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

This Week in Princeton History for May 17-23

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the Asian American Students Association denounces anti-Asian and antisemitic prejudices on campus, local residents band with students to take revenge on a traveling show, and more.

May 17, 1942—Philosophy professor Theodore M. Greene condemns tutoring as “immoral and unpatriotic.”

May 21, 1990—The Asian American Students Association denounces harmful portrayals of Chinese and Jewish people in Triangle Club’s “Easy Street” and expresses concerns about the motivations in choosing these groups for mockery. “In the future, we hope that the same ‘consideration’ shown to ‘other minorities’ will be accorded to Asian Americans as well.”

Playbill for Triangle Club’s “Easy Street,” 1989. Triangle Club Records (AC122), Box 281. Lyrics to “Chinese Jewish Cowboy” were particularly troubling to some audience members, with lines like “they told me I filled all their quotas/Yes, I’m a demographic planner’s dream . . ./Well who needs a real resume/When looks can deceive/Who would ever believe/That he’d get into Princeton, oy veh!” and “Where never is heard a discouraging word/When you’re Chinese, or Jewish, or gay.”

May 22, 1874—James McCosh explains why he doesn’t believe higher education should be publicly supported and should instead rely on private donations, which he believes encourages greater freedom of thought: “Would Professor White have a college a mixture of Protestantism and Popery, and partly Christian and partly Atheistic? Now, sir, we have these colleges, and let them go on; let us call forth the liberality of the people, and I believe you will get that liberality.”

May 23, 1851—Students and local residents of Princeton, disappointed in Barnum’s traveling menagerie and museum, call it a “humbug,” join forces, seize one of its wagons, and throw it into the D & R canal.

For the previous installment in this series, click here.

Fact check: We always strive for accuracy, but if you believe you see an error, please contact us.

This Week in Princeton History for August 17-23

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, three professors miss an eclipse, four juniors secure an apartment in Plainsboro to avoid eating tofu, and more.

August 17, 1788—At a meeting of the faculty, Henry Purcell, a minister’s son, is “found guilty of profane swearing and other irregularities.”

August 19, 1887—Three Princeton professors who have traveled to Russia to observe a total solar eclipse 30 miles northeast of Moscow are unable to see it due to an overcast sky.

August 20, 1983—Dissatisfied with options on campus, four members of of the Class of 1985 obtain a lease on a 3-bedroom apartment in Plainsboro. They considered the Dickinson co-op, but it was “too radical,” the Princetonian will explain, for one of the roommates to bear, quoting Peter Noto: “Tofu this, tofu that. We’d have had beancurd coming out of our ears.”

Photo of four roommates.

Clipping from the Daily Princetonian.

August 22, 1911—The seventh annual conference of the Chinese Students Alliance of the Eastern States begins at Princeton today. There are 150 participants. The 15 women in attendance are staying at Cap and Gown Club.

For the previous installment in this series, click here.

Fact check: We always strive for accuracy, but if you believe you see an error, please contact us.

This Week in Princeton History for November 25-December 1

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the football team defeats Dartmouth in hurricane force winds, a student writes home to complain about the food, and more.

November 25, 1950—Despite 108-mile winds at kickoff, Princeton and Dartmouth still play their championship game in Princeton’s Palmer Stadium. About 5,000 fans attempt to watch the game in person, but an estimated 25,000 ticket holders simply stay home to wait out the storm. Most of those who do attend seek refuge in the dormitories.

The 1951 Bric-a-Brac‘s report on the 1950 Princeton-Dartmouth football game.

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This Week in Princeton History for August 26-September 1

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Chinese students come together, dogs are banned on campus, and more.

August 26, 1933—To commemorate the 150th anniversary of Continental Congress formally thanking George Washington for his conduct in the Revolutionary War, Nassau Hall is fully illuminated, a throwback to when students used to light each window with a candle to celebrate significant days.

August 27, 1779—The adjutant-general of the Continental Army authorizes Thomas Bradford, Deputy Commissary of Prisoners, to deliver “to the Reverend Dr. Witherspoon, two prisoners of war of the 71st British regiment, to labour for him at Princeton…”

August 30, 1911—The seventh annual conference of the Chinese Students’ Alliance of the Eastern States concludes its meetings at Princeton with words of encouragement from John Grier Hibben.

The 1910s brought many Chinese students to colleges in the United States, including Princeton University, as part of the Boxer Indemnity Fund’s scholarship program. Here, the Class of 1915 Eating Club pose for a group photo, including Kenyon Vanlee Dzung and Ken Wang in the front row, ca. 1914. By 1914, the Princetonian reported that there were seven Chinese students on campus. Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box LP070, Image No. 4159.

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This Week in Princeton History for February 18-24

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, hazing makes national headlines, McCarter Theater opens, and more.

February 18, 1878—During a particularly severe outbreak of hazing, a gunfight breaks out on Nassau Street between freshmen and sophomores, with one student being shot in the thigh. Coverage in the national Police Gazette will follow.

Full-page ad from the Daily Princetonian.

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This Week in Princeton History for June 25-July 1

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a junior converts to Christianity, the centennial is celebrated, and more.

June 28, 1873—Rioge Koe, a Japanese student in the Class of 1874, gives his sword to Princeton president James McCosh. He writes a note to accompany the sword asserting that he has “surrendered a barbarous custom of ‘the East’ before the higher, nobler and more enlightened manner of the Western civilization” on the occasion of his conversion to Christianity.

We believe that this is Rioge Koe, Class of 1874, center, ca. 1873. This image is cropped from the Class of 1874’s junior year photo, found in the Historical Photograph Collection, Class Photographs Series (AC181), Box MP03. The Princetonian described Koe as “a popular and able man.” During McCosh’s presidency, ethnic diversity increased on campus. Koe’s time at Princeton overlapped with Hikoichi Orita of the Class of 1876, who also converted to Christianity while a student here, as well as Yokichi Yamada and Girota Yamaoka, who both pursued a partial course load in the 1871-1872 academic year.

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