“Womanhood on Tiger Territory”: The First Women to Live in Princeton University Dormitories

We have previously written about the first women to take a class at Princeton University, unseating nearly two centuries of tradition. Today, we’re highlighting what our collections tell us about another group of women who changed Princeton’s established patterns as the first to live in campus dorms, another result of World War II’s radical changes to nearly every corner of American life.

During the war, many students left before graduating to enter military service. Completing their degrees posed challenges for both Princeton and its students. James M. Donnelly, Jr. ’43 wrote to administrator C. William Edwards on August 25, 1945. He hoped to return to Princeton, but there were special considerations. “I am also married and hope to bring my wife to Princeton when I return. However, the procedure I must follow to procure housing, with University aid, is also unclear.”

This wasn’t unclear only to Donnelly. Despite a commitment to allow its students to complete educations disrupted by war, the surge of returning veterans presented huge logistical problems for Princeton. Like Donnelly, many had married; some also had children. But residential colleges are not generally equipped to handle a large population of married undergraduates, and Princeton was no exception. This was, they anticipated, only a temporary problem, but nonetheless an urgent one.

One way Princeton responded to this new housing crisis was to build apartments, but these weren’t ready in time for Donnelly and many others. Thus, Princeton decided to have couples move into Brown Hall and a few other campus locations. For the first time in 200 years, women would live in dormitories at Princeton. If the students accepted these cramped accommodations, Princeton would allow them to return before the new Butler Apartments were constructed. A letter sent to one veteran by the Department of Grounds and Buildings warned, “None of the accommodations offered are at all satisfactory or desirable and very few have private baths or cooking facilities. Those which do are used for assignment to couples with a child.” Despite such ominous words, a significant number of veterans and their wives decided to come back to Princeton anyway.

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Couples arriving at Brown Hall, 1946. Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box MP166, Image No. 6055.

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This Week in Princeton History for July 18-24

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a group is disciplined for a bovine prank, an alumnus opens the Democratic National Convention, and more.

July 18, 1790—Three students are expelled and a fourth is disciplined for an incident the previous June 26 in which, following an evening of drinking at David Hamilton’s Tavern, they put a calf in the pulpit of Nassau Hall.

July 21, 1952—Adlai Stevenson ’22, governor of Illinois, opens the Democratic National Convention. Five days later, he will accept its nomination as United States president.

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Democratic National Committee campaign handbook, 1952. Adlai Stevenson Papers (MC124), Box 226, Folder 5.

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This Week in Princeton History for July 11-17

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the logistics of emancipation are debated, plans for a School of Science are approved, and more.

July 11, 1944—Robert S. Ward ’42, a forward artillery observer, is killed in action in France.

July 12, 1968—The Committee on the Education of Women at Princeton gives its final report to the Board of Trustees, urging that the University “move as quickly as possible to implement coeducation…”

July 13, 1792—Students at the College of New Jersey (Princeton) debate this question: “Is not the emancipation of slaves, without preparing them by proper education to be good citizens[,] inconsistent with humanity & sound policy?” (Source)

July 15, 1864—In recognition of the changing needs of the student body, the Board of Trustees of the College of New Jersey (Princeton) approve a plan to establish a second course of study at Princeton within a special School of Science. This marks the first time that undergraduate education at Princeton will not require the same coursework of all students regardless of their future careers.

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Interior of the School of Science, 1881. Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111), Box MP81, Image No. 3283.

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 July 4-10

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a new mandatory fitness program begins, a professor’s research revises a 50-year-old theory, and more.

July 4, 1938—A record-setting crowd of 25,000 turns out to view a fireworks display in Palmer Stadium that includes exploding renderings of a man on a flying trapeze, Nassau Hall, George Washington, and the emblem of the American Legion.

July 5, 1764—The Pennsylvania Journal reports that popular evangelist George Whitefield is at the College of New Jersey (Princeton) while making his way from New York to Philadelphia.

July 6, 1942—A new mandatory fitness program designed to ensure all Princeton University students are physically prepared for war service begins.

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Students run an obstacle course at Princeton University ca. 1941-1945. Official United States Navy photograph, Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box MP214, Image No. 5630.

July 10, 1998—Science reports on Princeton University chemistry professor Warren Warren’s recent discovery of flawed assumptions in the 50-year-old theory underlying nuclear magnetic resonance spectoscopy (NMR), the technology used in Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans. This work will lead to the use of new types of contrast in MRI scans and clearer images.

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Warren Warren and research associate Sangdoo Ahn with NMR spectrometer, 1998. Photo from Princeton Weekly Bulletin.

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.

Dr. Levi Myers and Antebellum American Jewishness

In our previous research into the earliest records of Jewish presence at Princeton University, we uncovered something unexpected. Our Undergraduate Alumni Records 1748-1920 file on Mordecai Myers, Class of 1812, contains correspondence between Mordecai’s father, Levi Myers, and a man named Cleland Kinlock. Though they do not mention Princeton or Mordecai Myers, and thus would not ordinarily be found in an alumni file, these letters offer a fascinating look into antebellum American Jewish reflection on religious identity.

Levi Myers, the son of another Mordecai Myers and Esther Cohen Myers, was born October 26, 1767 in Jacksonboro, South Carolina. His parents had moved to Charleston, South Carolina, in 1750, where Esther Cohen’s father served as the rabbi of Beth Elohim Synagogue. Mordecai and Esther sent their son to study medicine in Charleston at the age of 15. After apprenticeships with Drs. Haynes and Ramsay, Myers went on to medical school at Edinburgh University in 1785. He returned to South Carolina in 1789, where he set up a successful medical practice of his own. In 1794, he married Frances Minis. Together they had 8 children, including the Mordecai Myers who later went to study at the College of New Jersey (Princeton) in 1809.

In September 1822, a hurricane hit the South Carolina coast, destroying the house where the Myers family lived. There was only one survivor, a household servant. Levi, Frances, four of their children, and nine members of their household staff (very likely including several slaves) all died when the house collapsed.

Though a few letters sent to Dr. Myers are found in his son’s Undergraduate Alumni Records file, we’ve chosen to highlight the one most focused on Jewish identity. We’ve done our best at offering a transcription, but some of the text still eludes us, and we welcome any suggestions to fill in the blanks. We believe the “Bishop Warburton” referenced here is William Warburton, an Anglican bishop of Gloucester who was known for controversial writings. Click each image to enlarge.
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June 15, 1818

 

Dear Sir,

 

It was one of the peculiarities of the Hebrew People that they never sought to make proselytes, in which I am, I assure you, as good a Jew as any one of the descendants of Abraham. The fact is that I have no sort of confidence in my own opinions, nor indeed in the opinions of others, for such is my idea of the weakness & [______?] & fallibility of human nature, the imperfections of human language & the indistinctness of our ideas that I would whether any man that ever breathed ever knew the truth of anything, or if he had known it whether he would be able to communicate it to others. My mind is oppressed & crushed by a sense of my own ignorance, & by the discouraging tendency of my own notions, & I now consider myself as a bad man if I placed these notions within the view of those who might be injured by them. You, I believe are not liable to be injured by these notions of mine & therefore, at your request, I trust these to you, begging that you will be as careful of them as I am myself, & that you will return them to my overseer [_______?] at your leisure.

 

I would be much obliged to you if you could procure me by loan or by purchase any of the works which contain exposition of your learned of their arguments against Christianity, or org. texts which had been quoted against Bishop Warburton or said by him to be redoles & riddles he says that they contain for him. Now what those texts were which learning & insolence could not twist & turn to his own purposes I cannot imagine & I would like much to know.

 

Your Dear Sir Most Sincerely,

Cleland Kinlock

Sources:

Collins, Kenneth. “Levi Myers (1767-1822): An Eighteenth Century Glasgow Medical Graduate from South Carolina.” Journal of Medical Biography (2014).

Undergraduate Alumni Records 1748-1920 (AC104).

This Week in Princeton History for June 27-July 3

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Ulysses S Grant visits the campus, women take classes for the first time, and more.

June 27, 1871—Sitting U.S. President Ulysses S Grant visits the College of New Jersey (Princeton) for the first time.

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Sketch of Ulysses S Grant by Emery Kelen, undated. Derso and Kelen Collection (MC205), Box 52, Folder 39.

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The Bank Holiday of 1933 at Princeton University

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inaugurated President of the United States on Saturday, March 4, 1933. Immediately following his inauguration weekend, at 1:00 AM on March 6, Roosevelt issued Proclamation 2039. This action ordered all banks in the United States to close. No one would be able to withdraw, transfer, or deposit money between Monday, March 6 and Thursday, March 9. But even after some banks were allowed to reopen, those deemed to be in danger of failing would remain closed until they were deemed sound. This emergency measure was intended to prevent runs on banks that would cause a catastrophic ripple effect throughout a fragile economy, giving Congress time to pass legislation to shore up the nation’s banking system. On March 9, they passed the Emergency Banking Act. Gradually, banks reopened, now backed by the Federal Reserve. If a bank failed, account holders were insured against the loss, removing motivation to withdraw and hoard government-issued scrip.

In the interim, citizens all over the United States scrambled to find solutions to the problems that nearly a week or more without access to currency, without warning, would cause. One popular solution was for individuals and private corporations to issue their own scrip to circulate locally. Newspapers, in particular, commonly offered scrip, because they had ready access to printing presses.

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Daily Princetonian scrip, 1933. Daily Princetonian General Records (AC285), Box 2.

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This Week in Princeton History for June 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 collegiate track contest is held on campus, Japanese visitors ceremonially forgive scientists for their role in the development of the atomic bomb, and more.

June 20, 1779—William Richardson Davie (Class of 1776) leads a charge against the British at the Battle of Stono Ferry. He is wounded and falls off his horse, but evades capture.

June 21, 1873—The first collegiate track contest in the United States is held at the College of New Jersey (Princeton).

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Program from Caledonian Games, College of New Jersey (Princeton), June 21, 1873. Athletic Programs Collection (AC042), Box 17, Folder 1.

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“A Princeton Student’s Letter to His Father” and the Election of 1912

With Father’s Day coming up this weekend and the United States in the midst of a particularly contentious election season, this seemed like perfect timing to highlight a 1912 pamphlet found in the Princeton University Publications Collection (AC364), “A Princeton Student’s Letter to His Father and His Father’s Reply” (Box 2).

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This Week in Princeton History for June 13-19

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the campus newspaper gets its start, a senior carries the Olympic torch, and more.

June 13, 1908—The first-ever session of Princeton Summer Camp begins with 17 boys from Philadelphia. In later years, the camp will become the Princeton-Blairstown Center.

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Princeton Summer Campers at the shore, 1916. Student Christian Association Records (AC125), Box 11, Folder 13.

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