The Horses of Princeton

When we say someone or something is a “workhorse” these days, it signifies working hard for a long time, but we rarely mean an animal. For most of Princeton’s past, however, this term would have referred to literal horses. Horses were a vital part of daily life well into the 20th century.

Horses with wagons and buggies on Nassau Street, ca. 1915. Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111), Box AC05, Image No. 8621.

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This Week in Princeton History for September 28-October 4

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a crisis delays dorm heating, a yellow fever epidemic has interrupted campus operations, and more.

September 28, 1819—A visitor to Princeton’s Junior Orations observes that during one of the student speeches, the audience was in tears. The student spoke of the eloquence of the recently deceased college president, Samuel Stanhope Smith.

September 30, 1976—Due to the energy crisis, the University announces that it will not turn on heat in the dorms until October 11, despite overnight temperatures below 50 degrees.

Students could be seen bundling up indoors in the mid-1970s. Photo from 1978 Bric-a-Brac.

October 1, 1767—Robert Ogden brings a sample fire bucket to the Board of Trustees for consideration. They authorize the purchase of 60 of the buckets at a total cost of £36.

October 4, 1793—Boston’s American Apollo updates readers on the situation in Princeton: “According to reports from the Jersies, the students have quitted the college at Princeton, through an apprehension of the yellow fever spreading to that place. It is added, that the commencement, which is held annually on the last Wednesday in September, is postponed.”

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 3-9

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a change allows for Greek literature to be studied in English, a professor offers encouraging words in Alexander Hall, and more.

August 3, 1898—Harold Perry Smith of the Class of 1898 sets sail for Puerto Rico, having enlisted in the Army immediately after his graduation in order to fight in the Spanish-American War.

August 6, 1936—Registrar Wilbur F. Kerr announces some new offerings in the fall curriculum. Because incoming students are no longer assumed to have studied Greek ahead of matriculation, Greek literature may be studied in English, and the Classics department will also offer a course in elementary Greek. Due to a broader interest in modern languages, Princeton will also now offer a course in Japanese.

August 7, 1880—The Trenton Sentinel reports that applications for admission to Princeton are down. The Sentinel attributes the decline to the spring’s typhoid epidemic: “The recent sickness at the college has something to do with it.”

August 8, 1894—In an address to “a company of historical pilgrims” in Alexander Hall, Professor William Sloane says “The lesson to be learned from Princeton’s historic scenes should be that intellect and not numbers controls the world; that ideas and not force overmaster bigness; that truth and right, supported by strong purpose and high principle, prevail in the end.”

Alexander Hall, ca. 1900. Historical Postcard Collection (AC045), Box 1.

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 May 25-31

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a member of the Class of 1945 survives a bombing in France, the Prince responds to proposed limits on enrollment, and more.

May 25, 1940—Pierre Soesman ’45, who fled Belgium earlier this month, survives a terrifying German bomber attack on the road from Paris to Angers. He will later write of the experience, “When they left, we did not move from the ditch for more than five minutes. Finally, people began to get up, laughing in hysteria.”

May 26, 1921—The Daily Princetonian responds to the news that Princeton will begin limiting enrollment for the first time by kicking off an editorial series urging a holistic approach to admissions decisions rather than one based entirely on test scores.

As Princeton University began limiting enrollment in the 1920s, it instituted a new admissions system that included an application with evaluation from secondary school officials. This is a page from an application from a member of the Class of 1930 found in the Undergraduate Alumni Records (AC198).

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Princeton and the 1918 flu epidemic

The recent issue of the Princeton Alumni Weekly has an article by Mark F. Bernstein ’83 on Princeton and the 1918 flu epidemic entitled “Why Princeton was spared.” Within the article, Bernstein cites the University of Michigan’s Center for the History of Medicine 2005 study on the pandemic for which Mudd Library provided documents. The Center’s website has scanned these and other documents from the National Archives, as well as clippings from the Princeton Packet. These materials explain how Princeton responded to an epidemic that claimed millions of lives worldwide, yet the University escaped with no loss of life. (The fact that Princeton could have just been lucky is not ruled out.) The episode is more than a historical curiosity; it has also been examined by those interested in modern threats like bioterrorism and possible new pandemics like avian flu and demonstrates one of the values of archival records.