This Week in Princeton History for May 16-22

In this week’s installment of our recurring series, the administration bans automobiles on campus, a student writes to a friend to say being admitted to Princeton has not improved him, and more.

May 18, 1925—In response to student complaints, starting today, private automobiles, motorcycles, and carriages will no longer be permitted on Princeton’s campus, except if needed for business purposes. Students have expressed concerns about the way these vehicles tear up the grass and make it too noisy to study.

Three students with a car on campus, ca. 1920s. Historical Photograph Collection (AC112), Box SP14, Item No. 3412.

May 19, 1951—In observance of Armed Forces Day, local shops include military exhibits in their window displays.

May 20, 1877—James McCosh permits students to experiment with a “camp prayer-meeting,” holding the usual prayer service outdoors instead of indoors.

May 21, 1782—Ashbel Green writes to a friend, “I can assure you that I am not one inch taller, nor, that I know of, one whit the better for my admittance to Nassau Hall.”

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This Week in Princeton History for May 9-15

In this week’s installment of our recurring series, Lyndon B. Johnson asks Princeton intellectuals to “cool it,” students mourn the death of a classmate, and more.

May 9, 1807—The New York Weekly Inspector identifies the recent rebellion at Princeton as part of larger trends in American society:

The conduct of students on this occasion, although extremely reprehensible, is perfectly consistent with the tenets of our quack politicians, our sticklers for human perfectibility. The same mental epidemic which has crazed Europe, and is extending its baleful ravages throughout the civilized world, has contaminated these young rights-of-boy politicians.

May 11, 1966—After receiving an honorary Doctor of Laws at a special ceremony at Princeton University’s new Woodrow Wilson School building, Lyndon B. Johnson asks an audience of over 3,000 for support of his policies in Vietnam while antiwar protesters carry placards outside. “The responsible intellectual,” Johnson says, should “‘cool it’, to bring what my generation called ‘not heat but light’ to public affairs.”

May 13, 1977—The Daily Princetonian reports that the mathematics department has admitted a 15-year-old Ph.D. student, Eric R. Jablow *83.

May 15, 1870—The sudden death of George Wilson Pillow, Class of 1871, has “cast a deep gloom over the college.”

George Wilson Pillow, Class of 1871. Historical Photograph Collection, Alumni Photographs Series (AC058), Box SP02.

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This Week in Princeton History for May 2-8

In this week’s installment of our recurring series, Bob Hope jokes with students, a Pennsylvania newspaper questions James McCosh’s decision-making, and more.

May 2, 1836—The Mammoth Exhibition of the Zoological Institute in New York (an early traveling circus) is in town. Those who pay the 25-cent admission fee are promised a view of exotic animals, including live tigers.

May 3, 1984—The Whig-Cliosophic Society presents Bob Hope with the James Madison Award. Hope responds, “I love it when a relic gives something to a relic.”

Bob Hope with students at Princeton University, May 3, 1984. Office of Communications Records (AC168), Box 142.

May 4, 1881—The St. Albans Daily Messenger criticizes James McCosh for not allowing the Glee Club to perform a concert in Trenton for the benefit of the Grand Army Post. McCosh reasoned that the saloons and “houses of ill fame” in Trenton made the environment inappropriate for the students, but the Messenger disagrees. “If these Princeton students are what they ought to be there could be no harm in their fulfilling their engagement in Trenton if the saloons and houses of ill fame were as thick in that city as in Luther’s imagination devils might have been in the city of Worms.”

May 7, 1845—Philadelphia resident Sears C. Walker receives a letter from professor Stephen Alexander in Princeton, who writes that he has seen the tail of a comet.

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This Week in Princeton History for April 25-May 1

In this week’s installment of our recurring series, students prepare to go to war, a graduate sets off for the West, and more.

April 25, 1931—In London’s Saturday Review, French author Andre Maurois writes of his experience teaching French literature at Princeton as a visiting lecturer for a semester:

Most [American students] are not at all enthusiastic over the material progress of our time. They want something more; they want moral progress. … I ended by no longer considering them foreigners, quite different from French students. I never felt that they and I belonged to two different civilizations. They are relations, and good ones, younger than ourselves; but youth is not a defect.

April 26, 1861—The New York World reports that Princeton students have formed a volunteer corps, the “Old Nassau Cadets,” in case they are needed to fight against what is known in the north as “The Rebellion” and will later be known as the Civil War.

April 27, 1747—The Board of Trustees announces to the public that they have appointed Jonathan Dickinson president of the new College of New Jersey and it will open for students during the fourth week in May in Elizabethtown.

April 29, 1874—Josiah McClain, Class of 1871, sets off for the western frontier (Utah and Nevada Territories), where he will work as a missionary.

Josiah McClain, Class of 1871, ca. 1871. Historical Photograph Collection: Alumni Photographs Series (AC058), Box MP29.

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“He Decided to Conquer the Place that Had Conquered Him”: Peter Putnam ’42 *50’s Princeton, Part II

In Part I of this two-part series, I told the story of how Peter Putnam ’42 *50 lost his sight in a suicide attempt and fought for the right to return to Princeton University and finish his degree. In this second installment, I detail the life Putnam lived as a student, an employee, and an alum of Princeton University after his return.

Peter Putnam ’42 re-entered Princeton University over the initial objections of the administration, bringing along with him a new companion, Minnie, the first of many guide dogs. (Undergraduates quickly dubbed Minnie “the first co-ed in Princeton history.”) Though Putnam would be known as part of the Class of 1942 in perpetuity, he was a junior when he came back in his original graduation year.

Whether he set out to prove his detractors wrong or it simply happened, Putnam defied their low expectations at every turn. Putnam participated in campus life, with some limitations. He did not, for example, eat with his peers at Commons, his academic record notes tersely, “because of physical disability.” Based on his later writings about not being granted entry to many places in Princeton because of his need for a service dog, it’s possible he wasn’t permitted in the dining hall because Minnie was not allowed to go along. However, he threw himself into opportunities that were available, earning local celebrity for reasons far beyond his constant canine companion. As the Princeton Alumni Weekly put it in 1957, “he decided to conquer the place that had conquered him.”

Triangle Club elected Putnam its president in 1942. He supervised the last of Triangle’s productions during World War II, a show that might not have been possible without him. “Time and Again,” unlike most other Triangle Shows before it, had no Christmas tour, and was only performed locally. Triangle membership that year included students on accelerated programs who had little time for extracurriculars. Putnam ended up writing most of the script himself, playing the role of a World War I veteran in the first scene, and handling the administrative tasks for the show like managing the budget and securing permissions from various stakeholders to stage the production.

Illustrations from the Nassau Sovereign, November 12, 1942, including a reference to “Boss Putnam.”

The song “Here I Sit with the Physically Unfit” from “Time and Again,” written by William K. Zinsser ’44, may give us insight into how ableism would have pervaded Putnam’s experiences at Princeton, even in spaces that seemed otherwise welcoming. In the lyrics, a woman seeking a man to love at a time when most were away at war complains about her options. After the woman notes “I’m left to be protected/By the rejected/But I’m feeling tepid/T’ward the decrepit,” she goes on to list a variety of disabilities that she finds unappealing, including blindness.

I’m left behind

With the lame and the halt and the blind back here

Ev’ryone who isn’t knock-kneed is flying a Lockheed

Ev’ryone without myopia is in Ethiopia

But I must be sweet

To the guys who have got flat feet back here. Continue reading

This Week in Princeton History for April 18-24

In this week’s installment of our recurring series, war bonds are on sale, faculty prohibit students from participating in a 12-hour walking match, and more.

April 20, 1942—Students can buy war bonds in Clio Hall today.

War bonds brochure, ca. 1942. Office of the Vice President and Secretary Records (AC190), Box 35, Folder 7.

April 21, 1979—A report on NBC Evening News considers the changing mores at Princeton University, where some students complain of intense pressure to have sex. Bill Kirby, introduced as “a sex therapist who is also Princeton’s Methodist chaplain,” says the cultural rules have changed from a prohibition on sex to a prescription for sex—the culture demands that students must be “a sexual gourmet, a sexual Ph.D.”

April 22, 1884—Natural history professor George Macloskie is elected chairman of the Prohibition Convention in Trenton and also delegate-at-large of the National Prohibition Convention.

April 23, 1879—Locals join in the pedestrianism fad by staging a 12-hour walking match, but faculty prohibit students from participating.

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“A Fairyland and Hell to Me for Years”: Peter Putnam ’42 *50’s Princeton, Part I

This is the first in a two-part series on the life of Peter Putnam ‘42 *50 in Princeton, before and after he lost his sight. This first installment focuses on the events leading up to the incident in which he was blinded and his fight to return to Princeton University afterward.

Peter Putnam entered Princeton University in 1938 with a talent for academics, but lacking in direction. Because he had long expected to join the Army, he had also assumed he would attend West Point, like his father before him, but the elder Putnam suggested his son find a less frustrating career. The looming threat of war may or may not have influenced the Putnams; in any case, an uncle and other relatives had attended Princeton, and many of Putnam’s classmates were headed there, so it seemed like the default place for him to go. Decades later, Putnam described his 1938 arrival at Princeton University as entering “a fairyland and hell to me for years to come.”

While in college, Putnam was engaged in an internal war with himself, alternately taking advantage of the pleasures offered to a privileged young man in the Ivy League and becoming frustrated when no consequences for his hedonistic lifestyle materialized. He drank and partied his way through a few years, and his photographic memory meant no real need to study in order to pass his classes. Putnam was not a stellar student, to be sure, but he was still doing relatively well, earning grades that would have allowed him to graduate with honors, whether he applied himself or not—and mostly he did not. In a letter to the Dean of the College, Putnam later made some references to family problems contributing to his feelings of despair, without detailing what they were.

A bout with appendicitis and mononucleosis in his junior year deepened Putnam’s depression. He began fantasizing about playing Russian roulette with a revolver to which he had access, wrote a suicide note, and carried bullets to be prepared for the moment he would call it quits on life. He deliberately isolated himself, quitting his extracurriculars and moving into a single room. When Houseparties weekend came in 1941, Putnam went to visit his parents instead of socializing. There, he attempted to carry out his plans.

Telegram from Peter Brock Putnam, May 6, 1941, informing Princeton University that his son had been shot. Undergraduate Academic Records (AC198).

Putnam survived the gunshot, but his vision did not. The bullet severed his optic nerves. Although coming out of a 10-day coma reportedly jolted him out of his depression, giving him a sense of purpose and new goals to work toward, he would now be followed by a double stigma of mental illness and physical disability in an era when neither were granted legal protection against discrimination. He would spend the rest of his life in Princeton contending with both. Continue reading

This Week in Princeton History for April 11-17

In this week’s installment of our recurring series, Shirley Chisholm speaks on campus, a lantern slide show is well-received, and more.

April 11, 1930—Theatre Intime teams up with the Varsity Club of Bryn Mawr to present “The Constant Nymph.”

April 14, 1972—Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman to serve in the U.S. Congress and who is campaigning for the Democratic nomination for president, speaks at the Sickle Cell Cultural Festival sponsored by Princeton’s Association for Black Collegians. Chisholm says to the crowd in McCosh 50, “It may take a little Black woman to guide the ship of state for another four years.”

April 16, 1898—Lantern slides of Princeton’s campus are shown at Blair Academy in Blairstown, New Jersey, where they are reportedly “enthusiastically received.”

Lantern slide of Princeton University’s School of Science, ca. 1890s. Lantern Slide Collection (AC378), Box 1.

April 17, 1995—Tom Grant ‘64 is quoted in the Daily Princetonian on being a gay student in the 1960s: “[I] had thoughts that were troublesome enough to motivate me to seek professional guidance, [but]…it was such a social impossibility to be openly gay that I was happy to be told ‘don’t worry about it’ (by the psychologist).”

For the previous 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 April 4-10

In this week’s installment of our recurring series, students receive word that the U.S. president has died, a faculty member applies for admission as an undergraduate, and more.

April 5, 1841—Local residents receive word that United States President William Henry Harrison has died. In accordance with their usual custom, students will wear mourning badges for 30 days.

April 7, 1886—A bulletin posted on Nassau Street reads, “No base-ball game to-day. Humidity prevents.”

April 8, 1970—Helena Novakova, a visiting lecturer in Slavic languages and literatures who has already taught two courses, fills out a transfer application in the registrar’s office. She will be accepted as a junior Russian major in the Class of 1972, which will enable her to renew her visa and stay in the United States. It remains unsafe to return to Czechoslovakia following the Russian invasion.

Helena Novakova ’72 with tennis coach Eve Craft, ca. 1972. As a Princeton University undergraduate, Novakova was captain of the undefeated women’s tennis team. Undergraduate Alumni Records (AC199).

April 10, 1912—Beginning with today’s game with Lehigh, at athletic events on campus the Bureau of Self-Help will sell new score cards that they have published. The 5-cent sales will be used to help the members of the Bureau pay their educational expenses.

For the previous installment in this series, click here.

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A Look Into Asian American Writing at Princeton and Its Focus on Interracial Dating: Racial Preferences of Campus Couples in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s (Part 2)

By Christina Cho ’24

This is a continuation of a two-part series that broadly explores how discussions of “Asian American” identity and interracial dating overlap in student publications found in the University Archives. In Part 1, I examined a magazine called The Seedling and attempted to contextualize its underlying motive and somewhat ambiguous language. Here, I continue my discussion of Asian-white relationships using various examples of student writing from the 1980s through the early 2000s. I then examine an article from The Daily Princetonian that features an Asian-Black couple. The article shows that we need to consider other identities alongside race when discussing interracial dating.

Additional University Archives Sources on Interracial Dating

The student writing I found on Asian interracial dating from the 1980s generally focused more on the ambiguous acceptance of interracial dating on campus, rather than on specific racial pairings. The following are the earliest articles on interracial dating I found in The Daily Princetonian:

  • “Qualms, myths, tensions stymie interracial dating” (November 19, 1982): “Interracial couples just aren’t that common at Princeton.” In the article, a student notes that although students of different races can “‘be friendly with each other and eat together,’” they “‘don’t go to the same parties’” and “‘don’t date the same people.’” The article contextualizes this comment, asking students the reasons why interracial dating is uncommon. The article presents Princeton as a “fragmented community,” citing, for instance, how “for many whites, social life revolves around the [eating] clubs, while for blacks, the Third World Center and Princeton Inn dances are the main sites of social activity.”
  • “Interracial dating: Students meet mixed response to relationships” (December 4, 1986): This article points to a similar tension between students’ descriptions of how accepting Princeton is of interracial relationships. The article includes interviews with Asian students, such as “Kelly,” who discusses her experiences dating both Asian and non-Asian men, concluding: “I encountered the same boy-girl relationships in both situations […] all guys are the same.”

Photo from Princeton: Our Perspective, 1981. Historical Subject Files (AC109), Box 294, Folder 7.

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