This Week in Princeton History for December 7-13

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a history professor gets national attention, undergraduates protest new library rules, and more.

December 7, 1776—The British Army reaches Princeton to begin the “20 days of tyranny.” Annis Boudinot Stockton hides the papers of the College of New Jersey’s American Whig Society while burying her family silver on the Morven estate. Later, she will be posthumously elected as Whig Hall’s first female member.

December 8, 1998—Princeton University history professor Sean Wilentz makes the news for his testimony before the United States Congress, saying to House Republicans aiming to impeach President Bill Clinton, “…history will track you down and condemn you for your cravenness.” The New York Times will later editorialize that his testimony was a “gratuitously patronizing presentation,” but Wilentz will respond that he has been misunderstood.

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Princeton University history professor Sean Wilentz, 1994. Office of Communications Records (AC168), Box 193.

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This Week in Princeton History for November 16-22

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the college president boasts about America’s educational system, Billy Joel draws crowds, and more.

November 16, 1772—The New York Gazette prints a letter from College of New Jersey (Princeton) President John Witherspoon that asserts that an American college education is the best in the world, because Princeton does not practice corporal punishment: “no correction by stripes is permitted: Such as cannot be governed by reason and the principles of honour and shame, are reckoned unfit for residence in a College.”

November 17, 1972—The University Council’s Executive Committee orders flags on campus to fly at half-mast in mourning for two students shot to death during a protest at Southern University in Baton Rouge under circumstances some say mirror deaths at Kent State University in 1970. The committee refers to the police killings as a “tragedy [that] represents a resort to violence as response to disagreement among people.” The Association for Black Collegians is taking up a collection to help provide for other students in Louisiana affected by the incident.

November 19, 2001—Billy Joel lectures on the history of music and performs in a variety of styles in Princeton’s Richardson Auditorium.

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Billy Joel gestures to the crowd in Richardson Auditorium, November 19, 2001. Office of Communications Records (AC168), Box 197.

November 21, 1917—The Daily Princetonian runs an editorial suggesting “meatless and wheatless” days in campus dining halls and eating clubs in response to widespread food shortages.

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.

This Week in Princeton History for November 9-15

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the school holds its first Commencement, a “food revolt” causes tension between students and administrators, and more.

November 9, 1748—The College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) holds its first Commencement in Newark, where six students are granted the degree of Bachelor of the Arts. The New York Gazette reports “That Learning, like the Sun in its Western Progress, had now began to dawn upon the Province of New Jersey…”

November 11, 1985—Director of University Health Services Dr. Louis Pyle ‘41 speaks to the University Council on medical and administrative issues arising from a new national concern: the spread of AIDS. Though no cases have been found at Princeton, Pyle believes it is only a matter of time before UHS begins facing the issue head on, and refers to the syndrome as “medicine’s most challenging current problem.”

November 13, 1978—Princeton administrators warn 180 students who have signed a petition threatening to cancel their meal plans if food quality does not improve that they will not allow contract cancellations related to what is known as the Wilson College “food revolt.” (Students organized under the slogan “The food is revolting, so why aren’t you?”) In response, hundreds more will sign the petition, for a total of 715 students.

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Princeton University dining hall, ca. 1970s. Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box MP192.

November 15, 1877—The Princetonian editorializes, “We regret that Yale has again been constrained to make herself obnoxious,” in response to Yale’s refusal to modify the rules of American football to have 15 players per team rather than 11.

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.

This Week in Princeton History for October 12-18

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, graduates get high praise for writing skills, influenza severely disrupts life on campus, and more.

October 13, 1748—The Trustees of the College of New Jersey send an effusive letter of thanks to Governor Jonathan Belcher for granting the institution’s second charter, “not doubting but by the Smiles of Heaven, under your Protection, it may prove a flourishing Seminary of Piety and good Literature” and “a lasting Foundation for the future Prosperity of Church and State.”

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Pennsylvania Gazette, November 3, 1748. Princeton University Publications Collection (AC364), Box 36.

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This Week in Princeton History for September 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 infirmary surprises incoming freshmen with a nude photo requirement, a water shortage prevents students from showering, and more.

September 14, 1887—Although the name of the school is still The College of New Jersey, the New York Herald Tribune reports that its alumni have all been referring to it as Princeton University and that it is “a university in everything save the name.”

September 17, 1989—Virginia Cha ’86 is named first runner up in the Miss America pageant and wins a $20,000 scholarship, which Cha says she plans to use to pursue graduate studies in journalism. She will later become a news anchor for ABC 10 in San Diego.

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Virginia Cha ’86 modeling at a local fashion show in Princeton in February 1986. Photo from the Daily Princetonian.

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This Week in Princeton History for August 17-23

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a prisoner of war says he deserves credit for independent study while held captive, the U-Store breaks ground on a new home, and more.

August 18, 1944—Lt. Nicholas Katzenbach ’43 writes to the War Service Bureau that he has been studying 8 hours per day in a German prison camp and feels he has completed the requirements for his A.B. despite missing the final three semesters with his class at Princeton. After submitting a thesis and passing a series of exams given by Princeton faculty the following year, he will be given given credit for ten courses and awarded his degree with honors in October 1945. Katzenbach will ultimately achieve his greatest fame as the U.S. Attorney General who will confront segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace in an incident that will be known as the “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door.”

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Dear Mr. Mudd: Which School Is Older, Penn or Princeton?

By Spencer Shen ’16

Q: Dear Mr. Mudd,

I have a friend at Penn who claims that his school is older than Princeton. Is he right?

A: The answer to this question depends on what you mean by “older”, but institutional pride can result in tenuous claims for precedence. The University of Pennsylvania currently asserts that it is the fourth oldest college in the United States, placing Princeton in fifth place after Harvard, William and Mary, Yale, and Penn. Its basis for this claim is that it is an outgrowth of a “charity school” founded in 1740, but the school was never operational. Its building was used for religious services until 1749, when it was acquired by Benjamin Franklin and his associates for the purposes of establishing an “academy”, including an agreement to operate a charity school. “We have bought for the Academy,” Franklin wrote on February 13, 1750, “the house that was built for itinerant preaching, which stands on a large lot of ground capable of receiving more buildings.” The charter for Franklin’s Academy incorporated the text of the previous charity school’s trust verbatim. This adoption of the exact wording of the trust lies at the heart of Penn’s claim to precedence. However, it was not until 1751 that instruction actually commenced and not until 1753 that the “College, Academy and Charitable School of Philadelphia in the Province of Pennsylvania” was chartered.

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Click to enlarge graphic.

Penn celebrated its centennial in 1849, and its trustees did not formally accept 1740 as the year of the institution’s founding until 1899. By contrast, Princeton was chartered in 1746 as the College of New Jersey, began to offer instruction in 1747, and moved to Newark later that year. To the south, in Philadelphia, no such signs of higher educational life existed.

This post was originally written by John Weeren (2001) as an FAQ page on our old website. It has been revised and expanded here by Spencer Shen ’16 as part of the launch of our new website.

When Did the College of New Jersey Change to Princeton University?

Q: Dear Mr. Mudd,

When and why did the College of  New Jersey change its name to Princeton University?

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Sesquicentennial Archway, Princeton, New Jersey, October 1896. Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box LP19, Image No. 1387.

A: The College of New Jersey, founded in 1746, changed its name to Princeton University during the culmination of the institution’s Sesquicentennial Celebration in 1896. Historically, the University was often referred to as “Nassau,” “Nassau Hall,” “Princeton College,” or “Old North.” Continue reading

A Brief History of the Architecture of Nassau Hall

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.

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First known image of Nassau Hall, New American Magazine, 1760. Nassau Hall Iconography Collection (AC177), Box 1.

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Can Nathaniel FitzRandolph’s Descendants Attend Princeton University for Free?

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.

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Inscription on the FitzRandolph Gateway. Princeton Alumni Weekly Photograph Collection (AC126), Box 21.

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