F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Great Writer, but a Not-So-Great Student

By Iliyah Coles ’22

Many people know about the success of the infamous writer, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Some know that he attended Princeton University and even based his first novel, This Side of Paradise, on the Ivy League school. However, what many people don’t know is that Fitzgerald was not a star student. In fact, he wasn’t even an average student. F. Scott Fitzgerald was perhaps, in terms of academics, one of the worst students in his class. That could be one of the reasons why he decided to drop out during his junior year of college and join the army.

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (named after his well-known, patriotic cousin) initially entered Princeton University with the Class of 1917. Fitzgerald had not done well academically in high school. His thoughts seemed to be always elsewhere, mostly on the girls that he spent time with. According to a 1966 article in the Princeton Alumni Weekly, when Fitzgerald applied to Princeton, the admissions board looked at Fitzgerald’s troubling grades and asked him why they should let him in. Fitzgerald then responded by stating that it was his seventeenth birthday. It is possible that Fitzgerald’s charming personality played a role in his acceptance. Fitzgerald himself stated in Ten Years of Princeton ’17, “Priggishness sits ill on Princeton.” Perhaps this is why he was granted admittance despite his questionable grades in high school.

Nevertheless, Fitzgerald entered the class of 1917 and arrived with big dreams. Fitzgerald became fixated with the social scenes on campus like clubs and sports. He even tried out for the football team during his freshman year, but he was cut on the first day of tryouts because he was so slim, as is indicated by a 1956 PAW article. After his football dreams were crushed, Fitzgerald focused on getting into one of the eating clubs (a substitute for Greek life at the university) and Triangle Club (the university’s biggest theater group). Fitzgerald was able to achieve these two goals and, due to his dedication to them, he found success and happiness in both. It is evident that Fitzgerald was really great at the social aspect of college, but that’s just about the only aspect he was great at.

F. Scott Fitzgerald. Photo from 1917 Nassau Herald.

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This Week in Princeton History for September 16-22

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a longstanding but dangerous tradition comes to an end, a sophomore writes to his mother about attending Aaron Burr’s funeral, and more.

September 19, 1990—Students nab the Nassau Hall clapper for the last time.

It’s unclear exactly when the tradition of stealing the clapper began, but documentation indicates it was sometime in the 1860s. More than merely a nuisance to staff who had to keep replacing the clapper, scaling the bell tower was a dangerous feat that occasionally resulted in injuries when students fell from the tower and then off the roof onto the ground. In 1991, administrators decided to remove the clapper indefinitely. Today, Nassau Hall’s bell rings only on special occasions, such as Commencement, after which the clapper is again removed. The students pictured above were members of the Class of 1952 who stole the clapper in 1948. Historical Photograph Collection (AC112), Box MP199, Image No. 5278.

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This Week in Princeton History for September 9-15

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a winner of the Pepsi-Cola Scholarship chooses Princeton, the U-Store opens at 36 University Place, and more.

September 9, 1915—In The Nation, Princeton University philosophy professor Warner Fite warns of the pitfalls of public universities, especially the risk they pose to academic freedom: “Donors may sometimes be exacting, but at length they die, while the Legislature goes on forever.”

September 10, 1945—The Princeton Bulletin announces that one of the recipients of the new Pepsi-Cola Scholarship (“this latest advertising wrinkle”) chose Princeton and is now enrolled.

Edward House ’50, pictured here in the 1950 Nassau Herald, was one of the first recipients of Pepsi’s scholarship program, which lasted only a few years, 1945-1948. House appears to have been the student the Princeton Bulletin wrote about in 1945. A total of nine of the 489 winners of the full-tuition, 4-year scholarship chose Princeton. In addition to tuition, the program covered travel expenses and included a small stipend of $25/month. It made it possible for many students who would not otherwise have been able to afford to attend the college they wanted, or even college at all, to get an education.

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This Week in Princeton History for September 2-8

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Frist Campus Center opens, an alum writes to Princeton about surviving a major earthquake in Japan, and more.

September 2, 1973—An article in today’s Sunday magazine of the New York Times provokes contentious correspondence between Dean of the College Neil L. Rudenstine ’56 and the author, Harvard professor Martin Kilson. Kilson claims that Princeton, like many other institutions, has lowered its standards when increasing its admission of African Americans. Rudenstine insists Kilson’s portrayal of academic performance among African Americans at Princeton as subpar is inaccurate.

September 5, 2000—Frist Campus Center opens.

Frist Campus Center, September 2000. Image from negatives found in Office of Communications Records (AC168), Box 197, Folder 14.

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This Week in Princeton History for August 26-September 1

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Chinese students come together, dogs are banned on campus, and more.

August 26, 1933—To commemorate the 150th anniversary of Continental Congress formally thanking George Washington for his conduct in the Revolutionary War, Nassau Hall is fully illuminated, a throwback to when students used to light each window with a candle to celebrate significant days.

August 27, 1779—The adjutant-general of the Continental Army authorizes Thomas Bradford, Deputy Commissary of Prisoners, to deliver “to the Reverend Dr. Witherspoon, two prisoners of war of the 71st British regiment, to labour for him at Princeton…”

August 30, 1911—The seventh annual conference of the Chinese Students’ Alliance of the Eastern States concludes its meetings at Princeton with words of encouragement from John Grier Hibben.

The 1910s brought many Chinese students to colleges in the United States, including Princeton University, as part of the Boxer Indemnity Fund’s scholarship program. Here, the Class of 1915 Eating Club pose for a group photo, including Kenyon Vanlee Dzung and Ken Wang in the front row, ca. 1914. By 1914, the Princetonian reported that there were seven Chinese students on campus. Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box LP070, Image No. 4159.

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This Week in Princeton History for August 19-25

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a sophomore watches as the USSR invades Czechoslovakia, a junior unseats a 15-time golf champion, and more.

August 19, 1887—Princeton professor Charles Augustus Young is leading an expedition to Moscow to view a total solar eclipse.

August 20, 1968—Stephen Fuzesi ’70 watches from the balcony of the Hotel Intertourist in Uzsgorod, stunned, as Soviet tanks invade Czechoslovakia to crush the “Prague Spring.” Fuzesi will later write, “The realistic Czechs were now victims of an innocent but naïve interpretation of their own fate. However, we were naïve all over the world.”

August 23, 1958—The Winnipeg Tribune reports that a group of tourists, four young men from Princeton and Yale, have arrived in the Port of Churchill by canoeing from The Pas.

August 25, 1996—Mary Moan ’97 wins the Pennsylvania State Women’s Amateur Championship, beating former U.S. Women’s and British Amateur Open winner Carol Semple-Thompson for the title in a stunning upset. (Thompson has previously won the Pennsylvania competition 15 times.)

Mary Moan ’97. Undergraduate Alumni Files (AC198).

For the previous installment in this series, click here.

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This Week in Princeton History for August 12-18

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a member of the Class of 1963 finds his music festival in upstate New York more popular than expected, a professor recaps the recent earthquake on campus, and more.

August 12, 1926—After a woman faints and falls into the Yukon River in Carcross, Alaska, George Seward of the Class of 1927 jumps in and rescues her.

August 15, 1969—The concert Joel Rosenman ’63 organized with his business partner, John Roberts, turns out to be more popular than initially expected, as an audience of more than 400,000 overwhelms the dairy farm in Bethel, New York where it takes place. As a result, Rosenman and Roberts will spend more than a decade working to repay debts they will incur in association with the three-day music festival best known as Woodstock, though Woodstock is 60 miles from Bethel.

Clipping from the Daily Princetonian, September 10, 1969.

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This Week in Princeton History for August 5-11

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Gleason’s Pictorial praises the institution’s influence, a Confederate flag is missing, and more.

August 6, 1853—Gleason’s Pictorial runs a front-page feature on the College of New Jersey, praising its campus resources (including its four buildings and 12,000-volume library). “This institution has ever taken higher ground, and its influence has been felt in all departments of professional life. Its sons are found in every State, occupying the pulpit, the bar and the forum.”

Illustration from the front page of Gleason’s Pictorial, August 6, 1853. Only a few years later, Nassau Hall would suffer extensive damages in a fire, and repairs in the latter part of the 1850s would enlarge the cupola and add towers to flank the structure on either end; many of these changes were reversed in the 20th century.

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This Week in Princeton History for July 29-August 4

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the Navy is slated to take over three dormitories, an arsonist’s attack on campus seems to be welcomed, and more.

July 30, 1942—The chair of the Undergraduate Council announces that the Navy will be taking over Brown, Cuyler, and Patton Halls in September. The Council votes to urge those students forced to move to attempt to find roommates.

July 31, 1963—George F. Kennan (Class of 1925) resigns as U.S. Ambassador to Yugoslavia.

August 2, 1865—After a sick homeless man found sleeping in the campus gym dies of smallpox, someone burns it to the ground to prevent the spread of the disease. Although fire alarms sound, attempts to put out the blaze are half-hearted due to ongoing fears of infection. No one ever attempts to discover the identity of the arsonist because the town is so relieved the danger is gone.

The first gymnasium at the College of New Jersey (Princeton), ca. 1865, shown in the foreground of this campus scene with Nassau Hall in the distance. Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111), Box MP15, Image No. 351.

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This Week in Princeton History for July 22-28

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, public nudity is ruled to be legal, an alum warns his wife they may need to skip town to avoid a riot, and more.

July 22, 1754—The Board of Trustees of the College of New Jersey approve the construction of Nassau Hall.

Nassau Hall illustration in New American Magazine, 1760. Nassau Hall Iconography Collection (AC177), Box 1.

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