This Week in Princeton History for March 6-12

In this week’s installment of our recurring series, a senior reflects on the appearances of New Left activists, two students are lauded for solving a jewel robbery case, and more.

March 7, 1967—Robert Griss ’67 theorizes that growing a beard and long hair predisposes students to join the Students for a Democratic Society. “By adopting its regalia, the follower of the New Left subjects himself to social ostracism that reinforces his notion that the system is oppressive, which stimulates his appreciation of the urgency for radical social change. It is therefore not coincidental that so many social reformers exhibit the regalia of social deviants.”

A group of protesters holding a sign with a graphic giving a middle finger to ROTC with a dollar sign next to it

Students for a Democratic Society protesting the presence of the ROTC on the campus of Princeton University, 1969. Princeton Alumni Weekly Photograph Collection (AC126), Box 38.

March 8, 1868—John Maclean preaches at the funeral for Anthony Simmons, who was formerly enslaved, and who more recently has been a prosperous local entrepreneur. Simmons owned and operated an eatery popular among students, many of whom attend the funeral.

March 10, 1940—Dean of the Faculty Robert K. Root issues a statement on the health of the University’s president, Harold Willis Dodds. Following a bout with influenza in January, Dodds has not yet recovered. Doctors have ordered “entire relaxation from his usual activities” until further notice. In the meantime, deans and administrative offices will assume extra duties.

March 11, 1892—Two Princeton students are credited for bringing about the arrest of a Yale graduate, Webster C. Hill, for stealing $150 worth of jewelry (about $5,000 in 2023 dollars) from Alice McElvaine in Princeton, New Jersey. As newspapers nationwide will report, the students, among many other of their peers, attended a party at McElvaine’s home, after which she discovered her belongings missing. The Princetonians became suspicious of Hill when they learned he registered at a local hotel using a different name and extracted a confession from him. At the time of his arrest, Hill had several of McElvaine’s stolen jewelry pieces on his person.

For the previous installment in this series, click here.

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

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.

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

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.”


Pennsylvania Gazette, November 3, 1748. Princeton University Publications Collection (AC364), Box 36.

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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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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.