This Week in Princeton History for October 29-November 4

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the Art Museum reopens in a modernized environment, the football team’s stunning victory over Penn sparks a riot, and more.

October 29, 1966—The Princeton University Art Museum reopens in its new home in a new McCormick Hall.

The new McCormick Hall was built on the site of the old McCormick Hall and Art Museum extension. The 1880 building, pictured here, was advanced for the 19th century but no longer a suitable home for Princeton’s collections. Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111), Box SP05, Image No. 1216.

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This Week in Princeton History for June 18-24

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, seniors warn underclassmen not to encroach on their singing territory, the School of Science is dedicated, and more.

June 18, 1930—Charles H. Rogers, Curator of the Princeton Museum of Zoology, catches a ride with the crew of a banana ship from New Orleans to Veracruz as the only passenger. He will collect bird and insect specimens on his summer trip through Mexico.

Charles H. Rogers, undated. Historical Photograph Collection, Faculty Photographs Series (AC067), Box FAC81.

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This Week in Princeton History for May 14-20

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the third term of the academic year begins, dining halls begin serving water instead of milk for lunch, and more.

May 14, 1975—The Eastern regional conference of Women in Higher Education Administration meets at Princeton.

May 16, 1859—James W. Reese’s Valedictory Oration for the Class of 1859 seems precognitive in its reference to the battlefield.

Robert Edgar’s Valedictory Ode to the Senior Class of the College of New Jersey (Princeton) May 16, 1859. Princeton University Class Records (AC130), Box 4. Though the third stanza of Edgar’s ode refers to a metaphorical battlefield, many of the Class of 1859 fought against one another on literal battlefields. About half (35) of the 73-member class fought in the Civil War, 15 for the Union and 20 for the Confederacy.

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This Week in Princeton History for July 10-16

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a sword fight breaks out between dorm residents, rumors about Paul Volcker ’49 circulate, and more.

July 10, 1804—William Robinson is suspended from the College of New Jersey following a fight that escalated to him attacking another student with a sword: “Upon asking them the cause of the disturbance, Mr. Robinson said that while he was conversing with his roommate, Mr. B came to his door and ordered him to make less noise, which he took as an insult, and went to his room to ask what he meant by it. …Mr. Barrat related the circumstances as just stated, with this addition, that Mr. R when he first came into his room, struck at him several times with the sword, but that he did not receive any wound except a very slight one on his arm. Mr. Robinson acknowledged the whole, but pled that he did not intend to strike Mr. B with the sword.”

July 11, 1861—Samuel P. Carter of the Class of 1839 receives orders to report to the Secretary of War for duty. Carter will organize an infantry brigade of other Tennessee residents loyal to the Union and adopt the code name “Powhatan.”

July 13, 1987—An article appearing in the Wall Street Journal today speculates that Paul Volcker ’49, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, will soon join the Princeton faculty, but the University declines to comment. (The Journal‘s reporting is accurate.)

Paul Volcker ’49, ca. 1991. Office of Communications Records (AC168), Box 121.

July 14, 1949—Over 60 Princeton alumni celebrate Bastille Day by holding a reunion at the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The unusual crowd in orange and black ties draws local press coverage.

For last week’s installment in this series, click here.

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An Update on the Earliest Records of Jewish Students at Princeton

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the search to find the first Jewish student at Princeton. As I noted, the “first” student in any category is probably impossible to determine. However, I was able to find a record suggesting possible Jewish presence dating back to 1859, when Albert Mordecai of the Class of 1863 arrived to begin his studies. In today’s post, I support my own claims about the difficulty of determining “firsts” by showing that Jewish presence at Princeton goes back at least half a century further than initially thought. The earliest records I have found thus far now uncover the life of another Jewish student who began his work at Princeton in 1809, Mordecai Myers, but a handful of other Jewish students also attended Princeton in the antebellum period.

Follow up from our readers has prompted this update on two counts. The first concerns Albert Mordecai’s connection to Judaism. Yosef Razin ’11 wrote in with research he conducted on the Mordecai family in the U. S. Census records and other sources. There is conflicting data regarding the family origins, he says, but sources seem to agree that Mordecai’s origins through his paternal line were Jewish. His mother’s ethnic background may or may not have been Jewish. Those on campus or with a subscription can access these records through the Ancestry.com databases.

The second update makes it clear, however, that whether or not Albert Mordecai considered himself Jewish, he would not have been the first Jewish student at Princeton. Sven Henningson ’16 uncovered a reference to Mordecai Myers as a Jewish graduate of Princeton and alerted us to the possibility that he had been on campus much earlier than Albert Mordecai. Having done some digging, I have confirmed that Mordecai Myers, Class of 1812, was Jewish and earned his A.B. from Princeton in 1812. This research led down a path that uncovered a few other Jewish students at Princeton prior to the Civil War.

Mordecai Myers, the son of Levi Myers and Francis Minis, born November 9, 1794, was just shy of 15 years old when he arrived at the College of New Jersey (Princeton) in 1809. Myers was advanced enough to skip his freshman year and was admitted to the sophomore Class of 1812. This proved fortuitous in terms of being able to finish his degree, because war broke out in 1812. According to a 1909 letter from his son to the Princeton University Secretary, when armed conflict began with Great Britain in June 1812, Myers returned home to his native Charleston, South Carolina, but this didn’t prevent him from graduating with his class the following September.

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Mordecai Myers, Class of 1812. Undergraduate Alumni Records 1748-1920 (AC104), Box 72.

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This Week in Princeton History for April 18-24

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the campus mourns Abraham Lincoln, Fidel Castro pays a visit, and more.

April 19, 1865—Someone etches “We Mourn Our Loss” into a window on the third floor of Nassau Hall in reference to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. (More on campus reaction to Lincoln’s death here.)

Scrapbook ribbon

Ribbon found in the college scrapbook of Edward Wilder Haines, Class of 1866. Scrapbook Collection (AC026), Box 16.

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This Week in Princeton History for August 31-September 6

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, an increase in the cost of food inspires student entrepreneurs, the Civil War fells an alum, and more.

September 2, 1975—Prices on most items available at the Student Center go up by five cents. Empty cups, previously free, now cost a nickel. The move will inspire some students to form new student agencies to compete for food sales at lower costs.

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Ad from the Daily Princetonian, 1975.

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Princeton Mourns Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. exactly 150 years ago. As Americans did throughout the country, Princetonians immediately went into mourning. The loss was more profound given that the nation had emerged from a devastating Civil War less than a week before.

Princeton’s ties to Lincoln are reflected in various collections in Princeton University Library’s Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. On his train trip to his inauguration in 1861, Lincoln made many stops in the Midwest and Northeast, where he often spoke to crowds. On February 21, more than 20,000 supporters received him in Trenton. William Stewart Cross Webster and Alexander Taggart McGill, Jr., both of the College of New Jersey (Princeton) Class of 1864, were among the throngs. In a letter to his mother a few days later, Webster expressed disappointment that he was unable to hear Lincoln over the roar of the crowd: “This was our sight of Abraham Lincoln: We saw great Lincoln plain; it can never be forgotten, the bowing very graciously right and left. In a few minutes Mr. L. appeared on the platform and said a few words. His manner was pleasant and a vein of humor pervaded his whole face. I was unlucky enough to hear nothing he said.” (Undergraduate Alumni Records 1748-1920 (AC104), Box 125)

Shortly after his reelection in 1864, the Board of Trustees voted to confer an honorary Doctorate of Law upon Lincoln. Lincoln was unable to attend Princeton’s Commencement, but wrote to College President John Maclean to thank Princeton for its honor “in this time of public trial.”

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“The Present Unsettled State of Our Country”: Princeton and the Civil War

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the end of Civil War, a conflict that had implications for every facet of American life. The “unhappy condition of the country,” as the College of New Jersey (Princeton) President John Maclean described it in 1861, had a profound impact on the school. Here we highlight the mass exodus of southern students from Princeton, as well as some of the emotional toll the war took on alumni of the era.

Though located in Union territory, Princeton had the reputation of being the “most southern of all the northern colleges,” due to its significant number of wealthy southern students. Relationships across the Mason-Dixon were strong at Princeton. Edwin Mark Norris later wrote of this period, “When it became apparent that, faithful to their convictions, the students from opposing sections would soon be opposing each other in arms, rather than merely in argument, the friendships formed beneath the elms became even more closely cemented, and it was with genuine sadness that these intimate ties were severed” (The Story of Princeton, 186). This inscription on Bazil F. Gordon’s senior portrait sums it up: a student on the other side was “your true friend and enemy.”

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Bazil Gordon, senior portrait, 1861. Gordon later served as a surgeon in the Confederate Army. Historical Photograph Collection, Student Photograph Albums Series (AC061), Box 27.

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This Week in Princeton History for March 30-April 5

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the campus tries to help mitigate the AIDS crisis, locals descend upon Nassau Hall in spontaneous celebration of a Civil War victory for the Union, and more.

March 30, 1933—The owner of Students Hand Laundry is arrested following his disappearance two weeks before, having been paid $20 each by approximately 600 Princeton students for the term’s laundry service. Campus police find 250 bags of students’ dirty laundry in his abandoned shop.

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Ad from the Daily Princetonian.

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