Nassau Hall first opened its doors on November 28, 1756. The College of New Jersey (Princeton) at that time consisted of its president, Aaron Burr, 70 students, and three tutors. Robert Smith, the carpenter-architect who would later construct Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia, designed Nassau Hall with the assistance of Dr. William Shippen of Philadelphia and William Worth, a local stonemason. Construction began on July 29, 1754 on part of the 4.5 acres donated by Nathaniel and Rebeckah FitzRandolph. Smith designed the building to withstand the variable climate of New Jersey in the Georgian-Colonial style popular at the time, choosing locally quarried sandstone as building material for the 26-inch thick walls. The building has three floors and a basement, measuring 176 feet by 54 feet, with a two-story central prayer hall in the rear of the structure, measuring 32 by 40 feet. Originally, there were five entrances to the building, three in the front and two in the rear. The rooftop cupola provided an elegant final touch to a modestly constructed building. When finished in 1756, Nassau Hall was the largest stone structure in North America.
In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the first woman receives an honorary degree, a senior is arrested during civil rights activism, and more.
June 15, 1978—Elizabeth “Lisa” Najeeb Halaby ’73 marries King Hussein and becomes Queen of Jordan, taking the name Noor Al-Hussein.
Q. Dear Mr. Mudd,
I read that Nathaniel FitzRandolph’s descendants get free tuition at Princeton University. Is this true?
A. According to legend, an agreement between Nathaniel FitzRandolph and the College of New Jersey (as Princeton was then known) was made in 1753. In exchange for donating the land on which Nassau Hall now resides, the College agreed to pay tuition for all of his descendants to attend the institution. We have bad news for today’s FitzRandolphs, though: No such provision was incorporated into the deed of gift.
Name: Elena Colon-Marrero, John Foster and Janet Avery Dulles Archival Fellow
Title/Duties: As the Dulles Fellow I work with the Digital Archivist and the Public Policy Papers Archivist to process collections with a focus on born-digital collections. I’m also gaining reference experience and will be conducting research for an upcoming exhibition on the Princeton Triangle Club.
Recent projects: Currently, I am working on a survey of the types of digital media (floppy disks, CDs, DVDs, USBs, etc.) found within the Public Policy Papers and the University Archives. It has been interesting to see the extent of digital media in the various collections. I also get a little giddy when I find a new type. I’ve been learning how to use and write scripts for a Linux operating system.
Worked at Mudd since: I began at Mudd in May of 2015 and will continue through August. I am working on my master’s at the University of Michigan’s School of Information specializing in Archives and Records Management and Preservation of Information. At Michigan I work at the Bentley Historical Library and the William L. Clements Library. I am a current officer of the Society of American Archivists Student Chapter.
Why I like my job/archives: The fact that I learn someone new almost every day is why I love working in archives. I love learning new facts. As a former academic bowl member, I can’t get enough of new information.
Favorite item/collection: While conducting my digital media survey I was directed to the John Van Antwerp MacMurray Papers. I was confused as to why 1920s films of China and the Philippines would show up on my survey. I quickly discovered that the films MacMurray took while Minister to China have been digitized. Though I have yet to watch them, the films piqued my interests.
In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Bob Dylan finds inspiration at Commencement, a sitting U.S. President visits Princeton for the first time, and more.
June 9, 1970—Bob Dylan receives an honorary Doctorate of Music from Princeton University, on the grounds that “Although he is now approaching the perilous age of thirty, his music remains the authentic expression of the disturbed and concerned conscience of young America.” Dylan’s experience at Princeton will later inspire the song, “Day of the Locusts.”
A lot of interest has been focused on John Forbes Nash *50 in the past several years. We’ve routinely seen high levels of traffic on our web page detailing our archival resources available on the famous mathematician. Astute readers have noted that the restrictions on Nash’s graduate school records would no longer apply following his death last month. In response, we have digitized his academic file and it is now available online.
The file holds few surprises for those familiar with Nash, if any. In letters supporting his application to Princeton University’s doctoral program in mathematics, Nash’s professors at Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) wrote that he was “a mathematical genius” who “gives promise of being a top-flight mathematician” and “unique in my experience of students. … possibly he is the very best.” John L. Synge, head of Carnegie’s mathematics department, warned Princeton not to be dissuaded by first impressions. “He might appear inferior, since he does not write out his work in polished form, nor does he lecture impressively,” Synge acknowledged. “However, this external clumsiness is more than compensated by quickness of understanding, originality, and capacity for seeing the inner meaning of an argument, all unrivalled in my experience.” Nash’s recommenders also noted his shyness and humility, as well as willingness to cooperate with others. One letter refers to Nash as “emotionally stable.”
As with most such files, however, much of the appeal comes from what it reveals about the more mundane aspects of Nash’s life. Those who do not relate to a strong aptitude for mathematics or winning the Nobel Prize may still find they have something in common with Nash. His disappointment in his dorm room at the Graduate College or his efforts to sell a small refrigerator may resonate with their own student experiences. Nearly everyone has had insecurity about a photograph at some point, so Nash’s complaints that his graduate school application photo does not do him justice have a charming universal quality.
When one thinks of Princeton, the phrases “cattle-car style barracks” and “semi-slums” are rarely the first that come to mind. But these are the words people have used to describe the Butler Apartments, which have provided housing for generations of graduate students for nearly 70 years. The apartment complex, located off Harrison Street, was originally built as temporary units to alleviate the housing shortage as a result of an influx of returning World War II veterans.
The spring semester of 1946 witnessed an unprecedented housing shortage; the university had admitted nearly 500 veterans from over 2000 applications received from veterans alone, resulting in the need of housing for hundreds of students. Other educational institutions like Yale were facing the same problem, and had decided to set up Quonset huts to house the influx of returning veterans, many of whom were married and starting families.
Towards the spring of 1946, the University, along with the Federal Housing Authority, coordinated the construction of 250 units on the Butler tract off Harrison Street to house married veterans. The project called for the revision of the township’s zoning ordinance to build a temporary complex that was to be demolished within a two- to five-year time frame. The housing authority paid for the construction of the structures and interior furnishings while the university took care of its infrastructure, including sewer and electrical connections as well as the building of roads and sidewalks. Prior to the construction of these units, the university had placed students and their spouses anywhere they could; transforming the ROTC Barracks, Brown Hall, Libbey Mansion and other university owned houses into housing for married students.
With two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a living room, the sheet-rock barrack-style housing complex at Harrison Street was a spacious alternative to the shared facilities available in dormitory housing. An article in the Princeton Alumni Weekly called the complex “the most attractive project of its type at any college.” The rent on the units started at $40 per month, with gas, heat, and electricity included. Additionally, students could rent furniture for $6 a month and towels and bedding for $1.75 a month. Although the complex contained a good number of units, the demand was still greater than the space available; therefore, the university was forced to establish a ranking system to decide who was able to apply. Only men who served in the official U.S military branches and their spouses would be eligible to apply. This provision excluded those who served in the American Merchant Marines and in the American Field Service. Married couples who had been housed in Brown Hall would be given priority, followed by any junior faculty and tenants of upper Pyne Hall.
The first 31 units opened in November of 1946, with the remainder opening by the spring of the following year. In 1948, a new law passed transferring the ownership and authority to the University; this enabled Princeton to continue to house students in the complex. Although the space was adequate, affordable, and a far cry from living in a cramped dormitory space, the complex had several problems. In more than three dozen interviews conducted with previous Butler residents from the 1940s to spring of 2014, there are references to Butler’s paper-thin walls, drafty spaces, uneven floors and antiquated kerosene heaters. The interviews, which are part of the broader Princetoniana Committee Oral History Project, also capture the other side of Butler, which includes the feeling of community within the complex, as well as providing a place for those who could not otherwise afford to live in Princeton.
Some of the interviewees, who have lived in places like New York City, stated that they found the space at Butler to be adequate and that they were grateful to find such an affordable place to live. David Baldwin *65, said, “We could lie in bed at night and carry on a conversation. Privacy was not that great but there was a lot of camaraderie and companionship.” Joyce Axelrod, wife of Michael Axelrod *66 , said that life at Butler “was a joy” and that she “never, never felt unhappy.” Other interviews tell of the intellectual and international community that formed around Butler and the friendships and the informal networks that formed to organize everything from babysitters to study groups.
Butler, after surviving several threats of demolition, will be replaced by the Lakeside Apartments off Faculty Road that will open this month. Many people, like Christine Blumauer, who organized a reunions tour of Butler in 2014, feel a sense of nostalgia for the Butler space. Among the things that she enjoyed were “the quietness [and], the kids playing around.” The Butler oral history project was undertaken by the Princetoniana Committee as a way to preserve the stories of those that had lived at Butler. The interviews are accessible through the Princeton University Finding Aids website and include interviews with alumni and their spouses.
Below, we present a gallery of images depicting Butler through the years, inside and out.
In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a sitting U.S. president gives the Commencement address, a judge tries to get information about damage to Nassau Hall, and more.
June 2, 1851—Thomas Mifflin Hall, Class of 1853, celebrates his sixteenth birthday at Princeton by attempting to do some work for class: “I did not get out all the lesson, as I fell asleep while studying,” he notes in his diary.
June 3, 1980—Princeton sophomore Lynda M. Clarizio ’82 casts her vote as a delegate in New Jersey’s fifth congressional district for Senator Ted Kennedy for U.S. President. She was one of eight Kennedy supporters selected from 37 contenders at the April 13, 1980 convention in Bridgewater, New Jersey.
June 4, 1996—Sitting U.S. President Bill Clinton gives the Commencement address at Princeton. He asks students not to forget that Americans have a “common purpose.” “Because of the education you have, if America does well, you will do very well. If America is a good country to live in, you will be able to build a very good life.”
June 6, 1828—A Middlesex County judge begins an inquiry into a firecracker explosion in a Princeton classroom on May 28, which destroyed its stove and blew out its windows. The faculty minutes note: “three students being called before him, refused to give testimony, avowing their determination to go to jail, rather than be placed under oath at this time.” The judge orders them to return at a later date. Ultimately, a student will anonymously confess and send $150 to cover the damages, and the matter will be dropped.
For last week’s installment in this series, click here.
Fact check: We always strive for accuracy, but if you believe you see an error, please contact us.
Changes in leadership, especially at universities, give archivists an opportunity to transfer records into the archives. Such was the case when the current Dean of the College, Valerie Smith, accepted a position as the new president of Swarthmore College, a post she will assume in just over a month. Dan Linke, the University Archivist, and I visited her office to meet with Dean Smith and her staff to inform them of our procedures for transferring office records—paper documents, as well as born digital material such as Word documents, SharePoint sites, etc. Soon into the conversation we began to discuss the prospect of email capture, a task that we had only haphazardly done in the past through preserving Microsoft Word documents used to compose memos, PDF’s generated from email applications, and printouts included within paper collections.
Two compelling reasons forced us to find a way to conduct an email transfer directly from Dean Smith’s account. First, she is a pioneer at Princeton many times over; in addition to being the first black woman to earn tenure at the University, Dean Smith later served as the first director of the University’s renowned Center for African-American Studies before becoming the first black person to serve as Dean of the College. Second, we knew that the previous methods of email transfer limited access possibilities and stripped emails of their contexts, including lost attachments, missing email header information, and inefficient search capacities.
Dear Mr. Mudd:
Q. What information do you have about African Americans and Princeton University?
A. Until the twentieth century, Princeton’s history has mostly been dominated by white men, typically from prosperous backgrounds. Though decidedly pro-Union during the Civil War, the campus had strong Southern influences, and its reputation as the “northernmost university town of the [segregated] south” was not undeserved. Yet that is not to say that Princeton’s story can only be told in terms of its loudest voices. Here, we give a brief overview of some of the ways African Americans fit into Princeton’s past.