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.)

Female_Student_1970_Bric

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.

English_Dept._1956_Bric

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.

“How History is Made”: In Search of Princeton’s First African American Daughter

by: Brenda Tindal

Before the pomp and circumstance of reunions and Princeton University’s 265th commencement fades into memory, it is worth noting that this year marks the 40th anniversary of the Class of 1972 because in many ways, this class bore witness to the revolutionary transformations taking place across the country. These students entered college during the tumult of the civil rights and women’s movements, and the Vietnam War with its anti-war protests. Perhaps, they too, were shocked by the news of Senator Robert F. Kennedy and civil rights patriarch Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassinations. In any case, Princeton and many other universities were not immune to the changes taking place nationally; in fact, some college campuses served as theaters for such social and political unrest.

For instance, in a subtle display of resistance, the student editors of the 1972 Bric-a-Brac, Princeton’s undergraduate yearbook, deviated from its traditional format—for what appears to be the first and only time—with the issuance of a two-volume annual, in hopes that “no one will construe [their] presentation as being characteristic of any particular student or Princeton ‘type.’” To this end, they assembled images of nuns at the colleges’ athletic events; photos of the bohemian variety of long-haired, bearded, and afro wearing Princetonians; and a psychedelic iteration of Nassau Hall’s clock tower. Moreover, Robert F. Goheen, then the president of the college, concluded his term as an agent of change and arbiter of diversity, exiting Princeton with several notches under his proverbial belt, including the hiring of Carl A. Fields, the first black administrator at an Ivy League college, and the admission of women in 1969. In addition, at their commencement, the Class of 1972 observed John Hope Franklin, renowned scholar of African American history, and Alvin Ailey, choreographer and founder of one of the most noted black repertory companies in the world, receive honorary degrees from Princeton.

Vera can be seen on the left second from the top.

Missing from the 1972 commencement and this narrative of tumult and triumph is the story of Vera Marcus, the first known undergraduate African American woman to graduate from the college as a “Princetonian.” For Ms. Marcus, the latter point is particularly important. To be sure, women were part of the intellectual and social life of the college long before Marcus entered in 1969. For example, there was the founding of Evelyn College for Women in 1887; the imprint left by the wives of deans and faculty members, such as Isabella McCosh, the wife of President McCosh and beloved 19th century figure of the college; the admittance of women as graduate students in the 1960s; and the presence of young women from neighboring colleges, who participated in a year-long concentrated study in “critical languages.” However, the caveat, as Ms. Marcus explains: “what distinguishes [her] class is that [they] were admitted as Princetonians and graduated as Princetonians.”

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“She Flourishes:” Chapters in the History of Princeton Women

The Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library at Princeton University invites visitors to view the new exhibit, "She Flourishes: Chapters in the History of Princeton Women," which documents the struggles and accomplishments of women scholars, students, staff and other women associated with the institution. The exhibit is open now through the end of August, 2012.

The exhibit title is derived from the University’s official motto, Dei Sub Numine Viget, which translates to "Under God’s Power, She Flourishes." Drawing from the library’s rich holdings, the exhibit showcases various accounts of women throughout Princeton’s history and explores the ways in which these women have redefined what was once considered an "old-boys’ school."

EvelynWomensCollege
From the "dangerous experiment" of Evelyn College (Princeton’s local all-women’s college, 1887-97), to the implementation of undergraduate coeducation (1969), and the inauguration of President Shirley M. Tilghman (2001), women have historically contributed significantly to the function and educational mission of Princeton University, though not always without opposition. Exhibition items from the University Archives at the Mudd Manuscript Library spotlight chapters in the lives of a handful of particularly notable Princeton women, while demonstrating their changing roles and their ability to influence their environment.
Women highlighted in the exhibit include: Beatrix Farrand, who was responsible for crafting Princeton’s highly regarded landscape environment; Katharine Fullerton Gerould, a noted scholar and faculty wife barred from intellectual pursuits, skewered the parochial, hyper-masculine environment at Princeton in 1924; Josephine Thomson Swann who was integral in the founding of the Ivy Club in 1887; and Sally Frank, who more than one hundred years later, challenged male-oriented cultural traditions, resulting in the full integration of women into the eating clubs.
Woman Enters Admissions
This exhibit does not and cannot tell the whole story of women at Princeton. It does, however, provide a glimpse into the materials generations of Princeton women left behind including letters, memoranda, photographs, publications and other records of scholarship and campus work. The exhibit also includes a video compilation of archival footage relating to women at Princeton, available online through the Reel Mudd Blog. For more information related to the history of women at Princeton, see the Mudd Library’s page devoted to this topic.
"She Flourishes" is open to the public free of charge from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Monday through Friday until August 31, 2012. The Mudd Library will also be open Saturday morning, June 2, 2012, for Reunions. Beginning in June, exhibit hours will be 8:45 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Monday through Friday.