This Week in Princeton History for September 15-21

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 15-21:

Woodrow Wilson makes a move into politics, a new Pablo Picasso sculpture is under construction, and more.

September 15, 1910—The New Jersey Democratic Convention nominates Princeton University President Woodrow Wilson as its candidate for governor.

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Woodrow Wilson with his family, Woodrow Wilson Collection, MC168, Box 41.

September 17, 1787—The U.S. Constitution, largely written by James Madison of the Princeton Class of 1771, is signed in Philadelphia’s Constitution Hall.

September 18, 1971—Pablo Picasso’s “Head of a Woman” is under construction at the art museum.

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Pablo Picasso’s “Head of a Woman” being installed (1971), Historical Photographs Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series, AC111, Box MP81, Item #3305.

September 20, 1964—University President Robert F. Goheen formally announces the abolishment of the “Chapel Rule,” which had made chapel attendance mandatory for freshmen, during the University’s opening exercises.

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.

This Week in Princeton History for September 1-7

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 1-7:

The Princeton Bulletin marvels at the novelty of getting Labor Day off, a student competes in the Miss America pageant, and more.

September 1, 2010—The Carl A. Fields Papers are made available to researchers at Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library. Fields was the first African American to hold a high-ranking position at an Ivy League school.

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Carl A. Fields (1938-2009)

September 4, 1944—The Princeton Bulletin refers to the suspension of classes on this date for Labor Day as “one of those rare occurrences like Halley’s Comet, or the 17-year locusts or a total eclipse of the sun.”

September 5, 1843—The U.S.S. Princeton is launched in Philadelphia.

U.S.S. Princeton

Photo from Daily Princetonian.

September 6, 1999—Princeton junior Victoria Paige ’01 competes in the Miss America pageant, earning a spot in the top 10.

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Victoria A. Paige’s Nassau Herald photo (2001).

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

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.

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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.”

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Photo from 1958 Bric-a-Brac.

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

Signed, Sealed, Delivered letters donated to University Archives

by: Dan Linke

With the rise of email more than 20 years ago, many have lamented the decline of the handwritten letter, but with her new book, Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Celebrating the Joys of Letter Writing (Simon & Schuster, 2014), Nina Sankovitch has done much more than that.  Drawing on letters from across the ages, she explains why putting pen to paper can communicate much more than the thoughts and ideas on the page.

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Inspired by a cache of letters written by a Princeton undergraduate to his parents that she uncovered in the tool shed of a dilapidated New York home she bought more than a decade ago, Sankovitch originally read the letters in small batches, as a break from the toils of mothering three young children.  Years later, with her oldest son readying himself for college, Sankovitch revisited the letters and began her mediation on the important  and wide range of human connections that letters make, using the Princeton student’s letters and their discovery as the basis for the book’s first chapter.

James B. Seligman

The letters were composed by James B. Seligman, Class of 1912. According to his Nassau Herald entry, “Jimmie” grew up in New York City, was a member of Clio, studied economics, and hoped to go into banking.  He was also Jewish (“Hebrew” in the parlance of the day), just one of five such students in a class of almost 300.  He became an independent stockbroker and a member of the New York Stock Exchange where he was a floor trader.  The February 22, 1941 New Yorker called him “one of the wittiest men on the Floor.”

That wit is reflected in his surviving letters.  Some excerpts that Sankovitch highlights in her book:

“I am getting a good college education, developing like a film, apologizing to the grass every time I step on it, scrambling like an egg, yelling like a bear, telling the upperclassmen to go to @#$ …”

 “I am once more sorry to say, with tears in my nose, and with shaking toes, etc that I didn’t pass French…Thanking you again for your kind applause, I will close as Le Student Francais.”

“Chapel was great. I never laughed so much in my life.”

And in answering what he called the “ponderous interrogations” sent by his mother: “my diet consists principally of food.  My health is fine.”

He also wrote of his classes – “Woodrow Wilson lectures to us in Jurisprudence – It is a treat to listen to him speak.”

Now Sankovitch has donated Seligman’s correspondence, consisting of about 100 letters and postcards, to the Princeton University Archives, and they will join those of other students in the Student Correspondence and Writings Collection (AC334). This collection, along with a number of others, contains the correspondence of about two dozen students ranging over three centuries, and collectively it provides insights into Princeton undergraduate life that can be found nowhere else.  The earliest letters date from 1768 and the most recent is a collection of printed emails from a member of the Class of 1997.

R. H. Rose campus stereograph series

Below is the text of an email exchange between University Archivist Dan Linke and David Nathan ’90 concerning a portion of the Archives’ stereograph collection.

Hi Dan,

Here’s a listing with all the information I obtained yesterday, faithfully transcribed from the backs of the Historical Photograph Collection: Stereographs Series, circa 1869-1880. The only thing I omitted is a font issue — some titles appeared in all caps — and the repeating information about “College of New Jersey”, “R.H. Rose”, etc. Any idea where I might look for the missing cards?

Regards,

David L. Nathan, M.D.

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Nineteenth-century letters move into 21st century

A collection of John Maclean’s papers are now available online. Maclean, the 10th president of Princeton University, served from 1854-1868 when the institution was known as the College of New Jersey. The letters, acquired last year, were scanned and loaded as PDFs and linked to the collection’s finding aid via its folder list. These letters to and from John Maclean document the history of the College of New Jersey as well as family matters. Maclean was the son of Princeton’s first chemistry professor, and the papers include the 1814 inventory of the estate of his father, John Maclean, Sr. One of the more interesting documents provides evidence of New Jersey’s connections to slavery. See the last two entries of p. 3 of this inventory, found in Box 4, Folder 11.

Exhibition celebrates 50th anniversary of University Archives

The richness and depth of the collections of the Princeton University Archives are the focus of “‘The Best Old Place of All': Treasures From the Princeton University Archives,” a new exhibition at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library opening Friday, Feb. 20.

The exhibition coincides with the yearlong celebration of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the University Archives and features some of the most historically significant documents and objects from the collection alongside seldom-seen treasures. It will run through Friday, Jan. 29.

“The goal of this exhibition is to illustrate the University’s long and impressive history and, in doing so, to celebrate and reflect upon the vital role of the University Archives in preserving and documenting that record,” said University Archivist Dan Linke.

Featured in the exhibition are documents, photographs and objects from the University Archives covering the time of the institution’s founding to the modern era. A page from the 1783 minutes of the Board of Trustees contains the trustees’ request that George Washington sit for a portrait so that they might replace the work of King George that was destroyed in the Battle of Princeton. Nearby, a draft of then-University President Woodrow Wilson’s vehement argument on the matter of the location of the Graduate College hints at another battle fought on campus more than a century later.

Many of the objects capture the ever-changing nature of student life and academics at Princeton. Early course examinations, class schedules and a set of handwritten student lecture notes from the time of John Witherspoon (who was University president from 1768 to 1794) exemplify how, though times may have changed, the purpose of the typical Princeton student has remained largely the same. One notable exception to that credo can be seen in the form of a so-called “cheating cuff,” which hearkens back to the days before the Honor Code. Early 20th-century football programs and photographs from Triangle Club shows point to extracurricular pursuits.

In addition to paper documents and photographs, “‘The Best Old Place of All'” draws upon the extensive memorabilia collection of the University Archives. Items such as canes, clay pipes and the Reunion jacket of Adlai Stevenson — the influential politician and diplomat who graduated from Princeton in 1922 — are all a part of the University’s heritage. Other objects such as the discus that 1897 alumnus Robert Garrett threw in the 1896 Athens Olympics and a blackball box used during eating club “bicker” selections represent some of many curiosities that have found their way into the archives in the last 50 years.

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Princeton and the 1918 flu epidemic

The recent issue of the Princeton Alumni Weekly has an article by Mark F. Bernstein ’83 on Princeton and the 1918 flu epidemic entitled “Why Princeton was spared.” Within the article, Bernstein cites the University of Michigan’s Center for the History of Medicine 2005 study on the pandemic for which Mudd Library provided documents. The Center’s website has scanned these and other documents from the National Archives, as well as clippings from the Princeton Packet. These materials explain how Princeton responded to an epidemic that claimed millions of lives worldwide, yet the University escaped with no loss of life. (The fact that Princeton could have just been lucky is not ruled out.) The episode is more than a historical curiosity; it has also been examined by those interested in modern threats like bioterrorism and possible new pandemics like avian flu and demonstrates one of the values of archival records.

1748 Charter and Early Trustees Minutes Available Online.

The earliest document held by the Princeton University Archives, the 1748 Charter of the College of New Jersey, along with the first two volumes of the University’s Board of Trustees Minutes, have been digitized and are now available online through the Princeton University Library’s Digital Collections website: http://arks.princeton.edu/ark:/88435/7w62f826z

Images of the documents are also linked from the online finding aid for the Board of Trustees Records: http://arks.princeton.edu/ark:/88435/w66343618

Charter

The original charter, which has been lost, was issued in 1746 by John Hamilton, president of the Council of the Province of New Jersey, who was acting as governor at the time. Because Hamilton’s authority was questioned, the legal status of the College came under attack, and a second charter was therefore issued in 1748 by Jonathan Belcher, newly appointed governor of the province. It corresponded, for the most part, to the charter of 1746, but it increased the maximum number of trustees from twelve to twenty-three, made the governor of New Jersey a trustee ex-officio, and stipulated that twelve trustees were to be inhabitants of the State of New Jersey. The charter granted the trustees and their successors full power and authority to acquire real and personal property, to erect buildings, to elect a president, tutors, professors, and other officers, to grant degrees, and to establish ordinances and laws.

Volumes 1 and 2 of the Trustees minutes, which date from 1746 to 1823, contain a wealth of information about the personalities and activities of the young College of New Jersey. As these minutes date from the very beginning of the College, they address the multitude of issues and problems the trustees initially addressed.

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The minutes contain the names of officials, trustees, teachers, and students. They also provide a record of the major decisions of the College (such as the election of new presidents) as well as smaller ones (such as which foods the steward could sell to students and where the account books would be kept). Researchers will find information related to the standards for admission and graduation; legacies received; names of members of the graduating classes; names of recipients of honorary degrees; the list of books donated by Governor Jonathan Belcher; the hiring and firing of tutors; the selection and election of presidents; the purchase and sale of land; the establishment of accounting methods; the maintenance of the College facilities; fundraising efforts; the running of the Grammar School; the rate of board for students; and the continual hiring and firing of stewards. Perhaps the most frequent topic of discussion in the early records is the state of the College’s finances.

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We hope to continue to digitize Trustee minutes as well other important records of the University in the coming years.