“He Decided to Conquer the Place that Had Conquered Him”: Peter Putnam ’42 *50’s Princeton, Part II

In Part I of this two-part series, I told the story of how Peter Putnam ’42 *50 lost his sight in a suicide attempt and fought for the right to return to Princeton University and finish his degree. In this second installment, I detail the life Putnam lived as a student, an employee, and an alum of Princeton University after his return.

Peter Putnam ’42 re-entered Princeton University over the initial objections of the administration, bringing along with him a new companion, Minnie, the first of many guide dogs. (Undergraduates quickly dubbed Minnie “the first co-ed in Princeton history.”) Though Putnam would be known as part of the Class of 1942 in perpetuity, he was a junior when he came back in his original graduation year.

Whether he set out to prove his detractors wrong or it simply happened, Putnam defied their low expectations at every turn. Putnam participated in campus life, with some limitations. He did not, for example, eat with his peers at Commons, his academic record notes tersely, “because of physical disability.” Based on his later writings about not being granted entry to many places in Princeton because of his need for a service dog, it’s possible he wasn’t permitted in the dining hall because Minnie was not allowed to go along. However, he threw himself into opportunities that were available, earning local celebrity for reasons far beyond his constant canine companion. As the Princeton Alumni Weekly put it in 1957, “he decided to conquer the place that had conquered him.”

Triangle Club elected Putnam its president in 1942. He supervised the last of Triangle’s productions during World War II, a show that might not have been possible without him. “Time and Again,” unlike most other Triangle Shows before it, had no Christmas tour, and was only performed locally. Triangle membership that year included students on accelerated programs who had little time for extracurriculars. Putnam ended up writing most of the script himself, playing the role of a World War I veteran in the first scene, and handling the administrative tasks for the show like managing the budget and securing permissions from various stakeholders to stage the production.

Illustrations from the Nassau Sovereign, November 12, 1942, including a reference to “Boss Putnam.”

The song “Here I Sit with the Physically Unfit” from “Time and Again,” written by William K. Zinsser ’44, may give us insight into how ableism would have pervaded Putnam’s experiences at Princeton, even in spaces that seemed otherwise welcoming. In the lyrics, a woman seeking a man to love at a time when most were away at war complains about her options. After the woman notes “I’m left to be protected/By the rejected/But I’m feeling tepid/T’ward the decrepit,” she goes on to list a variety of disabilities that she finds unappealing, including blindness.

I’m left behind

With the lame and the halt and the blind back here

Ev’ryone who isn’t knock-kneed is flying a Lockheed

Ev’ryone without myopia is in Ethiopia

But I must be sweet

To the guys who have got flat feet back here. Continue reading

“A Fairyland and Hell to Me for Years”: Peter Putnam ’42 *50’s Princeton, Part I

This is the first in a two-part series on the life of Peter Putnam ‘42 *50 in Princeton, before and after he lost his sight. This first installment focuses on the events leading up to the incident in which he was blinded and his fight to return to Princeton University afterward.

Peter Putnam entered Princeton University in 1938 with a talent for academics, but lacking in direction. Because he had long expected to join the Army, he had also assumed he would attend West Point, like his father before him, but the elder Putnam suggested his son find a less frustrating career. The looming threat of war may or may not have influenced the Putnams; in any case, an uncle and other relatives had attended Princeton, and many of Putnam’s classmates were headed there, so it seemed like the default place for him to go. Decades later, Putnam described his 1938 arrival at Princeton University as entering “a fairyland and hell to me for years to come.”

While in college, Putnam was engaged in an internal war with himself, alternately taking advantage of the pleasures offered to a privileged young man in the Ivy League and becoming frustrated when no consequences for his hedonistic lifestyle materialized. He drank and partied his way through a few years, and his photographic memory meant no real need to study in order to pass his classes. Putnam was not a stellar student, to be sure, but he was still doing relatively well, earning grades that would have allowed him to graduate with honors, whether he applied himself or not—and mostly he did not. In a letter to the Dean of the College, Putnam later made some references to family problems contributing to his feelings of despair, without detailing what they were.

A bout with appendicitis and mononucleosis in his junior year deepened Putnam’s depression. He began fantasizing about playing Russian roulette with a revolver to which he had access, wrote a suicide note, and carried bullets to be prepared for the moment he would call it quits on life. He deliberately isolated himself, quitting his extracurriculars and moving into a single room. When Houseparties weekend came in 1941, Putnam went to visit his parents instead of socializing. There, he attempted to carry out his plans.

Telegram from Peter Brock Putnam, May 6, 1941, informing Princeton University that his son had been shot. Undergraduate Academic Records (AC198).

Putnam survived the gunshot, but his vision did not. The bullet severed his optic nerves. Although coming out of a 10-day coma reportedly jolted him out of his depression, giving him a sense of purpose and new goals to work toward, he would now be followed by a double stigma of mental illness and physical disability in an era when neither were granted legal protection against discrimination. He would spend the rest of his life in Princeton contending with both. Continue reading

On Display: The Public Lives of 20th-Century American Women

By April C. Armstrong and Amanda Ferrara, exhibition curators

Men, especially political leaders, are usually assessed on their professional records. Women, no matter how professional they may be, are often judged on their personal lives.

–Brenda Feigan Fasteau and Bonnie Lobel, New York Magazine, December 20, 1971

Visitors to Mudd Library will notice a new exhibition in our Weiss Lounge drawn from the holdings of our Public Policy Papers, “On Display: The Public Lives of 20th-Century American Women.” As the exhibition title’s double meaning suggests, the lines between the private and public lives of women have often blurred, with personal medical decisions becoming a matter of public debate, living rooms transforming into sites of political activism, and marriage pulling women into unpaid public service. 

Lillian Markowski, age 20, an engine cleaner for the Long Island Railroad. Markowski took over her fiance’s job when he joined the Army. Her brother was also a soldier. Photo by Roy Pitney, February 2, 1943, Ivy Ledbetter Lee Papers (MC085), Box 103, Folder 4.

On May 21, 1919, Congress passed the 19th Amendment, stating, “The right of the citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” It took more than a year for the needed 36 states to ratify it, with Tennessee’s vote on August 18, 1920 officially giving women the constitutional right to vote in America. The 2019-2020 academic year thus marks the centennial of the culmination of one major aspect of women’s activism in the United States. As the exhibition acknowledges, the right to vote was still not effectively available to many American women, especially women of color and the poor. The fight for many other civil rights was–and still is– ongoing.

Editorial cartoon depicting suffragettes (geese) waking up Woodrow Wilson and William Jennings Bryan, who are sleeping in front of the Senate, 1914. This cartoon references the Women’s March of 1913. Political Cartoon Collection (MC180), Box 10.

The Public Policy papers may not appear at first glance to have a great deal related to women, in part because the priorities of earlier generations did not lead them to intentionally collect this sort of material. This is not a problem exclusive to Princeton, but a challenge for our colleagues across our profession. The Society of American Archivists has acknowledged and reiterated that these archival silences have limited our understanding of women’s history (see, for example, Tanya Zanish-Belcher and Anke Voss’s Perspectives on Women’s Archives (2013)).

Margaret Snyder and Daria Tesha tour mines in Zambia, ca. 1973. Snyder was actively involved in women’s economic and development issues in various regions of the world for more than three decades. Among her various roles, she was the Founding Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women. Margaret Snyder Papers, Box 41.

We have curated this exhibition in part to demonstrate that our predecessors here at Princeton, despite biases against seeing women’s contributions to American public life as worthy of documenting or preserving, nonetheless inadvertently amassed a wealth of material for those seeking to learn about 20th-century American women. Further, it is important to us to show how women have always been involved in public policy, even before they might have been understood to be engaged in this work by their contemporaries. Thus, this exhibition draws both on named collections of prominent women’s papers, such as the Margaret Snyder Papers and the Anne Martindell Papers, and on collections where researchers might not expect to find relevant material, such as the George S. McGovern Papers and the John Doar Papers. Material also appears in the exhibition from institutional records like the American Civil Liberties Union Records and the Association on American Indian Affairs Records

Maps showing family planning services available to women in Queens, New York, 1961 and 1966. (Click to enlarge.) Norman Ryder Papers (MC250), Box 8.

It is our hope that by curating this material, we might inspire more creative approaches to the Public Policy papers for students, faculty, and visiting researchers using our library. As our collecting policies have changed to prioritize underrepresented demographics, we expect continued enrichment in our holdings related to those outside Princeton’s historical white male paradigm.

Note: The majority of the material on display in this exhibition are facsimiles, including all material mounted on the walls. Most of the material on the bottom of the cases are originals. Originals of the facsimiles can be viewed within their collections in our reading room. Access to Mudd Library is open to all, regardless of institutional affiliation. Please contact us for more information.

For further reading:

Armstrong, April C. “‘Make This World Safe for the Babies’: The Liberty Loan Committee’s Appeal to American Women.”

Armstrong, April C. “World War II ‘Trainwomen’ of the Long Island Railroad.”

Redefining Old Nassau: Women and the Shaping of Modern Princeton

By Michelle Peralta

This academic year marks the 50th anniversary of the decision of the Board of Trustees to admit women to Princeton as undergraduates. To celebrate this landmark, the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library is pleased to present “Redefining Old Nassau: Women and the Shaping of Modern Princeton.”

Michelle Peralta measuring and selecting materials for inclusion in “Redefining Old Nassau: Women and the Shaping of Modern Princeton.” Photo by April C. Armstrong.

Maria Katzenbach ‘76 gave an account of some of the hostility she encountered as member of one earliest co-educational classes:

I am certain that he expected me to nod in agreement and accept my responsibility for having destroyed his alma mater. I should leave him alone in his paradise of men, and not go where I was not wanted… I didn’t like being taken for Eve, and blamed for being one to deprive him of paradise because my own pursuit of knowledge had led me to my father’s school…I should have known reason had nothing to do with it. He was no more interested in expanding his horizons than Adam. His garden was gone, and I was responsible. 

quoted in Women Reflect About Princeton, edited by Kirsten Bibbins, Anne Chiang, and Heather Stephenson (1989)

I curated the exhibition with a few themes in mind: 1) the activism that push through staid traditions, beloved though they may have be, and 2) the changes that came about with the admittance of women, many a result of the aforementioned activism, helped to create the modern Princeton campus. The themes are explored through such areas of as academics, athletics, but also in student groups and organizations like the Women’s center. Also highlighted are early women of Princeton and the decision to become an co-educational campus, as well as the intersectional identities of many women that have shaped their student experiences at Old Nassau.

“Redefining Old Nassau: Women and the Shaping of Modern Princeton” will be on display at Mudd Manuscript Library through the end of the 2018-2019 academic year.

An American University: An Audio Portrait of Princeton in 1946

By: Abbie Minard ’20

Abbie Minard ’20 is a history concentrator with a primary interest in early American history. On campus, she is a research associate at the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, music director and a DJ at WPRB, artistic director of the TapCats (tap dancing group), and a member of the Princeton Laptop Orchestra. She is also a poet with a love for dada and experimental performance.

As a part the exhibition, Learning to Fight and Fighting to Learn: Education in Times of War, we digitized a half hour BBC radio broadcast from 1946 that featured Princeton University for an audio portrait of university life in the United States.  The program, titled “An American University,” was one half of a radio exchange program with Oxford on the Mutual Broadcasting System.

The audio included in the segment was recorded in November and December as Princeton celebrated its bicentennial anniversary.  It features a wide array of Princeton voices, covering university history, academics, residential, and social life, with spotlights on the football team and the glee club, whose musical interludes are interspersed throughout the program.

We selected photographs from our collections to accompany the audio for this video.

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A Campus Divided: The Iraq Wars and Princeton University

This post is part of a series on education and war related to our current exhibition, “Learning to Fight, Fighting to Learn: Education in Times of War,” on display through June 2018. Please stop by to learn more. We will be hosting a panel discussion on February 28, 2018 at 1:00PM featuring Robert Rivers ’53, Bob Durkee ’69, and the Princeton University ROTC’s Lt. Col. Kevin McKiernan to discuss the impact of war on Princeton from the World War II era to the present. This event is free and open to the public.

We’ve also recently added a small case with materials about America’s two wars with Iraq in 1991 and 2003-present in our lobby which will be on display along with the rest of the exhibition through June 2018.

As the Persian Gulf Crisis worsened toward the end of 1990, the opinions expressed on Princeton’s campus revealed stark contrasts between those in favor of war and those opposed to it. Teach Peace, a student-faculty organization formed in late November 1990 to promote dialogue on the Gulf Crisis, organized a variety of protest activities, including peace vigils, public demonstrations, teach-ins, and guest lectures. Many of the professors who lectured at teach-ins had been active in anti-war protests during the Vietnam War. Continue reading

2017-2018 Exhibition: Learning to Fight, Fighting to Learn

This post is part of a series on education and war related to our current exhibition, “Learning to Fight, Fighting to Learn: Education in Times of War,” on display through June 2018. Please stop by to learn more.

By Sara Logue

Since its founding, Princeton University has been shaped by every major war, whether it took place on American soil or halfway around the world. Most colleges and universities in the United States have had to address their role during wartime. Traditional college students are at the prime age of enlistment, and when war loomed, academic institutions looked for the best ways to continue to educate students while also preparing them for combat. Starting as early as the French and Indian War and continuing through the American involvement in Vietnam, the Princeton community has borne the demands of conflict. Through the Princeton University Archives and the collections of the Public Policy Papers, this exhibition reviews how education and the pursuit of knowledge evolved over the span of 200 years through the lens of a series of wars.

Adjustments were made at Princeton during each period of US involvement in war. The administration worked to keep the college afloat during lean times and answered the government’s calls for wartime assistance. Faculty contributed to military training and defense research, while student involvement came in the form of mobilization as well as protest. Enrollment fluctuated as students became soldiers, and the curriculum evolved to accommodate the need to produce men with military training.

During the American Revolution, war came to the campus, as Nassau Hall, which housed students, faculty and classrooms, was alternately occupied by both British and American troops and was a key site for the Battle of Princeton. The college grew over the next century to include a large number of southern students, at times reaching nearly 60% of total enrollment. However, with the onset of the Civil War, practically all southern students returned home to fight against those who recently had been their classmates and friends. Mobilization came to the college unofficially with the Spanish-American War in the late 19th century and officially with the United States’ entry into World War I in 1917. During World War II, Princeton came to the forefront of science and defense research with its contributions to the development of the atomic bomb.

 

Grass-roots book programs were created as a way to collect and donate reading material to soldiers, and had long been part of war efforts, dating back to the Civil War. Begun as a way to boost morale, and not limited to college students, book programs gave soldiers tools to educate themselves while at war. Princeton’s own program during World War II, Seventy Books for Students in the Armed Forces, was an opportunity for soldiers to acquire three books from a list of seventy. They included titles in the list that were “good reading for any man” and published compact and inexpensive editions. The Council on Books in Wartime, founded in 1942 and operating through the remainder of World War II, was a national organization which formalized the creation and distribution of similar reading material to send to soldiers stationed throughout the world.

World War II and its aftermath brought many changes to the Princeton campus. The GI Bill led to an expansion in enrollment as well as a change in the “typical” Princeton student. A bit older, these men brought wives and children to campus, which the University struggled to accommodate. By the early 1950s, Princeton had more or less returned to its pre-war state, with single, young men populating the campus.

However, student life changed with the culture of the 1960s, and as more minorities and women were admitted. At the same time the United States escalated the Vietnam conflict. Student reaction to this war was mixed, with more circumspection and less sense of moral obligation to the cause than with previous conflicts. Protests erupted on college campuses across the country, and it was no different here at Princeton. The administration opened the campus to public discourse and the faculty convened a Council on Vietnam. Whether in support or opposition, the centuries-long tradition of Princeton’s active involvement in the United States’ wartime activities continued.

Archives usually gather material decades after they are created, so this exhibition ends in the early 1970s. However, Princeton’s students, faculty and administration have continued to be involved in war through the present day. We hope that you will return to explore our collections to further your own knowledge of our nation’s complicated history of education in times of war.

Learning to Fight, Fighting to Learn: Education in Times of War

A new exhibition is opening at Mudd Library on November 9 at 4:30PM. “Learning to Fight, Fighting to Learn: Education in Times of War” examines higher education in wartime at Princeton and beyond from the French and Indian War to the Vietnam War.

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A gallery of behind-the-scenes photos of our work on the new exhibition.

Since its founding, Princeton University has been shaped by every major war, whether it took place on American soil or halfway around the world. Most colleges and universities in the United States have had to address their role during wartime. Traditional college students are at the prime age of enlistment, and when war loomed, academic institutions looked for the best ways to continue to educate students while also preparing them for combat. The Princeton community has borne the demands of conflict from the colonial period forward. Through the Princeton University Archives and the collections of the Public Policy Papers, this exhibition reviews how education and the pursuit of knowledge evolved over the span of 200 years through the lens of a series of wars.

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A gallery of selected exhibition highlights.

This exhibition will be on display through Reunions 2018.

Lobby Exhibit Highlights Some of Princeton’s Connections to Slavery

A small exhibit currently on display in the lobby of Mudd Library contains archival material highlighting Princeton’s connections to slavery. The exhibit includes an offer of financial support on the condition that students be admitted “irrespective of Color” rejected by the Board of Trustees in 1835 and an 1861 note in a student’s autograph book signed “Though your deadly foe in public I am in private life your friend,” among other items.

Office of the President Records (AC117), Box 23, Folder 5.

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Tracing Princeton’s Connections to Slavery through Intentional Serendipity

The Princeton and Slavery Symposium, a presentation of several years of “scholarly investigation of Princeton University’s historical engagement with the institution of slavery,” is scheduled for November 17-18, 2017. As we lead up to that date, we will be blogging about Mudd’s involvement in this larger project.

Last November, the University of Houston-Downtown Archives wrote about their staff’s annoyance at headlines about items “Found Buried in the Archives!” Articles like these often rub staff in archives the wrong way, because they render their ongoing efforts (necessary for scholars to uncover such material) invisible. Working day-to-day in the archives of a university, we often know a lot more about our institutions than we’re ever able to share in writing, leaving it to the researchers who visit us to record most of the stories that the materials we show them reveal. It is sometimes our jobs to tell the stories of our schools, but not always; even when it is, there will never be enough time for us to write them all down. My multi-page list of blogs-in-progress attests to this.

Even so, there are still discoveries made on a daily basis, “buried” materials or not. Not everything is easily found. My work at Mudd often highlights our collections from new angles and/or reveals forgotten stories about Princeton’s past. In order to do this, I keep records of what I discover in the course of my workday. Themes sometimes emerge and eventually become social media posts, blogs, or exhibit fodder as I transform the messy notes in my legal pads and Word documents and the connections in my head into more coherent pieces for public consumption. I also recruit my student assistants to help in this endeavor. Just as I do, they sometimes intentionally set out to tell a specific story, but we also write the stories that find us rather than vice versa. Our discoveries about Princeton’s connections to slavery reflect this kind of intentional serendipity (not quite the oxymoron it seems). The work of Mudd’s Public Services is both visible and invisible to the patrons who use our library. In today’s blog, I will reveal some of the invisible work that we do to support Princeton’s educational mission.

The first such item I want to highlight is one I uncovered in the course of collecting items for the weekly blog feature, “This Week in Princeton History.” The notice of a slave sale held on the Princeton campus in 1766 was worth including in this weekly roundup of events in mid-August 2015 in part because I had talked with students in the “Princeton and Slavery” course about their research and knew it was of interest to the public we serve. The professor for the course, Martha A. Sandweiss, referred to the slave sale in an article about her class that appeared in The Nation a few months later.

Clip from the Philadelphia Journal, August 14, 1766.

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