This Week in Princeton History for September 13-19

In this week’s installment of our recurring series, a student experiences culture shock, the campus mourns the death of William McKinley, and more.

September 15, 1813—Philadelphia’s Tickler reports on the college life of Nathaniel B. Boileau (Class of 1789):

At the age of about fourteen he got the notion of going to college to get a liberal education, and then to study divinity and take on holy orders. His father consulted a clergyman in the neighborhood on the subject, who, after examining the boy, advised him against it, telling him that his son had not sufficient capacity to enable him to shine in the pulpit or anywhere else, and therefore he had better abandon the idea of sending him to college. Being his father’s only son, however, and therefore in the true sense of the word a pet, the old man at length agreed to his earnest request, and sent him to Princeton college, where by dint of close application he made out to graduate.

September 16, 1850—Charles Colcock Jones, Jr., Class of 1852, writes to his parents about seeing the Negro Sons of Temperance have a parade and picnic in town. “It was a strange sight to those of us who were from the slave states.”

September 18, 1786—James Gibson, Class of 1787, confesses in his diary, “Our examination begins today, my heart already palpitates.”

September 19, 1901—All of the regular business of Princeton University is suspended so the community can mourn the death of U.S. President William McKinley, who was assassinated on September 14. Four memorial services are held throughout the day in Alexander Hall and in local churches. Former U.S. President Grover Cleveland addresses the mourners in Alexander Hall, urging them to reflect on what they can learn about the fragility of American democracy from the events of the week. Woodrow Wilson also spoke, saying, “This pestiferous thing that has grown in our soil must have had some air to feed upon and we may well ask ourselves if we supplied any of the air that fed this foul plant of anarchy in America.”

An excerpt of Grover Cleveland’s address at the memorial service for William McKinley in Alexander Hall, September 19, 1901, taken from the 1903 Bric-a-Brac(Click to enlarge.)

For the previous installment in this series, click here.

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This Week in Princeton History for March 23-29

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the Blair Tower clock gets a sophomore makeover, students give Grover Cleveland a birthday present, and more.

March 23, 1899—Poet John Whitcomb Riley, whose best known work, “Little Orphant [sic] Annie,” has continued to inspire numerous other artists, gives a poetry reading in Alexander Hall.

March 24, 1985—A group of sophomores decorate the Blair Tower clock’s face with Mickey Mouse.


Photo from Daily Princetonian.

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Past, present and future US presidents at Princeton’s bicentennial, 1947

Princeton University celebrated its 200th anniversary with a year-long series of events, starting on September 22, 1946 and ending with a convocation on June 14-17, 1947. The newsreel posted here was shot during the conclusion of the bicentennial celebrations on June 17th, when thirty-six notables received honorary degrees, including US President Harry Truman, who gave the convocation address.

The newsreel opens with footage of Harry Truman, posing with former president Herbert Hoover (already a recipient of an honorary degree) and the widows of US presidents Grover Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson, who were special guests. The first recipients featured are General Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower, who would succeed Harry Truman as US President in 1953, and Admiral Chester Nimitz (0:37). Both were honored for their leadership during the war, Eisenhower as Supreme Allied Commander, and Nimitz as commander of the Pacific Fleet. Other recipients shown are Dr. Vannevar Bush, wartime director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development (organizer of the Manhattan Project) and Bernard Baruch, presidential adviser during both world wars. They are followed by Warren Austin, US representative of the United Nations, and Viscount Harold Alexander, governor general of Canada (0:43-0:51). Albert Einstein, based at the Institute of Advanced Studies, but an honored guest on campus, also participates in the procession (0:31). The film ends with President Harry Truman’s rallying address, in which he urges the adoption of universal military training (1:28).

The newsreel is part of the University Archives’ Historical Audiovisual Collection (part of item no. 1344).