Comics as Education, 1950s-1980s

By Zachary Bampton ’20

From the 1950s onward, comics and their bright colors, bold drawings, and interesting stories have captivated a young American demographic. However, their popularity drew in other eyes, too. Civic and political groups took notice of this market audience and attempted to reach them by utilizing the medium as a teaching tool. The goal was education, not entertainment. Pulled from our Public Policy Papers and University Archives here at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, these comics demonstrate a mass market approach to education by unconventional means.

Materials for an unpublished comic book found in the Fund for the Republic Records (MC059) provide insight into the motivations and decision-making process for these publishers. In 1955, Dan Barry proposed a comic to Fund for the Republic provisionally titled “Our Civil Liberties, Their Meaning, and the Threats They Face”. Noting the “70 million regular readers” of comics as well as the disparity between 43% of the “newspaper public” reading the editorial versus 83% reading the comic strips, Barry articulated the potential and “great need for free-minded liberal material in this powerful medium”.

“Heroes of the Highway,” 1952. This comic book served as proof of concept to Fund for the Republic for the 1955 proposal. Fund for the Republic Records (MC059), Box 93, Folder 21.

Continue reading

Latinx Student Poetry at Princeton

By Courtney Perales ’17 with April C. Armstrong *14 and Mario Garcia ’18

Students have often used the arts and poetry to express themselves and enhance their identities on campus. Two Latinx poems I found in student publications in the archives this spring were particularly striking to me: “Lloro Por Mi Puerto Rico Perdido” in La Mujer Latina, by Maribel Garcia ’84, and “We Hunger” in The Vigil, by Michele Parris ’90. I also ran across a reprint of “Our Tongue was Nauhuatl” by noted Mexican-American poet Ana Castillo in Sol Del Este East Coast Chicanx Student Forum Newsletter. One thing that stood out among these three different Latinx poems were that they delved into topics around identity, sense of belonging, and racial insensitivity and microaggressions students were experiencing. In another Latinx student publication, Amanecer, there were many more poems with similar themes. The poems depicted how these students were part of and yet pushed against the idea of a “Latinx monolith.” Wrestling with topics like borders, immigration, and independence, each piece pulled from deep emotional reserves and evoked the pain, confusion, and frustrations that came with being a student of color at Princeton.

La Mujer Latina, Spring 1982. Historical Subject Files (AC109) Box 297, Folder 8.

Continue reading

Ask Mr. Mudd: “Levee Song” and Princeton’s Minstrel Shows

Q. Dear Mr. Mudd,

Is it true that the University of Texas school song, “The Eyes of Texas,” has a Princeton University connection? Where did the song come from, and why don’t Princeton students sing it anymore?

A. “The Eyes of Texas” is set to a tune best known today as “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” Both use a melody first published as “Levee Song” in the College of New Jersey (Princeton)’s songbook, Carmina Princetonia, in 1894. With the new lyrics as “The Eyes of Texas,” the song was first published in The University of Texas Community Songbook in 1918.

carminia_princetoniana_1894_cover_ac056_box_2_folder_5

Carmina Princetonia, 1894. Princeton Music Collection (AC056), Box 2.

Continue reading

Bob Dylan’s Honorary Princeton University Degree

When news of Bob Dylan being honored with a Nobel Prize in Literature broke a few months ago, the Swedish Academy responsible for the award acknowledged that it might appear to be an inappropriate choice. Dylan, as a musician, might not be thought of as an author so much as a composer. “If you look back,” permanent secretary Sara Danius told the press, “you discover Homer and Sappho, and they wrote poetic texts that were meant to be listened to … But we still read Homer and Sappho…and we enjoy it, and same thing with Bob Dylan. He can be read, and should be read.”

ac106_box_6_dylan_bob

Bob Dylan at Princeton University, June 9, 1970. Honorary Degree Records (AC106), Box 6.

Continue reading

Howard Edwards Gansworth and the “Indian Problem” at Princeton

For people of European descent carving out space for themselves in the present borders of the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries, there was a major barrier: people already lived there. The nation did not regard this as an insurmountable hurdle, however. America tried a variety of things as it expanded westward: driving Native Americans across continually shifting borders, attempting to assimilate them into a dominant white culture, and employing a variety of approaches in between. As the United States consumed more and more territory occupied by American Indians who attempted to maintain ownership, conflicts worsened. In the late 19th century, a crisis point had been reached. In 1890 and 1891, the Lakota Sioux fought a losing battle over treaty violations and land use with the United States Army. The Ghost Dance War resulted in the deaths of dozens of combatants on both sides and hundreds of Lakota Sioux civilians during its best-known battle, the Wounded Knee Massacre. During this period, Native Americans came under particular scrutiny.

At the College of New Jersey (Princeton), opinions were mixed about this so-called “Indian Problem.” A few weeks after the Ghost Dance War ended, students debated what should be done. One claimed “that though the good Indian was not the dead Indian, yet the good Indian had not yet been found.” Samuel Semple of the Class of 1891, who was selected as the winner of the debate’s $1,000 prize, argued that the only thing to do was to adopt Richard Pratt’s program of forced assimilation, removing Native American children from their homes and sending them to boarding schools. Pratt later famously summed up his program’s rationale in this way: “All the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”

Prize_debate_program_AC016_Box_84_Folder_31

Cliosophic Society Archives (AC016), Box 84, Folder 31.

Continue reading

“This Is More Than a School”: James M. Stewart ’32’s Princeton

When we launched our Tumblr page in January 2015, we filled it with a variety of content on the history of Princeton University, but it didn’t take long for us to discover that one alumnus in particular consistently received a lot of attention on the platform: James Maitland Stewart ’32. In honor of this, we currently have an exhibit case in our lobby dedicated to Stewart’s long-term connection to Princeton: “‘This Is More Than a School’: James M. Stewart 32’s Princeton.”

Jimmy Stewart, the son of Alexander “Eck” Stewart of the Class of 1898, wrote on his 1928 application to Princeton that he chose it due to family connections and his belief that Princeton “is by far the best equipped to give me a broad, profitable education, provided that I apply myself diligently to the work.” His dreams of becoming a civil engineer, however, were short-lived. Diligent work proved a challenge in the face of tempting recreational activities. He later told Princeton Living, “College algebra was like a death blow to me.” He did especially poorly in a Shakespeare course and “did not survive Spanish.” Unable to keep up in his classes, Stewart was forced to attend summer school to avoid flunking out. At the end of Stewart’s freshman year, his math professor told him, “You’d better think very seriously about being something else [other than a civil engineer], or you’ll be in deep trouble.”

Transcript

Grade card for James Maitland Stewart ’32, Undergraduate Academic Records 1920-2015 (AC198), Box 25. To better understand Stewart’s academic struggles, see our previous blog post explaining the 1-7 grading system used here. N.B.: Access to student academic records is governed by this policy.

Continue reading

Mother Loves Me

With Mother’s Day coming up, we thought now was a great time to highlight this theater poster from our General Princeton Theater Collection (AC385).

AC385_Box_3

Princeton General Theater Collection (AC385), Box 3.

“Mother Loves Me” was a 1958 one-act musical comedy written and produced for Theatre Intime by Clark Gesner ’60, a member of the Triangle Club who also contributed to a few of its productions, including “After a Fashion” and “For Heaven’s Sake.” To fund this enterprise, Gesner had support from the Producers Fund, a modest grant of $200 originally donated by D. Brooks Jones ’56 from his profits from his own 1956 production, “Three Folk Sing.” The fund supported student artistic endeavors in various forms of public entertainment, including plays, literature readings, and musical revues. It had first been used in 1957 to finance “Listen Here” by Theodore James, Jr. ’57, who returned the initial grant and added a percentage of his profits to keep the fund going in accordance with the award’s rules.

For “Mother Loves Me,” male parts were performed by Princeton students, but as the school was not yet coeducational, casting had to look elsewhere for female actors. They drew upon local talent: Janet Thornsen of the Westminster Choir School took the lead soprano part, while Marcy Carroll of Princeton High School appeared in a supporting role. The male cast included Peter Cook ’60, Clinton Jakeman ’60, Robert Tellander ’60, and Philip Weinstein ’61. Grenville Cuyler ’60 directed. Using amateurs fulfilled the terms of the grant from the Producers Fund, which stipulated that the production could not employ more than one professional in any capacity, on stage or off.

The satirical musical focused on the field of psychology’s outlook on love. One viewer wrote of “Mother Loves Me,” “it is hard not to point out a number of particular flaws, but it is a great deal more difficult to explain the sheer and wonderful delight felt by the audience throughout the performance.” The production was a success and nearly sold out, making it possible for Gesner to keep a share of $50.68 from the profits after putting the requisite $352.01 into the Producers Fund. Though this wasn’t the main catalyst for Gesner’s fame, he did ultimately become a highly successful composer. He is best known today for the Broadway play, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” which was nominated for a Grammy in 1968. He also wrote and composed for a handful of television programs, including Captain Kangaroo, Sesame Street, and The Electric Company.

 

Sources:

Clark Gesner Papers (C1163)

General Princeton Theater Collection (AC385)

Daily Princetonian

Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students Records (AC136)

Triangle Club Records (AC122)

Undergraduate Alumni Records (AC199)

“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_FAC28_photo_by_Orren_Jack_Turner

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.

“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.

Continue reading

Triangle’s “All in Favor”, 1948-1949

It is always difficult to watch silent films of early Triangle shows, which are as famous for their music and witty lyrics as for the all male kicklines (read our previous blog for an introduction). Even without sound, however, the films of All In Favor are still a visual treat. Footage of the performance, a dazzling display of virtuosity and color, is alternated with dressing rooms scenes, displaying the fun of stockings, wigs, and long flowing skirts.

All in Favor, is, in Triangle’s own words, a “fast-moving musical comedy satire on American politics, its methods and madness,” set in a little town in Indiana in the 1920s, where a mayor is running for reelection with the help of  his “non-too-honest” campaign manager. His opponent is the reform candidate widow Dawes, whose daughter dates a Princeton student  (a summary of the story, taken from the press release, can be found in the Daily Princetonian). The script was written by Triangle president Francis S. Hartley ’50 (pictured at 0:16), vice-president Thomas H. Middleton ’48, secretary Kennedy Williams ’48 and Edward H. Tuck ’49.

James C. Neely ’48 and Henry Fonda. Triangle Club Records (AC122), Box 73.

The first of the two films, which includes excerpts from Act I, opens with preparations prior to the show, including dressing room scenes and orchestra practice (0:18-2:10). Although some of the footage on the stage includes singing and acting, the two films merely capture the 16-man Triangle chorus, performing specialty dances and production numbers created by choreographer Morgan Lewis. In Act I this includes the Can-Can shown at 4:42. The photo at the right, which was found in the Triangle Club Records, shows film star Henry Fonda, adjusting the garter of chorus leader James C. Neely ’48. Although Fonda attended one of Triangle’s rehearsals, he is not included in the films featured here.

The film ends with the minstrel show at the mayor’s campaign rally (7:38), a particular novelty that received a lot of attention.

The second film, which captures Act II of the performance, opens with a member of the chorus (a “chorine”) pulling on stockings, which is followed by a prisoner escape (0:27) and chorines dancing the Charleston (1:24). A traditional ballet, preceded by another dress-up scene, is shown at 3:40. When the curtain falls, the casts sings the Princeton alma mater “Old Nassau” (7:17).

Existing photographs of the performance did not allow us to identify individual actors and chorus members. If anyone is able to add names to the faces on these films, please comment on this blog!

These 16mm films are part of the Triangle Club Records at the Princeton University Archives (box 177).  Mudd Library is thankful for the support that the Triangle Alumni Board provided for digitizing these films and unlocking their contents.