This Week in Princeton History for May 18-24

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the Nassau Lit celebrates its centennial, pranksters kidnap a professor during a final exam, and more.

May 18, 1942—The Nassau Literary Review’s centennial issue comes out, with selections from many of its best-known historical contributors, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Booth Tarkington, Woodrow Wilson, Jacques Maritain, and Norman Thomas.

Cover of the Nassau Literary Review, May 1942.

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This Week in Princeton History for May 11-17

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, an angry bystander punches a graduate student protester, a professor arrives in Athens after drifting 100 miles at sea, and more.

May 11, 1966—Nearly 400 protesters demonstrate their opposition to the American involvement in the Vietnam War during U. S. President Lyndon B. Johnson’s visit to Princeton University. (Johnson is present for the dedication of the Woodrow Wilson School.) A bystander reportedly expresses disagreement with the protesters by punching a graduate student involved.

Photo from the Daily Princetonian.

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This Week in Princeton History for May 4-10

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Whig-Clio representatives meet with Henry Kissinger, Jimmy Stewart gives his last student theater performance, and more.

May 4, 1867—After Princeton’s baseball team defeats Yale 58 to 52, both teams have dinner together at Mercer Hall, parting “the best of friends after their short acquaintance.”

May 5, 1970—Nine members of Whig-Clio and two journalists from the Daily Princetonian meet with Richard Nixon’s chief foreign policy advisor, Henry Kissinger, at the White House. What is usually a routine 4-day annual “Project Update” has become, at the direction of organizers Christopher Godfrey ’72 and Deborah Leff ’73, a vehicle to communicate Princeton’s opposition to the U.S. invasion of Cambodia and the purpose of the Princeton Strike to officials in Washington.

May 6, 1932—In response to its notable success earlier in the spring, which drew Mary Pickford and representatives from Paramount, Warner Brothers, and Fox to Princeton to attend performances of the play, Theatre Intime restages “Nerissa” with its original cast. Jimmy Stewart ’32 is giving what is expected to be the last acting performance of his life in the supporting role of “McNulty.”

Jimmy Stewart ’32, at right, as “McNulty” in “Nerissa,” Spring 1932. Theatre Intime Records (AC022), Box 17.

May 10, 1876—Students attend the opening of the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, the first official World’s Fair in the U.S., which celebrates the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Arthur Bryan, Class of 1878, will later write in the class history book: “A special train was chartered to take us to and from the Centennial grounds, and early in the morning it bore us rapidly away from Princeton. … The ride back from Philadelphia afforded no opportunity for sleeping, as the noise made by singing, patriotic speeches and cat-calls prohibited every approach toward somnific obliviousness.”

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 27-May 3

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, James McCosh is elected president of the College, thousands turn out to witness Firestone Library open for the first time, and more.

April 27, 1980—Princeton Against Registration and the Draft (PARD) holds its second protest of Jimmy Carter’s proposal for requiring registration for selective service, in spite of the country not being at war.

April 29, 1868—The Board of Trustees elects James McCosh as president of the College of New Jersey.

James McCosh, ca. 1870s. Historical Photograph Collection, Individuals Series (AC067), Box AD13.

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This Week in Princeton History for April 20-26

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Jesse Owens poses, John F. Kennedy speaks, and more.

April 20, 1942—Jesse Owens talks with Princeton’s Creative Sculpture class while he poses for a piece in Joe Brown’s series of sculptures of American athletes.

April 22, 1891—The Princetonian reports that a Civil War veteran is planning to return to campus to join the Class of 1894. He is 53 years old.

April 25, 1973—Princeton hosts its first “Lifestyles Colloquium” to help students learn how to manage a dual-career family.

Ad from the Daily Princetonian.

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Dear Mr. Mudd: War, Epidemics, and Suspended Classes at Princeton

Q. Dear Mr. Mudd,

Has Princeton University ever had to close the campus before? Or have a lot of students been displaced and had to leave and/or study at home for some other reason in the past?

A. In 2020, Princeton University suspended residential instruction after Spring Break due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was probably the first time anyone within the Princeton community could remember something much like this happening, but within the full history of Princeton, it was not unprecedented. Due to war or epidemic, Princeton has ceased normal operations several times.

1776-1777: Revolutionary War

The earliest records we have found related to students leaving campus because of a threat are from 1776. On November 29, 1776, John Witherspoon called the students of the College of New Jersey (Princeton) together to formally dismiss them so they could flee the rapidly approaching British army. Taking only what they could carry with them and leaving the rest to become spoils of war, the students said good-bye to one another and left campus.

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


1832: Cholera

The first illness to have caused campus to close that we know of was a global cholera pandemic. Classes ended early and Commencement was called off. The Board of Trustees recorded this in their minutes for their September 25, 1832 meeting:

Excerpt from the Minutes of the Board of Trustees of the College of New Jersey (Princeton), September 25, 1832. (See transcript below.) Board of Trustees Records (A120), Volume 3.

The Committee appointed to attend the examination of the Senior Class Reported, that by reason of the alarm occasioned by the threatened approach of Pestilence, it became impossible to keep any of the College Classes together, in consequence of which the examination was omitted.

The minutes of the Faculty for August 7, 1832 and September 12, 1832 give more details of what happened:

Excerpt from the Minutes of the Faculty of the College of New Jersey (Princeton), Summer Session 1832 (see transcript below). Office of the Dean of the Faculty Records (AC118), Volume 3.

[August 7]

Agreeably to a resolution of the Faculty a printed letter was sent to the parents & guardians of the students informing them that, in consequence of the dispersion of nearly all the students, the Exercises of College have been suspended, & that, whenever it shall be deemed to be safe & expedient for the students to return, due notice will be given.


[September 12]

By order of the Faculty, letters were sent to the parents & guardians of the students, giving them notice that the next session of College will commence on Thursday the 11th of October next.

Degrees were awarded to the Class of 1832 in absentia.

1861-1865: Civil War

We’ve previously told you about the significant number of students who left Princeton in 1861 after the outbreak of the Civil War. Although classes were still being offered on campus, some students, like Josias Hawkins of the Class of 1861, had to complete their degrees at home.

1871: Smallpox

Panic among parents after a student was diagnosed with smallpox in 1871 promoted James McCosh to end the school year two weeks early. The Nassau Literary Review observed

Everybody feared, or pretended to fear everybody else, and ‘vaccination’ and ‘small pox’ were the principal topics.

1880: Typhoid

In 1880, a typhoid (“enteric fever”) epidemic killed 10 (out of the total 473) students at Princeton, which among other things meant that the semester ended a few weeks early. From April through July, about 40 Princeton residents fell ill with what public health officials later deemed to have been typhoid. The cause was apparently a combination of contaminated well water and improper drainage of sewage from campus buildings and boarding houses.

1916: Polio

The start of classes was delayed until October 10 in 1916 in an effort to curb a particularly deadly polio epidemic. Five days after the late start of classes, a 17-year-old freshman who had entered that week as part of the class of 1920, Eric Brünnow, died of polio. This was the only case of polio among student body and among the families of faculty and staff. Although the infirmary’s physicians traced the point of infection to Brünnow’s travels that summer (including a trip to New York), rather than having been contracted locally, the campus naturally felt a strong sense of alarm.The Princeton Alumni Weekly attributed a drop in freshman enrollment, down 14% from the previous year, to widespread concerns about the polio epidemic.

1970: Vietnam War

In 1970, following the U.S. invasion of Cambodia, the University suspended final exams in May as part of an overall university protest strike, and students were allowed to complete their work the following October.

A large group of people, some holding flags. In the foreground, a man is wearing a t-shirt with "STRIKE" written over a closed fist on the back.

Strike Rally at Princeton, May 1970. Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box MP095, Image. No. 1942.


Though wars and epidemics have shut Princeton down several times over the past centuries, Princeton weathered others by significantly adjusting operations. Classes went on during the flu pandemics of 1918 and 1957 and World War I and World War II, but daily life on campus was radically different for those who were here then. In an institution with a history as long as ours, it is perhaps more surprising that significant disruptions have been as uncommon as they have been.


Board of Trustees Records (AC120)

Fourth Annual Report of the Board of Health of the State of New Jersey, 1880. Camden: Sinnickson Chew, 1881.

Office of the Dean of the Faculty Records (AC118)

Papers of Princeton


For further reading:

Armstrong, April. “1957 Epidemics at Princeton.”

Armstrong, April C. “‘The Present Unsettled State of Our Country’: Princeton and the Civil War.”

Armstrong, April C. “The Year Princeton University Delayed the Start of Classes until October 10.”

Armstrong, April C. and Allie Lichterman. “Princeton University During World War II.”

Bernstein, Mark F. “Why Princeton Was Spared.” Princeton Alumni Weekly, December 17, 2008.

Shen, Spencer. “Princeton University During World War I.”

van Rossum, Helene. “The Princeton Strike, 1970.”

This Week in Princeton History for April 13-19

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the Princetonian takes over the function of the Bulletin Elm, the baseball team plays its first game, and more.

April 15, 1975—Two students receive a letter offering admission to Princeton in error on or about this day. Though the students were supposed to be rejected, Princeton will honor the acceptance if they choose to attend.

April 17, 1885—The Princetonian announces that it will begin assuming the function of the Bulletin Elm because the tree is dying.

Bulletin Elm, ca. 1885. Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111), Box MP07, Image No. 159.

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This Week in Princeton History for April 6-12

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Evelyn College trustees vote to include women on their board, a shanty in Firestone Plaza demonstrates anti-apartheid sentiment, and more.

April 6, 1895—The Board of Trustees of Evelyn College votes to expand so its membership can include women. Rather than the current 15 men, the board will include 15 men and 15 women.

Evelyn College catalog, 1891-1892. Historical Subject Files (AC109), Box 330, Folder 4.

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This Week in Princeton History for March 30-April 5

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the library receives a new gift of F. Scott Fitzgerald correspondence, a campus publication rails against women’s suffrage, and more.

March 31, 1967— Charles Scribner Jr. ’43 presents the Princeton University Library with Charles Scribner’s Sons complete correspondence with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Class of 1917.

An excerpt from a letter F. Scott Fitzgerald, Class of 1917, to Max Perkins, his editor at Charles Scribner’s Sons, December 20, 1924:
“Hotel des Princes, Piazza di Spague, Rome.
“Dear Max:
“I’m a bit (not very–not dangerously) stewed tonight & I’ll probably write you a long letter. We’re living in a small, unfashionable but most comfortable hotel at $525.00 a month including tips, meals, etc. Rome does not particularly interest me but it’s a big year here, and early in the spring  we’re going to Paris. There’s no use telling you my plans because they’re usually just about as unsuccessful as to work as a religious prognosticater’s [sic] are as to the End of the World. Iv’e got a new novel to write–title and all, that’ll take about a year. Meanwhile, I don’t want to start it until this is out & meanwhile I”ll do short stories for money (I now get $2000.00 a story but I hate worse than hell to do them) and there’s the never dying lure of another play.
“Now! Thanks enormously for making up the $5000.00. I know I don’t technically deserve it considering I’ve had $3000.00 or $4000.00 for as long as I can remember. But since you force it on me (inexorable [or is it exorable] joke) I will accept it. I hope to Christ you get 10 times it back on Gatsby–and I think perhaps you will.” 
Archives of Charles Scribner’s Sons (C0101); Manuscripts Division (Firestone Library), Department of Special Collections.

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Demystifying Mudd: Research from Home

Mudd Library is closed right now for renovations, and many of our researchers are practicing social distancing. Though some projects will be on hold, the good news is that if you are at home reading this right now, you have a lot of options for remote research. Some resources are available to all, while others can be accessed by Princeton University’s scattered community with a Secure Remote Access (SRA) connection, also known as a Virtual Private Network (VPN). If you have a Princeton NetID and would like to use these materials, you can follow the instructions on the OIT website to establish the connection on your own device.

Resources Available to All:

This Blog

We’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that our own blog can be a great resource for finding information and digitized materials. It’s worth a search to see what we’ve already curated for you. Think creatively! You may find digital image galleries like in this post about the Liberty Loan Fund’s advertising for women during World War I or videos like this campaign film about nuclear weapons to use as primary sources on topics completely distinct from our reasons for putting them up on the blog.

Drawing of Uncle Sam standing next to a banker opening a safety deposit box in front of a woman. The woman is handing a "Liberty Loan Bond" to Uncle Sam.

Liberty Loan Committee Records (MC089), Box 19, Folder 15.

Princeton University Library Finding Aids

You may find that what you need has already been digitized and attached to the finding aid, so it is always worth a look. You will need to navigate to the individual item to see the files, such as with these minutes of faculty meetings from the Department of Chemistry Records. If you find a broken link, please email us.

Papers of Princeton Database

If you’re interested in just about anything related to the history of the town of Princeton or Princeton University, this database is a great place to start. It includes town newspapers like Local Express, the Princeton Herald, and Town Topics; student publications like the Daily Princetonian and Nassau Literary Review; and other local periodicals like the Princeton University Weekly Bulletin and Princeton Recollector

Princeton University Library Catalog

You might think the main Princeton University Library Catalog can only tell you where a physical book is, but a lot of digital content is available there, too, like this video of a 1954 CBS News interview with H. Alexander Smith, Class of 1901.

HathiTrust Digital Library

This searchable database contains millions of digitized titles in the public domain from libraries around the world. You can find early issues of the Princeton Alumni Weekly or reference books like John Frelinghuysen Hageman’s History of Princeton and Its Institutions, but you need not focus on Princeton here. Want to know what slang words college students across the U.S. were using in the 1850s? Check out Benjamin Homer Hall’s A Collection of College Words and Customs.

Princeton University Archives Tumblr

Our Tumblr page is a frequently overlooked reference resource, but it’s not all just fun and games. You can use the search box to find content specific to your interests, or explore with the hashtags. You can find out what Princetonians have been eating for the past few centuries, read a student’s letter home, or get a sense of how coeducation shaped Princeton.

Class of 1883 dinner menu, June 7, 1883. Princeton University Class Records (AC130), Box 23.

Princeton University Digital Library

High resolution scans of significant portions of several of our collections can be found in the Princeton University Digital Library (PUDL). Search or browse historical photos and postcards of the Princeton University campus, or peruse early 20th-century posters from the New York City subway system.

Elevated Express poster, ca. 1925. Ivy Ledbetter Lee Papers (MC085). Box 137.

Digital Princeton University Library

The materials from the PUDL are gradually migrating to a new system, the Digital Princeton University Library (DPUL). New materials are always being added, like this photo from a 2017 student protest and David L. Aaron’s notes on the first White House meeting about the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis.

Special Collections Databases

We have several online databases you can use to do things like verify someone’s class year or the department where a faculty member worked.

Google Books

Though much of the content in Google Books that might be relevant to you is also in the HathiTrust Digital Library, it’s often worth searching both databases. You might find, for example, that more recent issues of the Princeton Alumni Weekly are available in Google Books but not from HathiTrust.


HistoryPin helps you search for local content through Google maps. Zeroing in on Princeton University will bring you to content we’ve put up, but also content from the Institute for Advanced Study, local residents, and other institutions.

“A Lesbian Was Here” sticker, 1991. Historical Subject Files (AC109), Box 201, Folder 14.

Mudd Library via Email

We’re a resource you can access remotely, too–just email if you want help finding something. Though we don’t have access to our collections, either, sometimes we may surprise you with what turns out to be available in a digital format.

For more on our remote reference services, please see our previous blog post on this topic.

Resources Available to Princetonians via VPN:


For recent dissertations and senior theses, as well as some senior theses from earlier decades, the Princeton community can search the Dataspace repository. Some materials may be listed as “walk-in access only.” Please email us for assistance with those items. Note that if an item is listed as under embargo, it is not accessible until after the date listed.


JSTOR is a rich resource for almost all researchers, whether they’re interested in the subjects our collections cover or not, but it’s worth mentioning a few of the specific resources there that we often recommend to our patrons: the full text of A Princeton Companion and five volumes of The Princetonians: A Biographical Dictionary:

Newspaper Databases

The Princeton community has access to a significant number of digitized newspapers. The ones most frequently relevant for our researchers are America’s Historical Newspapers and ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

American Civil Liberties Union Papers 1912-1990 Database

Though not all of the American Civil Liberties Union Records are digitized, a significant portion of them are, and this database is keyword searchable. Note that researchers not affiliated with Princeton University may still have access to this database if their institutions subscribe. Please see our LibGuide for a list of subscribing institutions.