This Week in Princeton History for August 16-22

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the Class of 1845 is suspended, students are treating sick classmates during an epidemic, and more.

August 16, 1955—Professor Erik Sjoqvist of the Department of Art and Archaeology lucks out when the first trench made at his archaeological dig in Sicily uncovers the agora of the ancient town of Morgantina.

August 17, 1842—Charles Godfrey Leland writes to his father, “It becomes my painful duty to inform you that our class is all dismissed to a man.”

This section of the faculty’s minutes for August 17, 1842 explains that the Class of 1845 were sent home “for combining in one attempt to obstruct, and, if possible, prevent, the recitations of the day, either by refusing to attend upon them, or when some of them did so attend, by refusing to recite.” (Click to enlarge.) Office of the Dean of the Faculty Records (AC118), Vol. 4.

August 20, 1807—An influenza epidemic is spreading throughout Princeton. Students are giving sick classmates antimonial wine, which is believed to be the most effective treatment, though diaphoretics, emetics, bloodletting, laxatives, and barley water are all being tried by local physicians. Doctors are not sure if the disease is contagious.

August 22, 1894—Princeton’s Geological Expedition arrives at Fort Custer, Michigan, on the same day the railroad is finished to that point. From there, they will take a construction train to Sheridan, Wyoming, bedded down on flat cars.

For the previous installment in this series, click here.

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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.