This Week in Princeton History for October 19-25

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, two members of the Class of 1979 are running against each other for Congress, the first director of the Program in Women’s Studies is named, and more.

October 19, 1900—Topeka’s Colored Citizen reports that Richard Spaulding, said to be a graduate student at Princeton University, was denied naturalization in a Trenton court on October 16. Spaulding is a native of Dutch Guiana and a graduate of Howard University. “The papers were refused on the ground that the federal laws permit the naturalization of white males only.” Spaulding plans to appeal.

October 20, 1994—Two members of the Princeton University Class of 1979 who also attended secondary school together are running against each other in the Congressional election for Maryland’s second district.

October 23, 1981—The Board of Trustees approves the appointment of Kay B. Warren *74 as the first director of the Program in Women’s Studies.

Pamphlet for Princeton University’s Program in Women’s Studies, ca. 1980s. Historical Subject Files (AC109), Box 51, Folder 15.

October 25, 1911—J. Madison Taylor, Class of 1876, urges fellow Princetonians to boycott any product that advertises using signs. “It would be a delight for the old grads who spin by in the train to gaze once more on the two-mile distant towers and halls of their beloved Alma Mater, freed from Walpurgis Night visions of soaps, soups, sauces and scents.”

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 October 12-18

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a rally mourns the death of Matthew Shepard, controversy surrounds an advertisement in the Daily Princetonian, and more.

October 13, 1998—About 100 Princeton University students rally to mourn the loss of Matthew Shepard, a student at the University of Wyoming who was tortured and murdered in an anti-gay hate crime. Caroline Baker ’02, co-president of Princeton’s Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Alliance, says she is particularly affected by Shepard’s death because he “had just been doing what we had been doing—planning the LGB awareness week.”

Clipping from the Daily Princetonian. Caption reads: “Students sing at the candlelight vigil held Monday night in memory of hate-crime victim Matthew Shepard, who died earlier that day.”

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Princeton’s “Saturnalia”: Commencement Prior to 1844

2020 brought changes to Princeton University’s academic calendar, some planned, and some in response to the global coronavirus pandemic. This shift to an earlier start and end of Princeton’s academic year is not its first. Its historically most drastic change in the calendar came about for a surprising reason: Moving Commencement from September to June in 1844 was intended to put an end to people staging what John Maclean called “a kind of saturnalia.”

For most of Princeton’s first century of operations, the academic year began six weeks after Commencement, held on the last Wednesday in September. If we followed this calendar today, classes would have started November 11. Students returned from their vacation for this “winter term,” which ran until April. Between this and the beginning of the “summer term,” students had another five-week vacation. They studied throughout the summer to be ready for Commencement in September.  The terms themselves were much longer than today’s, at about 19-21 weeks each, with recitations on Saturdays as well as throughout the week; mandatory attendance at chapel, religious lectures, and Bible classes on Sundays; and few breaks or holidays.

At the first Commencement of the College of New Jersey—as Princeton was then named, prior to its 1756 move from Newark and it’s 1896 transformation into a university—Governor Jonathan Belcher warned the president, Aaron Burr, to enforce “a wise Frugality” and avoid “the Too Common Extravagances and Debauchery” that tended to accompany Commencements. This first 1748 ceremony was serious and orderly, with speeches in Latin and prayer, but it didn’t take long for “Extravagances and Debauchery” to creep in.

John Beatty was awarded a Bachelor of Arts on September 27, 1769, but his diploma bears the date it was signed (October 5, 1769), rather than the date of the degree. Princeton University Diploma Collection (AC168), Box 2.

William R. Smith, Class of 1773, wrote to his friend Philip Vickers Fithian about the crowd at Commencement: “every mouse hole in the church was cram’d full.” Attendees were dressed in lace and a band from Philadelphia played. The presence of so many young women was highly distracting to Smith, who described it as “murder” for his “heart.” As time went on, more and more people would descend upon Princeton for Commencement, many of whom had no connection to the college and did not actually attend the ceremony. Because it was in the height of political campaign season, politicians took advantage of the crowds and showed up to give speeches. William Henry Harrison shook hands with throngs of supporters in 1836. Vendors set up booths along Nassau Street to sell drinks and snacks. Horses raced down Stockton Street. While graduates strained to hear their own ceremony above the din, a street festival drowned out the speakers.

The graduates had their own “Extravagances and Debauchery.” For a while, the Board of Trustees provided dinner to the students on the day of Commencement and ate in the refectory with them at a separate table. Guests and alumni were also present. In 1826, the Trustees directed the Steward “not to furnish the students with wine or ardent spirits in the Refectory on any occasion” and to stop offering the more elaborate dinner graduates expected for Commencement. The faculty thought this was not a wise decision and took up a collection among themselves to pay for the celebratory dinner, and thus the revelry continued on campus and off.

The center of student social life in the late 18th and early 19th centuries was what is now named the Nassau Inn, but around the turn of the 19th century it was usually referred to simply as “Joline’s,” after its owner. John Joline hosted a Commencement Ball every year that attracted people from far and wide. John Melish passed through Princeton on Commencement Day in 1806 and stopped by the ballroom, where he met a woman from Savannah, Georgia, among other guests from significant distances away. He pronounced the attire of the women as “the indication of bad taste,” saying that students called the earrings they wore “Cupid’s chariot wheels.” Melish found the French cotillion music and dancing equally distasteful. Around 1807, William and Washington Irving and James Paulding joined in the festivities. Washington Irving wrote of encountering visitors from New York, Albany, and Philadelphia in Princeton. “Students got drunk as usual.” In 1821, Richard Stockton proposed to the Board of Trustees that they prohibit students from subscribing to public balls or dances, but this move was unsuccessful.

Problematic visitors invaded the campus itself during the ceremony. Campus buildings being empty of those affiliated with the college presented opportunity for thieves, who took what they pleased from dorm rooms. Merchants set up their booths not only on Nassau Street but also on the campus grounds and on the lawn in front of the Presbyterian church where the ceremony took place. John Maclean reported having seen, in his childhood, bull-baiting occurring on campus during the ceremony. “No permission was asked or deemed necessary by those engaged in this cruel sport.” In 1807, the Board of Trustees voted to ban hucksters from selling “liquor or other refreshment, on the day of commencement on the ground of the college…”

Meanwhile, violence broke out. It was a tradition for the Whig Society to invite a guest speaker during Commencement week, which served to fuel controversy. This became most fraught when Andrew Jackson rose to national prominence. Samuel Southard’s speech in 1827 provoked what the Trenton True American called “a number of acts of violence” when a fistfight turned into a full-on street brawl. “The presidential question in some aroused the parties and pushed them forward to pugilistic strife.” The concern over Southard’s appearance was that Southard, a member of Princeton’s Class of 1804, was Secretary of the Navy and Jackson supporters said he was shirking his duties by coming to Princeton on what they saw as an electioneering trip on behalf of the Whigs in the upcoming New Jersey elections. There were many who supported the Jacksonian movement who had come to town and the campaign seized the moment for an organizational meeting. Since too many were present to fit into the tavern selected for the gathering place, Jacksonians rushed the campus and held a boisterous rally under a tree. Some residents supportive of the Adams administration tried to invite Southard to dinner, but he declined. Despite this, some of the Jackson camp threatened that if Southard were to eat dinner in Princeton, “there will be such a Jackson Festival in the little Borough, as will make the old dead that sleep on the battlefield of Princeton, to move in their graves.”

The acrimony between Whigs and Democrats at Princeton’s Commencement was ongoing. In 1835, some were livid about Nicholas Biddle’s denunciation of Jackson’s supporters. Editorials in other states expressed outrage that Biddle (Class of 1801) had been given a platform to call Jackson supporters “degenerate children.” Biddle’s words were, in the estimation of some hearers, shockingly divisive.

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 its fugitives in office, and the only remembrance which history will preserve of them is the energy with which you resisted and defeated them.

There seemed to be no shortage of reasons for Princeton’s Commencement to cause widespread controversy. Racism and political divisions brought violence from the streets into the church where Commencement took place in 1836, when a former student giving his name as “Ancrum” assaulted a member of the audience after yelling racial slurs. This was most likely Thomas James Ancrum, Class of 1838, who had previously organized a lynch mob against a white abolitionist in Princeton and had been dismissed from the College. Ancrum’s target was a Black graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, Theodore Sedgwick Wright. Newspapers across the north denounced this event as a “shameful outrage.”

James Carnahan, Princeton’s president, responded by attempting to minimize the situation, insinuating that Wright had provoked Ancrum by sitting down when others had to stand (“a respectable colored man of New York took a seat on a bench in one of the aisles, while many others unable to find seats, stood during the whole of the discourse”) and claimed that no one he spoke to afterward had seen any violence take place, nor heard any abusive language other than “Out with the negro” (Wright had reported a more offensive term being used, and that Ancrum had “kicked me in the most ruthless manner”). The Pennsylvania Freeman expressed dismay at Carnahan’s downplaying of the events. “We frankly, say, however, that we are at a loss to know which is the greater insult, the outcry and kicks of the southern youngster or the letter of Dr. Carnahan,” pointing out that Carnahan identified Wright only as “respectable,” not as a clergyman “every whit” as worthy of the title “Rev.” as Carnahan himself. The Freeman also took issue with the implications of Carnahan’s defense. “Are the public to understand it as a law of Nassau Hall, that ministers of the Lord Jesus Christ must not be seated in their chapel, even on a bench in the aisle, if they happen to be colored, however worthy or decent they may be, so long as any white men remain unaccommodated?” They pushed Carnahan to say so, if that is what he meant, and to post signs indicating such.

By 1843, Princeton’s Board of Trustees had had enough. In their meeting that September, they voted to move Commencement, as well as the entire academic calendar, up by three months, in the hopes that a June event would be more focused on the students themselves. More distance from elections would cut down on the politically contentious crowds, while holding the event at a time when fewer people would have the availability to travel would decrease the appeal for out-of-town visitors, since unlike the early fall, June was not a time of relative leisure for New Jersey farmers. The fact that the calendar Princeton adopted in the 1840s happened to closely conform to what became the standard “academic year” in the United States was mere coincidence.

 

Sources:

“All the Decency, &c. &c.” Times (Hartford, Connecticut) 21 December 1835.

Board of Trustees Records. (AC120)

Collins, Varnum Lansing. Princeton. New York: Oxford University Press, 1914.

Fithian, Philip Vickers. Journal and Letters 1767-1774. Edited by John Rogers Williams. Princeton: The University Library, 1900.

Hageman, John Frelinghuysen. History of Princeton and Its Institutions. Philadelphia, J.B. Lippincott, 1879.

Historic Princeton: The Story of a Revolutionary Town and Guide to Princeton University and Sundry Landmarks of Interest. Princeton: Princeton Municipal Improvement, Inc., 1940.

Irving, Washington. Salmagundi. New York: G. P. Putnam, 1860.

“Jackson Meeting at Princeton.” Fredonian (New Brunswick, New Jersey) 10 October 1827.

Maclean, John. History of the College of New Jersey from Its Origins to the Commencement of 1854. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1879.

Melish, John. Travels in the United States of America, in the Years 1806 & 1807, and 1809, 1810, & 1811. Printed by the author, 1812.

Princeton University Commencement Records (AC115)

Princeton University Diploma Collection (AC138)

“Shameful Outrage at Princeton, N.J.” Pennsylvania Freeman (Philadelphia) 12 November 1836.

Wallace, George Riddle. Princeton Sketches: The Story of Nassau Hall. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1894.

 

For further reading:

Yannielli, Joseph. “White Supremacy at the Commencement of 1836.” Princeton and Slavery website.

This Week in Princeton History for October 15-21

In this week’s installment of our returning series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, tensions are boiling between town and gown, Dwight D. Eisenhower expresses thanks for the support of Princetonians, and more.

October 16, 1883—According to reports in the New York Sun, the governor of New Jersey has sent the entire state militia and police force to prevent full-scale warfare between students at the College of New Jersey and the residents of Princeton following a bloodbath on October 15. “To-night the annual cane-spree takes place and the students threaten to lynch any townsmen who appear on the Campus. The latter, on their part, declare their intention of cleaning out the College. Both parties are heavily armed. Trouble is feared. The desperate ruffianism of Princeton students is well known.”

October 17, 1952—Dwight D. Eisenhower, who is seeking election as U.S. President, notices a “PRINCETON LIKES IKE” sign among a crowd of 5,000 supporters in Princeton and says he is “really delighted to see some Princeton signs here.

Clipping from Daily Princetonian.

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This Week in Princeton History for November 6-12

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a professor helps determine election results in 30 states, a donor’s generous gift allows for the building of a new dorm, and more.

November 7, 1972—Politics professor Edward R. Tufte is one of NBC’s 10 election specialists, helping to give up-to-the-minute updates in presidential, senatorial, and gubernatorial contests in 30 different states. The use of computers now allows the election specialists to predict the results of an election before the final tallies are available.

November 8, 1888—Princeton president Francis Patton reports to the Board of Trustees that he has received a gift of $50,000 from Susan D. Brown for the building of a new dorm.

Brown Hall, ca. 1900. Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111), Box MP07, Image No. 0147.

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Electing an American President

With the 2016 U.S. Presidential Elections just around the corner, we’ve been having fun answering the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration’s #ElectionCollection challenges on Twitter. The timing also seemed right to put some of our elections-related memorabilia on display here at Mudd. Our lobby exhibit case now holds a variety of elections-related materials from diverse collections in the Princeton University Archives and the Public Policy Papers, with a date range spanning nearly a century from William McKinley’s 1896 campaign to Bill Clinton’s in 1992.

McKinley_Badge_AC123_Box_406

William McKinley campaign badge, ca. 1896. Princeton University Library Records (AC123), Box 406.

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This Week in Princeton History for November 2-8

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the Princetonian laments changes in New Jersey laws, Billy Graham addresses Christianity and the Civil Rights Movement on campus, and more.

November 2, 1876—In response to a new state law that banned billiard tables within three miles of Nassau Hall, the Princetonian editorializes: “Billiards exeunt. Gone! They are gone. … Oh the cruel, cruel souls who feasted on the gnat and tasted not the camel. … Ah, be still sad heart. … But law—law transcendent—law whose seat is the bosom of the eternal and locus inflictus the State of New Jersey, law’s bright eye flasheth, that eye before whose flash the common sense of man doth fade as doth a match before the lime ball of a calcium-light.”

November 3, 1963—Well-known evangelist Billy Graham speaks twice on campus, once in the University Chapel and once in Alexander Hall. He asserts the Civil Rights Movement’s need for the church and speaks of his hope that Christianity will end racism in the American South.

Billy_Graham_Prince_4_Nov_1963

Billy Graham at Princeton, November 3, 1963. Photo from the Daily Princetonian.

November 4, 1987—Princeton University architecture lab technician Leon Barth awakes to discover he has been elected as mayor of Roosevelt Borough, New Jersey, against his will. Residents of the town have ignored his repeated refusals to run for mayor and have campaigned for him anyway as a write in candidate. Though not wanting the job, he says he will submit to the will of his fellow townspeople and take it anyway. As the mayor of Roosevelt is an unpaid position, he will keep his day job at Princeton.

November 6, 1869—The College of New Jersey (Princeton) and Rutgers College face off in the first intercollegiate game in the history of American football.

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 3-9

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Penn Jillette’s joke falls flat, the town decides on Prohibition, and more.

November 3, 1975—Penn Jillette (now of Penn & Teller) tries to garner publicity for his upcoming performances with the “The Asparagus Valley Cultural Society” by staging a joke attempt to jump over five Volkswagen Rabbits on a unicycle in front of Murray-Dodge Hall, where the group will later perform. The joke falls flat; 2,000 onlookers (mostly not affiliated with Princeton University) express mob outrage when he simply rides his unicycle off a ramp instead. “People were calling me a fraud, when I knew OF COURSE I was a fraud. That was the point,” Jillette later says. “I found myself playing a joke without a punch line.”

Penn Jillette Unicycle Stunt

Penn Jillette and his “Unicycle Jump” set up outside Murray-Dodge Hall. Photos from the Daily Princetonian.

November 5, 1918—Princeton voters decide whether Prohibition will continue in town after World War I is over. The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ultimately renders this question moot, and national prohibition of alcohol remains in effect for approximately 14 years. When the ban is finally lifted, Princetonians will have their first legal drinks in 1933, at the Tap Room at the Nassau Inn.

Prohibiton_Question_AC109_Box_354_Folder_1

Campaign mailing, Historical Subject Files Collection (AC109), Box 354, Folder 1. Click to enlarge.

November 6, 1844—Election results for the New Jersey 3rd Congressional District are disputed on the grounds that students voted in Princeton (both from The College of New Jersey and Princeton Theological Seminary). The election was close—John Runk won by 16 votes. His opponent, Isaac G. Farlee, said that the Princeton students should not have voted; further, that since Farlee thought it could be assumed that most voted for Runk, he should win the seat instead. The House of Representatives itself ended up deciding the issue, voting that Princeton students were, indeed, legal residents of Princeton and eligible to vote in the district, setting a precedent regarding the definition of “resident.”

November 9, 1969—A fire almost completely destroys 76-year-old Whig Hall. The cause is determined to be a group of students smoking cigarettes inside at around 4:00 AM.

Whig_Hall_Fire_AC168_Box_142

Whig Hall, November 9, 1969, Office of Communications Records (AC168), Box 142.

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.

Political cartoon exhibition reveals common themes of American presidential elections

Through Sunday, Jan. 4, 2009 · Milberg Gallery, Firestone Library

Curator’s tours of the exhibit on Sept. 28 and Nov. 2. at 3 p.m.

FDR%20Press%20release%20image

An exhibition on view at Princeton University’s Firestone Library confirms through paper and ink what many American voters already suspect: Although the political candidates may change, many issues remain the same.

Titled “Sketching Their Characters: 150 Years of Political Cartoons From Andrew Jackson to George H.W. Bush,” the exhibition features primarily original pen and ink editorial cartoons dating from 1828 to 1992 focusing on presidential elections. Works of Thomas Nast, among other notable political cartoonists, are on display in the library’s Milberg Gallery until Sunday, Jan. 4.

Questions about qualifications, the service or burden of past actions, the influence of money on the political process, backroom deals that subvert the will of the people and aspersions on the candidates themselves have tickled and outraged generations of cartoonists and their readers. Curators Jennifer Cole, Daniel Linke and Daniel Santamaria have selected items from three collections held at the Mudd Manuscript Library as well as the holdings of the Graphic Arts Division.

“This was the most entertaining exhibition I have ever done,” said Linke, who has curated more than a dozen. “Reviewing political cartoons from over the decades was like an illustrated political history lesson — or a graphic novel.”

“Some of the cartoons are downright funny, but others will make you wonder if anything at all has really changed with American politics,” Linke said. He noted two from 1904 in which both parties pursue independent voters and accuse the other of being in the pockets of “big money,” which certainly could apply to today’s political landscape.

The ferocity of the attacks also has not changed, he said, pointing out those that attacked Franklin D. Roosevelt and his decision to run for a third term. “We think of FDR as a revered president, but these cartoons show that in his time, he had plenty of detractors,” Linke said.

A lecture by Rutgers history and journalism professor David Greenberg at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 19, in 101 McCormick Hall will precede a reception for the exhibition. Greenberg’s first book, “Nixon’s Shadow: The History of an Image” won the Washington Monthly Political Book Award and the American Journalism History Book Award. He is the recipient of the 2008 Hiett Prize in the Humanities. Awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, the prize recognizes a young scholar whose work shows exceptional promise.

Hours for the exhibition are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

You may also see 11 of the 37 images on display at the Princeton Alumni Weekly’s website.