This Week in Princeton History for September 26-October 2

In this week’s installment of our recurring series, Jewish students set aside a day for volunteering, an alum causes a stir with a political speech, and more.

September 27, 1998—The Center for Jewish Life hosts “Mitzvah Day,” sending four groups of students out on local volunteer projects. There is high participation among students, organizers believe, because the day takes place during the High Holy Days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Students participating in “Mitzvah Day” by helping to build low income housing in Princeton, 1998. Photo from the Daily Princetonian.

September 29, 1807—A junior is brought before the faculty on the charge that he kicked another student. He admits to kicking him, but says he was justified because of relentless “insults and abuses” from the student he kicked. Though many witnesses corroborate the story about the verbal abuse, “he was reprimanded before the faculty for resorting to that mode of obtaining satisfaction.”

September 30, 1835—Nicholas Biddle (Class of 1801) causes a stir with his address to the alumni. He urges his audience to preserve America in the face of internal enemies (i.e., Andrew Jackson and his supporters):

Confront its betrayers, as madmen are made to quail beneath the stern gaze of fearless reason. They will denounce you. Disregard their outcries—it is only the scream of the vultures whom you scare from their prey. They will seek to destroy you. Rejoice that your country’s enemies are yours. You can never fail more worthily than in defending her from her own degenerate children. … The avenging hour will at last come. It cannot be that our free nation can long endure the vulgar dominion of ignorance and profligacy. You will live to see the laws re-established—these banditti will be scourged back to their caverns—the penitentiary will reclaim their fugitives in office, and the only remembrance which history will preserve of them is the energy with which you resisted and defeated them.

His remarks will later be published in the Hartford Times, which will italicize his conclusion.

October 1, 1892—A report in the Trenton Times describes two Princeton students at a hearing following their arrest for larceny for attempting to steal a sign: “They are two sissy-looking youths. Both had their hair banged and parted in the middle, and wore little dinky boy hats, very much resembling fried eggs.”

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This Week in Princeton History for March 28-April 3

In this week’s installment of our recurring series, students join Anthony Comstock’s quest to rid America of vice, Princeton circulates a questionnaire for its “enemy aliens,” and more.

March 29, 1888—In a lecture to the Philadelphian Society, Anthony Comstock convinces many Princeton students to join his cause. This week, some of them will vote for a resolution to “express our thorough appreciation of Mr. Comstock’s work, and endorse his efforts in the suppression of vice.” Comstock opposes obscenity, abortion, contraception, gambling, prostitution, patent medicine, and women’s suffrage. The Philadelphian will note in its April issue, “It is a long time since the college has been stirred by any speaker as it was by the plain, straightforward, earnest words of Mr. Comstock.”

April 1, 1942—Princeton University circulates a questionnaire for its “enemy aliens” among its students, faculty, and staff.

Questionnaire sent to “enemy aliens” at Princeton University, April 1, 1942. (Click to enlarge.) Office of the Treasurer Records (AC128), Box 10. 

April 2, 1876—Some frosh take revenge on a mathematics tutor they say has wronged them by detonating a pound of explosives outside his door. The explosion breaks a window and sends part of his door flying into the room, damaging his sofa, Pittsburgh’s Daily Post will later report.

April 3, 1868—“Delta” writes in Princeton Standard: “This is a great town for customs, and for ancient, venerable, and time-honored things in general. We hear of them everlastingly. They are the burden of the song by day and by night. … Next to a ridiculous veneration for old customs, Princeton’s greatest enemy is her overweening self-conceit.”

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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.”

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This Week in Princeton History for October 4-10

In this week’s installment of our recurring series, Esther Edwards Burr mourns the death of her husband, two students are fined, and more.

October 5, 1989—Dial Lodge and Cannon Club complete a merger, becoming Dial and Cannon Club.

October 7, 1757—Not long after moving with the institution and their family to Princeton, Esther Edwards Burr writes of the unexpected death of her husband, Aaron Burr, president of the College of New Jersey, “My loss, shall I attempt to describe it? … I have lost all that I ever set my heart on, in this world.”

Esther Burr. Image from Office of the President Records (AC117), Box 1, Folder 6.

October 8, 1878—Richard Cloyd Lee, Class of 1880, is on board the Wollaston train derailment. The accident kills 19 people, but Lee emerges unscathed.

October 9, 1855—William H. Simmons (Class of 1857) and William Knight (Class of 1858) are fined $20 each for assaulting police officers. The Trenton State Gazette will report: “The Chief Justice made an impressive address to the defendants, in pronouncing sentence, in which he said they were convicted of an offence [sic] which had no moral turpitude or dishonor attached to it, and that he hoped the impression would not exist, that the fact that they were Southerners had anything to do with the trial; that Princeton College had been greatly instrumental in creating a good feeling between North & South, &c.”

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How Bicycles Changed Princeton, 1860s-1910s

Bicycles are seemingly ubiquitous at and around Princeton University in our time. The ever-present sight of bicycles parked near campus buildings or cyclists making their way across campus or along the D & R Canal raises no eyebrows; their absence, as with the absence of other forms of traffic, was one of the most noteworthy aspects of local life during the COVID-19 shutdown of 2020. Yet there was once a Princeton where bicycles were unknown, and their appearance presented a concerning novelty.

Bicycle in Princeton, ca 1880s. Historical Photograph Collection, Student Photograph Albums Series (AC061), Box 186.

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This Week in Princeton History for April 26-May 2

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, late frosts mean no butter, employees bring their daughters to work with them for the first time, and more.

April 26, 1790—In a letter to the New York Daily Advertiser, a writer describes unpleasant circumstances in Princeton: “Never was a more truly disagreeable and untoward spring than the present—scarcely a blade of grass to be yet seen in the fields; and nothing but storm upon strum till the earth is glutted. What most afflicts us is the approaching return of the Students from their late vacation. In consequence of the severe frosts, &c. we shall have no butter to give them, so that the college will be under the necessity of recurring in earnest to dry husks of philosophy and stale scraps of logic. God’s will be done.”

April 28, 1993—Princeton celebrates its first “Take Our Daughters to Work Day.”

Schedule for Take Our Daughters to Work Day, April 28, 1993. Clipping from the Daily Princetonian.

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This Week in Princeton History for March 15-21

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, 100 Princetonians picket a local bank for ties to apartheid, an unexpected loss of housing causes financial stress, and more.

March 16, 1816—A trunk is discovered open on the lawn of Nassau Hall with $3,000 stolen from it (about $46,000 in 2020 dollars, adjusted for inflation). The trunk belongs to a traveler on his way to New York who was robbed at the local Rowley’s Inn.

March 17, 1977—More than 100 students picket the Princeton Bank and Trust on Nassau Street for more than 90 minutes to demand an end to sales of Krugerrand, a South African gold coin. Sales of the coin help support apartheid, and students want to raise awareness of such entanglements locally, beyond the university’s investments. Emery Witt, a pharmacist next door, is frustrated that the picketing seems to be hurting his own business, but says he is pleased that students are expressing themselves.

Princeton University students picket Princeton Bank and Trust, March 17, 1977. Photo from the Daily Princetonian.

March 18, 1997—Ashley Stevenson ’99 and Dan Morris ’98 marry each other at a Spring Break wedding in Salt Lake City, Utah.

March 20, 1843—Charles Godfrey Leland writes to his father to ask for money to cover his expenses after he has unexpectedly lost his room in town and none are available on campus:

The next and greatest question is, what shall I do next session for board—the only way to get a room in College is to take a room and buy the furniture, for every room in College is now occupied and will be still more so next session. Fonte, however, intends going out of College and will give his room (one of the very best) to any one who will buy his furniture (which, with the exception of the carpet, is the same that George Boker had)—for 30 or 40 dollars—which is very cheap. I have promised him I would let him know by the end of this week whether I would take his room or not.

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This Week in Princeton History for December 21-27

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, an Ohio newspaper weighs in on a judge’s decision, James McCosh recovers his stolen horse, and more.

December 23, 1893—The Cleveland Gazette complains about the decision of a Mercer County judge to fine two Princeton students $50 each for assaulting Sing Lee (a Chinese immigrant who operates a laundry on Nassau Street) and his assistant, Lee Why; ransacking Lee’s business; breaking the windows; and stealing $85 from Lee. The students themselves argued that the disapproval expressed in newspapers nationwide was punishment enough, but the judge disagreed. In addition to material losses, Lee and Why suffered burns from hot irons and boiling water, but the Gazette minimizes the incident and considers it normal behavior. “Civilization is rapidly growing effete and tottering to its fall. The next thing we know college hazing will be dragged into the courts and treated like any other ruffianism.”

December 24, 1868—James McCosh has recovered his stolen horse. The horse, worth $1,500 (approximately $27,500 in 2020 dollars), was stolen from its stable in Princeton recently. Police found the horse at a farm in Trenton attached to a buggy stolen from someone else.

Horses have played a significant role in the lives of Princetonians, as with these horses who pulled a buggy for visitors to Prospect House ca. 1900s. Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111), Box AD06, Image No. 8908.

December 25, 1874—Two students set off on foot for Washington, D.C. “The roads were in a very bad condition, but they are both men of indomitable energy and pluck.”

December 27, 1765—The St. John’s Grand Lodge of Massachusetts grants a petition from residents of Princeton to establish a Masonic Lodge. Members include Richard Stockton and John Witherspoon.

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This Week in Princeton History for November 23-29

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a new dress code is approved, a petition urges administrators to address escalating crime on campus, and more.

November 24, 1898—Leslie’s Weekly praises Joseph M. Huston, Class of 1892, for his work as a Philadelphia architect: “Perhaps the most attractive feature next to the visit of the President himself, at the Philadelphia Peace Jubilee, was the court of honor, the beautiful structure made up of arches and pillars extending over several blocks, through which the parade marched in the presence of the official visitors on adjacent stands.”

Peace Jubilee Court of Honor, Philadelphia, 1898. Image courtesy New York Public Library.

November 25, 1818—The Board of Trustees approves a new dress code: “Every student shall possess a black gown, which shall be made agreeably to a fashion which the faculty shall prescribe, and all the students of the college shall appear in their gowns on all such occasions as shall be specified and announced to them by the trustees or faculty of the college.”

November 26, 1974—More than 500 students’ names appear on a petition to Princeton administrators to take steps to reduce crime on campus, a sign of ongoing tensions between students and administrators about whether more can be done to address escalating concerns about student safety.

Student petition urging Princeton University administrators to address concerns about public safety and crime, Daily Princetonian, November 26, 1974.

November 27, 1833—Virginia’s Alexandria Gazette reports that two Princeton students, both seniors, have coincidentally both died within weeks of one another, both of tetanus after being shot accidentally.

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This Week in Princeton History for November 9-15

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a graduate student gets help from the FBI to track down stolen microscopic slides, the YWCA opens a Hostess House for Navy officers in training, and more.

Couple at Princeton, ca. 1950. Historical Subject Files (AC109), Box 1, Folder 2.

November 9, 1959—A graduate student has gotten the help of the FBI and is offering a $100 reward to anyone with information that leads to the discovery of his 500 stolen microscopic slides, which represent 3 years of research.

November 11, 1949—Princeton’s debate team loses to Yale on the question of whether women should commit suicide to avoid premarital sex or rape. Princeton argues that they should. Yale’s winning dissent focuses on how men will suffer if women die to avoid “dishonor.” “Dishonor can be fun. … Princeton’s theory can only result in mass feminine suicide. Shall we deprive the world of a ravishing woman simply because she is in danger of being ravished?”

November 12, 1928—Wallace M. Sinclair, Class of 1904, survives the sinking of the SS Vestris off the coast of Virginia, which kills more than 100 people.

November 13, 1918—The Princeton Girls Patriotic League (later the YWCA) opens a Hostess House in Quadrangle Club for the men training to be Navy paymasters who are living at the Graduate College.

Princeton’s Girls Patriotic League is visible behind the women of the New Jersey Red Cross in this parade down Nassau Street to raise money for the Liberty Loan Fund in 1918. Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111), Box AD05, Image No. 8646.

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