Marriage and Undergraduate Life at Princeton University in the 1970s

By Iliyah Coles ’22

Married undergraduates have been at Princeton for decades, even though they might appear to be relatively scarce at the University now. In fact, students who got married before attending college weren’t even allowed to be admitted until around 1970, most likely in part due to the difficulty in finding adequate housing for couples. Because of this rule, many students waited until they were enrolled to get married, which still presented a problem for the University in terms of living situations, especially since the number of married students was steadily increasing. The 1970s saw a substantial rise in the number of married undergraduates at the university. The problem was that married students wished to live with their spouses, even though some of them did not attend Princeton, and the University claimed that lack of availability and finances prevented this arrangement from occurring. 

Clipping from the Daily Princetonian, April 3, 1975.

Some married undergraduates lived in the Harrison Street “Barracks” (Butler Apartments), a housing project for married students with families. A lot of its inhabitants appreciated the community of the complex and being able to participate in carpools, communal meals, babysitting pools, etc. (see “The Married Student and His Wife,” Princeton Alumni Weekly 13 May 1960). There were some complaints from other women, however, about the lack of support received from the University and the proximity of the houses in “the barracks.”

YearNumber of Undergraduates in a Marriage with Two PrincetoniansTotal Number of Married Undergraduates
1954030
1957026
1963049
1971696
19741140

Photos from the Daily Princetonian of Nelson E. Hubbell III ’75 and his wife (not named in the article), March 21, 1975.

After conducting research using the Princeton University Chapel Marriage Register, I found that there are several Princeton undergraduate students who walked down the aisle before graduation, and I am going to share what the records in the University Archives tell us about a few of them from the undergraduate marriage boom of the 1970s.


Eleanor Anne Vivona-Vaughn ’79

Eleanor (Ellie) Anne Vivona-Vaughn was a transfer student from Union Community College to the Princeton University Class of ‘79 as a psychology major. She married James Vaughn in 1969 around the age of 25 and gave birth to twin sons 11 months later. Ellie arrived on campus in 1977 having already started a family, and she successfully balanced the workload of school life with that of family life. “I think being an undergraduate wife, mother and older transfer student all shaped my experiences…” Ellie told a Princeton University oral history interviewer in 2014. Ellie said she would attend classes and then go home (off-campus) to take care of her kids. According to Ellie, there was no undergraduate housing offered to students with children, so she and her husband ultimately decided to purchase a house in Princeton Junction. She said there were even times when she would have to bring her boys with her to campus because she couldn’t find a babysitter. Although it is apparent in the interview that Ellie had a lot to juggle, among full-time undergraduate coursework, motherhood, marriage, and other activities, she managed to maintain excellent grades and graduate with the Class of 1979. 


Gustave Essig ’75 and Debra Meadors ’75

Gustave Essig ‘75 married Debra Meadors ‘75 in September of 1972, almost three years before they graduated. Debra was 18 years old at the time and Gustave was 19. One of the most interesting documents from Gustave’s academic file is a personal statement he wrote and submitted with his application to the University. In his statement, he discussed the pressure he often felt to discover his purpose in life. He stated, “I want to have the opportunity to shape myself and my future, but I am now very uncertain if I will get the chance to be me.” It is possible that Gustave wished to break the mold of academic pressure by doing something to please himself rather than others. Maybe marrying Debra was Gustave’s way of taking the initiative to determine his future.


Thomas Ford ’74

Thomas Ford ‘74 married Patricia Ann Harding two years before graduating from Princeton University in July 1972. Both Thomas and Patricia attended Princeton High School, but for higher education, Patricia attended Livingston College and then the Evening Division of Trenton State College. In Thomas’s application to Princeton, when asked what he planned to do after college, he wrote: “marriage, military service, teaching.” Marriage was the first item on his list of goals; it seems Thomas was so eager about it that he decided to get married before he graduated. 


John Henry (Hank) Bjorklund ’72 and Victoria Baum ’73

John Henry (Hank) Bjorklund ‘72 and Victoria Baum ‘73 married in February of 1972. Hank Bjorklund was the star of the football team and he even got drafted into the NFL by the New York Jets (though his professional career was rather brief). In a Daily Princetonian article, when Hank is asked about his senior year of college, he is quoted saying, “This year has made it all worthwhile.” The article mentions that Hank was referring to his new wife, Victoria Baum.

In a recent oral history interview, Hank and Victoria explained how Princeton handled their housing. Because Hank lived in a single room in a coed entry in Pyne Hall, Victoria was allowed to move in with him, but Victoria would have to retain her contract on her room in another dorm. “And so we put our wedding presents there,” she said. “But we only had one bed…one of those long twin beds.”


Princeton’s first undergraduate couple to graduate together was Sheldon J. and Virginia L. Axler, Class of 1971. Photo from Town Topics, May 21, 1971.

After the 1970s wave of married undergraduates, the number of students in this group decreased significantly over time. It is difficult to say why this was the case, but the decline could be attributed to less of a desire to marry at a young age, which is an experience reflected in national trends as well (see table below). Despite the fact that married students aren’t as prevalent at Princeton today, it is important to acknowledge its existence and its widespread effects on student life throughout the university.

Data in this chart is taken from statistics provided by the United States Census Bureau. Click to enlarge.

 

Sources:

Office of Communications Records (AC168)

Office of the Dean of Religious Life and of the Chapel Records (AC144)

Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students Records (AC136)

Papers of Princeton

Princeton Alumni Weekly

Princetoniana Committee Oral History Project Records (AC259)

Undergraduate Academic Records 1921-2015 (AC198)

Undergraduate Alumni Records 1921-2015 (AC199)

 

For further reading:

Armstrong, April C. “‘This Ceremony Was Not Sanctioned’: Gay Marriage at Princeton.”

Armstrong, April C. “Womanhood on Tiger Territory: The First Women to Live in Princeton University Dormitories.”

Mendez, Rossy. “Our Dear Old Barracks: Life in the Butler Tract.”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.