This Week in Princeton History for April 25-May 1

In this week’s installment of our recurring series, students prepare to go to war, a graduate sets off for the West, and more.

April 25, 1931—In London’s Saturday Review, French author Andre Maurois writes of his experience teaching French literature at Princeton as a visiting lecturer for a semester:

Most [American students] are not at all enthusiastic over the material progress of our time. They want something more; they want moral progress. … I ended by no longer considering them foreigners, quite different from French students. I never felt that they and I belonged to two different civilizations. They are relations, and good ones, younger than ourselves; but youth is not a defect.

April 26, 1861—The New York World reports that Princeton students have formed a volunteer corps, the “Old Nassau Cadets,” in case they are needed to fight against what is known in the north as “The Rebellion” and will later be known as the Civil War.

April 27, 1747—The Board of Trustees announces to the public that they have appointed Jonathan Dickinson president of the new College of New Jersey and it will open for students during the fourth week in May in Elizabethtown.

April 29, 1874—Josiah McClain, Class of 1871, sets off for the western frontier (Utah and Nevada Territories), where he will work as a missionary.

Josiah McClain, Class of 1871, ca. 1871. Historical Photograph Collection: Alumni Photographs Series (AC058), Box MP29.

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This Week in Princeton History for January 24-30

In this week’s installment of our recurring series, an alum urges Americans to put the Civil War behind them in order to defeat a new mutual enemy, the local newspaper advocates scrapbooking, and more.

January 24, 1817—The New York Commercial Advertiser reports that students at Princeton “are in a state of revolt.”

January 25, 1764—Around this date, the Pennsylvania Gazette reports that a fire has damaged Nassau Hall.

January 26, 1889—Students and others gather at a Temperance meeting at the town’s Second Presbyterian Church, where Alfred H. Colquitt, Class of 1844, now a senator from Georgia, warns that Americans must band together against liquor sales. “The Rebellion is over but a new war is upon us. No foreign enemy, but an enemy at home. Let the North and South unite and with combined strength overthrow this threatening evil.”

January 27, 1860—The Princeton Press encourages local residents to take up scrapbooking, and suggests they paste its own articles in their books.

Student scrapbooks do have plenty of newspaper clippings, local and otherwise, but often also a wealth of other contextual information. In this scrapbook made by Benjamin S. Morehouse, Class of 1862, we find an artifact not mentioned in the newspaper article he pasted in its pages, along with this note: “This ‘Golden Circle’ was one of a large no. tacked upon the trees in Princeton by some persons unknown during the night following the troubles mentioned in a preceding article in this scrapbook, ‘Treason Punished in Princeton College’ dated Sept. 16, [18]61. I took it down from a tree. The design thereof did not appear. Whether it is a sign of the ‘Golden Circle’ or not, I do not know. There was much excitement in the place during the few days mentioned in the article.” (The Knights of the Golden Circle was a secret society that formed in 1854 with an aim to establish a new country where slavery would be legal. During the Civil War, some northerners sympathetic to the Confederacy were part of the group.) Scrapbook Collection (AC026), Box 11.

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 December 20-26

In this week’s installment of our recurring series, the son of the Mississippi governor’s presence becomes controversial, prominent professors oppose fallout shelters, and more.

December 22, 1821—The New Hampshire Sentinel reports that the will of Elias Boudinot has left a portion of his estate to Princeton. The institution will use the gifts as follows:

  • $10,000 will be used to endow two fellowships, one in history and one in modern languages
  • 1,004 acres of land in New York State will be sold to pay for a cabinet to display natural history specimens
  • His books will be added to the library

December 23, 1980—University chaplain John T. Walsh receives a call from an Iranian official asking him to perform Christmas services for Iran’s American hostages.

December 25, 1850—A writer in the Worcester, Massachusetts National Aegis accuses Mississippi’s governor, John A. Quitman, of hypocrisy, because Quitman (a “Fire-Eater”) is pro-secession but has sent his son to Princeton. “So, doubtless, it would be found that many other fire-eating orators, who are urging their Southern fellow-citizens not to buy of the North and not to wear or eat any thing [sic] that comes from the North, send their own children here to be educated. This shows at once the inconsistency of their course, the hollowness and hypocrisy of their declarations, and the inestimable value of the Union they threaten to destroy.”

John A. Quitman, governor of Mississippi (shown here), was the father of Frederick Henry Quitman (Class of 1851). Photo courtesy the National Archives and Records Administration.

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This Week in Princeton History for November 8-14

In this week’s installment of our recurring series, an alum resigns the U.S. Senate in anticipation of war, two undergraduates chase down a criminal suspect, and more.

November 9, 1903—Controversy has erupted locally over the town’s first Black postman, A. B. Davis, who secured his appointment in competition with several white applicants. Kansas’s Wichita Searchlight will later report on the issue.

November 10, 1860—James Chesnut, Jr., Class of 1835, is the first senator to resign his seat to declare his support for the Confederacy.

Senator James Chesnut, Jr. of South Carolina. Photo courtesy the National Archives and Records Administration.

November 11, 1997—Mike Himelfarb ’98 and Tim Maly ’99 chase down and tackle a man on the west side of Dod Hall after he exposes himself to a female student. The man will later be charged with lewdness.

November 13, 1953—Princeton and Yale debate whether the Kinsey Report “Is a Compliment to the American Woman.”

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 23-29

In this week’s installment of our recurring series, dog-powered butter churns are available locally, Princeton University celebrates an alum’s achievement in a new way, and more.

August 23, 2011—Princeton University’s website announces a ban on freshman rush for Greek organizations.

August 27, 1835—James Petrie and Donald McCay invite interested residents of Princeton to order dog-powered butter churns from them.

August 28, 1861—A group of students and local residents gather to pay their respects to Major-General David Hunter, who is on his way to Illinois and still recovering from injuries sustained at the First Battle of Bull Run. The crowd sings the national anthem to him.

August 29, 1965—The flag of Princeton University is raised atop Nassau Hall at 10:00AM in honor of Charles “Pete” Conrad, Jr.’s safe return to the planet after the Gemini 5 mission. Princeton’s flag is rarely flown. Other occasions when one might see a flag atop Nassau Hall are Commencement, or at half-staff upon the death of a faculty member and the annual memorial of deceased alumni.

When Charles “Pete” Conrad ’53 made it to the moon, he had this Princeton flag with him. Memorabilia Collection (AC053).

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 9-15

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, an earthquake hits campus without negative consequences, the region anticipates a new transportation option shortening trips to and from New York, and more.

August 9, 1932—While on a scientific expedition in Wyoming, William Zachary Taylor ’32 discovers a new fossil, named the “Tubulon Taylori” in his honor. It is the first ancient ancestor of the anteater to be uncovered.

August 11, 1884—Professor Charles Augustus Young writes of the earthquake the day before that has confused the residents of the American northeast: “Taking it altogether it was certainly an excellent earthquake, vigorous enough to be instructive and interesting, but not so cruel and ferocious like those which have desolated other lands and almost ruined nations.”

August 14, 1861—The New York Daily Tribune reports on the exodus of Southern students from Princeton: “Before they left they became excessively insolent, broke off intercourse with Northern students, and put on plantation airs to an extent that brod [sic] very distinct mutterings of coming thunder. They herded together, rejoiced over the fall of Sumter, and made themselves so especially offensive that the whole town was rejoiced to be rid of them. Ask any resident of Princeton and he will tell you that the place has not been so quiet and respectable for twenty years, as since those ruffians have cleared out.”

August 15, 1837—New Yorkers are celebrating the fact that “When the rail road is completed, we shall be able to reach Princeton from this city in less than three hours.”

A view of campus showing the train now commonly known as the “Dinky” with students playing baseball in the background, 1868. Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111), Box MP16, Image No. 383.

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 January 18-24

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a professor explains the language he used in the Army, an anonymous Princetonian writes that “Satan has fallen like lightning from Heaven upon this college,” and more.

January 18, 1882—In a lecture in Princeton’s Methodist Church, Prof. Joseph Karge refers to the controversy that plagued him in the 1870s over the language he had used as a general in the Union Army during the Civil War. The Princetonian summarizes: Karge “added that, in war, words not used in polite society were sometimes useful.”

Joseph Karge. Historical Photograph Collection, Faculty Files Series.

January 19, 1991—Joshua Berman ’87 awakens to the sounds of an air raid siren, dons his gas mask, and joins friends in a sealed room while Iraq’s missiles hit Tel Aviv. Iraq has attacked Israel in the hopes of provoking them to retaliate and thus discourage a coalition of nations that opposes Iraq in the Gulf War, since many of them might not be willing to fight on the same side as Israel.

January 20, 1913—The Department of History, Politics, and Economics splits in two, becoming the Department of History and Politics and the Department of Economics.

January 23, 1817—An unnamed Princetonian writes a letter to the editor of Virginia’s Alexandria Gazette: “Have you heard that Satan has fallen like lightning from Heaven upon this college? … I went over the college this morning surveying the desolations. The doors and windows are nearly all broken, the furniture dashed to pieces, and REBELLION written on the walls everywhere.”

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 September 14-20

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, John Maclean defends the expulsion of students, Quadrangle Club opens, and more.

September 15, 1870—James McCosh interrupts a brawl between sophomores and freshmen on Nassau Street over canes with a shout of, “Disperse, young men, or the bailiffs will be after you.”

September 16, 1861—John Maclean writes to the editor of the New York Evening Post to explain the unpopular decision to expel some students from Princeton for attacking another student who had expressed sympathy for the Confederacy: The faculty “will not permit the utterance of sentiments denunciatory of those who are engaged in efforts to maintain the integrity of the national government; nor will they allow of any public expression of sympathy with those who are endeavoring to destroy the government,” but “it must be evident that the Faculty could not permit his fellow-students to take the law in their own hands…”

Pencil drawing of the parade local residents gave for the three students dismissed in the “Pumping Incident,” September 1861. Pyne-Henry Collection (AC125), Box 1, Folder 18.

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This Week in Princeton History for April 20-26

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Jesse Owens poses, John F. Kennedy speaks, and more.

April 20, 1942—Jesse Owens talks with Princeton’s Creative Sculpture class while he poses for a piece in Joe Brown’s series of sculptures of American athletes.

April 22, 1891—The Princetonian reports that a Civil War veteran is planning to return to campus to join the Class of 1894. He is 53 years old.

April 25, 1973—Princeton hosts its first “Lifestyles Colloquium” to help students learn how to manage a dual-career family.

Ad from the Daily Princetonian.

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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.”