This Week in Princeton History for May 8-14

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) delights the campus with a surprise appearance, protests greet a segregationist governor’s visit, and more.

May 8, 1989—A freshman diagnosed with the measles is admitted to the McCosh Health Center, prompting approximately 500 students to get a booster vaccine to prevent an outbreak on campus.

May 9, 1901—Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) surprises students with an unadvertised appearance in Alexander Hall, where he gives a reading of his work and entertains the crowd with stories about his adventures in Nevada and his attempts to learn German.

This letter from Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), most likely to Stephen Van Rennseler Throwbridge, Class of 1902, dates from ca. 1901 and seems to accept an invitation to speak at Princeton “as long as one would only have to talk, & not have to talk long, nor make preparation.” Pyne-Henry Collection (AC125), Box 2, Folder 1.

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This Week in Princeton History for March 27-April 2

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, eastern colleges convene to discuss the future of African Americans, a new invention draws interest, and more.

March 27, 1972—A petition to end coeducation is circulating among undergraduates, the Daily Princetonian reports, quoting one student: “I think college should be an ivory tower, and adding girls isn’t necessary.”

March 28, 1871—After one student is diagnosed with smallpox, panic on campus and among parents of current students prompts College of New Jersey (Princeton) president James McCosh to end the term two weeks early. He sends the students home.

March 30, 1967—150 delegates representing 65 Eastern colleges convene at Princeton University for the first conference of its kind to discuss “The Future of the Negro Undergraduate.”

Robert F. Goheen (center) with student attendees of “The Future of the Negro Undergraduate” conference, March 30, 1967. Office of the President Records (AC193), Box 456, Folder 7.

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This Week in Princeton History for August 22-28

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a 1906 postcard gives a weather update, a Canadian library honors a Princeton president, and more.

August 23, 1906—Someone writes and sends a postcard to let a friend know that “The day is hot and the locusts are singing” at Princeton.

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Historical Postcard Collection (AC045), Box 3.

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This Week in Princeton History for January 4-10

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the school’s president petitions Bill Clinton for an end to a “discriminatory policy,” Nassau Hall gets new tigers, and more.

January 4, 1836—Two students “having been detected in having ardent spirits in their rooms” are asked to withdraw from the College of New Jersey (Princeton).

January 5, 1993—Princeton University president Harold Shapiro signs a letter along with 66 other American university presidents urging U.S. President Bill Clinton to remove the ban on homosexuals in the military as a “discriminatory policy” that “is antithetical to our institutions’ commitment to respect for individuals, as well as for equal access and opportunity.” The action invites intense criticism for Shapiro.

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Harold Shapiro, ca. 1993. Photo from the 1993 Bric-a-Brac.

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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 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.

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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.

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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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