Halle Berry on “Women, Race, and Film” (2000)

Fifteen years ago, Halle Berry made history as the first African American woman ever to win the Academy Award for Best Actress. A year and a half before her Oscar win, Halle Berry was the keynote speaker for a two-day conference at Princeton, “Imitating Life: Women, Race, and Film, 1932-2000.” We’ve recently digitized the video of her address.

Halle Berry, “Women, Race, and Film,” McCosh Hall, Princeton University, September 2000. Office of Communications Records (AC168), Box 203.

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Integrating Princeton University: Robert Joseph Rivers ’53

As we have previously pointed out, Princeton’s first African American undergraduates were not purposefully admitted: they were instead brought as part of a Navy training program during World War II. In 1945, Trustee Laurence G. Payson wrote to fellow member of the Class of 1916 John McFerran Barr to explain the presence of black students in response to apparent objections. “When the personnel [for the Navy unit] arrived its members included, unbeknownst to us in advance, four negroes.” Meanwhile, a law requiring tax-exempt institutions not to discriminate on the basis of race had recently passed in New Jersey. “If Princeton were to stand against the negroes who were admitted under the Navy War-time ROTC the Trustees would be in a very difficult spot.” He explained that future African American applications for admission would be evaluated by administrators at Nassau Hall (i.e., the Office of the President) rather than by the Office of Admission, then headed by Dean Radcliffe Heermance. (Heermance had revoked one black student’s offer of admission in the 1930s when he showed up to register for classes and his race became apparent.) In spite of Princeton’s wariness of challenge to its traditions, one young local African American resident found the presence of black students at the prestigious university inspirational in its seeming promise of new possibilities.

James Everett Ward ’47 and Arthur Jewell Wilson ’47 outside Laughlin Hall, 1946. Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box MP215, Image No. 5644.

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Grading at Princeton University

We sometimes get questions about what people see in alumni files. One of the more challenging things about reading academic records is dealing with unfamiliar grading rubrics. For example, we shared F. Scott Fitzgerald’s grade card with you a while ago. Though a dropped semester and repeated classes would indicate he did not do so well academically, the actual grades he received—mostly a series of 4s and 5s—are bewildering to modern eyes.

Grading at Princeton table

Click to enlarge this table.

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“Climates of the Past”

These days, most Americans think of PBS when they think of educational television, but in the 1950s, viewers expected commercial networks to offer this sort of programming. In 1952, New York’s WNBT (NBC) offered Princeton University a grant for faculty to develop a variety of shows in their areas of expertise suitable for a mass audience. Yale, Brown, Rutgers, Columbia, NYU, and Georgetown were all already involved in similar endeavors. By 1954, 84 colleges and universities were involved in creating educational television. Some even offered college credit to viewers.

Princeton was ready to go on the air in 1954. The series, Princeton ’54, was only shown in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut region, but the program was successful enough that NBC decided to show its successor, Princeton ’55, throughout the eastern United States, in a covetable Sunday afternoon time slot. The series was meant to appeal to diverse interests, opening with “Communists, and Who They Are” with Prof. Gabriel A. Almond (Woodrow Wilson School) on January 2, 1955, and drawing upon faculty in English, music, the Creative Arts Program, and geology, among others for its 13-episdode season.


Erling Dorf, ca. 1950s. Photo by Orren Jack Turner. Historical Photograph Collection, Faculty Photographs Series (AC059), Box FAC28.

Today, we’re sharing the program that aired sixty years ago today, on February 6, 1955. Geology professor Erling Dorf presented “Climates of the Past,” asserting that the Earth was going through a period of warming within an epoch of cooling.

Princeton followed up with a third and final season, Princeton ’56, the following year.

History of Women at Princeton University

Written by Vanessa Snowden ’04

For much of its history, Princeton University had the reputation of being an “old-boys’ school.” Starting in the fall of 1969, Princeton became co-educational, and eight women transfer students graduated in June 1970, with slightly greater numbers graduating in the two subsequent years. Women who matriculated as freshmen in 1969 graduated in the Class of 1973, the first undergraduate class that included women for all four undergraduate years. However, the first steps towards co-education came as early as 1887, with the founding of Evelyn College. From its inception, this women’s institution was associated with Princeton University, and it was hoped that the link would be similar to the Radcliffe and Harvard University relationship. Unfortunately, Evelyn College closed in 1897, due to financial problems and a lack of support from Princeton.

For the next half-century, women instead made their presence known in unofficial positions. Wives and daughters of Princeton faculty and administrators succeeded in exerting significant influence on campus life as advocates for students as well as assistants in research. Isabella Guthrie McCosh, wife of James McCosh, the 11th president of Princeton, was deeply involved in protecting the health and welfare of Princeton students. As a result of her unflagging dedication, the campus infirmary was built and named in her honor.


“Reminiscences of Mrs. McCosh,” June 1935. Auxiliary to the Isabella McCosh Infirmary Records (AC175), Box 2.

Women were also important forces in the academic world. Margaret Farrand Thorp, wife of English professor, Willard Thorp, often assisted with her husband’s research while simultaneously producing her own independent work. Fittingly, she wrote a book entitled Female Persuasion: Six Strong-Minded Women, which was published in 1949. Speaking of her lot as a female at Princeton, Thorp once quipped, “We who practice the pleasant profession of faculty wife are often amused by Princeton University’s apparent hostility to the feminine sex. Hostility is probably too strong a word. The situation is, rather, that for the University, the feminine sex does not exist.” (See William K. Selden, Women of Princeton, p. 33.)
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“Princeton: A Search for Answers,” 1973

During a morning session of the President’s Conference in the early 1970s, a member of the student panel told the assembled alumni that she had come to Princeton “not to find a way of making a living, but instead to find a way of making a life.” Filmmakers Julian Krainin and DeWitt Sage used this statement in their proposal in 1972 for a new recruitment film for Princeton University. “It seems that it should be the responsibility of a great university not so much to answer the question of how to “make a life,” but to present the student with at least the tools and courage with which he or she might discover the answer.”

The resulting film Princeton: A Search for Answers won an Oscar  in 1974 for Documentary Short Subject. Film producer and director Joshua Logan ’31, who had started his stage writing and directing career in Princeton’s Triangle Club, was one of the first to see it. “I not only believe that it is a moving, funny, and stimulating account of a University I once knew but had almost forgotten,”  he wrote to his fellow members of the Academy. “It tells about the gleam that flits across the human mind and gives us all something to hope for, to live for. It makes the human race quite a bit more respectable then (sic) we have recently thought it to be.” The film which has recently been remastered (2013) is featured here.

In order to write the film treatment and script, Dewitt Sage spent several months on campus, attending classes and seminars, and talking with students, faculty and staff. Once the film treatment was approved, Julian Krainin took over to supervise the actual camera work. During 1972 and early 1973 fourteen and a half hours of 16mm color footage was shot for the thirty minute film. The outtakes are kept in the University Archives. To accompany the film, the Office of Communications produced a handsome brochure with quotes and information about the faculty featured (see SearchForAnswers.pdf).

As already suggested by the title, the film’s main emphasis is on education, scholarship, and student-instructor relations. The film includes footage of tutorials and lectures by physics professor and Dean of the Faculty Aaron Lemonick (1:50, 9:11), and professors Edward Cone (Music, 3:01, 29:48), John Wheeler (Physics 7:05), Daniel Seltzer (English, 12:39), and Ann Douglas Wood (English, 25:02). Wheeler is filmed during a lecture about the implications of black holes (he is credited with coining the phrase in 1967), while Dan Seltzer teaches a Shakespeare acting class and lectures about Henry IV (Part 2). Additional footage features Princeton president William Bowen during a question and answer session with alumni and undergraduates (9:55, 26:11, 27:49) and the work of two graduate students: Niall O’Murchadha (Physics, 5:10, 26:51) and Maury Wolfe (Architecture, 16:11).

Produced only a few years after the introduction of co-education in 1969, at a time when diversification of the student body was a priority for Princeton, women and African American students feature prominently in campus scenes (9:40, 20:56, 24:36) and in the class rooms. There is little emphasis in the film on extracurricular activities. In addition to footage of the Glee Club singing Bach in Alexander Hall (directed by Professor of Music Walter Nollner, 17:47), sport scenes are limited to marathon running and rowing (23:25). Additional footage includes students sharing their views of Princeton in a pub (19:45, the legal drinking age was still eighteen!) Some historical photographs and footage is shown at 22:27, including a fragment of a chemistry lecture by the famous Hubert Alyea (previously featured) and the Triangle Club.

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James Baker at Princeton before and after the Cold War

Baker at Princeton

In 1949, as the United States and its western allies established the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to “contain” Soviet expansion into Europe, James A. Baker III was a freshman at Princeton. He was, in his words, “focused more on making grades, playing tennis and rugby, and chasing girls — not necessarily in that order — than on U.S. foreign policy” (Baker p. 287).

In his memoir, Baker provides a good-natured account of his early years here. “I became a member of both Princeton’s Right Wing Club — so named because we spent much of our time using our right arms to hoist spirituous beverages — and the 21 Club, another social organization with a similar mission” (Baker p. 9). But by the time he left Princeton, Baker had produced serious work; he found his interest in history and classics and had written his senior thesis about parliamentary politics in Britain in the two preceding decades.

The Cold War would soon find him, however. Baker graduated in 1952 and immediately entered the U.S. Marine Corps’ officer training program while the Korean War was still ongoing. The Cold War would continue to shape Baker’s career, by which he was both a witness to and agent of the fall of the Soviet Union. By the end of 1991, Baker had served as Ronald Reagan’s Chief of Staff and Treasury Secretary and as Secretary of State for George H. W. Bush.

Return to Princeton

This video, documenting a talk by Baker co-sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson School and the Class of 1993, was delivered on December 12, 1991 in Alexander Hall. Baker was then serving as Secretary of State.

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“Princeton University: Conversations that matter,” 1991

After the 1960 and 1961 “Princeton newsreels” featured last week, which marked a new stage in Princeton’s public relations efforts, it is interesting to make a 30-year leap to view a film that was produced for the Admissions Office by Andrew Greenspan: “Princeton University: Conversations that Matter” (1991). Focusing on the academic climate and intellectual exchanges, the film uses a markedly different format than the Orange Key Society film of 1962, which was also aimed at prospective students.

This film uses footage of discussion groups, lectures and seminars, and individual meetings between students and faculty, touching upon a wide range of subjects within the sciences and humanities. Professors featured include, among others, Cornel West (African American Studies, 1.13 and following), Peter Brown (History, 4:31), Robert Fagles (reading from his translation of the Iliad 6:57), Toni Morrison (English, 8:27 and following), John Fleming (English and Comparative Literature, 9:05), John Conway (Mathematics, 12:36), Steve Mackey (Music, 18:24 and following), and Michael Littman (Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, 19:19). In addition, the film addresses individual students’ research and creative writing projects. The footage includes an acting class by playwright David Rabe (16:02) and training sessions with basketball coach Pete Carril (2:50 and following).

The film won a Gold Award from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).

This VHS video is part of the University Archives’ Historical Audiovisual Collection (item no. 1293).

Keeping the donor base informed: Princeton newsreels, 1960-1961

During the $53 Million Campaign (1959-1962) a 13 x 10 foot scale model of the Princeton campus  toured 19 major cities and displayed at meetings of the regional leaders of the fund drive. To keep Princeton alumni further informed about progress and developments on campus, the Alumni Council sponsored two “Princeton Newsreels” in 1960 and 1961. The two 30-minute films are interesting to watch, not only because they feature new facilities, achievements in sports and science, and notable events (from Hurricane Donna in 1960 to the donation of $35 million for the Woodrow Wilson School in 1961), but because they also document the University’s first attempts to reach out to its donor base through the medium of film.  Contrasting the two films, one cannot help but note that the second film is much smoother in its presentation than the first.

The first newsreel opens with an introduction by the 41 year-old president Robert F. Goheen ’40, and a freshmen lecture about the honor system by Walker Stevenson ’35, president of the National Alumni Association (1:30). The scale model of the campus, mentioned above, is featured at 6:41, when administrative vice-president Edgar M. Gemmell ’34 explains the expansions planned for the next three years. The footage following captures the Hibben and Magie faculty apartments under construction (6:41) as well as the five new dormitories of the New Quad (Class of 1937, Class of 1938, Class of 1939, Dodge-Osborn, and Gauss Halls), the first buildings to be finished since the start of the $53 Million Campaign (7:27).

aircar.jpg“Examples of Research” opens with a bird experiment on the roof of Guyot Hall (7:55), followed by the Princeton-Pennsylvania Proton Accelerator, a particle research facility on the Forrestal Campus since 1957 (8:59). In addition, the newsreel includes a demonstration of the thermoheliodon and the heliodon, developed by the Architectural Laboratory to determine the effects of sunlight, wind and radiation (10:19), and research at the Department of Aeronautical Engineering into problems that occur with low speed flight (11:29; footage includes “air car” shown above). In addition, the newsreel features faculty who won an award in 1960: the later Nobel Prize winner Eugene Wigner, Professor of Physics, who received the “Atoms for Peace Award” (15:02) and History Professor Robert Palmer, who won the Bancroft prize for his book Age of the Democratic Revolution (15:25).
The second half of the film features particular places and events, including alumni in the “Princeton Today” program who visited the new C-site at the “Matterhorn Project” (renamed the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory in 1961), a project for magnetic fusion research funded by the Atomic Energy Commission that had only been declassified in 1958 (15:47, with more about the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory in the second newsreel). This is followed by the appointment of three new trustees (17:15), the foreign language laboratory (18:57), achievements in sports (track, squash, and lacrosse at 20:06; football (with coach Dick Colman) at 25:04), and Reunions (20:54, with the Class of ’35). In addition, the film includes footage of Triangle chorines during a performance of Breakfast in Bedlam, which toured various military bases and hospitals in Europe during the summer (18:05). The newsreel also documents Hurricane Donna, the only hurricane on record to have struck every East Coast state between Florida and Maine, which hit the campus on September 12, 1960 (23:38).
The second newsreel that was produced during the $53 Million Campaign is more crisply presented, with a clear division into five chapters. The first chapter, “New Facilities,” shows new campus edifices: the Engineering Quadrangle (1:42), the John Foster Dulles Library of Diplomatic History (2:11), the Hibben and Magie apartments at Carnegie Lake (2:22), the new playing fields (2:37), and the dormitory quad with Wilcox Hall (2:48). It is followed by images of students moving into their dormitories (3:44), Class of 1965 freshmen, the new Dean of the College J. Merrill Knapp with Dean Ernest Gordon (4:36), and keycepts “in operation” (4:57).
“Sports” (6:26), the subject of the second chapter, features basketball (6:28), swimming (7:04), track (8:11), and football (8:24), with brief footage of important games and closeups of athletes. In the next chapter, “The Search for Knowledge” (11:32), the number of research project previously featured is reduced to two. The first concerns the new Model C Stellarator at Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), the new name of “Project Matterhorn” discussed in the earlier newsreel. The large stellarator, for which facilities had been built in 1960, replaced previous models that had been used in the 1950s. As a second example of Princeton’s achievements in science the research of biology professor Arthur K. Parpart is discussed (14:21).
The fourth chapter, “Going Back” (15:43) includes footage of the Class of 1936’s 25th and the Class of 1911’s 50th reunion, with Joseph Cashman and Dr. William H. Hudnut from the Class of 1886 as members of the Old Guard. (Footage of President Robert Goheen ’40, Grant Sanger ’31, Harold Helm ’21, and Walker Stevenson ’35 is at 16:43). The “major Princeton event of 1961” is saved for last: “Princeton in International Affairs” (19:29) features the $35 million anonymous gift from a foundation (initially called the “X” Foundation, later known as the Robertson Foundation) to establish a professional school for public service at the Woodrow Wilson School. The newsreel ends with a statement by Gardner Patterson, who was the director of the Woodrow Wilson School and of the new program (20:35).
These 16mm films are part of the University Archives’ Historical Audiovisual Collection (item no. 0083 and 0079)


Hubert Alyea’s Spectacular Chemistry

One of Princeton’s most popular faculty members of the mid-20th century was chemistry professor Hubert Newcombe Alyea ’25 (1903-1996), known for his colorful and explosive chemistry demonstrations that sometimes burned his suits. Alyea taught at Princeton between 1930-1972, but gave lectures around the country and the world and worked to make teaching science by demonstration with simple means more feasible in developing nations. Walt Disney’s inspiration for the film ‘The Absent-Minded Professor’ (1961) occurred while attending one of Alyea’s lectures, and he invited Alyea to Hollywood, where actor Fred MacMurray copied his mannerisms for the film. Two of Alyea’s most famous demonstration lectures are featured here.

Alyea developed his two-hour lecture, “Atomic Energy: Weapon for Peace,” in 1945, when the horrors and power of the atomic bomb had just been impressed in people’s minds. He presented the lecture some 2,800 times in many different countries. In it, Alyea explains the principles of the atomic bomb and atomic energy, using a variety of chemistry demonstrations, interspersed with whimsical comments and ending with his personal views about world peace. Featured here is a shortened version of the lecture for a television program that was part of the series “Princeton ’55, an Exploration into Education through Television.” The series was broadcast by NBC in cooperation with Princeton University.

During the last week of his class ‘Chemistry 104’ Hubert Alyea applied the lessons from chemical research to a philosophy of life. He ended with a spectacular final lecture that was famous throughout his career. After his retirement in 1972, Alyea continued to present “Lucky Accidents, Great Discoveries and the Prepared Mind” as a guest lecturer across the country.  He was also a popular fixture at Princeton Reunions. The film featured here was created around 1985 by the Alumni Council, using excerpts of the lecture from a recording at Louisiana State University. The lecture ends with Alyea singing “The Orange and the Black,” while mixing solutions that show the colors of Yale, Harvard, and Princeton (23:13).

These films (a 16 mm film and a VHS video) are part of the University Archives’ Historical Audiovisual Collection (items no. 0099 and 1296).