“The New Order”: How Japan’s Attack on Pearl Harbor (Briefly) Led to Women Enrolling in Classes at Princeton University

“Yesterday, December 7th, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the empire of Japan”: so began Franklin Delano Roosevelt on December 8, in a speech asking the United States Congress for a declaration of war. Princeton University didn’t wait until Roosevelt’s speech; instead, the Princeton Senate declared war on Japan immediately following the attack. The Daily Princetonian reported on this story and others under the banner headline, “PRINCETON PRESENTS UNITED FRONT AS UNITED STATES FACES TOTAL WAR.”

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Army Specialized Training Program, ca. 1942-1945, Princeton University, Historical Photograph Collection (AC112), Box SP18, Item No. 4431.

It would be difficult to overstate the transformations that World War II brought to the United States at large and to Princeton University in particular in a nearly immediate and all-consuming way in the wake of the Japanese strikes on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. A stunned administration under the leadership of University President Harold Willis Dodds (Graduate Class of 1914), who had only six weeks before asserted that the threat of war “will call for minor adjustments in the curriculum” (“Some Thoughts on Universities and National Defense,” October 31, 1941), suddenly and drastically revised its approach. Rather than minor adjustments, Princeton instead embraced major upheavals to nearly all of its traditions.

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British military class, Princeton University, ca. 1943, Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box SP18, Item No. 4433.

On December 15, Dodds presented the rough outlines of a changed Princeton curriculum to a mass meeting of students in Alexander Hall. A Princeton A.B., typically a four-year degree, would have an accelerated option with year-round classes, so that it could be completed in three. Additional “emergency courses” would be added to teach skills deemed useful for war. Princeton would yield itself to the needs of the U.S. Army and Navy, whatever those needs happened to be. All of these anticipated changes quickly went into effect. Here, we highlight how the war effort brought one other dramatic change to the campus: for the first time, women enrolled in classes.

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“The New Order,” Princeton Tiger, December 1941.

Photogrammetry, or making maps from aerial photographs, was among many emergency courses added for the Summer 1942 term. Tuition was not charged for the class, taught by engineering professor Philip R. Kissam, but admission was competitive, as applications poured in from across the nation.

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Flyer advertising Princeton University Photogrammetry Course, 1942, Historical Subject Files Collection (AC109), Box 421, Folder 3.

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Unidentified female student with engineering professor Philip R. Kissam, Princeton’s Photogrammetry class, 1942, Historical Photographs Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box MP212, Item No. 5577.

The class of 45 ultimately included 23 women, most from the East Coast region between New London and Philadelphia, and one from Royal Oak, Michigan. The Prince marveled, “One of the few remaining strongholds of the male, the classrooms of Princeton University, have been opened by the war to women students for the first time in the 196 years of its existence.” This was a bit of an exaggeration, however, as only a few classrooms were actually open to women, and the photogrammetry class was the only one taken by American women. Three female members of the British military also attended classes here during the war (Princeton Alumni Weekly, December 10, 1943), but afterward, coeducation at Princeton became nothing more than a memory until the 1960s. For more on the history of women at the University, see our previous blog post.

For further reading on World War II’s impact on Princeton University, see our previous blog posts about the bronze memorial stars that adorn some dormitory windows and the wartime love letters of alumnus Peter Page ’41.

Sources:

Board of Trustees Records (AC120)

Daily Princetonian

Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112)

Historical Subject Files Collection (AC109)

Office of the Dean of the College Records (AC149)

Princeton Alumni Weekly

The Princeton Tiger

Root, Robert K. The Princeton Campus in World War II. Princeton: Self-published, 1978.

 

This Week in Princeton History for December 1-7

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the Daily Princetonian elects its first female chairperson, Andrew Carnegie gives Princeton a lake, and more.

December 2, 1978—The 102-year-old Daily Princetonian elects Anne C. Mackay-Smith ’80 its first female chairperson. In June 1980, she will be elected to the Princeton University Board of Trustees.

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Anne C. Mackay-Smith, 1980, Office of Communications Records (AC168), Box 125.

December 3, 1846—Natural philosophy (physics) professor Joseph Henry begins a new job as the first Secretary of the newly created Smithsonian Institution after 14 years at Princeton.

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“Sketch of the Life of Professor Joseph Henry,” Faculty Files, AC059, Box 229.

December 4, 1798—William Richardson Davie, a member of the College of New Jersey Class of 1776 and the 1787 “Tiger Nine,” is elected governor of North Carolina.

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William Richardson Davie, 1800, Undergraduate Alumni Records 1748-1920 (AC104), Box 33.

December 5, 1906—There is standing room only in Alexander Hall as steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie formally presents documents conveying legal title for Lake Carnegie to Princeton University.

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Washington Road bridge over Lake Carnegie, Princeton, New Jersey, 1907, Historical Postcard Collection (AC045), Box 1.

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.

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“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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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.

“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."

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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.