This Week in Princeton History for May 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 graduate pioneers new territory in aviation, a sitting American president visits the campus, and more.

May 4, 1970—On the same day as the Ohio National Guard shoots and kills four students at Kent State University during an anti-war protest, over 4,000 Princeton students, faculty, and administrators gather at Jadwin Gym and discuss how they will register their disapproval of the Nixon administration’s invasion of Cambodia. They vote to suspend final exams (audio and photos available here). In the aftermath of the “Princeton Strike,” the academic calendar will be revised to allow for a two-week break from classes in November to allow students to campaign during election years. This will later live on at 21st-century Princeton as a week-long fall break.

May 6, 1963—More than 1,500 undergraduates riot in Princeton for no apparent reason, causing extensive damage to the town and campus. Twelve students are arrested in connection with crimes committed during the riot, and a fine will be imposed on the student body at large to pay for repairs. More than 40 years later, Princeton President Robert Goheen will recall the riot disdainfully.

Rioting_students_Prince_7_May_1963

The driver of this Volkswagen Beetle honked at rioters, who responded by surrounding the car, lifting it up, and placing it on a nearby sidewalk. Photo from the Daily Princetonian.

May 8, 1919—Jim Breese, Princeton University Class of 1909, begins the world’s first transatlantic flight as the Reserve Pilot Engineer aboard the seaplane NC-4. The trip will take 23 days, during which Breese will earn the distinction of being the first person ever to shave on a plane. The Autostrop Company, manufacturer of his razor, will later buy it back from him for a reported $500 (about $12,000 in today’s currency).

NC-4 preparing for transatlantic crossing 1919 PAW 24 Feb 1928

NC-4 preparing for transatlantic crossing, May 8, 1919. Photo from Princeton Alumni Weekly.

May 10, 1991—Sitting United States President George H. W. Bush is on campus to dedicate the University’s Social Science Complex and receive an honorary Doctor of Laws. While accepting the degree (video here), Bush, a 1948 Yale graduate, talks about his first visit to Princeton during his senior year. “I was not treated quite so hospitably. It was out at the baseball diamond … Crowded along the first base line—it was very hostile, the way things were in Princeton—were a bunch of hyperventilating, celebrating alumni. And I remember standing there at first base and a gigantic tiger—I think his name was Neil Zundel—came to the plate. He lofted an easy fly toward Yale’s first baseman (me) and as I reached for the ball, the guy just sheer bowled me over to the cheers of the Princeton alumni. I was hurt. My pride was hurt. But P.S.: Yale won the ball game.”

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.

Eating Clubs and “The Street”

Dear Mr. Mudd:

Q. What are “eating clubs”? Did F. Scott Fitzgerald make them up? What is “The Street”?

A. Princeton alumnus F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel This Side of Paradise (1920) gave the world a glimpse into the exclusive social enclaves known as the Princeton eating clubs through the eyes of fictional student Amory Blaine. According to Blaine, each club had a different character and social standing on the campus. “The upper-class clubs, concerning which he had pumped a reluctant graduate during the previous summer, excited his curiosity: Ivy, detached and breathlessly aristocratic; Cottage, an impressive melange of brilliant adventurers and well-dressed philanderers; Tiger Inn, broad-shouldered and athletic, vitalized by an honest elaboration of prep-school standards; Cap and Gown; flamboyant Colonial; Literary Quadrangle, and the dozen others, varying in age and positions.” While today’s clubs may now have different reputations, various stereotypes continue to surround them.

Couples_on_bikes_Patton_EC_1946_AC112_BoxMP154_Item_4237

Couples at a Patton Club party, 1946. Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box 154, Image No. 4237.

Continue reading

The History of the Princeton University Senior Thesis

The senior thesis has been a requirement of all undergraduate students at Princeton University since 1926.

Senior Theses lined up for exhibit. Historical Photograph Collection, AC112, MP012, Image 765

Senior Theses lined up for exhibit. Historical Photograph Collection, AC112, MP012, Image 765, 1942.

During a Faculty Meeting on February 19th, 1923, the Committee on the Course of Study submitted a report for a new study plan known as the “Four Course Plan.” The four course plan called for an extensive reading program for the student in his department under the supervision of an adviser, with the goal that students gain a better command of a subject during independent work. “The plan was instituted in 1924 for the degree of Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science and put into operation for the Class of 1923 as juniors.” (Luther Pfahler Eisenhart, Dean of the Faculty)

By 1926, Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degree requirements included a senior thesis and a comprehensive examination, an innovation that soon became a hallmark of a Princeton education.
Continue reading

This Week in Princeton History for April 27-May 3

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a dorm pioneers indoor plumbing, students look for ways to protest peacefully, and more.

April 27, 1877—Witherspoon Hall is completed. It is the first dormitory in the country with indoor plumbing.

Dorm_room_5_West_Middle_Witherspoon_1890-91_Edgar_Allen_Poe_&_Augustus_Stevens_Lewis_AC112_LP84_4069

5 West Middle, Witherspoon Hall, 1890-1891. This room was the residence of Edgar Allen Poe and Augustus Stevens Lewis, both of the Class of 1891. (Poe was the nephew of the author of the same name.) Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box LP84, Item No. 4069.

Continue reading

“This Ceremony Was Not Sanctioned”: Gay Marriage at Princeton

With the policy that young lovers of the same sex may no longer sign the marriage register and that Michael Beer and Jason Rudy will have a retractory asterisk placed by their entry, neither side of the aisle gets what it wants. … No one who has attended ours, the most pragmatic of all universities, should be surprised. –Micah Weinberg ’98, “Stuck in the Middle of the Road,”  Progressive Review, November 1997

Eighteen years ago today, the first same-sex wedding was held in the Princeton University Chapel. Gay marriage was not legal in New Jersey (nor anywhere in the nation) so the ceremony was a symbolic one rather than a legally binding contract. The couple were both Princetonians. Michael Beer earned his Princeton degree in 1995 and had been a graduate student in plasma physics when he met Jason Rudy ’97, an English major. They had begun dating three years prior to the event and had been living together for two. Knowing that the marriage would not be legally recognized, Rudy told the Princeton Alumni Weekly, “With the exception of a stronger sense of commitment and emotional security, opening a joint bank account, and getting a new set of towels, nothing much will change.”

Editorial_Cartoon_Progressive_Nov_1997

Editorial cartoon, Progressive Review, November 1997.

When news of their plans to marry in the Chapel appeared, it invited heavy criticism for the Assistant Dean of Religious Life, Sue Anne Steffey Morrow, who performed the ceremony. Though primarily concerned with the precedent set by having a same-sex wedding in the Chapel, another issue that troubled some students and alumni was that Beer and Rudy were atheists, while the wedding was heavily laden with the trappings of Christian tradition. Other responses were supportive of Morrow and of the couple.
Continue reading

This Week in Princeton History for April 20-26

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a member of the original House of Nassau visits campus, emails about Hillary Clinton clog inboxes, and more.

April 21, 1920—The Daily Princetonian reports on a new fashion trend: “Blue denim has at last made its appearance on the campus” thanks to “a courageous band of undergraduates.” Despite this, jeans will not be considered generally acceptable student attire for decades.

April 22, 1982—Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, a member of the House of Nassau for which Nassau Hall is named, speaks in McCosh Courtyard as part of a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Holland and the United States.

Queen_Beatrix_with_Bowen_Prince_23_Apr_1982

Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands laughs with Princeton University President William G. Bowen, April 22, 1982. Photo from the Daily Princetonian.

Continue reading

Princeton Mourns Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. exactly 150 years ago. As Americans did throughout the country, Princetonians immediately went into mourning. The loss was more profound given that the nation had emerged from a devastating Civil War less than a week before.

Princeton’s ties to Lincoln are reflected in various collections in Princeton University Library’s Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. On his train trip to his inauguration in 1861, Lincoln made many stops in the Midwest and Northeast, where he often spoke to crowds. On February 21, more than 20,000 supporters received him in Trenton. William Stewart Cross Webster and Alexander Taggart McGill, Jr., both of the College of New Jersey (Princeton) Class of 1864, were among the throngs. In a letter to his mother a few days later, Webster expressed disappointment that he was unable to hear Lincoln over the roar of the crowd: “This was our sight of Abraham Lincoln: We saw great Lincoln plain; it can never be forgotten, the bowing very graciously right and left. In a few minutes Mr. L. appeared on the platform and said a few words. His manner was pleasant and a vein of humor pervaded his whole face. I was unlucky enough to hear nothing he said.” (Undergraduate Alumni Records 1748-1920 (AC104), Box 125)

Shortly after his reelection in 1864, the Board of Trustees voted to confer an honorary Doctorate of Law upon Lincoln. Lincoln was unable to attend Princeton’s Commencement, but wrote to College President John Maclean to thank Princeton for its honor “in this time of public trial.”

page 1 Continue reading

This Week in Princeton History for April 13-19

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Princetonians win the equivalent of six medals at the first modern Olympic Games, Albert Einstein dies, and more.

April 13, 1994—David Remnick ’81 wins the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction for his book, Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire.

April 14, 1978—Students begin a 27-hour occupation of Nassau Hall to protest Princeton University’s economic ties to apartheid-era South Africa.

Nassau_Hall_Protest

Nassau Hall protest, April 1978, Princeton Alumni Weekly Photograph Collection, AC126, Box 33.

Continue reading

“The Present Unsettled State of Our Country”: Princeton and the Civil War

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the end of Civil War, a conflict that had implications for every facet of American life. The “unhappy condition of the country,” as the College of New Jersey (Princeton) President John Maclean described it in 1861, had a profound impact on the school. Here we highlight the mass exodus of southern students from Princeton, as well as some of the emotional toll the war took on alumni of the era.

Though located in Union territory, Princeton had the reputation of being the “most southern of all the northern colleges,” due to its significant number of wealthy southern students. Relationships across the Mason-Dixon were strong at Princeton. Edwin Mark Norris later wrote of this period, “When it became apparent that, faithful to their convictions, the students from opposing sections would soon be opposing each other in arms, rather than merely in argument, the friendships formed beneath the elms became even more closely cemented, and it was with genuine sadness that these intimate ties were severed” (The Story of Princeton, 186). This inscription on Bazil F. Gordon’s senior portrait sums it up: a student on the other side was “your true friend and enemy.”

Bazil_Gordon

Bazil Gordon, senior portrait, 1861. Gordon later served as a surgeon in the Confederate Army. Historical Photograph Collection, Alumni Photographs Series (AC059).

Continue reading

This Week in Princeton History for April 6-12

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Prohibition ends, the Board of Trustees urges parents not to send students money, and more.

April 6, 1771—The Rittenhouse Orrery, the most noted scientific instrument of its time, arrives in Nassau Hall, where it will prove to be a tourist attraction for travelers from across the world.

Orrery_Arrives_at_Nassau_Hall_AC123_Box_302

Gillett G. Griffin, pen and ink drawing of the Rittenhouse Orrery arriving at Nassau Hall, University Library Records (AC123), Box 302.

April 9, 1802—United States President Thomas Jefferson donates one hundred dollars toward the rebuilding of Nassau Hall after a devastating fire.
Continue reading