident graduate education was first presented. A final case shows photographs of later additions to the original Graduate College in the 1920s and 1960s as increased enrollment pressures necessitated adding rooms to the venerable structure originally built in 1913.

“Building the House of Knowledge:” The Graduate College Centennial is free and open to the public in the Wiess Lounge at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, 65 Olden Street, until June 6, 2014. The exhibition is open from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., Monday through Friday.

by: Sara Griffiths