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.

Sources:

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.”

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.

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

Q. Dear Mr. Mudd,

Who was the first Jewish student at Princeton?

A. An exhibit at the Historical Society of Princeton speculated that Albert Mordecai of the Class of 1863 was “very likely the first” Jewish student at the College of New Jersey (now named Princeton University). Although Mordecai might well have been the first Jewish student at Princeton, our records cannot offer a definitive confirmation.

Mordecai,_Albert_Class_of_1863_AC058_Box_MP20

Albert Mordecai, Class of 1863. Historical Photograph Collection, Alumni Photographs Series (AC058), Box MP20.

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Who Founded Princeton University?

Q. Dear Mr. Mudd,

Who founded Princeton University? 

A. The founding of Princeton University is nearly as complex as the courses that have been and continue to be taught within its hallowed lecture halls. The College of New Jersey (as Princeton University was known until 1896) was a child of the Great Awakening, an institution born in opposition to the religious tenets that had ruled the colonial era.

The principles on which Princeton University was founded may be traced to the Log College in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, founded by William Tennent in 1726. Tennent was a Presbyterian minister who, along with fellow evangelists Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen, Jonathan Edwards, Samuel Davies, and George Whitefield of England, preached and taught an approach to religion and life that was the very essence of the Great Awakening period. The seven founders of the College of New Jersey were all Presbyterians. Ebenezer Pemberton, a minister and a graduate of Harvard, was the only one of the seven who did not graduate from Yale. The remaining six were Jonathan Dickinson, Aaron Burr Sr., and John Pierson, who were ministers; William Smith, a lawyer; Peter Van Brugh Livingston, a merchant; and William Peartree Smith.

Log_college_location_1914_AC111_Box_MP062_Image_2402

Original location of Pennsylvania’s Log College (photo taken in 1914). Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111), Box MP62, Image No. 2402.

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Dear Mr. Mudd: Whose Cannon Is It?

Dear Mr. Mudd,

My friend goes to Rutgers and keeps saying that the cannon in Cannon Green isn’t really Princeton’s. Whose cannon is it?

Cannon_Song_AC_056_Box_10

Princeton students have revered the “big cannon” on Cannon Green for close to two centuries. This version of the Princeton “Cannon Song,” as well as others, may be found in the Princeton Music Collection (AC056), Box 10.

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Dear Mr. Mudd: Princeton Theological Seminary

By Spencer Shen ’16

Q. Dear Mr. Mudd,

Is Princeton Theological Seminary part of Princeton University?

Alexander Hall ca 1843 (1)

Princeton Theological Seminary’s Alexander Hall, ca. 1843. Image courtesy Princeton Theological Seminary Archives.

A. In short, no. The two are separate institutions. However, they enjoy a cooperative relationship that began in 1811. In 1810, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church judged that the College of New Jersey (Princeton) had grown too secular to train ministers and decided to establish a theological seminary. The following year, the trustees of the College approached the General Assembly to propose Princeton as the seminary’s location, giving birth to agreements below:

  • The trustees engage not to interfere in any way with the Assembly and its directors in carrying out the plan of the seminary adopted in 1810.
  • The trustees permit the Assembly to erect buildings necessary for the seminary on the College grounds.
  • The trustees engage to grant accommodations to the Assembly in their present buildings when desirable.
  • The trustees engage to receive such students as are sent by the Assembly and to endeavor to reduce the College expense.
  • The trustees undertake to receive moneys for investment, subject to the Assembly’s order.
  • The trustees grant to the seminary the use of the College library, subject to certain rules.
  • The trustees agree to help the Assembly to establish a preparatory school.
  • The Assembly is at liberty to remove at any time the seminary elsewhere, and the trustees promise to establish no professorship of theology in the College while the seminary shall remain at Princeton.
  • The trustees engage to use certain moneys in their hands chiefly according to the recommendation of the Assembly.

Other than this agreement, there has never been an organic connection between the two institutions.

On May 30, 1812, 31 directors of the Seminary were elected, including the Reverend Dr. Archibald Alexander of Philadelphia, who was soon elected professor of didactic and polemic theology on June 2. The seminary officially opened on August 12 with the inauguration of Dr. Alexander and the matriculation of three students.

Today, the Princeton Theological Seminary is one of the leading institutions of its kind in the world. In 2014-2015, 523 students from 20 countries were enrolled at the seminary, receiving instruction from 61 faculty members. Its libraries contain nearly 1.3 million items, which are also open to Princeton University students and faculty. Despite their separate identities, the Seminary and the University cooperate to enrich their academic and civic communities through the sharing of certain resources.

For further information concerning the Princeton Theological Seminary, please contact Kenneth Henke, Curator of Special Collections, Princeton Theological Seminary Library, P.O. Box 821, Princeton, NJ, 08542-0111. He can also be reached by email.

This post was originally written by Rosemary Switzer (2003) as an FAQ page on our old website. It has been revised and expanded here by Spencer Shen ’16 as part of the launch of our new website.

Related Sources:

Historical Subject Files Collection (AC109)

Leitch, Alexander. A Princeton Companion. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1978. Also available online.

Moorhead, James H. Princeton Seminary in American Culture. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012.

Selden, William K. Princeton Theological Seminary: A Narrative History, 1812-1992. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1992.

Dear Mr. Mudd: Is the Institute for Advanced Study Part of Princeton University?

By Spencer Shen ’16

Q: Dear Mr. Mudd,

I’ve heard that Albert Einstein taught at Princeton University. Is this true?

A: Einstein was actually appointed to the Institute of Advanced Study, or the IAS, which is a distinct organization, but its proximity to the university and their intertwined histories has led some to think they are one and the same, but they are not.

Einstein 70 birthday

Albert Einstein’s 70th birthday celebration at the Institute for Advanced Study. Left to right: H. P. Robertson, E. Wigner, H. Weyl, K. Goedel, I. I. Rabi, A. Einstein, R. Ladenburg, J. R. Oppenheimer, and G. M. Clemence. Historical Photograph Collection, Individuals Series (AC067), Box MP3, Image No. 153.

Q: Is the IAS a separate university then?

A: No, while the Institute adopts some characteristics of a university and a research institute, it differs in significant ways from both.

The IAS is unlike a university in many ways. Its academic membership at any one time numbers slightly over a hundred, but it has no students and no formal curriculum or scheduled courses of instruction. The IAS also has no commitment to represent all branches of learning. Unlike a research institute, the IAS supports many separate fields of study, maintains no laboratories, and welcomes temporary members. The intellectual development and growth of these members is one of its principal purposes. The IAS is devoted to the encouragement, support, and patronage of learning, attracting mostly postdoctoral scholars and scientists who desire further opportunities for research.

Mr. Louis Bamberger and his sister, Mrs. Felix Fuld, founded the Institute in 1930. The first director of the IAS was Abraham Flexner, who was succeeded in 1939 by Frank Aydelotte. The famous atomic scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer served the longest tenure of any director so far, succeeding Aydelotte in 1947 and stepping down in 1966, shortly before his death. The current director is Dutch mathematical physicist Robbert Dijkgraaf, who took the position in 2012.

00000001 (4)

The Institute for Advanced Study, undated. Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111), Box AD04, Image No. 8146.

While awaiting the construction of its first building, the IAS was originally housed in Princeton University’s Fine Hall, until the completion of Fuld Hall in 1939. Einstein, one of the original IAS faculty, had an office in Fine Hall starting in 1933 and was often seen walking on campus; this connects him in the minds of many with the university. However, the IAS soon developed its own institutional center on a square mile of beautiful wooded land at the southern edge of the town of Princeton, and Einstein spent the remainder of his life with an office there.

Q: Was Einstein a professor of physics at IAS?

A: Actually, Einstein belonged to the original School of Mathematics, whose members are pure mathematicians and mathematical physicists. There are currently four schools at the IAS: Historical Studies, Mathematics, Natural Sciences, and Social Science. The School of Historical Studies was established in 1949 by merging the School of Economics and Politics and the School of Humanistic Studies. It embraces the application of historical methods to a range of academic fields, including international relations, Greek and Roman civilization, and history of art. The School of Natural Sciences emerged in the 1950s, accepting theoretical physicists, astrophysicists, and biologists. Most recently, the School of Social Science was added in 1973 to encourage a multi-disciplinary approach to the analysis of contemporary societies and social change.

Related Sources:

Historical Subject Files Collection, 1746-2005

Institute for Advanced Study’s official website

Leitch, Alexander. A Princeton Companion. (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1978). Also available online.

This post was originally written by Rosemary Switzer (2003) as an FAQ page on our old website. It has been revised and expanded here by Spencer Shen ’16 as part of the launch of our new website.

Dear Mr. Mudd: Which School Is Older, Penn or Princeton?

By Spencer Shen ’16

Q: Dear Mr. Mudd,

I have a friend at Penn who claims that his school is older than Princeton. Is he right?

A: The answer to this question depends on what you mean by “older”, but institutional pride can result in tenuous claims for precedence. The University of Pennsylvania currently asserts that it is the fourth oldest college in the United States, placing Princeton in fifth place after Harvard, William and Mary, Yale, and Penn. Its basis for this claim is that it is an outgrowth of a “charity school” founded in 1740, but the school was never operational. Its building was used for religious services until 1749, when it was acquired by Benjamin Franklin and his associates for the purposes of establishing an “academy”, including an agreement to operate a charity school. “We have bought for the Academy,” Franklin wrote on February 13, 1750, “the house that was built for itinerant preaching, which stands on a large lot of ground capable of receiving more buildings.” The charter for Franklin’s Academy incorporated the text of the previous charity school’s trust verbatim. This adoption of the exact wording of the trust lies at the heart of Penn’s claim to precedence. However, it was not until 1751 that instruction actually commenced and not until 1753 that the “College, Academy and Charitable School of Philadelphia in the Province of Pennsylvania” was chartered.

penn_princeton_graphic

Click to enlarge graphic.

Penn celebrated its centennial in 1849, and its trustees did not formally accept 1740 as the year of the institution’s founding until 1899. By contrast, Princeton was chartered in 1746 as the College of New Jersey, began to offer instruction in 1747, and moved to Newark later that year. To the south, in Philadelphia, no such signs of higher educational life existed.

This post was originally written by John Weeren (2001) as an FAQ page on our old website. It has been revised and expanded here by Spencer Shen ’16 as part of the launch of our new website.

When Did the College of New Jersey Change to Princeton University?

Q: Dear Mr. Mudd,

When and why did the College of  New Jersey change its name to Princeton University?

Town_to_University_arch_AC112_LP19_No._1387

Sesquicentennial Archway, Princeton, New Jersey, October 1896. Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box LP19, Image No. 1387.

A: The College of New Jersey, founded in 1746, changed its name to Princeton University during the culmination of the institution’s Sesquicentennial Celebration in 1896. Historically, the University was often referred to as “Nassau,” “Nassau Hall,” “Princeton College,” or “Old North.” Continue reading

The Origins of the “Ivy League”

Q. Dear Mr. Mudd,

Where did the term “Ivy League” come from, and what schools are in it?

A. The eight universities belonging to the Ivy League are Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Pennsylvania, Princeton, and Yale. The idea dates back to October 1933 when Stanley Woodward, a sports writer for the New York Herald Tribune, used the phrase “ivy colleges” to describe these schools, which had common athletic programs. In 1936, the student newspapers of these colleges printed an editorial calling for the formal establishment of an athletic league for the “ivy colleges.”

Clip from NYHT

Clipping from New York Herald Tribune, October 16, 1933.

When initiated by administrators in the eight schools in September 1946, the “Ivy Group” was concerned about growing interest in college athletics as a form of national entertainment, especially football. The advent of televised college football games only intensified the colleges’ resolve to develop rules governing the sport. The Ivies were to be places where athletes were primarily students who participated in sports as a part of an overall educational program, not professionals who were recruited for their physical abilities nor students who were exploited for the material gain of their institutions. Continue reading