Q: Dear Mr. Mudd,
When and why did the College of New Jersey change its name to Princeton University?
A: The College of New Jersey, founded in 1746, changed its name to Princeton University during the culmination of the institution’s Sesquicentennial Celebration in 1896. Historically, the University was often referred to as “Nassau,” “Nassau Hall,” “Princeton College,” or “Old North.”
The College began to expand and diversify its curriculum during the latter half of the 19th-century. President James McCosh (1868-1888) was the driving force behind this expansion and was the leading advocate of the name change. Under McCosh, the College established schools of science, philosophy, and art and began to offer advanced degrees. The College also expanded physically with Chancellor Green Library, Dickinson Hall, the Marquand Chapel, the School of Science Building, and several other buildings erected during the McCosh era. Similarly, the student body grew to over 600, with a corresponding increase in the size of the faculty.
While the trustees and alumni alike supported McCosh’s expansion of the College, his belief that Princeton should proclaim itself a University or risk falling behind many of its rival institutions was not received with equal favor. There were many who believed that Princeton should retain its traditions and remain focused on undergraduate education with a lower student-faculty ratio.
The debate over the name change arose again in November 1892 when the special committee of the faculty appointed to plan the Sesquicentennial Celebration proposed renaming the College of New Jersey as “Princeton University” as the climax of the celebration. As before, the proposal received a mixed response, but ultimately, the Trustees agreed to the change on February 13, 1896. The following October 22, before an excited, capacity crowd in Alexander Hall, President Francis L. Patton proclaimed, “It is with my pleasure, for expression of which I have no equivalent in words, to say that the wishes of the alumni in this respect have at last finally been realized; to say that the faculty, trustees, and alumni stand together, and, as with the voice of one man, give their hearty approval. . . . It is my great pleasure to say that from this moment what heretofore for one hundred and fifty years has been known as the College of New Jersey shall in all future time be known as Princeton University.”
Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112)
Sesquicentennial menus are also available on our Tumblr page.
This post originally appeared as an FAQ page on our old website written by Tad Bennicoff (2003). It has been revised and expanded here as part of our launch of our new website.