10 Movies Filmed on Princeton University’s Campus

By Iliyah Coles ’22

Princeton is known for is its aesthetically-pleasing architecture. To some producers, the campus environment makes it an ideal location for shooting a movie. Here is a list of 10 movies that were filmed on Princeton’s campus.


Varsity (1929)

One of Paramount’s first dialogue films (a “talkie”), Varsity was directed by Frank Tuttle and starred Charles Rogers. The main character, Jimmy Duffy, is a college student, who happens to be the janitor’s (Pop’s) son but doesn’t know it. Pop was an alcoholic and was ruled as unfit to parent, so Jimmy was separated from him as a child. Pop watches over Jimmy in college as he grows up and falls in love. Phillip Holmes ‘30 and Charles E. Arnt, Jr. ‘29 were both Princeton undergraduates who appeared in the film, and later were in several other movies. The Princeton sets built during Varsity were also used in the film She Loves Me Not (1934), for which Arnt was the technical director

First page of a letter written to John Grier Hibben by Eleanor H. Boyd, November 16, 1928. Historical Subject Files (AC109), Box 394, Folder 7.

Many people were offended by the film, including a woman who wrote to John Grier Hibben about the way in which Princeton students were portrayed. She described the plot as “[…] a portrayal of a Princeton student in one drunken debauch after another.” Following the public outcry, the film was pulled in February 1929. No known copies were preserved Continue reading

How Bicycles Changed Princeton, 1860s-1910s

Bicycles are seemingly ubiquitous at and around Princeton University in our time. The ever-present sight of bicycles parked near campus buildings or cyclists making their way across campus or along the D & R Canal raises no eyebrows; their absence, as with the absence of other forms of traffic, was one of the most noteworthy aspects of local life during the COVID-19 shutdown of 2020. Yet there was once a Princeton where bicycles were unknown, and their appearance presented a concerning novelty.

Bicycle in Princeton, ca 1880s. Historical Photograph Collection, Student Photograph Albums Series (AC061), Box 186.

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“Wear ’Em”: Princeton University’s First Gay Jeans Day

The events of October 11, 1989, Princeton’s first “Gay Jeans Day,” reverberated far beyond the confines of a 24-hour period. Both then and much later, the day highlighted attitudes among students and alumni toward the LGBTQIA+ community as they existed in the late 1980s. The Princeton LGBTQIA+ Oral History Project (AC465) further gives us insight into the long-term impact, as well as a glimpse into the lives of closeted Princetonians we can’t see in the records made at the time.

With pink flyers stenciled in black letters, organizers of Princeton’s first Gay Jeans Day urged the campus to “wear ’em” without further details. Many took it to mean that wearing jeans would be a declaration of their own homosexuality. The idea wasn’t well-received. As quickly as they could put them up, organizers reported, their flyers would be torn down.

Gay Jeans Day flyer, 1989. Lesbian Gay Bisexual Alliance Records (AC037), Box 1, Folder 5.

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A Brief History of Asian and Asian American Students at Princeton

Although we can expect our understanding to change as new discoveries shape what we know, we currently have enough information to provide this brief overview of the history of Asian and Asian American students at Princeton accessible through our collections. Please look for more as research into Princeton’s past continues.

We believe this image is of Rioge Koe, a Japanese student in the Class of 1874, pictured here in 1873. Historical Photograph Collection, Class Photographs Series (AC181), Box MP03.

The earliest records of ethnically Asian students we have found were of a small group from Japan who came to Princeton in the 1870s. These early students tended to be sponsored by their own governments and many did not graduate, but Hikoichi Orita graduated with the Class of 1876.

Ethnically Chinese students may have begun arriving in the late 19th or early 20th century. Dong Seung, Class of 1905, an early example, was from Hong Kong, then a British colony. The Boxer Rebellion Indemnity Fund, which supported education of Chinese students in America, led a handful of other ethnically Chinese students to enroll in this period. Six students founded Princeton’s Chinese Students Club in 1913. One of them, Hsu Kun Kwong from the Class of 1914, may have been the first Asian student on the editorial board of the Daily Princetonian. Kwong, originally from Shanghai, was involved in many other aspects of campus life as well, including membership in Key and Seal, the American Whig Society, the Andover Club, and the Municipal Club and playing soccer. Continue reading

Princeton’s East College: Horses, Cannons, and Ghosts

By Iliyah Coles ’22

East College, built in 1833, was Princeton’s first building solely used to house students. It stood across from West College (now Morrison Hall) and Cannon Green, and the Bulletin Elm once stretched from East College to the Old Chapel. Before its demolition in 1897, East College had been the site of many interesting occurrences. 

East College, 1874. Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111), Box SP03, Image No. 605.

In February of 1871, after some considerable snowfall, a few students thought it would be fun to steal a sleigh that was standing alone in front of the Methodist Church and drive it around town for a while. They ended up back at East College, and then decided to stable the horses right there in the lower entry. The owner came by the next morning and was enraged to see his horses standing in the entryway.

Horses weren’t the only unusual thing found at East College. For years, the largest post-Revolutionary War cannon in the town stood on its grounds. It was first removed in 1812, but in 1836, a group of Princetonians (townspeople) went on a trip to retrieve the cannon from New Brunswick. After the cannon malfunctioned on the way back to Princeton, it never fired again. Two years later, the University claimed ownership and placed it right outside East College Continue reading

Dear Mr. Mudd: Who Was Princeton’s First International Student?

Dear Mr. Mudd,

Can you tell me who Princeton’s first international student was? Were there international students in the first graduating class?

 

As with all questions about “firsts,” this one is too complicated to answer simply with someone’s name. We are aware that our records aren’t comprehensive, so we can only provide what we have found to be our earliest records, with the understanding that we may later discover earlier records. Even knowing what our earliest records tell us, however, doesn’t make the answer straightforward.

International students, then known as foreign students, slowly became more common at Princeton after the Civil War. This image is of a student we believe to be Rioge Koe, a Japanese student in the Class of 1874, pictured here in 1873. Historical Photograph Collection, Class Photographs Series (AC181), Box MP03

We must begin by defining what we mean by an “international student.” The College of New Jersey graduated its first class of students in 1748, decades before the United States declared its independence. We cannot consider anyone who was a subject of the British Empire to be an “international student,” whether or not they were from the current geographic boundaries of the United States, when New Jersey was a British colony. From this first class in 1748, two students may have crossed the Atlantic to attend the College of New Jersey (which was in Newark until its move to Princeton in 1756, and renamed Princeton University in 1896), but no national borders: Benjamin Chestnut and Hugh Henry. Chestnut was born in England. We don’t know when he came to New Jersey. Henry may have been born in Ireland.

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Dear Mr. Mudd: Why Was There a Woman in Princeton University’s Texas Club Before Coeducation?

Dear Mr. Mudd,

Looking at the photograph posted on the Princeton University Archives Tumblr of the Texas Club in 1960, I see a woman, but Princeton wasn’t fully coeducational until 1969. Where did she come from?

So far, we’ve been able to learn that the woman in the front row, far left, had the last name Riedel, but we haven’t been able to confirm anything about her specifically beyond this. Texas Club, 1960. Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box AD39, Folder 27.

Although to some extent this woman remains a mystery to us as well, there are other women we can see in photographs of extracurricular clubs at Princeton University in the early 1960s. The Bric-a-Brac provides some clues for us about who they may have been. Princeton University may not have admitted women as undergraduates until 1969, but women were on campus for a variety of reasons before then. In all probability, women in Princeton’s extracurricular clubs were students at other colleges in the area. Continue reading

The “Down South Kitchen” and Family Life in Princeton University’s Isabella McCosh Infirmary

When I wrote about the myth of slave quarters in Princeton University dormitories, there wasn’t room to tell you about the service workers who did sleep under the same roof as Princeton students for half a century. Today’s post considers the home one Black family made at Isabella McCosh Infirmary while they cooked and cleaned for students sick in body or in soul as well as the medical staff. Theirs was in some ways a typical life for African Americans of their time, a generation removed from enslavement yet still constrained by sociological factors that meant few other roles would have been possible for them than what the U.S. Census usually recorded as their occupation: “Servant.”

It began with Mabel Hillian, who came to Princeton to visit relatives in the fall of 1916. Her age at this time is a bit unclear; different sources would either have her as about 25 years old or as about 19, but based on most sources it seems she was probably 19. In January 1917, she started working in McCosh Infirmary as a dishwasher. It was not her first job. She’d previously worked picking cotton in Cheraw, South Carolina, where she was born, and where she had an apparent reputation for picking more cotton faster than any of the other roughly 100 farmhands who worked alongside her. Her younger sister, Bessie Hillian, then just 14 years old, soon joined Mabel in Princeton as an infirmary dishwasher. Even at that young age, Bessie arrived with her own work experience, because she, too, had been picking cotton in Cheraw. Though they both started as dishwashers, they quickly took over the kitchen. Mabel remained head cook until her retirement, when Bessie assumed the role.

This 1932 photograph is the earliest one I’ve been able to find of Bessie and Mabel Hillian, shown here in the Isabella McCosh Infirmary kitchen. Photo from the Daily Princetonian.

Helen Gross was the Infirmarian at the time. Gross’s brother, John M. T. Finney, was a doctor. Gross and Finney, Bessie later told the Princeton Herald, had told the Hillian sisters to move in to the infirmary, which the Hillians commonly referred to as a hospital. “They said we should live at the hospital and make it our home, and we always have.”

McCosh Infirmary, 1910. In 1925, this first building was replaced with the one that still stands today. Historical Postcard Collection (AC045).

The sisters weren’t alone in the infirmary overnight. In addition to students who stayed there when they were ill, census records show that other service staff and several nurses also lived in McCosh Infirmary, all of whom where white; many were immigrants. The sisters soon expanded their own family’s presence there, too. Around 1928, Bessie married Harley Dargan, who also moved into the infirmary and worked as a waiter, and their younger brother, Thomas Hillian, moved in with them as well and began working as an orderly. Another relative, Rosa Malachie—known as “Big Rosa”—joined them in 1928, too, helping with the cooking and cleaning. In 1942, their niece, Lucy Rosa Malachie—known as Lucy or as “Little Rosa”—moved in. Because the family was from South Carolina, they called the kitchen Mabel ran the “Down South Kitchen.”

When World War II food shortages began to make the job of cooking for the students more difficult, the family had an idea. They wrote to Princeton’s president, Harold Dodds, to ask permission to start a garden. He assented and asked the greenhouse manager to set aside a few acres on the path to Lake Carnegie for them. The greenhouse manager asked Mabel why she hadn’t just come to him in the first place rather than going straight to Dodds. “Well, Mr. Dawson,” Mabel said, “you see we knew the president and we didn’t know you.”

With Tom as the “Head Man” in charge of the garden, and the dedication of the rest of the family, the enterprise was a resounding success. Princeton did not have to buy any fresh produce at all for the infirmary in 1943. It was instead supplied from the array of fruits, vegetables, and herbs, said to include every common variety known in the area except parsnips, in the “Down South Garden.” They worked to preserve what didn’t get eaten fresh, canning vegetables, pickling cucumbers, bottling sauces, and making jams and jellies. It does not appear that Princeton compensated the Hillian-Dargan-Malackie family for the food, though they did get some support in the form of fertilizer and $25 to spend on equipment, and were allowed to continue gardening through the Korean War.

“Big Rosa” Malackie; Mabel, Bessie, and Thomas Hillian; and “Little Rosa” Malackie in the infirmary store room displaying the produce of the “Down South Garden,” 1951. Photo from Princeton Alumni Weekly.

The effort was significant. Every day from 2:00-4:00PM after lunch duties were finished, they worked in the garden, then took a break from gardening to “get supper ready for the boys and the nurses and everybody” and serve it, and then would return to the garden to work until dark. When school was no longer in session, they took advantage of the two-month break to start canning everything. When the Board of Trustees met, the family would put the year’s bounty on display in the infirmary store room. In 1950, they preserved a record of 981 quarts of food. Their garden consistently produced more than the population of sick Princeton students and the infirmary staff could eat, so the group began giving food away to the sick and needy in the area.

Thanks in large part to the Hillians, the infirmary had a family atmosphere. They treated the students like their own relatives—and indeed, as time went on and Princeton’s exclusionary practices toward African Americans began to change, some of them actually were. Robert Rivers ’53 was their nephew and sometimes he, like other students, sought out meals at the infirmary as its own sort of medicine when the stresses of college life got to him. This became an important refuge for Black students at a time when there was little sense of community for them on campus. But white students also considered the Hillians an important part of their college experience. When they returned for Reunions, alumni would bring their children and later even their grandchildren to meet the Hillians.

Bessie Hillian discusses the infirmary menu with Dr. Willard Dalrymple, director of University Health Services, 1967. Photo from Town Topics.

The family had their own cures on offer alongside the medical staff’s. Bessie, for example, would treat homesickness with cake. Milkshakes and cold juices soothed sore throats. On one occasion over the winter holidays, the Hillians said they learned of a student left on campus over Christmas who was alone in his room and sick. Tom went to get him and brought him to the infirmary, where Mabel and Bessie called the doctor to secure permission to give him some medicine and they kept him there for Christmas dinner. They told journalists about students who would come to the infirmary just because they were tired of the food elsewhere, just to be fed. The farm-to-table approach at McCosh Infirmary, with its fresh herbs and high-quality produce, was a far cry from the University Commons, after all. Mabel described one student as having claimed to be very ill, but his roast beef dinner “must have cured him, because he never even saw a nurse or a doctor.”

Tom was a dedicated football fan, attending nearly every home and away game, though he did not travel with the team, even making it to Cambridge for a match against Harvard in a hurricane. During the games, Tom sat with the team and assisted the team doctor in treating injuries. His major responsibility was to hold fractures in place while the casts were put on. When he became too ill to sit on the bench, he watched the games from a car parked in the end zone. Bessie also enjoyed football games, though she was less of a fixture at them than Tom.

The stories that have been preserved of the Hillian-Malackie-Dargan family present familiar patterns in African American history, especially the narratives about the Hillian sisters. At a time when they were younger than the “boys” they served, they took on a nurturing, even maternal, role for Princeton students, at least in the retrospective tale as it was usually told. Stereotypes of Black women as nurturing, strong, untiring, and selfless reverberate from what journalists chose to record about them in their lifetimes. Similarly, though perhaps to a lesser extent because the stories appeared less often, we can see a reinforcement of messages about the ideal Black man being subservient and accepting of his lower-class status in the accounts of Tom’s devotion to the football team and the garden. The legacy of the “Mammy,” “Aunt Jemimah,” and “Uncle Tom” tropes of white American imagination are pervasive in what aspects of their lives have been recorded and venerated.

This is not to say that the Hillians themselves were not nurturing, hard-working, or generous in their service to Princeton; it appears they were and took pride in it. However, those who encounter these stories in our records would do well to remember how much the role they played was one constrained by racialized expectations, with the daughters of illiterate parents who picked cotton in South Carolina leaving home at a very young age to serve white elites, without having many other options. There is unquestionable exploitation inherent in the story of their lives, regardless of how much one may admire their service to Princeton. Bessie Hillian’s long career is rightfully distressing to those who read about it today, when both social attitudes and a network of laws would expect a 14-year-old girl to be in school and living with her parents, not washing dishes as a live-in servant at a college infirmary alongside her older sister. Such reflections do not appear to be present in the archival record, but are an important part of interacting with the materials we have.

I’ve been unable to track down the fate of “Big Rosa” or Harley Dargan. “Little Rosa” moved to Rocky Hill in 1959, where she lived with her husband, Roy E. Ross, until her death in 1978. Mabel retired in 1963 after 46 years of running a kitchen, leaving Bessie to take over as head cook, but she continued to live in McCosh Infirmary with her relatives after her retirement. Tom died of an illness in 1967 after 45 years of service to Princeton at the age of 64. Bessie was the longest-serving Hillian, retiring in 1968 after 51 years. At that point, she and Mabel moved off campus, relocating to a house on Mt. Lucas Road in town. Mabel lived five years there before her death in 1973. Bessie’s death followed in 1981. With them, they took the memory of a side of Princeton unknown to us in this century. Lewis Thomas Laboratory now sits on the land formerly occupied by the “Down South Garden,” the food served to inpatients at McCosh Clinic is similar to the fare found elsewhere on campus, and the staff don’t make their homes in the infirmary.

 

Sources:

Historical Postcard Collection (AC045)

Papers of Princeton

Princeton Alumni Weekly

Princeton Directory: A General Directory of Princeton, N.J. and Vicinity

United States Census Records, 1900-1930

For further reading:

Walker-Barnes, Chanequa. Too Heavy a Yoke: Black Women and the Burden of Strength. Cascade Books, 2014.

Dear Mr. Mudd: How Did Princeton Students Treat Campus Servants?

This post is the second in a two-part series.

Dear Mr. Mudd,

If Princeton University dormitories could not have housed enslaved persons, why does the rumor persist that they did? What were the experiences of campus servants really like? How did students treat them?

 

Last week, I outlined the factual evidence that proves that dorms at Princeton were not designed with enslaved residents in mind, and that enslaved people did not live with students in dormitories. Though fictional, however, the myth does hint at some of the hidden truths of marginalized lives spent within the walls of buildings on campus. Today’s post considers the levels of personal service students were given and the dehumanizing treatment many employees endured from Princeton students in the past.

Though it is unclear how this rumor originated, there are some historical clues. Family tradition holds that Charles Haile, Class of 1855, brought an enslaved valet, William Doby, Jr., with him to campus, though it is clear that he would not have been able to have had Doby living with him under the campus rules at the time. In 1924, the Daily Princetonian ran an interview with George McGow, a Black resident of Princeton, then 75 years old, who said he had been Woodrow Wilson’s personal valet:

“He stopped me on Nassau Street,” he said, speaking of his first meeting with the great man, “and asked me if I would keep his room in Witherspoon Hall for him. I began that way, but soon became his personal servant, a thing I guess the boys don’t have now; but lots of southern lads in those days brought their own servants with them from home.”

McGow is listed on the 1920 census as having parents from “The South,” but without a state specified. I’ve been unable to determine where he lived before that. If McGow did act in this capacity, or others acted in this capacity for other students, they would not have lived with their employers if they were living in dorms, as Wilson was in Witherspoon Hall, even if McGow was cleaning Wilson’s dorm room periodically.

Waitstaff is visible in this photograph of graduate students dining in Proctor Hall ca. 1950s. Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box MP191, Image No. 5162.

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Dear Mr. Mudd: Did Enslaved People Live in Princeton’s Dormitories?

This post is the first in a two-part series.

 

Dear Mr. Mudd,

Rumor has it the dorms at Princeton were designed to allow students to bring enslaved people with them to live in adjoining rooms and serve them. Is this true?

 

Though one often hears a rumor about enslaved people accompanying students to campus and living in dorms with them, there is quite a bit of evidence that this could not have taken place, and we have never found any evidence that indicates that it did. Indeed, as is detailed below, any building currently used as a dormitory was constructed after slavery was illegal in the United States. The rumor’s persistence despite this probably reflects the legacy of the social hierarchies of prior generations of Princetonians. In this first of a two-part answer, I will outline the evidence for why this is not factually correct. Next week, I will provide more context for the emotional truth about histories of oppression on campus held within this myth.

There were enslaved people present on Princeton’s campus; this is well-established and interested researchers can find a wealth of information on the Princeton and Slavery website. Nonetheless, the only enslaved people known to live on campus lived in the President’s house, not in student dormitories, and were legally considered the private property of the institution’s presidents. Slavery was not fully outlawed in New Jersey until the Civil War, and Princeton itself was friendly to Southern ideas about race, enrolling many students from slaveholding families. There was also a need for what was then termed “servants” and what we know today as staff in a wide range of roles who provide meals and maintain and clean campus buildings. However, the individual students would not have brought enslaved persons with them, and having personal attendants living alongside them was prohibited.

It was the role of the Steward to ensure adequate staffing in service roles on campus, as Jonathan Baldwin’s contract spelled out in 1768, and students paid a fee for the college servants to make their beds and sweep their rooms unless they agreed to handle these matters themselves. Meanwhile, outside this specific service provided to them in their housing contracts, students were required to clean their own rooms and shoes. The Board of Trustees formally approved this rule in 1757, at their first meeting ever held in Nassau Hall, the first building that functioned as a dormitory as well as a chapel, library, refectory, and recitation hall.

Image of Nassau Hall, 1764. Nassau Hall Iconography Collection (AC177), Box 1.

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