Bob Dylan’s Honorary Princeton University Degree

When news of Bob Dylan being honored with a Nobel Prize in Literature broke a few months ago, the Swedish Academy responsible for the award acknowledged that it might appear to be an inappropriate choice. Dylan, as a musician, might not be thought of as an author so much as a composer. “If you look back,” permanent secretary Sara Danius told the press, “you discover Homer and Sappho, and they wrote poetic texts that were meant to be listened to … But we still read Homer and Sappho…and we enjoy it, and same thing with Bob Dylan. He can be read, and should be read.”

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Bob Dylan at Princeton University, June 9, 1970. Honorary Degree Records (AC106), Box 6.

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“This Is More Than a School”: James M. Stewart ’32’s Princeton

When we launched our Tumblr page in January 2015, we filled it with a variety of content on the history of Princeton University, but it didn’t take long for us to discover that one alumnus in particular consistently received a lot of attention on the platform: James Maitland Stewart ’32. In honor of this, we currently have an exhibit case in our lobby dedicated to Stewart’s long-term connection to Princeton: “‘This Is More Than a School’: James M. Stewart 32’s Princeton.”

Jimmy Stewart, the son of Alexander “Eck” Stewart of the Class of 1898, wrote on his 1928 application to Princeton that he chose it due to family connections and his belief that Princeton “is by far the best equipped to give me a broad, profitable education, provided that I apply myself diligently to the work.” His dreams of becoming a civil engineer, however, were short-lived. Diligent work proved a challenge in the face of tempting recreational activities. He later told Princeton Living, “College algebra was like a death blow to me.” He did especially poorly in a Shakespeare course and “did not survive Spanish.” Unable to keep up in his classes, Stewart was forced to attend summer school to avoid flunking out. At the end of Stewart’s freshman year, his math professor told him, “You’d better think very seriously about being something else [other than a civil engineer], or you’ll be in deep trouble.”

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Grade card for James Maitland Stewart ’32, Undergraduate Academic Records 1920-2015 (AC198), Box 25. To better understand Stewart’s academic struggles, see our previous blog post explaining the 1-7 grading system used here. N.B.: Access to student academic records is governed by this policy.

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This Week in Princeton History for June 15-21

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the first woman receives an honorary degree, a senior is arrested during civil rights activism, and more.

June 15, 1978—Elizabeth “Lisa” Najeeb Halaby ’73 marries King Hussein and becomes Queen of Jordan, taking the name Noor Al-Hussein.

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Elizabeth Halaby, future Queen Noor of Jordan, at a Princeton football game in 1969. Office of Communications Records (AC168), Box 223.

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Princeton Mourns Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. exactly 150 years ago. As Americans did throughout the country, Princetonians immediately went into mourning. The loss was more profound given that the nation had emerged from a devastating Civil War less than a week before.

Princeton’s ties to Lincoln are reflected in various collections in Princeton University Library’s Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. On his train trip to his inauguration in 1861, Lincoln made many stops in the Midwest and Northeast, where he often spoke to crowds. On February 21, more than 20,000 supporters received him in Trenton. William Stewart Cross Webster and Alexander Taggart McGill, Jr., both of the College of New Jersey (Princeton) Class of 1864, were among the throngs. In a letter to his mother a few days later, Webster expressed disappointment that he was unable to hear Lincoln over the roar of the crowd: “This was our sight of Abraham Lincoln: We saw great Lincoln plain; it can never be forgotten, the bowing very graciously right and left. In a few minutes Mr. L. appeared on the platform and said a few words. His manner was pleasant and a vein of humor pervaded his whole face. I was unlucky enough to hear nothing he said.” (Undergraduate Alumni Records 1748-1920 (AC104), Box 125)

Shortly after his reelection in 1864, the Board of Trustees voted to confer an honorary Doctorate of Law upon Lincoln. Lincoln was unable to attend Princeton’s Commencement, but wrote to College President John Maclean to thank Princeton for its honor “in this time of public trial.”

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This Week in Princeton History for November 17-23

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, an alum takes the school flag to the moon, Ella Fitzgerald performs, and more.

November 17, 1983—Diplomats from the Netherlands, France, Spain, and Great Britain are in Alexander Hall to commemorate the bicentennial of the signing of the Treaty of Paris, which ended America’s Revolutionary War. Princeton is chosen because the Continental Congress resided here in 1783.

November 19, 1969—Astronaut Charles “Pete” Conrad, Jr. ’53, third man to walk on the moon and Commander of the Apollo XII mission, brings a Princeton flag to the moon’s Ocean of Storms. Princeton President Robert F. Goheen observes that this is “a noble summit for the Orange and Black,” and Dean of the Faculty J. Douglas Brown orders Princeton’s rarely-flown flag to be raised atop Nassau Hall in honor of the occasion. The flag is typically flown only for Commencement exercises, or at half-staff upon the death of a faculty member.

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Princeton University’s flag, back from the moon and signed by Charles “Pete” Conrad ’53, Commander of NASA’s Apollo XII. Memorabilia Collection (AC053).

November 20, 1936—A teenager from  Harlem performs at Princeton for the first time as the featured vocalist at a dance in the old gymnasium. At the 1990 Commencement exercises nearly 54 years later, Princeton will award the woman—Ella Fitzgerald—an honorary Doctorate of Music.

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Ella Fitzgerald with University president Harold Shapiro at Princeton’s 1990 Commencement. Office of Communications Records (AC168), Box 170.

November 21, 1933—A self-described “most desirable, good-looking northern girl, unfortunately stranded in the South” writes to the Daily Princetonian asking for a “most desirable, good-looking northern Princetonian” with whom to correspond. “Hurry up before I weaken,” she says. “I am in demand here.”

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

Fact check: We always strive for accuracy, but if you believe you see an error, please contact us.

Princeton’s African American Honorary Degree Recipients: Activists and Public Servants

by: Brenda Tindal

In the fall of 1748, Princeton University–then known as the College of New Jersey– held its first commencement. During this ceremony, six undergraduate students were graduated with Bachelor of Arts degrees and the administration conferred the honoris causa (honorary degree) upon Jonathan Belcher, the Governor of New Jersey. Thereafter, Princeton awarded honorary degrees to individuals who had made significant contributions in various sectors of society including religion, academics, arts and culture, politics, science, military, and finance, among other fields. However, it would not be until 1951 that Princeton would confer this honor upon an African American. Since then, more than forty African Americans have been honored in this way. This post focuses on some African American activists and public servants who have received an honorary degree from Princeton University.

Ralph Johnson Bunche

Diplomat and scholar-activist Ralph Johnson Bunche was the first African American awarded an honorary degree from Princeton in 1951, receiving a Doctor of Laws degree.


Citation read at Princeton’s 204th Commencement:
"A political scientist on the faculty of Howard University on leave since 1941 for government service. Stafford Little Lecturer at Princeton in 1950. Professor-designate at Harvard. An expert analyst of colonial areas and territorial affairs for the State Department and advisor to the United States Delegation at the several Conferences that initiated the United Nations. Now on loan from the State Department to be Director of the Department of Trusteeship in the United Nations. Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1950 as United Nations mediator in Palestine. Where human affairs need a knowing appraisal and statesmanlike leadership, people draft him because he can be believed. His singleness of purpose brings people to the point of reconciliation, and his sincerity and simplicity inspire in them confident hope. A world citizen ‘ever willing to accept as great a share of hazard as of honor.’ "

Thurgood Marshall

Judge and civil rights litigator Thurgood Marshall received the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws in 1963.

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Citation read at Princeton’s 206th Commencement:

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Whitney Moore Young, Jr.

Leader of the National Urban League and civil rights activist Whitney Moore Young, Jr., received the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws in 1967.

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Citation read at Princeton’s 220th Commencement:

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Coretta Scott King

Human rights activist and widow of slain Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King received the honorary degree of Doctor of Humanities in 1970.

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Citation read at Princeton’s 223rd Commencement:

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John Lewis

Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis received the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws in 1987.
Citation read at Princeton 240th Commencement:
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Constance Baker Motley

Judge and civil rights litigator Constance Baker-Motley received the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws in 1989.

Citation read at Princeton’s 242nd Commencement:

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Dorothy Irene Height

Civic leader, activist, and educator Dorothy Irene Height received the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws in 1990.
Citation read at Princeton’s 243rd Commencement:

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Robert Parris Moses

Educator and civil rights pioneer Robert Parris Moses received the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws in 2002.
*Moses is currently the 2011-2012 Visiting Fellow in Princeton’s Center for African American Studies (CAAS)
Citation read at Princeton’s 257th Commencement:

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A Princeton Degree For a Yalie: George H.W. Bush Visits Princeton, 1991

On May 10, 1991, President George H.W. Bush came to Princeton’s campus to receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree and dedicate the University’s Social Science Complex. This $20 million dollar project included the newly constructed Bendheim and Fisher Halls, as well as a renovation of Corwin Hall. This Reel Mudd blog post includes video of both of these events, along with other scenes related to the President’s visit.

President Bush’s visit was notable for several reasons. This ceremony was Bush’s first appearance outside of Washington DC after suffering atrial fibrillation while jogging at Camp David. In addition, Bush’s speech (beginning at 00:50:26) was expected to be a major policy speech, though a report indicates that the president rewrote the address en route to Princeton in order to tone down direct attacks on Congress (Daily Princetonian, Volume 115, Number 65, 13 May 1991). While still peppered with criticism of Congress, the President’s talk was mainly a discussion of the Executive Branch’s policy making role compared to that of the Legislative, and Bush’s personal opposition to creating new bureaucracies. The speech is also peppered with humor about the Princeton/Yale rivalry and the President’s place within it (51:42), as well as Bush’s health(50:39), the Nude Olympics (51:22), John F. Kennedy (52:02), and the Princeton allegiances of Secretaries of State George Shultz ’42 and James Baker ‘52  (52:28).
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Bush Receives his honorary degree from President Shapiro *64.
Historical Photograph Collection, Individuals Series, Box MP2

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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).