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