This Week in Princeton History for August 22-28

In this week’s installment of our recurring series, royals take a tour, an athletic meet for Chinese students is held on campus, and more.

August 25, 1975—Royalty from Monaco—Princess Grace, Prince Rainier, and their children, Caroline and Albert—visit Princeton on a tour of American colleges that includes Williams and Amherst.

August 26, 1819—A letter to the editor of New York’s Commercial Advertiser briefly details the burial of College president Samuel Stanhope Smith.

His remains were attended to the grave by the largest concourse of people ever witnessed in this place. Six Trustees bore the pall, and eight members of the church conveyed the body to its last home. The Students of the College went into mourning, and formed part of the procession, Clergymen, Strangers, from the adjacent towns, and the inhabitants of the borough, followed in the train.

August 27, 1986—University administrators write to a company named “Princeton International.” The company, which is not affiliated with Princeton, is trying to sell diet drugs via advertising in the Weekly World News tabloid with the implication they are a product manufactured by the school. “If the response from dissatisfied and unhappy users of your products is any indication, there is in fact substantial misimpression being given …”

August 28, 1911—An intercollegiate athletic meet is held at Princeton in which all competitors are Chinese students from Princeton, Yale, Harvard, Cornell, and other American colleges. It includes a kite-flying contest.

Clipping from the London Sphere, September 16, 1911, depicting scenes from the Chinese students’ intercollegiate athletic competition at Princeton University.

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.

Yellowface in Princeton University’s 20th-Century Triangle Club

Recently, we’ve been getting a lot of questions about the history of racism at Princeton University. As we’ve worked to help those trying to research this topic, we realized that we’ve highlighted some types of racism more than others on this blog. In order to help researchers locate materials that may assist them in constructing a fuller picture of the history of white supremacy at Princeton, today’s post considers some examples of racism against Asians through the lens of yellowface in Triangle Club performances in the first half of 20th century.

Yellowface is a form of minstrelsy that mocks East Asians. It rose in popularity in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and was closely linked to anti-Black prejudice. As Krystyn R. Moon has explained, both blackface minstrelsy and yellowface are uniquely American phenomena, and yellowface drew on the tropes of blackface (including physical caricature, hybridized musical styles, and deliberate mockery of accents and dialects) to convey messages about nonwhite inferiority. Blackface primed audiences to understand the underlying meaning of yellowface. Yellowface became one of many ways Americans expressed strong anti-Asian (especially anti-Chinese) sentiment in this period and emphasized the idea that Asians could never become Americans.

As was the case nationwide, blackface minstrelsy seems to have predated yellowface at Princeton. This image is taken from the 1889 Bric-a-Brac.

Alongside the examples of redface and blackface in the University Archives, we also find incidents of yellowface in Princeton’s past. White students frequently played roles of non-white characters in the Triangle Club prior to World War II. Though the most common non-white characters they played were Native Americans, there were also a handful of East Asian characters in Triangle productions. These show evidence of the minstrelsy inherent in yellowface. Continue reading

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.