This Week in Princeton History for October 5-11

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, President Bill Clinton speaks on campus for the third time, classes begin after a long delay, and more.

October 5, 2000—Sitting U.S. President Bill Clinton interacts with students in a tent outside after giving the keynote address at a conference on the American progressive tradition.

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Harold Shapiro and Bill Clinton, October 6, 2000. Office of Communications Records (AC168), Box 202.

October 8, 1968—NBC news anchor David Brinkley gives the Ferris lecture in journalism in the Woodrow Wilson School auditorium.

October 9, 1936—Princeton’s students and townspeople gather to watch the famous German airship Hindenburg fly overhead on one of a handful of trips it will make along the east coast of the United States before a tragic crash eight months later.

Hindenberg_over_Pyne_1936_AC112_Box_SP18_No_4523

The Hindenburg files over Pyne Hall, Princeton University, October 9, 1936. Photo taken by Ira D. Dorian ’37. Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box SP18, No. 4523.

October 10, 1916—Classes finally begin at Princeton, having been delayed several weeks due to a severe polio epidemic. Students are still prohibited from going to the movies, eating off-campus, or leaving town until the epidemic passes.

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Minutes of the Princeton University Senior Council, October 14, 1916. Senior Council Records (AC253), Box 2.

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

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The Year Princeton University Delayed the Start of Classes until October 10

 

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Senior Council Record Book, 1917, Student Council Records, Manuscript Collection AC253, Box 2.

The motion was passed that the following resolutions of the Council be printed in the Princetonian issue of October 16th:

(1) That all undergraduates shall not enter any moving picture theatre in Princeton.

(2) That all undergraduates shall stay within the University limits, avoiding Witherspoon street and other congested districts unless there is an urgent need to the contrary.

(3) That all undergraduates eat only at the Clubs or the University Dining Halls.

(4) That all undergraduates refrain from leaving town and thereby exposing themselves and the rest of the student body to unnecessary danger.

On October 14, 1916, Princeton University president John Grier Hibben asked the Senior Council to adopt the resolution quoted above. He had already taken the unprecedented step of delaying the start of classes from the usual mid-September until October 10. The faculty had decided, in light of the shortened academic year, to reduce the length of the usual breaks students would otherwise have received.

1917_Senior_Council_1918_Bric-a-Brac

1917 Senior Council. Photo from 1918 Bric-a-Brac.

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1957 Epidemics at Princeton

The most characteristic sound around the Princeton campus last week was not the familiar and rhythmic tolling of Nassau Hall’s bell, nor even the sleep-shattering bedlam of the steam-shovels on the new U-Store site. The sound around campus was everywhere: if you went to the heights of Blair Tower, behold, it was there, and even C Floor of the Libe, normally a haven for silence seekers, echoed and re-echoed the irritating noise. Everywhere you went, people were coughing. … The cough was almost always a good, lusty, chesty type which sort of set one apart as the bearer of a badge of courage and defiance—no infirmary was going to get his hands on him. No sir!

                                        –Princeton Alumni Weekly, November 1, 1957

 

This week’s FluFest is one of the ways the University works to keep students in good health for their studies, but keeping Princetonians healthy has sometimes proven to be a significant challenge. The Bric-a-Brac for 1958 reported on hundreds of students “plagued by a rash of…sickness” (118) “bedded down at home or in the campus infirmary,” including in the Student Center, which “was converted into an emergency annex.” It doesn’t sound like students had as much fun that year, with many social events canceled by Dean of the College Jeremiah S. Finch. One morose senior complained,  “I mean it, it’s tragic—this [epidemic] … is ruining my senior year! Now I’ve got nothing at all to do but work on my thesis.” (Princeton Alumni Weekly, October 25, 1957)

Infirmary Admissions graphic

Data taken from Report of the Committee on Health and Athletics for October 17, 1958 (found in the Board of Trustees Records).

There were typically about 100 infirmary admissions per month, but this jumped to over 600 in October 1957. The primary reason was a new kind of influenza sweeping across the globe. Nobody is certain where the new strain of “Asiatic Flu” (H2N2) originated, but the first reports of people falling ill from it came in Hong Kong in April 1957, with huge numbers of people succumbing to it wherever it was found. Concerned about the implications for the United States, government officials requested samples of the virus, and the Centers for Disease Control urged America’s six manufacturers of vaccines to get to work on a vaccine for it as soon as possible. By September, the vaccine was ready, but there was not enough supply to meet demand. Once school started, the virus began spreading dramatically. About 3-6 weeks after school began (the incubation period of the illness), absenteeism reached its highest levels. The Prince noted that at one point, 71% of Philadelphia’s students, including those at the University of Pennsylvania, were out with the flu. Indeed, this particular flu seemed to infect the young more than the old. A 1959 study later estimated that approximately 60% of America’s students had, at some point, been absent due to the flu in 1957.

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